Saturday, November 7, 2009

Faith-based group helps kids find stability

By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer

Magic slippers sent Dorothy home to Kansas. Her misadventures were only a dream.
No such luck for Rosa Hernandez, 2003 graduate of Temple High School.
'I was 16 when I met the people I call my parents,' she said. 'That's when I got home.'
And her childhood nightmares, they are real experiences of neglect and abuse.
Miss Hernandez, 24, and her three siblings spent the majority of their childhood in group shelters and foster care.
'It depended on where we were on whether it was good,' she said. 'Sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn't.' The siblings were separated when Miss Hernandez was a junior in high school.
'My brother was acting up and getting into trouble,' she said. 'And one of my sisters, the one closest to me in age, was making bad decisions, so the two of them had to go do different places.'
As for Miss Hernandez and her youngest sister, CPS referred them to Therapeutic Family Life, a faith-based non-profit corporation that pairs neglected, abused and hurting children with safe and loving families.
'It was great to be sent there,' Miss Hernandez said.
That's the office that introduced her to her mom and dad, Jerry and Cathy McCollough of Temple.
'The center listened to us every step of the way,' Miss Hernandez said. 'They wanted to make sure that we were comfortable and that we had we needed.'
Every imaginable resource were available to the Hernandez sisters at the Temple TFL office in Suite 203 at the 3513 SW HK Dodgen Loop.
'Health care, counseling services, tuition help, decision guidance and training on adult living, that's what we aim to provide for all of our kids,' said Janelle Holland, program coordinator of the Central Texas branch of TFL.
Miss Hernandez says that's no joke.
'It's a different kind of agency,' Miss Hernandez said. 'It's very personal there. They treated us like we were their kids, not like somebody else's kids who didn't matter.'
Miss Hernandez said TFL helped her develop social skills.
'They had a lot of programs to participate in that let me meet a bunch of different people,' Miss Hernandez said. 'I didn't trust people when I was younger, but when I saw that there were adults who cared, I started to trust again.'
She also formed several friendships, not only with her adopted siblings in the McCollough family, but also with other foster kids from TFL.
'In the different activities, we'd always go in groups of three or four,' Miss Hernandez said. 'So we'd all talk and find that we could trust each other. It was nice.'
The outings fall under TFL's recreation therapy.
'That portion of the program gives our kids to have some fun, open up to each other and bond,' Ms. Holland said. 'We take out-of-town field trips, have camps, dances, pizza parties and other events. And there's always something to do at Christmas.'
The childcare corporation also taught Miss Hernandez how to live independently through its Prepared Adult Living course.
'They taught me how to set a budget and balance my checkbook,' Miss Hernandez said. 'And we did a lot of cooking.'
Ms. Holland said the adult living program also teaches road safety, driver's education and healthy lifestyle choices.
'We teach them how to clean, and we teach them how to be good parents,' Miss Holland said. 'We want our older teens to be able to support themselves and be successful.'
TFL provides education assistance to those young adults who choose to pursue college degrees.
'We help them with tuition, rent and food money,' Ms. Holland said. 'And if one of our kids wants to be a doctor or lawyer, they can. We help them find the tuition help they need to continue their education.'
TFL helped Miss Hernandez find her apartment, and the organization helped her find the training she needed to become a professional hairstylist.
But Miss Hernandez didn't have to rely solely on TFL for her transition into adulthood. She has a set of 'adopted' parents who call her their daughter. The McColloughs helped Miss Hernandez with her schooling and medical care.
'And they helped me with my first apartment,' Miss Hernandez said. 'And if something goes wrong, all I have to do is call. They are my home, it's where I go on Sundays and for holidays. It's my sister's home too.'
Miss Hernandez lives in a house with fiance, Kevin Jenkins of Temple, and their 2-year-old daughter Jazell Jenkins.
'I'd be lost without my Jazzy,' Miss Hernandez said. 'I don't understand how a person could give up a kid. If the court told me I'd have to jump off a mountain to keep my baby, I would. So why can't parents go to AA classes, go to therapy or clean their apartments? If that's what they need to do, that's what they should do for their kid.'
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Did you know?
The Temple office of Therapeutic Family Life opened in 2007 at 3513 SW HK Dodgen Loop, Suite 203.
In the last year, TFL has helped about 300 abused/ neglected children find adoptive or foster homes.
This quarter, there are 80 Bell County children in the TFL system. The program has the capacity to care for 1,500 children.
The goal of TFL is to see each child find a permanent home that is safe and loving, whether it is with an approved relative, through adoption or the transition to adulthood.

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