Category: Stories

One Woman’s Rewarding History with ACH

The ACH Women’s Auxiliary dates back to 1962. Here’s a story of one member who joined some 30 years later and is still actively involved.

Sheila Owen learned of ACH through a friend in the early ‘90s. She was working and had a child but still felt the calling to get involved in the community. When her friend told her that she could volunteer and bring her daughter, that sounded doable. At that time, All Church Home, which would later become ACH, had a group residential home on Summit Avenue. Members of the ACH Women’s Auxiliary were invited to holidays and birthday parties for the children in ACH’s care so the kids could experience a family get-together.

In those days, Sheila and family could actually take the kids to outings like miniature golf and other activities that let them share in the fun. And back then, the kids were often at the Summit location until they aged out of foster care, so the Auxiliary members were able to build up a relationship with them.

Still, it was hard to come home from work and want to provide quality time for her two daughters and attend Women’s Auxiliary Meetings. One night, she told her daughter she was going to skip the meeting because she was just too busy. Taylor, her daughter who had accompanied her mom on many a visit, said “Mom, you have to go—you can’t miss that meeting!”

Sheila Owen (left) with daughters Taylor and Courtney.

When Taylor went on to college, it was Sheila’s younger daughter, Courtney, who would join mom in events like the Holiday Store, where ACH kids could pick out gifts for their family and youth care specialists. Mother and daughter would help out by helping the kids shop and even wrap their gifts for them.

Sheila is glad that both of her daughters understood that not all kids are as lucky as they were. And she’s grateful that they learned how good it feels to help others.

Sheila was glad to see ACH move on to placing children in foster homes, so they could grow up in a family environment rather than a group home. She welcomed the approach of preserving families and now of placing children with extended family whenever possible. She believes in change for the better, but we’re grateful one thing hasn’t changed: She’s still actively involved with the ACH Women’s Auxiliary.

Want to make your own history in the Women’s Auxiliary?

ACH Child and Family Services can trace its beginning to 1915, when a group of women dedicated to providing a safe home and hope for a good future to orphans and destitute women with children founded the All Church Home for Children.

In 1962, Board President Mrs. Ben L. Bird formed the Women’s Auxiliary to provide love and attention for the children living in ACH’s care.

The Women’s Auxiliary was reinstated in 2015 to support children and families served by the organization through service opportunities and advocacy in our community.

Women’s History Month is EVERY month at ACH and we are thankful to all who give hope to our children. Find out more here.

Blake’s Journey

Just Give Him a Chance Here

Blake’s dad lost all hope for his son and didn’t know how to care for him or where to find support. The team at ACH’s Turning Point helped Blake and his family find renewed hope.

Blake is 15 years old and navigating adolescent insecurities and common teen struggles. Additionally, he feels the effects of his parent’s divorce. According to the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies, there is a 16% increase in the risk of behavior problems if the child is between 7 and 14 years old when their parents divorce. Blake’s parents have done all they could to show him love, but his anger still rapidly grew. After returning to live with his dad, Adam, and stepmom, his family knew they needed to find him additional support.

He had attended other programs and facilities for help in the past, but nothing seemed to have a lasting impact on Blake’s health. Blake’s behavior would continue to worsen as threats of harm to others were made. Blake’s dad found ACH’s Turning Point program. Turning Point is a specialized, urgent mental-health care program that provides crisis interventions and acute stabilization for youth. It is a short-term placement that is designed to help youth and their families receive urgent relief of behavior symptoms as well as therapeutic interventions that prevent hospitalization.

Turning Point is Not Like Other Programs

Adam had sought help for his son many times before. He had very little hope that Turning Point would be any different. Upon Blake’s arrival, Adam was already preparing to arrange for Blake’s next treatment facility after he left ACH. Angela Macleod, Turning Point Program Supervisor, reached out to Blake’s dad assuring him that “Turning Point is not like any other facility. We’re confident in the support we can offer your son, we’ve just got to give him a chance.”

When Blake arrived at Turning Point, it was clear his anger prevented him from knowing how to communicate his thoughts, understand his emotions, or express his needs. Our team takes time to give Blake individualized attention, intentional care, and understand his situation. After a few days of transition and care, a treatment meeting is scheduled between Blake, his dad, a therapist, and our ACH team to better understand what’s been going on at home and school. Our Turning Point team shares the ways they’ve seen Blake progress and brings clarity to the family. The team taught him coping and life skills and engaged him with therapeutic activities to help him transition back home. He also continued to meet with a therapist throughout his time at Turning Point both individually and as a family. Blake was also encouraged to engage with the other residents of the program to learn to work with not only staff but his peers too.

Our Team is Here to Support Even After You Return Home

ACH’s Turning Point is a two-week program that offers specialized care to clients. Angela shares, “From the time Blake came into ACH’s program until the day he left, there was a significant difference in him. When he came into our program, he had a” tough guy” attitude. When he left, he gave me a hug and said thank you.” Blake was discharged from Turning Point and returned home to live with his dad, and not to another facility. A short while after Blake returned home, Adam shared with our team his progress, “He is doing great! Complete turnaround! There are some things here, and he is a typical teenager, but overall better. THANK YOU SO MUCH!”

Turning Point is making a difference not only in the lives of the clients but in the entire family as well.

ACH’s Turning Point Program

Located on our Wedgwood Residential Campus, Turning Point is an innovative crisis stabilization and respite program delivered in a home-like setting for youth in foster care ages 10-17. Turning Point acts as a caring alternative to what can be more traumatizing hospitalizations.

Resilience That Leads a Youth Home

ACH staff work diligently to meet the needs of youth while seeking opportunities to support caregivers and reunite families.

Tucker has grown up believing he is not wanted or loved. His parents were in and out of his life for most of his childhood and eventually abandoned him, leaving his grandparents to care for him. Tucker learned to cope with his emotions through food and self-harm and over time, his behavior became aggressive and harmful. To add to his trauma, Tucker and his grandparents had conflict from the start: Neither Tucker nor his grandparents knew how to communicate, respond, or care for each other. It was determined that the best thing for Tucker was to not return home.

The best solution for Tucker was to move into ACH’s Residential Treatment Center (RTC), an innovative program that puts our most vulnerable youth on an accelerated path to success by helping them understand they are in a safe place with adults who can be trusted. The goal of Tucker’s time at the RTC was to help him heal from his past trauma and connect him with a support system before eventually living successfully in a family.

Set on a Path to Heal

Tucker came in lonely and depressed. He had a lot of anxiety and did not have self-value. He didn’t trust others and also had a lot of built-up anger and frustration. He remembers that he had been so depressed that the anger didn’t initially show in his behavior. Tucker would start fights with others for no reason or just to be difficult. He didn’t understand how he was feeling and needed specific and intentional care for healing from his past.

For over a year, the RTC staff patiently cared for Tucker. They met him where he was and carefully evaluated the right support he needed. Tucker shares, “At the RTC I had a good support system, and the staff was really understanding. They were encouraging and gave me a shove in the right direction.” There were many moments Tucker was not proud of, but each time he learned from them. He eventually was able to attend the local public school on his own and take other big strides toward growth. ACH Therapist Catrena Boswell shares, “I am most proud of his resilience and ability to tap into those strengths. He has increased his ability to challenge himself by being vulnerable and moving through his uncomfortable feelings.”

Tucker loves to draw and has learned other coping skills on how to respond to his emotion. He found self-worth and learned to love himself. It wasn’t just the skills and tools he learned at the RTC, but the people. Catrena shares how the team’s consistency impacted Tucker, “He’s given himself time, took risks by opening up to others, ACH staff, and allowed himself to build attachments.” The ACH team played a huge role in modeling forgiveness and understanding. They were willing to be patient with him.

Families Need Support and Healing Too

Tucker’s behavioral health was improving and at this point was having regular visits and overnight stays at his grandparents’ home. Yet, the family needed more support to ensure a smooth and sustainable transition back home for Tucker. Clinical Manager of Treatment Services Amy Carter initiated the support for Tucker’s grandparents by referring them to ACH’s Kinship Connections team. Kinship Connections is a voluntary program that offers support to families who are caring for relative children. Kinship Connections Specialist Rebecca Cadena provided care and support to Tucker’s grandparents. Rebecca shares, “One of my goals is to offer resources and support that would ensure a youth stays home. How can we help families make this happen? We know that all kids just want is to go home.” The truest thing for all youth, Tucker included, is that he wanted to go home. He wanted to be with his family, his grandparents. Our team understands that it is sometimes very complex, and care and service are needed for both the child and the caregiver.

Tucker’s grandma was open, receptive, and eager for support. Rebecca introduced them to the Trust Based Relational Intervention® framework, encouraged them to have written goals, and established a family service plan. Rebecca discovered early on that Tucker’s grandparents have their own past to heal from. Rebecca’s role also enabled her to be there to care for them emotionally. She is ready to support the family in any way they need. “The transition is crucial. I’ll still be there, as long as the family needs it. I’m only a text or call away.”

Supporting Reunited Families

ACH’s Continuum of Care enables our team to come alongside not only the child but the family on the other end. Our team at the Residential Treatment Center showed Tucker patience and cared for him as he learned to heal from his past. Our Kinship Connections team supported his grandparents while they gathered resources and prepared for Tucker’s transition home. Tucker and his grandparents won’t be alone in the transition home either. Our team will remain alongside them for support. It makes all the difference to have someone there who, no matter what, remains in your corner to help you. Tucker recalls, “It made me feel loved. It made me feel like I am worth something.” Both Tucker and his grandparents are hopeful. They have a greater understanding of each other. They are much quicker to forgive one another and offer the other patience. There will be bumps in the road, but they are more prepared for them, and they aren’t going through it alone.

“ACH has a large team of supporters for our children whether Kinship, Foster Care support, supervised independent living (LIFE Project), programs like Morris Transitional Living, and the Youth Emergency Shelter at Wichita – we have a variety of ways to help the community,” shares Program Manager Akasha Lira. It takes a community to care for a child. When family reunification is possible, our team is ready to help.

The Robert and Jane Ferguson Residential Treatment Center (RTC) is an important part of a continuum of services designed to help children with significant behavioral and mental health issues achieve permanency in a family setting and/or receive a level of care that can help them heal from trauma. While ACH has several programs that address this need, the RTC offers a longer-term program for teenagers with this level of acuity. The RTC is the only one of its kind in Texas and joins professional home-based care, therapeutic foster care, support services, and foster care in the ACH continuum of care. These integrated services were developed to reconnect children with their biological families or when that is not possible, to find them a forever family with relatives or adoptive families.

Kinship Connections is a voluntary program that offers support to families who are caring for a relative’s child or children. We don’t want families to be overwhelmed with all the new responsibilities, so we offer services such as support groups, parent education, in-home services, referrals, concrete services, and assistance with licensure or adoption. With ACH, there’s no need to go it alone.

The Crutcher Family

Yes, Yes, and Yes Again

The journey of adoption holds many uncertainties but with the right support, the Crutchers are equipped to meet their children's needs.

“Children in the foster care system have experienced trauma,” ACH Foster Care and Adoption Specialist Cheryl Donovan explains. “It is a painful journey for them, but the difference adoption makes in their lives is beyond measure. They are wanted, are given another chance at having a childhood, and have opportunities for the future.”

Adoption was always a part of the Crutcher family plan. Heather and Dave went to grade school together, but it wasn’t until 28 years later that they reconnected, fell in love, and got married. With no children of their own, they opened their hearts to earnestly seek out and care for other children without families. They wanted to provide a safe and stable home for vulnerable kids that needed support.

“We started researching and looking for an adoption agency. We selected ACH because they’re well established with a great history.”

The Crutchers began the process of gaining licensure for a matched adoption in 2020. There was paperwork to be filled out, information to file, and training courses to take. Many of their meetings and trainings were held online due to COVID, but an ACH Foster Care and Adoption Specialist remained alongside to conquer the in-depth process together.

They knew the journey could be long and were ready to endure the challenges. The Crutchers remained persistent and eventually everything was approved and finalized—they were licensed for adoption the week of Christmas! Heather and Dave were ready to find their match and provide children with a forever home.

Heather and Dave said ‘Yes’ and never looked back

Heather and Dave always knew they wanted to adopt a sibling group. They each have siblings of their own and enjoyed having a full house and growing up with “automatic friends.” Heather and Dave also recognized that adoption for a child, as exciting as it is, is also difficult. They wanted the child they adopted to have someone else in the home who they were already bonded with to transition and grow up with.

They were notified about three sweet sisters, Abbey, Emma, and Ava, ages 5-7, in need of a forever family.  “Our hearts were drawn to them and we said yes. But our story is a little unique. With our girls, it wasn’t just one immediate ‘yes’ and we were matched,” Heather recalls. After Heather and Dave’s initial ‘yes’ to pursuing adoption of Abbey, Emma, and Ava, they received another email that explained two of the girls have DiGeorge syndrome.

DiGeorge syndrome occurs when a small part of a chromosome is missing and can result in the poor development of several body systems1. More extreme cases included heart defects, poor immune system function, a cleft palate, low levels of calcium in the blood and delayed development with behavioral and emotional problems. The symptoms and treatment would vary. The Cruchers wouldn’t immediately know what kind of medical attention the girls would need throughout their lives because of their medical condition.

The Crutchers were unfamiliar with DiGeorge syndrome, but what they did know was there was no way they could back down from these girls now. Heather shares, “We prepared our hearts for what it could mean raising girls with DiGeorge, we were willing to go beyond what was expected, and committed to saying ‘yes’ for our girls, again.” Heather and Dave had not yet met the girls, but already their hearts were bursting for them.

They never doubted that the girls were meant to be with them

The Crutchers were matched with the girls in September of 2021 and their formal names as Crutchers would become Abigail, Emmaline, and Ava Grace. Heather and Dave were patient: They never doubted Abigail, Emmaline, and Ava Grace were meant to be with them. They were joyful and gracious through each bump in the road because they were confident the day would soon come when they would finally welcome the girls home forever.

It wasn’t until the end of January 2022 that Heather and Dave first met the girls in San Antonio. They were intent on bonding and played a lot that weekend to get to know each other. The next step was for the girls to visit Heather and Dave and stay with them at their home in North Richland Hills. At this time, an epic snowstorm hit, and all travel was canceled. What was supposed to be a 4-day visit turned into a 24-hour stay. The girls flew from San Antonio on Monday and left Tuesday.

Heather wasn’t upset or bitter when she recalled the delays and changes, she was just thankful the girls were able to visit at all. Even seeing them for just one day was all she could hope for. Again, they played and laughed, a lot! The goodbye was even harder than before. “It was heart-wrenching saying goodbye,” Heather confessed. Yet there was great hope knowing this would not be the end of their story.

Now with a part of their hearts with the girls, they couldn’t wait for placement day. Heather and Dave made one more visit to see the girls, bonded even more, and learned each other’s personalities even better. “When it was time to say goodbye there were a lot of tears from all of us. The girls didn’t want to leave, and we didn’t want to leave. It was heartwarming. The bonding had already started which was an amazing feeling.” This goodbye was a little different. They knew the next time they would see the girls in person would be when they came to live with them forever. There was an eagerness for what was to come.

In March, the girls officially moved in!

ACH helps provide the resources for the unexpected journey ahead

“ACH helped us fill our toolbox for the unknowns that come with adoption, and we felt more prepared to welcome home our girls,” Heather shares.

There can be many unknowns that await adoption parents. Each child is unique and it can’t be predicted how past experiences and traumas will affect them. ACH is present to help parents feel prepared and supported throughout the transition. The Crutchers were no exception.

Heather recalls the early weeks of their transition, “All the things they train us for that could happen, I feel like we experienced in the first 6 weeks of the girls’ transition.” As developmental delays resulting from their past trauma became more apparent, they were intent on making playtime more educational. New discipline techniques needed to be adjusted as Heather and Dave discovered areas the girls may not have had attention in before.

“A sense of belonging is crucial for all of us. A forever family is the greatest blessing of all time.”

Some of the techniques they found helpful and continue to use today come from the Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI®) training taught by the ACH team. Heather and Dave try to clearly communicate expectations to the girls, prepare them for what’s coming next, and offer choices to empower the girls. “This has made a huge difference in how we can care for them,” Heather shares.

In addition to two of the girls having a mild form of DiGeorge syndrome, Heather and Dave discovered that the girls had also experienced a high level of medical neglect in their past that now required an increased amount of attention. This didn’t stop Heather and Dave’s love. They were committed to giving fully of themselves to Abigail, Emmaline, and Ava Grace through their transition into a new family and home. Though at times difficult and trying, they never gave up, lost hope, or doubted these girls were meant to be with them.

Cheryl shares, “The Crutchers gave them a normal life with family outings, church attendance, and activities. They were committed to these children.” Heather and Dave established regular rhythms for the girls including summer activity classes at The Little Gym®, church on Sundays, regular visits to Play Street Museum, and letting Abbey, Emma, and Ava just be kids.

The Crutchers couldn’t imagine their family any other way

Walking through this journey with ACH, Heather and Dave were connected to a community of other adoptive parents and staff ready to help with any need. Heather is thankful for the relationships she made along with way. “ACH brought us a lot of connections and relationships with other couples either going through the same thing or wanting to be on the same journey as us,” she says. “We never felt alone throughout the process.” These couples have remained a support and source of encouragement for Heather and Dave. They can reach out to these families to ask for advice, to relate with, and to share experiences.

Heather encourages, “It’s a wild ride at first, but buckle down. You don’t know the curveballs you’re going to get, but you will find what’s normal for your family. You really just have to be advocates for your kids.”

Heather wondered if they had been too afraid of the “unknowns,” yet one thing she has no regrets about is saying “yes” to their girls. Abigail, Emmaline, and Ava Grace have changed their lives for the better. They are loving, affectionate, and full of so much hope and joy. Their smiles are sure to brighten anyone’s day.

“A sense of belonging is crucial for all of us,” adds ACH’s Cheryl Donovan. “A forever family is the greatest blessing of all time.”

There are still many unknowns Heather and Dave are patiently waiting to discover, but they are better equipped, and not alone, on their amazing journey.

ACH Volunteers: Meet Melissa

Volunteer to Employee

Melissa Burdett called ACH when she was in the process of moving from Oregon to Texas to attend graduate school at TCU and begin the Karyn Purvis Institute. She then volunteered at our Robert and Jane Ferguson Residential Treatment Center for a year. Melissa is a TBRI® practitioner, which stands for Trust Based Relational Intervention. This trauma-informed response was created by the Karyn Purvis Institute and is practiced by the ACH staff.

ACH Volunteer Services Manager Megan Stephenson shares, “Melissa has been a joy with her knowledge of TBRI. She’s been so helpful to teach others because of her expertise.”

Melissa shares her experience as an ACH volunteer:  

When I first called Megan to speak with her about volunteering at ACH, she told me about the teenagers at the Residential Treatment Center (RTC). I’m a foster/adoptive mom of five and teenagers are not new to me, yet I was intimidated by the idea of teens in a residential placement.  What would they be like? Would I be able to connect with them? I’m used to little ones in care that can snuggle up next to me and read books or sing songs, little ones who look to me for connection, safety, and love.  But teenagers in residential care??  That’s a whole different galaxy, isn’t it? I mean, what if they don’t like me?  I’m embarrassed to admit it. A part of me still worries about being rejected and I wondered how the teens would respond to me. 

Then I met them. They turned my world upside down in the best ways.

Each Tuesday night I hop in the van and drive to Fort Worth to hang out with some incredible people.

We’ve painted pictures, planted a garden, had Nerf wars, made paper airplanes, played basketball, drew a Monopoly board in chalk, conquered Wordle, chased each other around with foam burritos and laughed, talked, and laughed some more. 

“I’ve seen the changes in them through their artwork, once so dark and tormented, now displaying hope, color, joy, and growth.”

These kids have been through so much. Trauma has hit them hard, but at the end of the day, they are still kids longing to know that they are worthy of love, that they are seen, heard, and valued.  They are kids who want to know that they are not forgotten or discarded.  They are precious regardless of their survival behaviors.

A trusting relationship with a safe adult can radically change the trajectory of a child’s life, altering brain chemistry and healing neuropathways. Many think it’s too late for teens to experience healing, but in fact, the brain is very open to change, growth, and repair in the teen years. 

Over the course of nine months at ACH, I have seen incredible growth in some of the teenagers.  Many have moved on to supported transitional housing.  Some are nearing graduation out of the RTC and into a foster home or relative placement. I’ve seen the changes in them through their artwork, once so dark and tormented, now displaying hope, color, joy, and growth. There is an openness, dreams for the future, connection with friends and family–even connection with me.

A part of my heart is with these kids always.  I can’t help but feel connected to them and their stories, invested in their growth and healing. In fact, I became so invested that now I find myself privileged to be on staff with ACH.  I love getting to see kids in many of the ACH programs and watch their progress!

Serving at ACH has given me the opportunity to love kids who at face value may appear unlovable. Perhaps I have made their days a little brighter and showed them that they aren’t forgotten.  Perhaps I have contributed a bit to their growth and transformation. But I can tell you for sure they have changed me. They have taught me that every person regardless of their background or behavior is worthy of love, care, and connection. Underneath that survival behavior lies a precious human.  This is true of all of us – each and every one.  I pray that I can live my life through a lens of compassion because I have seen firsthand that compassion brings connection and connection changes lives.

Melanie’s Journey

One Mom's Journey to Freedom

ACH's Families Together program helps Melanie find confidence in herself to be the mom she aspires to be for her son.

Research shows that it can take up to 7 attempts to leave before a survivor permanently leaves an abusive partner. The main reason women have a difficult time leaving is fear of where they will go or who they could turn to for help. Oftentimes their partner has isolated them from friends and family leading them to believe there is no other life to aspire to.

Melanie had been told by her abuser for years that no one loved or cared about her. Since childhood, she craved the love and support every child needs and deserves. She lost her mother to suicide and was neglected by her father. Seeking affirmation from men in relationships became what she chased after. It didn’t take long before she was mixed in with the wrong crowd, making poor decisions, and losing every ounce of self-worth she had in herself. She continued in the pattern of pursuing toxic, abusive relationships and drug use throughout high school and into her adult years.

When something has been rooted so deep within you, the habits seem nearly impossible to uproot, especially on your own.

Melanie reconnected with her high school boyfriend, Jacob. He showed her affection, told her he’d do anything for her, and wanted to take care of her. Having already broken all relationships with her family, she agreed to move to another state to be with him. She didn’t think there was anything in Texas for her anymore. After a short time into their relationship, the two lost their first child together before birth, which Melanie believed strengthened their bond together. Despite the present abuse, the heartache brought them closer and would sustain their relationship even longer.

Trapped With No Clear Way Out

Melanie would soon feel more alone than she could ever imagine. Jacob wouldn’t allow her to have a job, make friends, or have any sense of freedom. She was able to remain in contact with her sister, who continued to listen but given her past life choices, kept her at arm’s length.

Melanie had experienced narcissistic control and verbal and emotional abuse in her previous relationships, but the physical abuse continued to increase with Jacob’s growing drug use. Not having anywhere else to go or anyone else to turn to, she would endure the abuse day after day.

Every time she attempted to escape, Jacob wooed Melanie back. Each time, Melanie took inventory of her life and believed Jacob’s words, “No one else could possibly care about me. He’s the only one that loves me. This must be what love looks like.” With no other option or hope for a better life, Melanie always returned to captivity.

Then Melanie became pregnant again. The turmoil to leave remained, but now with a baby almost here, she couldn’t risk trying to leave and stepping into the unknown. The final month of her pregnancy was an absolute nightmare of torment and abuse. It was the worst she had ever experienced and continued after her son was born. “Jacob continued using drugs, the physical abuse worsened, and he would drive erratically with our son in the back. It was terrifying.”  

“I hadn’t been there for very long and didn’t know people very well, yet I really felt at home at that moment.”

Relief came a month after her son was born. Jacob was finally arrested for giving Melanie black eyes. With the car in her name, Melanie made her way back to Texas. She secured temporary stays for her and her son with different nonprofits and organizations. Yet, in the midst of fear and continued lack of support, the temptation of past securities continued to haunt her. Melanie relapsed into her former drug use, severing any trust she had begun to build in her relationship with her family. She hated herself for it – again thinking very little of herself. Gazing at her son, she knew he needed better, if not for herself, she wanted more for him. Melanie committed to begin the slow process of cleaning herself up. She found organizations that would give her and her son a roof over their head and hope for another day. After a 30-day stay at A Better Tomorrow, she got connected to ACH’s Families Together program.

Families Together Became a Place to Call Home

Melanie remembers her and her son’s first month living at Families Together. The ACH team along with the other moms and their kids were making and decorating Halloween cookies. Melanie recalls seeing her son with icing all over his face when an ACH team member noticed, commented, and they all laughed together. A seemingly insignificant moment meant so much to Melanie, “I hadn’t been there for very long and didn’t know people very well, yet I really felt at home at that moment.” She felt embraced and supported.

The Families Together team encouraged Melanie to slow down and take some time to care for herself and her own healing. Family Care Specialist Sharla Hosford remembers her first impression of Melanie: “She was unsure of herself and what she was doing. She would beat down on herself. We wanted to help her see that she is worth it, has value, and is capable of accomplishing so many things.”

Melanie needed others to believe in her so she could learn to also believe in herself. She was very open and receptive to all the resources and help Families Together offered. She attended the weekly Nurture Group with the other moms where they supported each other, shared parenting advice, and learned from one another.

While at Families Together, Melanie not only experienced mental and emotional healing, but practical steps toward growth and independence. She was able to find day care for her son so she could work, provide insurance coverage for her and her son, purchase a car, and save money to one day live on her own.

“I love empowering moms to believe in themselves again and helping each of them realize what it took to get here. They’ve been torn down for so long – we help to build them back up.”

One of the most significant ways Sharla and the rest of the team were present in supporting Melanie was in the rebuilding of her family relationships. They reminded her that things take time, the trust needed to be gained back, and to be encouraged by her growth. Melanie was growing – in her confidence, in her self-awareness, in her independence. In her humble wisdom, Melanie shares, “One of the main things I’ve learned is that things take time. You didn’t mess up everything up in one day – it was gradual. And it’s going to take even longer to fix those things and rebuild, especially relationships.” Melanie’s family saw her commit to ACH’s Family Together program for the entire year and a half, which was a new feat for her.

Melanie always prioritized the wellness of her son. He gave her boldness, hope, and confidence to seek change. They soon were able to move into their own apartment. A huge accomplishment.

Finally Finding Sustainable Freedom

It has been over a year since Melanie moved into her own apartment with her son and left ACH’s Families Together program. She not only finds freedom from her abuser, but the past that haunted her. She’s confident in herself, in what she and her son deserve, and strives for her dreams again. She’s going to school to one day become a counselor.

“I am really grateful for ACH. I feel like if I hadn’t been here, I don’t know where I would be.”

Being at ACH allowed Melanie the opportunity to get her feet under her, know her self-worth, and take back control of her life. ACH’s Families Together program has a great impact because of the care of employees like Sharla, who is passionate about helping moms and families: “I love empowering moms to believe in themselves again and helping each of them realize what it took to get here. They’ve been torn down for so long – we help to build them back up.”

Names changed to protect privacy.

*Did you know that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month? In Texas, 183 women were killed by a male intimate partner in 2020. 45% of those women were in the process or had made attempts to leave the relationship (Texas Council on Family Violence, 2020). On average, a victim will leave and return to the abuser 7 times before leaving that relationship permanently (The National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2022).

What is Families Together?

ACH’s Families Together Program provides transitional housing for mothers and their children who are experiencing homelessness due to intimate partner domestic violence. The program offers a safe and stable living environment while they work to overcome the trauma that led to their homelessness and return to independent living. Families receive intensive case management and therapeutic services designed to help them heal from the trauma and victimization they’ve experienced while gaining the skills they need to promote long-term self-sufficiency and obtain stable housing.

Palio’s Pizza Café

Palio's Pizza Café Provides More than Pizza for ACH Families

Victims of intimate partner domestic violence enjoy dinner with their kids before participating in healing, volunteer-led nurture groups

Every Wednesday for the past year, the team at Palio’s Pizza Café has been generously providing a meal for the mothers and their children in ACH’s Families Together program. The team has never met the moms and many have never visited an ACH campus. But they remain steadfast in providing meals for these families week after week.

The ACH team connected with owner Dave Hoffman to learn more about how a simple meal request during Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October of 2021 turned into an ongoing partnership.* It turns out that Dave knew one meal just wasn’t enough. He wanted to do more so he initiated an opportunity to continue supporting Families Together.

A family-focused business

Dave opened the Palio’s Pizza Café on Bryant Irvin, the first of three locations, in 2007. Dave has a giving spirit and makes sure his staff and customers are both well appreciated and cared for. He models empathy and encourages his team to be the change they want to see. Catering Manager Charity Mullins remembers enjoying many pizzas with her family before she joined the team. “A heart of generosity and a culture of caring is what Dave has passed down to his team,” shares Charity. Dave has been like an uncle to her, their families have grown up together, and Charity says the warmth you feel as a guest is spread from the care you feel as an employee.

“We see a need and we want to help fill it. This is such a cool thing we get to do. It’s more than just making pizza. As long as there is a need, we are happy to help.”

Charity has enjoyed learning more about ACH throughout the partnership. At each visit, Megan Stephenson, ACH Volunteer Coordinator, shares updates on the program with the Palio’s team. Charity confesses, “This is close to my heart. My cousin was almost in foster care due to a domestic violence situation and I have family members that were almost placed in the foster care system. ACH has become close to my heart. It’s more personal.” The families in ACH’s care recently expressed their gratitude to Palio’s and presented them with a ‘thank you” poster. With a big smile, Charity remembers the joy they felt when receiving it. “It made it more real. We’re impacting people.”

Palio’s Pizza Café provides a meal for all the mothers and their children in ACH’s Families Together program once every week. One week they provide pizza and the next pasta dishes. Their team is service oriented. The number of mothers in the Families Together program fluctuates throughout the year, but the Palio’s team is ready for any order change to accommodate all the mouths to feed. As the number of families in the program has increased, they graciously have continued to supply more. One year ago, they provided 4 pizzas and a small salad on a pizza night. With a full house today, they are providing 8 pizzas and 2 large catering salads.

Our volunteers turn a nourishing meal into nurturing

On these pizza and pasta nights, the mothers participate in a volunteer-led Nurture Group where they encourage one another, learn parenting skills, and heal from their past. The kids also take part in a separate Nurture Group that supports children healing from trauma. The meals provided by Palio’s Pizza Café relieve the single moms from dinner duty and provide an opportunity to enjoy a meal and time with their kids before group time.

ACH is grateful to community partners like Palio’s Pizza Café for their continuing support of our programs. We know that the moms in Families Together really look forward to and appreciate their generosity. We encourage you to pay it forward—stop in, have a meal, and thank the folks at Palio’s for caring for those less fortunate.

*Did you know that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month? In Texas, 183 women were killed by a male intimate partner in 2020. 45% of those women were in the process or had made attempts to leave the relationship (Texas Council on Family Violence, 2020). On average, a victim will leave and return to the abuser 7 times before leaving that relationship permanently (The National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2022).

What is Families Together?

ACH’s Families Together Program provides transitional housing for mothers and their children who are experiencing homelessness due to intimate partner domestic violence. The program offers a safe and stable living environment while they work to overcome the trauma that led to their homelessness and return to independent living. Families receive intensive case management and therapeutic services designed to help them heal from the trauma and victimization they’ve experienced while gaining the skills they need to promote long-term self-sufficiency and obtain stable housing.

Meet Suzie

Suzie’s daughter struggles with drug addiction. One weekend the daughter brought Suzie’s 4 grandchildren, ages 2-17, to visit Suzie and never returned. Suzie found herself as the full-time caregiver for all 4 grandchildren, while Suzie herself lives on a fixed Social Security income. Suzie encountered obstacles she never knew existed when caring for kinship children. She needed to enroll her grandchildren in school but was unable to because they did not have the appropriate legal paperwork. Fortunately, Suzie found ACH’s Kinship Navigator program through an online search. 

A Kinship Navigator specialist was aware of the McKinney-Vento Act, which ensures that each homeless child or youth has equal access to the same free, appropriate public education as provided to other children and youths. She was able to contact the school district’s McKinney-Vento liaison and get Suzie’s school-aged children enrolled in school.  

The Kinship Navigator was able to help Suzie apply for state Medicaid, SNAP benefits, and TANF, as well as get the one-time grandparent grant for each of her four grandchildren. Suzie met with a specialist in her home once a month, helping to apply for benefits and helping Suzie to set and achieve goals. One of Suzie’s goals was to get her older grandchildren into counseling. This was a difficult task because Suzie had no legal paperwork naming her as the children’s guardian. Over time, Suzie and her Kinship Navigator specialists were able to contact Suzie’s daughter and have a Power of Attorney form notarized, giving Suzie the ability to schedule doctor checkups and counseling sessions for the children. 

When Suzie came to the Kinship Navigator program she was lost and hopeless. Now, with the help of her Kinship Navigator Specialist, she is working towards helping her grandchildren connect and thrive through creating positive childhood experiences and is well on her way to receiving legal conservatorship. 

Are you or someone you know raising children for a relative? Don’t go it alone, we can help.

Arianne’s Story

Consistency brings comfort to a young lady facing constant change

Change hinders the building of healthy, trusting relationships. ACH’s goal is to be that constant and steady care for children and youth in the midst of their unknown and uncertain journey.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Report, more than one-third of foster children and youth experience two or more placements each year. A frequent change in their living arrangement is disruptive, stressful, and traumatizing for youth and hinders healthy development and growth. Like all children, foster children and youth need stability and reliability in a home-like environment.

ACH recognizes that instability only adds to the trauma faced by the youth we serve. Our continuum of care provides children with a safe space to learn and grow while keeping them connected to familiar people in a familiar place. Arianne experienced this above and beyond level of care in the midst of many unsettling transitions.

A life of never knowing what tomorrow will bring

“So I packed my stuff up again” is the phrase Arianne was most used to. She had lived in multiple foster placements and residential centers before she turned 18. Sometimes with as little of a day’s notice, she threw her belongings into a bag and was ready to be taken to her next living arrangement. She never knew how long her next stay would last.  

Arianne’s plight began years earlier. She dealt with a lot of depression growing up, took medication for bipolar disorder, and exhibited impulsive behavior. Her depression worsened at age 13 after experiencing a cycle of deaths in her family. She shares, “I would run away from home. I remember one instance when I ran to the highway. The cars stopped, police came, and I was hospitalized. I had bad impulsive control. That’s not safe.”

Throughout the years, Arianne would battle hopelessness, not want to come out of her room or talk to anyone, and would lash out toward others. Some days she didn’t even want to be alive and sunk deeper into depression. “This was really hard for my mom to hear,” Arianne said, confessing the effects of her emotional health on her family.

Arianne entered care at 15 years old when her placement journey began. Arianne experienced seasons of hurt, grief, and pain. She needed a safe place to process her emotions, learn how to cope with her feelings, and grow relationally with others. ACH’s RTC would eventually be chosen as the best placement for Arianne.

"They busted through the door dancing, singing, and laughing."

Being present and showing we care

Now 17, Arianne felt so close to making her own decisions on where to live that she did not want to move into ACH’s Robert and Jane Ferguson Residential Treatment Center (RTC). She sat in her case worker’s office for what felt like hours. Rich Capodagli, Director of Residential Services at ACH, drove to the office to meet Arianne in person. Arianne made sure Rich knew she would not be staying at the RTC. Rich thought she might say that, so he told her he’d return with some of his favorite team members for Arianne to meet. He wanted Arianne to feel more comfortable knowing some of the team before she moved in. Not very hopeful but impressed by Rich’s effort, Arianne sat and waited.

At the time, Morgan Richardson was a Youth Care Specialist at the RTC. Morgan shares her memory of the moment she met Arianne: “My supervisor at the time and I were asked to speak with Arianne to see if we could encourage her to accept the offer to be placed within the RTC. We showed up with nothing but energy ready to ‘hype’ Arianne up so much that she could not resist coming to the RTC and hanging out with the ‘cool’ staff.”

“They busted through the door dancing, singing, and laughing,” Arianne remembers. Before she knew it, Arianne was laughing with them and was ready to move into the RTC. She felt comfortable knowing the staff that would be there to care for her.

Meeting each child where they are is the first step of each ACH program

Arianne spent about eight months at the RTC. Throughout her time there she remembers the staff’s warm welcome and continual care, “They made sure I was comfortable from day one until the very end of my stay there. They were a really big help.” The team was patient with Arianne as she grew in patience with herself. Morgan got to see Arianne’s bold personality grow as she learned to open up to others and allow herself to try. Morgan recalls, “Arianne is a strong advocator. If she’s not advocating for herself, she’s advocating for her peers.”

Arianne is especially thankful for the ACH staff’s display of kindness and forgiveness. They never held her failures or mistakes over her and she realized they genuinely wanted her to learn and grow. Whether a small failure in her eyes like not getting a job or a larger mistake like starting a fight, Arianna shares “They didn’t hold it over my head. They were so kind. I felt cared for, not just by the staff but by the kids too.”

“I felt cared for, not just by the staff but by the kids too.”

ACH offered Arianne stability and a safe and familiar place to transition into adulthood. Now an adult at 18 years old, Arianne is a part of ACH’s LIFE Project, a supervised independent living program for youth ages 18-21 who are homeless or have aged out of the foster care system. She met LIFE Project Director Nick Little before she turned 18. She recalls a time while still living at the RTC when Nick gave her and two others a tour of the program before they had even applied to move in. “That was really kind of him. He didn’t have to do that.”

Arianne had grown reluctant to new placements, which brought new people to trust, new rules to learn, and a new environment to adapt to. As ACH staff had proven reliable to her, the transition from the RTC to the LIFE Project was something Arianne looked forward to. Arianne was also welcomed into the program by a familiar face. Morgan became a LIFE Project Case Manager; she had transitioned into this new role from the RTC shortly before Arianne’s move.

Morgan believes, “Youth placed in care deserve genuine care and support. Arianne has taught me to be human and the importance of creating a safe space for youth to be just that.” 

Arianne felt surrounded by people she knew and trusted and felt cared for and supported

For the first time, Arianne was excited and hopeful for her next move, not reluctant, guarded, or hesitant. She and two others from the RTC transitioned to the LIFE Project – a transition that meant they were ready to live life on their own. This move with her friends brought additional comfort. They have been a huge support system for each other in encouraging one another on their journeys. Through ACH’s continuum of care, they can continue growing into adulthood together, with the help of ACH staff all along the way.

At the LIFE Project, Arianne has experienced many milestones with the staff’s support. She opened up her first bank account, bought her first phone, and graduated from high school. She buys her own groceries now and is enrolled in driving school to get her license.

Arianne describes herself as the type of person who doesn’t like to ask for help. Years of being guarded and distrusting others have conditioned her this way. The consistency of the ACH team has built her trust in others: “I’ve learned how to ask for help.” She lists off LIFE Mentors and Case Managers that check in on her, offer resources, and whose names and phone numbers are now in her phone to call if she needs them. Since being at the LIFE Project she has learned the importance of having people on her team and “having a great support system that I know I can call on if I ever need anything.” From a car ride to a job interview or someone to talk to on a bad day, the ACH team has shown her reliable and genuine care. “They want to see us grow into the best versions of ourselves,” Arianne says of her experience with the LIFE Project team.

She’s hopeful for a better future for herself. She’s thankful for the support the LIFE Project offers her to fall back on and with a sigh of relief says, “it’s going to be okay.”

The Robert and Jane Ferguson Residential Treatment Center

The Robert and Jane Ferguson Residential Treatment Center (RTC) is an important part of a continuum of services designed to help children with significant behavioral and mental health issues achieve permanency in a family setting and/or receive a level of care that can help them heal from trauma. While ACH has several programs that address this need, the RTC offers a longer-term program for teenagers with this level of acuity. The RTC is the only one of its kind in Texas and joins professional home-based care, therapeutic foster care, support services, and foster care in the ACH continuum of care. These integrated services were developed to reconnect children with their biological families or when that is not possible, to find them a forever family with relatives or adoptive families.

This year, the Residential Treatment Center will face a projected budget deficit of $120,110. Your donation can make a difference!

The LIFE Project

All too often, youth from challenging backgrounds reach their late teens having developed few of the life skills and trusted adult relationships necessary for a self-sufficient, productive life. Whether on their own because they aged out of foster care or because they are homeless, these teens are highly motivated and want a helping hand to change their situations. The ACH LIFE Project was created to help young adults ages 18-21 gain self-confidence and become self-sufficient.

Participants are offered dormitory housing on the ACH Wichita Street Campus. Up to nineteen males can live in the Rees-Jones Family Residential Building, six females in the Virginia and Meto Miteff Family Home, and five girls in the ACH Wedgwood Campus Stocker House. Case managers provide program participants assistance in finding safe and affordable apartments or on-campus housing at a college or university. All youth are required to attend college or vocational school, work at least part-time or a combination of the two.

Want to help? This year, the LIFE Project will face a projected budget deficit of $669,885. Your donation can make a difference!

It’s Time to Let Go

Sierra* was left to make sense of her trauma-filled past and losses and found a home at the Morris Program, staffed by a team who would encourage her, challenge her, and most importantly, just be there with her.

“We don’t know how to help you,” is what the last placement home told 15-year-old Sierra before she found herself without a safe place to live. At different points in her childhood, she had lived with her parents, grandmother, aunt, and 3 placement homes. She soon found her way to the ACH Pat O’Neal Youth Emergency Shelter.

Sierra came in sad, angry, and depressed about her life. Her parents were so neglectful, she often took on the role of caregiver for her siblings. Then she saw people close to her suddenly pass away. After two months at the Shelter, she was still feeling anxious and expressed a lot of mood swings.

ACH has a continuum of care

The Shelter team thought moving into the Morris Program home at ACH would be the next best transition for Sierra and she agreed. She was admittedly nervous and scared when she first moved into her new home. She wasn’t sure if the other girls would be mean or if the staff would be able to help her.

Sierra is “…learning to build trust with others.”

Morris House

Describing herself as strong, independent, and outgoing, there’s a unique resilience to Sierra that reveals her compassion, steadiness, and confidence.  She quickly identifies herself as the “mama bear” of her two siblings, her twin sister and younger sister by three years. As a result of their trauma and neglectful childhood, Sierra has always been the most comfortable taking control, making decisions, and more importantly, not relying on anyone for help.

When you sit down with Sierra, two things become evident: 1) you think she’s well into her 30s, and 2) what she’s most proud of in life are “her girls,” for whom she’d do anything. ACH Morris Program Supervisor Fredresha Overstreet says, “She is motherly. There is this sense of responsibility about her. She is open and outgoing, but she is learning to build trust with others.”

Because she had gotten used to doing everything on her own, Sierra struggles to believe she is worthy to be loved by anyone.  “One of my biggest challenges during my time at ACH,” Sierra shares, “has been being open with others and feeling secure to ask for assistance.”

Finally Feeling Free

One of her goals when moving into the Morris home was to worry about her sisters less, set boundaries, and learn to take care of herself. Sierra wanted to learn how to rebuild her relationship with her siblings to just be their sister and not their mom or caregiver, and only prioritize what a 15-year-old should.

“I want to fulfill my dreams and do things I thought I couldn’t do.”

Sierra now speaks from a place of freedom: “I grew up to see the world differently. It’s not rainbows and butterflies. I can’t grow up and dwell over it. I can just learn to make it better. This is what made me this way, but I can’t blame it.”

She is free and ready to let go, loosen the grip of any grudges she may have held, release the pains of her past, and find hope for not just her future but her sisters as well. When she thinks about her sisters today, “I’m hopeful for the girls to blossom. I want them to do what our parents couldn’t. I want them to chase their dreams.”

When she thinks about her own future she shares, “I want to fulfill my dreams and do things I thought I couldn’t do. I want to help other kids, and I want to travel.”

The Shelter invited Sierra into a safe environment to rest and take a deep breath. The Morris Program offered her a place to reflect on her past and gain the needed self-awareness and skills to grow and hope for her future. At every turn, the entire ACH team from the Shelter to Morris has been there for Sierra.

Our people make the difference

She reflects on her interactions with team members, “Ms. Fredresha brought me out of my shell, Mr. Danny is always so excited to see me, Ms. Dionne is always there to talk, and Ms. Mahoganey always pushes me. They have offered me so many opportunities.” The ACH team has expressed patience, care, and understanding toward Sierra. She has felt their presence with her every step of her healing journey.

While Sierra’s twin is in a different group home, they both hope to be adopted by the same family. Their younger sister is living with a foster family and hopes to be adopted by them soon.  It has been difficult for the girls to be apart from each other, but they have regular Zoom calls and stay in contact frequently.

Sierra understands the help ACH has provided and encourages others with, “there are people out there who love you! Don’t make things hard on them because you’re only making it hard on yourself.”

*Name changed to protect privacy.

The Morris Program

The Morris program at the ACH Wedgwood Residential Campus provides safe, stable, and nurturing homes for youth, ages 14-17, who are unable to live with their families or in a community home setting. These youth have been traumatized to the extent that it is difficult for them to express their emotions appropriately. This program provides home-based intervention therapy that assists youth in gaining independent living skills in a safe and supportive environment. Youth will work toward gaining the necessary skills to succeed in a variety of settings. This may include a family foster care placement, family reunification, a transition to independence, or an independent living program.

At the Wedgwood Transitional Living program, we focus on factors that have been proven to help youth be successful post-foster care. We aid in their academic achievement, vocational planning and by assisting them in finding gainful employment or volunteer experience. We also help the children in our care to attain a valid ID or driver’s license, to improve their ability to manage their own behavior, to cope with stress, and to gain insight into their interests and strengths.

The Morris Program will face a projected funding deficit of $289,439 in 2022. Consider donating to support ACH programs and youth like Sierra today.

Pat O’Neal Youth Emergency Shelter

The Shelter is a 24/7 residential-based program that offers homeless, runaway, throwaway and trafficked youth, ages 10-17, emergency housing and care while ACH works to connect them with appropriate social services, reunite them with their families, or find alternative safe and supportive long-term living arrangements.

The United States Department of Homeland Security said “ACH has been an invaluable partner in the fight against human trafficking. ACH faithfully provides a place where the victim’s safety, well-being, and immediate needs can be met and further assists in the transition to safe and stable housing.”

At an average cost per child of $258 per night, ACH is facing a projected funding gap for the Shelter of $579,366. Your donations can help children find what may be the first safe and stable sanctuary with protective adult support in their young lives.