By Chelsea Quackenbush
PENITAS, Texas – Alberto Diaz’s five-year-old daughter used to ask him why it would continue to rain inside their trailer though it stopped raining outside.
And it broke his heart. Especially during hurricane season.
He had to tell her Daddy didn’t make a smart decision when he bought the home. He felt ashamed and had no one to turn to for help.
“It’s really difficult in the Valley right now economically, and we’ve been passing through a lot of economic problems, like with clothing and my daughter starting school,” Diaz said. “I was embarrassed to go to Andrew (a Buckner social worker in the Rio Grande Valley) and ask for help. Like God says, if you don’t talk, nobody is going to hear you so just talk. I went to him and explained my situation. I’m missing soap, shampoo, basic stuff people need to shower and look presentable.”
Diaz and his family live in the Colonias, poor neighborhoods of mostly migrant families living in squalor. These families are often taken advantage of by the land owners, who sell them plots at extremely high interest rates, which makes it impossible to repay the loans.
Driving through the Colonias resembles a third-world country. But it’s Texas. And Buckner is trying to change them, one family at a time.
Occupational and educational help
It’s not easy raising five children under the age of five, but with a little help from Buckner’s only domestic CTC in Penitas, Texas, Diaz and his girlfriend, Lupita Gonzalez, have moved into a better apartment and are attending parenting classes.
The CTC staff helped Diaz, who had 12 years of painting experience, start his own painting business. His first solo job was to paint the interior of the CTC. He learned how to make his own business cards, how to give estimates, see the project through and meet deadlines.
“With this family, I saw right away that there were a lot of needs, but also a lot of strengths and a lot of potential,” Buckner social worker Andrew Trujillo said. “All they needed was a little support. This family has grown a lot just since I’ve known them. And as far as transformation goes, I see them going much, much further.”
Lupita and Alberto are planning on going to counseling and are talking about marriage. Buckner also helped Lupita enroll in school for the spring by paying her testing fees and filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The CTC provided shoes for the entire family.
The Diaz-Gonzalez family is a best-case scenario representation of the families Buckner Border Ministries serves. In the majority of families, fathers don’t have steady employment or they are underemployed.
“The families in the Valley are very hard-working and very motivated, especially for their children,” Trujillo said. “They really want to see the lives of their children improve. But there are so many systems of oppression, as well as personal needs, just holding the family back from that next level of functioning.”
The center works holistically with families and walks alongside them, instead of imposing rules on them, Trujillo said. They let the family identify their dreams and their goals for the future, and then the staff helps them break down those dreams into more measurable tasks and objectives to help them reach their dreams.
The CTC offers case management, parenting classes and access to computers. They give out free vitamins and shoes to children. They address the physical, spiritual, medical, emotional and vocational needs of their clients.
Click here to learn more about the philosophy behind Buckner Community Transformation Centers.
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