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‘I Held Her First’ – Buckner Alum’s story comes full-circle

By Chelsea Quackenbush
Buckner International

BEAUMONT - Dave “Daddy Dave” Bleakley first met Amelia by chance at a Buckner Children’s Village reunion in Beaumont. Two-week-old Amelia was the youngest alumna and Daddy Dave was the oldest. Buckner staff thought it would make a cool photo, so they placed the tiny girl in his arms.

“What’s her name?” he asked.


His eyes welled with tears. His late wife, known fondly as “Mama Anne,” never let anyone call her by her real name – Amelia Anne Bleakley. At the time, no one knew that circumstances over the next few months would bring them back together.

Daddy Dave’s story

Daddy Dave is a Buckner alumnus and one of its greatest advocates. He lived at the Buckner Orphans Home in Dallas with his older brother and sister in the 1940s when he was just 4 years old.

Raised in a broken home in southeast Arkansas, and then shuffled between family members all over Texas, a pastor in Port Arthur found them a place at Buckner.

He vividly recalls wanting to break out of the fence that surrounded the campus. He knew it was the only thing separating him from happiness. So when Buckner staff asked him what they could do to get him to stop crying, he said he wanted to play outside. His plan was to escape when no one was looking.

Little did Daddy Dave know, the staff knew what he was up to. So they held him close the whole time until he calmed down.

“Nothing can fill the void like love, and that’s what they did,” Daddy Dave said. “We believed it was important to teach Jenn [his daughter] that message because that’s what Buckner taught us.”

According to Buckner staff, Daddy Dave puts a smile on everyone’s face when he walks through the door. He encourages Buckner children by sharing his story.

Parenting with grace

Daddy Dave’s daughter, Jennifer Guerra, and her husband Ricky, decided to become foster parents after their birth daughter, Avery Anne, passed away in 2008 at the age of 4 due to complications with complex congenital heart disease.

“We knew she was just the girl God decided her to be,” Jennifer said. “But we knew we couldn’t have more kids, so Buckner was our only option.”

The day they received their foster parent certification, the Guerras got the call about taking Amelia in for a 14-day respite period when she was 4 months old. Her previous foster mother was sick and couldn’t care for her. The emergency placement turned long-term, and soon after, Amelia became available for adoption. Everything else fell into place.

Jenn and Ricky had two other foster daughters, Elizabeth, who was 5 at the time, and Zoey, who was 2. They said Amelia was stiff and reserved at first. She startled at loud noises. But it didn’t take long to become part of the family, and soon she warmed up to the other girls.

“You just had this certainty in your heart that God is moving, which is unusual in this field because everything is so uncertain,” Beaumont director of foster care and adoption Samela Macon said. “Daddy Dave taught Jenn how to serve. He has a servant’s heart. The Guerras have made a tremendous difference in the lives of the children they fostered.”

Daddy’s girl

Now Amelia is a “daddy’s girl.” Her face lights up when Ricky gets home from work in the evening. Her first word was “Dada.” Everyone says they look alike.

“That’s the sweetest thing, seeing the Lord fill that void they had,” Daddy Dave said. “It was affirmation that it was the Lord, his hand in the beautiful tapestry he’s woven.

“The wonder of all wonder is that God would choose to bless our family through the life of another little girl with my late wife as her namesake. She favors little Avery Anne and acts like Mama Anne. And to think that our Lord would choose to perform such an act of mercy through the same Buckner ministry he used 67 years ago to rescue my life as a 4-year-old child. Only he can perform such miracles.”

The Guerras have postponed their position as foster parents because in December, they will have another unexpected addition to their family – Jennifer is pregnant with a little boy, Noah Blake.

Amelia bounces around the room, between her parents and Daddy Dave, smiling and showing them her baby dolls.

“She’s theirs now,” Daddy Dave said. “But I always tell them ‘I held her first.’”

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2011 Edition of Buckner Today.

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