The impact of Buckner is found not only in the care it provides, but also in the connections it makes in people’s lives. Those connections involve people from all walks of life, even a small group of public servants, links formed through personal experiences or through relationships with friends and loved ones. To this day, Buckner continues impacting the lives of public servants in both personal and professional ways.
Larissa Plunto: Called to be a ‘light in the darkness’
Larissa Plunto was adopted through Buckner in San Antonio. At 5 years old, she moved with her parents to Virginia. She said she grew up in a happy family before she felt called to public service as a young adult.
“It’s been a passion of mine, more of a ministry that I felt like the Lord called me to when I was 15 years old,” she said. “I always just heard the negative, negative, negative about politics and politicians and all these things, but I feel like that’s where God was calling me. I just felt like God was like, ‘You’re going to be the light in the darkness.’”
Plunto went on to work as an appointee to the Pentagon for President George W. Bush. She has also worked for Texas State Senator Lois Kolkhorst and most recently for U.S. Representative Michael McCaul. Throughout her career, she’s experienced the reality of politics: How, when a person is elected to accomplish an agenda, they are often still dependent on other circumstances, including term limits.
But the challenges she has experienced have also strengthened her faith in God. “God’s like, ‘Larissa, I’m going to accomplish my will. I will accomplish it. So whether you’re there or somewhere else, my will be accomplished,’” Plunto said. “I just have to lean into that and trust it.”
Her own adoption story and experience working in politics give Plunto purpose. Now, she wants to make her own story, one of love and adoption, a dream for more people to experience. In March, Plunto joined Buckner International as the major donor officer in the Gulf Coast, where she will help secure resources to serve more vulnerable children and families.
Armando Walle: Challenged to give back
Texas House Representative Armando Walle was born and raised in Aldine, an area of Houston, Texas, the same district he now represents and lives in. It’s where he first interacted with Buckner International. Throughout junior high and high school, Walle attended schools near the Buckner Family Hope Center® at Aldine.
But his connection to Buckner went beyond proximity.
“When I was in high school, there was a guy named Mike Downs who was a youth counselor at my high school,” Walle said. “He knew some of the things that I was going through and he thought it’d be a good idea, even though I came from a very troubled background, he said, ‘Hey, there’s going to be a toy drive and I think it’d be good for you to come by and give back.’”
That was the first opportunity Walle had to interact with people who were dealing with challenges different than his.
“When I came here, [I] saw some kids that didn’t grow up the way I did in a sense that, yes, we didn’t have a lot of monetary things, but my family was always very loving and caring,” he explained. “There were other kids that didn’t have that, and I was fortunate that I did have that.”
As years went by, Walle continued volunteering at Buckner through different events. Now Walle’s own family is also connected with Buckner through giving and volunteering. When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017, Walle and his children knew they needed to be at the Family Hope Center.
“I came by and I brought my kids with me because I wanted to teach my children about the hardships that some others have, so they can be aware of service and giving back to the community,” he said. “We’re complex people, but it’s centers like this that kind of ground you and make you realize that there are other ways to give back, and this is one of the ways that I try to instill in my children now. And I come by every year.”
As a Houston native, and a direct witness of the challenges Houstonians face, Walle says organizations like the Family Hope Center can fill the gap where government sometimes can’t. “We have to have partnerships like Buckner,” he explained. “Private partnerships are important.”
Dade Phelan: ‘Vulnerable populations must receive quality care’
The 76th Speaker of the Texas House of Representative and State Representative of District 21, Dade Phelan has always been aware of the important role Buckner International has played in Beaumont and Southeast Texas. He grew up in Beaumont, where Buckner has served children and families for five decades. His wife, Kim Phelan, is an attorney for children in the child protection and juvenile justice systems who has represented children living at the Buckner Children’s Village and who are otherwise served by Buckner.
“The quality of the staff and the caregivers at the assessment center was amazing,” Kim said. “The children were always really well taken care of, and I always had really good things to say about that place.”
She is currently working with Buckner to develop a Southeast Texas Strong Families Coalition to help keep children out of the child protection and juvenile justice systems and remain safely with their families instead of in alternative placements like the Children’s Village used to be.
As a legislator serving the community, Phelan knows the challenges many in the health care system are facing. Those challenges, he noticed, can present tougher issues in the area of Texas he represents. But the work done by his own family, as well as other people he knows at Buckner Calder Woods, the senior living community in Beaumont, has been admirable, even with those present challenges.
“One can have goals as a speaker, but then once session comes around, you are going to face serious issues that you have to take up, including health care,” Phelan said. “Vulnerable populations must receive quality care early, because it’s the right thing to do and also because it is so much more economical to do so.”
For Phelan, it’s clear when quality care is given early on to those who are vulnerable, society avoids bigger physical and financial costs. And that is where Phelan says organizations like Buckner, which he said are run by “our neighbors,” really help the community.
Throughout their careers, the Phelans said they have noticed improvement and growth in their community and are excited to see more in the future, but trust that organizations like Buckner will continue lending a hand for the most vulnerable.
“There are a lot of men and women who have been business leaders, community leaders, teachers, as well as friends and family, who are at Calder Woods now and it is nice to know they’re being taken care of,” Phelan said.