Finally a Forever Family

For 1,445 days mark and Anna Polanco opened their home and their hearts to 17 different children with a history of trauma, challenging behaviors, and special needs. All of these children had two things in common. Whether short or long term, they all needed safe and loving adults to care for them. The Polancos have been that and so much more to children in foster care. After four years filled with laughter, and the hard work of parenting, mark and Anna Polanco officially became the proud parents of Caleb, Faith, and grace. March 24, 2017 was not only a life-changing day for three precious children, but for two dedicated and selfless new parents as well.

Coming Full Circle

Melissa and Colin have made a life-long commitment to improving the lives of children who were once in foster care. As a former foster child herself, Melissa understands the importance of stability, unwavering commitment, and having a place to call home. This is exactly what they have provided for their two children: Sabrina, adopted June of 2017, and Ty, adopted November of 2014. They are now an official family of four, filled with hopes and dreams for their children.

Ready for Love

From day one, Jordan and Lindsay Bisby were committed to adopting children in foster care with higher needs. They fully immersed themselves into our “Families First” program, where they received more than 40 hours of specialized training to help prepare them for parenting children with higher needs as a result of trauma.The Bisbys used the skills learned at Helping Hand Home along with in-home support from our Foster and Adoption team to help their children come to a place of healing and security. After eight months of dedication, patience, and building trust they celebrated the adoption of their two beautiful children, Cassie and Devon in July 2017.

After 3,399 Days and 15 Placements, Denise Finds Her Forever Home

As the Bennetts sat in pre-service training in 2015, their hearts broke listening to the story of fourteen-year-old Denise. Reggie and Crystal were in the process of becoming adoptive parents and were learning more about children needing committed, permanent homes. They heard Denise had lived in 14 different placements since being removed from her birth mother at the age of five, never experiencing the stability of a home for longer than a year.

Moving from home to home was hard for Denise, as most placements would write her off as having “challenging behavior” when the adjustment got tough. However, when Denise arrived at Helping Hand Home in 2012 things began to turn around. For the first time, her tendency to impulsively react to other children was no longer seen as “challenging behavior,” but rather as a symptom of the root of it all: the abandonment and trauma she experienced from her biological family at a young age.

When Denise finally felt her pain was being heard, she was able to accept the help of caregivers at HHH and begin her healing process. Thanks to weekly therapy sessions, the nurture from staff members, and many other trauma-based services, Denise began to chip away at the underlying trauma from her past. After she completed residential treatment, Denise remained in the care of Helping Hand Home, but this time in a loving foster home where she was able to stay connected to staff members and therapists who continued to help her reach her treatment goals. Her foster home was filled with love and support but was not a permanent placement.

The Foster and Adoption Team approached the Bennetts and began talking with them about a teen girl who was in need of a committed, understanding and nurturing home. As they shared more information about Denise, Reggie instantly made the connection and remembered the story of the girl from the pre-service training. He then realized the search was over; she was the one. “This is where it ends for her,” whispered Reggie Bennett to his wife, Crystal, “She will never have to move again.” In November of 2016, Denise and the Bennetts officially became a forever family. The Bennetts admit that the road to permanency was not easy and they relied on HHH for guidance and support. Together, Reggie, Crystal and Denise worked hard to create a healthy, loving family. Now in the 9th grade, Denise is thriving both academically and athletically. Not only did she go to the Junior Olympics for track and field in 8th grade, but she is now a star player on both the volleyball and basketball teams at her high school. Reggie and Crystal could not be more thankful for the role that Helping Hand Home played in Denise’s life before she finally became a member of their family. Now that this family has found each other, they are excited for what lies ahead.

A Brother and Sister Find a New Home

Six-year-old Mikaela loves dolls, playing, dress-up and anything Hello Kitty. Her brother, three-year-old Thomas, loves being outside, building his train track and learning new words.  In many ways, Thomas and Mikaela are two normal, healthy kids, but in others they are still working hard to overcome their background of abuse and neglect. Foster parents Alfred and Elizabeth Matysek had opened their home to children with therapeutic needs in the past, so when Mikaela and Thomas came into their home in 2012, they were ready for any challenges they might face together on the path to healing.

When the children became eligible for adoption this year, Alfred and Elizabeth knew they wanted to become a permanent family with Mikaela and Thomas. The children chose to pick new names for themselves to celebrate the new chapter in their life. On April 21, 2014, the adoptions were finalized, just in time for a Mother’s Day to remember. Congratulations to the Matyseks!

Our Journey to Adoption, Written By Lee Ann Kahlor

There are a lot of reasons why people choose to adopt. We had always considered adoption as a way to build our family. When we were ready to adopt – 11 years ago now –we pursued private adoption with an agency that facilitated transracial adoptions. As we were educating ourselves about adoption, we learned that there were so many children of different races that needed good homes, and we embraced the opportunity to be a diverse family. We adopted three children that way, Mabel, 11, Gigi, 8, and Felix, 6. It’s been a match made in heaven – three times over.

Back when we were considering a second child, we looked into the option of fostering-to-adopt a child through the foster care system. We even attended a meeting in Austin with Child Protective Services (CPS). Ultimately, though, we felt we weren’t ready to deal with the uncertainty of it: Imagining that we might have to say goodbye to a child after becoming attached was too scary. We were also intimidated by the CPS process, which seemed so big and cold and impersonal. So, for kids two and three (Gigi and Felix), we went with the same private agency that helped us to adopt Mabel, our oldest.

But each time we adopted privately, we noticed that a wonderful thing was happening. Minority children were not as difficult to place as they once were. So by the time we were considering a fourth child, it had become clear that if we wanted to adopt a child that was at risk of not finding a good home, perhaps we should take another look at Austin’s foster-to-adopt programs. It was at this point that we noticed that Helping Hand Home had a foster-to-adopt program and would help us navigate the CPS system so we didn’t have to do it alone.

Serving as our child placement agency, HHH arranged all of our home studies, trained us to become verified and helped ease us into the predictably unpredictable world of foster care.  Through the trainings they provided, we learned how to be better parents to all our children. We also learned compassion for everyone who is touched by the foster care system: the children, of course, but also the parents and families who are trying hard to keep their children with them. We learned to feel for those who struggle with loss, addiction, poverty, violence and love. We also became comfortable with our boundaries – we all have them – and were able to communicate with HHH what we saw as a good fit for our family in terms of the right age range and level of special needs we could handle as a family.

In sum, working with HHH has made us better and more compassionate people and better parents. Being a foster family has also made our children more compassionate and willing to give of themselves. We are now a family of seven! In other words, we adopted two children through Helping Hand Home, for a total of five children.  It was a long journey and it was never easy. But our family is so resilient and happy as a result of the journey. We don’t take anything for granted. And we find great strength in knowing that our family is at a place where children can rise from desperate circumstances and reach their full potential. It is a wonderful feeling, and we are so glad we chose foster care and HHH to get us to this strong and happy place.

Miracle and Joyce Celebrate Austin Adoption Day

On November 7, Austin Adoption Day celebrated local children being adopted out of the foster care system. The Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center was transformed into the Emerald City from the Wizard of Oz to finalize adoptions for 47 children and their families. One of the proud new parents is Joyce, who adopted two-year-old Miracle through HHH’s Foster and Adoption Services. Miracle has lived with Joyce for over a year, and it was Miracle’s first and only foster placement.

“This town’s gone through a lot in the last week or so. We’ve had a lot of people lose a lot, their homes, their children, their friends, their family,” said Judge Darlene Byrne, one of the judges who presided on Adoption Day. “Today, as we pause, we get to watch the magic of making a family.” Congratulations to Miracle and Joyce on their magical day.

A Teenage Girl Finds Her Forever Home

When Holly had just begun the process of becoming a foster mother at HHH’s Foster and Adoption Agency, she came to one of our picnics and watched the foster parents with their children, imagining what it would be like to be one of them. Something drew her attention to one girl in particular, laughing and enjoying herself. Holly found herself hoping that her own foster child might be like that. The girl at the picnic was Maria, and this year she and Holly legally became a forever family.

From the beginning, Holly had been open to older children because of her background as a high school teacher. With thirteen-year-old Maria, her teaching background paid off: during the year Maria has lived with Holly, her grades have gone from barely passing to the honor roll. Once a shy, tentative child, Maria now carries herself with confidence and enjoys spending time with her friends from school. She loves to play the trombone in her school band, and with the help of lessons and dedicated practice, she’s become a capable musician. Maria and Holly also like to travel together, most recently to California where they took in the Rose Bowl and visited Holly’s alma mater. Congratulations to this new family as they celebrate their first Christmas as mother and daughter!

Happily Ever After: Four Girls Find Their Forever Family

December 5, 2012, was a very special day for Helping Hand Home and Josephine and Scott Lansing, as it marked the adoption of their daughter, eleven-year-old Bethany. This is the fourth adoption for the Lansings, and they are so excited to officially welcome Bethany into their family – forever.

When they began the journey to adopt their first daughter, Cloe, five years ago, Josephine and Scott never imagined they would eventually have a house full of girls. The couple later adopted Josie in 2011 and Annabelle in 2012. For the Lansing family, adoption is about giving every child the opportunity to thrive in a loving home. Scott and Josephine are tremendous advocates for each of their daughters, and they make sure each child knows how special and loved they are.

In February of 2009, Bethany entered into the care of Child Protective Services due to her mother’s inability to care for her and her siblings. Her experiences made it very difficult for her to trust adults, since she learned from an early age that she could only count on herself. She lived in a shelter for several months before moving into a foster home. Still, Bethany struggled to understand why she had been taken away from the only family she had known. In May of 2010, Bethany was placed at Helping Hand Home for Children’s Residential Treatment Center, where her journey to healing finally began. With the patience, support, and guidance of the HHH staff, Bethany developed healthy, appropriate ways to express her emotions. She was taught to respect herself, and she learned that it was okay to trust others.

When Bethany was introduced to the Lansing family in June of 2012, the meeting did not go as smoothly as everyone hoped. Bethany’s insecurities resurfaced due to the trauma she experienced at such a young age, and she refused to talk or even look at the Lansings at their first meeting. The Lansing family was patient with Bethany and explained they wanted to get to know her better and hoped she would one day be part of their family. The other girls shared their stories of coming from the foster care system, and they told her how scared they had been about meeting a new family too. Soon Bethany’s anxiety eased, and she agreed to go see her new home. Bethany has experienced a lot of exciting things since becoming a Lansing. From many hours spent at the neighborhood pool to her first trip to the beach, Bethany now has the life every child deserves. The Lansings recently celebrated their first official family Christmas with a holiday cruise, another first for Bethany. She enjoyed her 11th birthday at sea!

When Bethany returns to HHH to visit, the first thing everyone comments on is her self confidence. The little girl who was once afraid to make eye contact is now a secure, funny young lady who will talk your ear off. The entire Lansing family has been a joy to work with over the past few years, and Helping Hand Home is so grateful that they’ve allowed us into their lives. It has been amazing to watch their four children blossom into the confident young ladies they are today.

A Forever Home for Marshall

July 31, 2012, marked the legal consummation of Jeremy Mullen adopting five-year-old Marshall. Marshall was removed from his home at a very young age due to abuse and neglect and placed in the foster care system. As a result of his exposure to this abuse, he developed behaviors that were not easily managed and was moved four times in less than a year. It was not until he came to live at Helping Hand Home that his life would change forever. While at Helping Hand Home, he received the nurturing support and treatment needed to begin to overcome his aggression. Through weekly therapy and 24-hour care, Marshall learned to heal, hope and trust again.

Jeremy first came to Helping Hand Home as a volunteer through his workplace. He always dreamed of becoming a dad and began to consider the possibility of adopting or fostering a child as he learned more about HHH. It wasn’t until he met Marshall in September 2011 that his dream would become a reality. Jeremy worked closely with HHH staff for over six months to prepare for the adoption while Marshall was receiving continued therapeutic treatment at Helping Hand Home. As Marshall’s behaviors improved, HHH’s Child Placing Agency staff members strongly advocated for Marshall to be adopted by Jeremy due to his dedication, preparation and instant bond with Marshall. “The issues that these children are dealing with now should not deter people from believing that they can heal and move forward in their lives,” says Kristi Duck, Director of Helping Hand Home’s Child Placing Agency. “These children have the same hopes and dreams as any other child.” Marshall began living with Jeremy in January while waiting for the official adoption date. “From the beginning of this journey I have been amazed by the resiliency of these kids and the pure giving nature of those in the child welfare industry. The ongoing support Marshall and I received from Helping Hand Home’s Child Placing Agency has made an extraordinary difference for our family,” says Jeremy.

Helping Hand Home’s Child Placing Agency (CPA) serves children in the foster care system ages birth to 17 years. Placements include children from HHH’s Residential Treatment Center as well as children from all over the state. Helping Hand Home’s CPA works day or night with children who are removed from the care of their biological family by Child Protective Services, as well as children who have been moved from other foster homes, those coming from other treatment centers and children who have been discharged from psychiatric hospitals. CPA staff members meet regularly with HHH therapists to identify children living at the Home whose treatment has readied them for transition into a foster or adoptive home. It takes a team of dedicated individuals to move a child from treatment to adoption, but every child deserves that chance. In the past year alone, Helping Hand Home CPA staff facilitated eight adoptions, thus helping eight children leave the foster care system and find their forever families. Adoption is a top priority for Helping Hand Home, and the Home’s dedicated staff will continue to work together to find permanency for every child that comes through our doors. Congratulations to Jeremy and Marshall!

Healing, Hope and a Home for Glenis

Glenis, a witty and energetic eight-year-old girl, is the epitome of what resilience means. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed Glenis spent her first two years of life growing up in extreme poverty in Central Texas. Her early childhood was filled with severe abuse and neglect. At the age of two, she was removed from her biological mother and placed with relatives. In early 2010, at the age of seven, Glenis was removed from the home of relatives and would embark on a journey of healing thanks to Helping Hand Home for Children.

The healing model at Helping Hand Home’s Residential Treatment Center was exactly what Glenis needed. She received weekly therapy sessions to help her move beyond her years of abuse and neglect. The behavior modification techniques and the life skills learned at Helping Hand Home helped her deal with her aggression and attachment issues. At HHH Glenis took part in numerous educational enrichment activities and had an amazing volunteer buddy who visited her each week to help her gain a sense of trust and hope for the future. While living at the Home, Glenis was placed in the neighborhood school, as she tested very well in aptitude tests and had above-average social skills for a child who had lived through years of abuse. Glenis proved to be a strong, high-achieving child who thrived at her elementary school.

As Glenis’ treatment progressed, Helping Hand Home’s Child Placing Agency began looking for the best family for Glenis. After nearly a year in treatment at HHH, Glenis was placed in the home of her new foster mom Lila in January of 2011. Lila had no children of her own but had a large extended family. Lila had worked as a university professor and a publishing executive and, like Glenis, shared a love of books, school and languages. Lila welcomed Glenis with open arms with hopes of her becoming a permanent member of the family. In Lila’s care, Glenis began taking ballet lessons, playing on a soccer team and continued to thrive in school. Glenis was very excited to be with Lila, but had a hard time developing trust that had been broken at such a young age. When Glenis was first placed in Lila’s home, she was constantly afraid of being alone in any part of the house. But each day, Lila assured Glenis she was safe and showed her patience and consistent love each step of the way.

Today, Glenis runs from room to room and is excited about her new home, showing the trust she has developed in Lila’s care. Lila is devoted to making sure that Glenis is given every opportunity available that could help her grow and live a very successful life. Glenis is now in a college preparatory school and is being challenged to meet her fullest potential. Glenis and Lila have also developed hobbies they do together like folk dancing and traveling. Although not every day is perfect, the love, trust and healing that has taken place in Glenis’s life is nothing short of a miracle. On October 27, 2011, Glenis was adopted by Lila, making their new family official. Glenis now has what every child deserves and needs: a permanent, loving place to call home.

Jackson’s Story

Dear Helping Hand Home Family,

This past November I left at Helping Hand Home a piece of my heart…my son, Jackson. The situation had become unmanageable at home, and our entire family was suffering. As I drove home without my precious son, I was overwhelmed with feelings of despair and failure. I did the only thing I knew to do, I prayed. I knew God could work miracles. He had worked one in my life before when He gave me my beautiful boys, and our family was in need of another miracle.

I was not disappointed. Over the past six months, with your love, compassion, knowledge, determination and perseverance, Jackson has changed. Jackson changed from a child who seemed lost and unsure of his place to a more comfortable and confident member of our family. You have equipped not only my son, but our entire family with the tools necessary to succeed.

As we go forward, we will hold close to our heart Helping Hand Home and all the wonderful people who helped make our miracle possible.

Thank you,
Jackson’s Mom

Lisa’s Story

Yesterday, I noticed one of the Home’s therapists had several Post-It notes on his shirt – they had phrases written on them such as: “I ruined my family,” “I miss my mother,” “Who is taking care of my sister?” I asked the therapist why the notes were stuck to his shirt. He told me one of the little girls, “Lisa,” age 7, was having a very tough morning. When he talked to Lisa, he learned she was worried about her family, afraid her friends didn’t like her and many other things. He made an agreement with Lisa that they would write down all her worries and he would carry them around for her the rest of the day. He told Lisa her job for the day was to leave her worries with him so she could go have fun and just be a kid. As I looked out the window, I saw Lisa on the playground with the other children running, playing and laughing.