LADERIUS was preparing for his freshman year in high school in 2017 when Hurricane Harvey made landfall and devastated his hometown of Houston and his sense of normalcy.
Instead of school, fall football and basketball tryouts, Laderius, his older brother and mother found themselves homeless and living in a church’s makeshift emergency shelter, carrying everything they owned. After a couple of weeks they moved to NRG Center, a conference hall and football stadium, sharing space with 10,000 other evacuees. It was during this time Laderius and his family encountered staff from MCH Family Outreach in Houston.
“Following Hurricane Harvey, MCH visited families at shelters and housing facilities and provided resources for food, clothes, fuel cards, school supplies, and other things,” said Nicole Washington, director of MCH Family Outreach in Houston. “We also helped families navigate through programs to obtain additional assistance and therapy services to help address their trauma.”
Laderius’s family received assistance and also learned about the MCH residential program in Waco from the Houston staff. The decision for Laderius to move to the MCH Boys Ranch made sense for them considering the uncertainty of when and where the family would find a place to call home.
In the 13 MCH Family Outreach communities across Texas and New Mexico, case managers work with families in a variety of ways, including parent education and other family solutions combining individual and family services, case management and advocacy. Programs are designed to help families and children grow to be healthy and successful at home, at school and in the community.
“Each family has a unique set of circumstances that brings them to MCH,” said Traci Wagner, vice president for programs. “Our goal is to keep families together and children at home. However, sometimes the best option is out-of-home care through our residential or foster care programs. Even then, we want to serve the family unit.”
“I had never been away from my family, but the biggest thing I needed was stability so I could go to school,” Laderius said. “After the hurricane we were moving around a lot. Coming here was a good choice.”
Laderius’s mother wanted him to stay in public school, so he enrolled in Axtell High School near the Boys Ranch. After growing up in Houston, attending a smaller school in a tight-knit community and living at MCH was the stability Laderius needed.
“It was an adjustment starting a new school and meeting new people, but it has changed my life,” he said. “Seeing life from a different perspective being here and having people like my caseworker supporting me have helped me grow a lot.”
“Laderius has overcome many challenges that have inspired him to mature into the young man he is today,” said Lasonia King, Laderius’s case manager. “Laderius has maintained good grades in his classes while also working at a local restaurant and participating in sports in school.
“It’s been a joy to see him transform into such an intelligent and respectful young man,” she said. “We are very proud of Ladarius’s accomplishments and can’t wait to see what the future brings him.”
Now a senior, Laderius is doing well in his classes and is a standout athlete. A star cornerback and receiver in football, he made the difficult decision to pass on playing his senior year due to concerns related to COVID-19, but he looks forward to his final basketball campaign and hopes to receive an offer to play basketball in college.
“If I had not come to the Boys Ranch, college probably wouldn’t have been in the equation otherwise,” he said. “I’ve grown and made friends here. You can’t isolate yourself when you’re living and sharing space with a bunch of other guys.
“I know how it feels to be the new, younger guy, and now they look to me for advice about life and athletics,” he added. “I try to help them build character and confidence.”
Joining Laderius at the Boys Ranch are six other young men – three sets of brothers: Bryce and Londen, Daniel and Yassir, and Sterling and Ryland – all whose connections to MCH also uniquely originated through Family Outreach programs.
“It has been a joy to get to work with these guys and their families,” said Laura Bonner, program administrator of the Boys Ranch. “I have had the privilege to see these families flourish through the collaborative work between the residential and outreach programs. I love the innovative mindset and the hope we provide through our ministry.”
BRYCE AND LONDEN moved in with their grandparents in Killeen when other issues made it impossible for them to live with their parents. The boys’ aunt connected their grandmother with MCH Family Outreach in Killeen so she could have a resource for advocacy and caregiver support.
“She is a great caregiver and loves her grandsons, but she was reaching the point of feeling desperate because – in her words – she was getting older and just didn’t have the capacity to parent anymore,” said Frankie Cones, director of MCH Family Outreach in Killeen. “She just didn’t know what to do.”
While participating in a nurture group facilitated by the Killeen Outreach office, Bryce and Londen’s grandmother learned about the MCH residential program in Waco.
“She really became interested in the Waco campus and Boys Ranch,” Cones said. “She is really involved, bright and asks great questions. We knew if we got the boys into a nurturing environment they would be able to flourish.”
At first Bryce and Londen were skeptical about the move, but after watching the MCH annual video and seeing pictures of the campuses, they both saw it as a great opportunity.
“I wanted to go because it looked like a cool place with activities and choices of things to do,” said Bryce. Londen agreed with his brother.
“We had a home with our grandparents – three meals a day and a roof over our heads,” he said. “But they were getting older and Bryce and I were doing a lot of work to care for them. Coming to the Boys Ranch has been good for us.”
Both brothers radiate joy when talking about the activities they are involved in at MCH, which runs the gamut from junior varsity football, reader’s theater and learning to work with animals through the ag program at the Boys Ranch.
“We’re city boys,” said Londen, giggling. “It’s been fun learning how to do country stuff.”
“Both of them have unique personalities and they are so kind and intelligent,” Cones said. “It has been good to check in on them and see they are both thriving.”
Londen said the investment of MCH staff has helped him overcome issues he has carried from his past.
“I had a lot of anger because that’s how I saw my dad and stepmom act,” he said. “I’ve learned how to regulate my anger since I’ve been here. I see my homeparents, when they get frustrated, they’ll take a breather or will just stop and pray. I’ve really learned from them.”
“It’s been good to be here,” Bryce said. “I feel like I’m at home with a big family of brothers and people that care about us. They are consistent and always here for us.”
“This is a great example of how MCH Family Outreach can serve in a bigger purpose – by bridging the gap between the programs we provide in outreach and the services available through residential, if that is a fit for families,” Cones said. “This is what being a focused and flexible ministry is all about. To know we have these additional resources is so valuable for us and for the families we serve.”
DANIEL AND YASSIR, along with five other siblings, lived with their grandmother in El Paso. In 2018 she reached out to the MCH Family Outreach office in El Paso because caring for the group of grandchildren was taking a toll on her.
“She was having a tough time with seven children at all different ages,” said Cynthia Hurtado, a case manager with MCH Family Outreach in El Paso. “She had started caring for them in 2015 and things became increasingly difficult when she lost her husband in 2018.” Hurtado said Yassir and Daniel spent a brief time at another children’s home in Texas, but the environment and experience was not good for the brothers.
As part of MCH training, Hurtado visited the Boys Ranch for the first time and came away impressed with the residential program offered in Central Texas.
“I came home and suggested the Boys Ranch to the grandmother and she agreed it sounded like a good solution for the boys,” Hurtado said.
Yassir arrived at MCH first as a sixth grader.
“Moving so far away from my family was hard and I didn’t know what to expect,” Yassir said.
Hurtado traveled to Waco to visit Yassir the following year and said “he was a completely different young man. Before he was shy and difficult to draw out, but now was outgoing, talkative and offering to help with chores. His grades had improved a lot, too.”
Daniel joined his brother the following year and Hurtado witnessed the same transformation.
“At first Daniel was very quiet and avoided eye contact,” she said. “When he came home to El Paso at Christmas, he was bright, considerate and had even saved all his allowance to give to his grandmother for Christmas.”
“I’ve grown a lot mentally, physically and emotionally since I’ve been here,” Daniel said. “The people here care about us, spend time with us and listen to us when we’re going through stuff.”
“That right there is what it’s all about,” Hurtado said. “Everybody deserves to be happy. Sometimes all you need is a second chance to thrive.
“Having the option to recommend the residential program from the MCH Family Outreach side is helpful and wonderful,” she continued. “There are grandparents and other caregivers who love their children and grandchildren very much, but they are struggling. It can be a struggle for the children as well. They’ve never been presented with other options and some are stuck in bad cycles. For this family, the Boys Ranch was a chance for something different.”
Daniel, a sophomore at the MCH charter school, plays on the MCH Bulldogs six-man football and basketball teams and hopes to one day serve in the United States Air Force. Yassir, a freshman at the charter school, plays on the basketball team and wants to ultimately become a lawyer.
“I want to be one of those people that helps others,” he said.
“I’d love to see them graduate and be the first in their family to go to college,” Hurtado said. “By going to the Boys Ranch, Yassir and Daniel are changing and writing a new story.”
RYLAND AND STERLING have had a close relationship with their paternal grandparents since they were young. Their grandparents lovingly circled around the twin brothers and their parents over the years when they experienced challenges. Ryland and Sterling eventually began to live full time with their grandparents at the age of 4. However, when their grandfather was diagnosed with final-stage ALS, the boys went to live with their mother so their grandmother could focus on caring for her husband.
“This was a difficult season for the boys,” said Marissa Smith, director of MCH Family Outreach in Waco. “They ended up missing a lot of school and experienced increased instability at home.” After her husband passed away a year and a half later, the grandmother recognized the need for additional family support.
“It was a difficult time for all of them, because Karen, their grandmother, was still grieving her husband yet needing to get the boys back on track,” Smith said. “They clashed a lot and it was exhausting for all of them.” After being introduced to MCH Family Outreach by a family member, Karen became involved in case management to learn parenting skills and tactics such as setting boundaries, healthy compromise, shared power, and making wise choices.
“Through this, our conversations kept coming back to the idea of having Sterling and Ryland live at MCH,” Smith said. “Karen had retirement plans that she had put on the shelf. She yearned to have a relationship with the boys as their grandmother, not as rule-maker and disciplinarian.
Smith said it became increasingly evident that the best option for the boys would be campus placement.
“They needed community,” Smith said. “They needed male role models in their life.”
Ryland, Sterling and their grandmother took a tour of MCH and connected with coaches and teachers. Smith said Ryland wanted to move in that same day.
“God brought us here and I can see why,” Sterling said. “There are amazing people here that we can lean on, we’ve got father and mother figures in our homeparents, and being at the Boys Ranch has given us a whole group of new brothers.”
The smaller classes at the MCH charter school were an adjustment for the boys coming from a large middle school, but the individualized attention has helped them both get back to where they need to be in academics. Having experience in organized football helped the ninth-grade brothers make an immediate impact on the MCH Bulldogs six-man football team when fall sports kicked off, with Sterling playing receiver and kick returner on the varsity squad and Ryland anchoring the line on junior varsity.
“Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of other people helping us along the way,” Ryland said. “I like it here because everyone is coming from different places and experiences and we all help each other. It’s peaceful, and I’ve got a whole bunch of brothers.”
Smith said the bottom line for MCH Family Outreach “is to see families healthy and thriving. Most will stay together through the process, but in this case, having the boys at MCH allowed Karen to become their biggest cheerleader in her right role as their grandmother. For this family, it is a win.”
According to Traci Wagner, “one of the most responsible ways we can serve children is to invest in their family. This is why we continue to build focused but flexible programs and services to offer a robust continuum of care, from support groups for caregivers to out-of-home care for children. MCH is committed to helping children, youth and families flourish.”