CORPUS CHRISTI – A group of youths from foster care gathered to mark a major milestone in their lives, which for many have been marred with uncertainty, abuse or neglect, and a history of involvement in Child Protective Services. These hard-working young men and women earned their high school diplomas. In a nation where youth from the foster care system are statistically less likely to finish high school and more likely to experience teen pregnancies, poverty and unemployment, this was a noteworthy accomplishment and an important first step towards achieving success and stability.

At the graduation party at Fun Trackers Family Fun & Games on Saturday, May 21, the youths received gift bags, certificates, Walmart gift cards, and lots of hugs and well-wishes. The party was hosted by BCFS Health and Human Services-Corpus Christi, a local nonprofit that serves youths and families working through challenging circumstances. The event was funded in part by the Coastal Bend Community Foundation.

“I would like to say ‘thank you’ to BCFS-Corpus Christi and the Coastal Bend Foundation for their help and support,” graduate Joslin Benavidez shared after the event. “All of you working together to support me is truly amazing and I am so grateful. Thank you for helping me achieve my dreams and plan for my future.”

Benavidez graduated in the top 10% of her class and earned her nursing assistant certification while in high school. BCFS-Corpus Christi helped her submit financial aid applications and admissions paperwork to attend Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, where she will pursue a nursing degree.

Benavidez is just one of several youths served by BCFS-Corpus Christi that will attend college this fall. Javier Castillo credited BCFS with helping him get to graduation.

“BCFS helped me a lot,” said Castillo, “covering most of my questions in PAL (Preparation for Adult Living) classes,” he said. “I’m really excited about graduation and I want to go to college and become a veterinarian; thank you for everything.”

BCFS Director Victoria Perez says many of the organization’s programs are aimed at helping youth from troubled backgrounds to advance their education, build life skills and ultimately achieve self-sufficiency.

“Saying goodbye as they head off to college is bittersweet... but mostly sweet because we are amazed by their growth and transformation after completing the program, and we’re excited to see what their future holds,” said Perez.

Rebecca Ramirez from the Child Protective Services Board in Nueces County presented each graduate with their gift bags and a $50 gift card.

“Graduation is a big deal for anyone, but it’s especially significant for the young adults we serve in our foster care program,” says Perez. “Being a teenager can be tough as it is, and several of our youth have had to overcome abuse, neglect or family tragedies. Add to that the strain of bouncing around to different foster homes, and it’s hard for them to put down any roots. Through all that, though, they succeeded academically and graduated! It’s certainly a time to celebrate!”

More than $2,500 was donated from local organizations and businesses to help make the event possible, and several generous community partners donated goods or services, including: Coastal Bend Community Council, Navy/Army Credit Union, Fun Trackers, BJ’s Brewhouse, Joe’s Crab Shack, Rudy’s Bar-B-Q, Hooter’s, P F Chang’s, Texas Roadhouse, Hurricane Alley, Corpus Christi Hooks Baseball, Sam’s Club, Chick-fil-A, Stripes Marketing Dept., Corpus Christi Visitors Center, HEB, Twin Peaks, Whataburger, Corpus Christi Ice Rays Hockey, Bill Miller’s Bar-B-Q, La Palmera Mall and Bourbon St. Candy Company.

BCFS-Corpus Christi serves youth in foster care, those who aged out of the system, other young adults facing challenges like homelessness, poverty, substance abuse, truancy and those recovering from physical and emotional abuse. The center is a “one-stop shop” that provides counseling, case management, and assistance with education, employment, and housing location.

To learn more about BCFS-Corpus Christi, visit DiscoverBCFS.net/CorpusChristi.