The 11-year-old youngster is a high special needs child with a mom with mental capacity issues. “Mom” can function, has her own place, but when her child is home he’s too much for her to handle, even as much as she loves him.
The boy will run away or do crazy things, so he ended up in the care of the state and has been in a residential treatment center (RTC) in Victoria for almost two years now. Unfortunately Mom doesn’t get to see him very often, maybe every four months and that’s only when she can find a ride up there.
If she takes a bus, she’ll never get to where it is she needs to go. So the distance separates this struggling family.
“Who knows what he would be like if he was able to see his mom more often and have that familial contact and therapy with his mom?” said Della Perez, a local attorney. “It’s not good for his mom and it’s not good for him — mostly him. Who knows what he thinks?”
As an attorney working with child welfare cases similar to this, Della felt something needed to be done.
“I’ve been doing research on this for the last couple of years,” she said. “People talk about it, people complain about it, but nobody had really said they wanted to do it. I just said, ‘Let’s do it!’”
Last December, she called some friends and told them what she had in mind.
“Are you in or are you out?” she asked.
All were in and they’ve been working toward a common goal ever since.
“We are a non-profit organization dedicated to providing services to abused and neglected kids. When I say we want to ‘Provide dedicated provider services’ is because we actually don’t have a facility built yet.
“We do have a big plan. We want the emergency shelter, the residential treatment center, the school — the whole shebang. But we’ve got to start with one and we’re starting with the emergency shelter. Our goal is to raise enough money — one million dollars — to build an emergency shelter.”
Currently if a child is taken away by CPS, the child is put in foster care in the Valley, if there is one available. They are usually full, so the child is sent to Corpus Christi to The Ark, a 37-bed emergency shelter, where they can stay for up to 90 days, receiving clothes from their huge storehouse.
Della would like to model the Valley’s facility after that home.
“We’d like a 30-bed facility. We’ll have rooms set up for various age groups. There are specific guidelines and regulations that CPS puts out with such things as certain square footage for each bedroom, a laundry facility, a kitchen with certain regulations, living area and bathroom requirements per child,” Della said.
She’s hoping to raise the amount in a year and get the facility up and running so she can move on to the second step — a residential treatment center — currently only located in bigger cities.
“People ask me all the time where the facility will be,” she said. “I tell them I don’t know because I don’t know who’s going to donate the land. Half the battle would be won right there if somebody gave us a building or land. Then we’d just need to do modifications and get the operating money.”
This is one determined lady. Maybe it’s because she’s been able to see it from different sides.
“I was a school teacher before and there were a lot of social injustices at school,” she said. “I was going to go to law school and practice school law, but that didn’t happen. I went to law school and came out practicing criminal law in the DA’s office.”
From there she went to the County Attorney’s office in Austin. Eventually the criminal law evolved into family law which has led her to the child welfare cases.
“As a teacher I would ask, ‘Why is this kid acting this way? They’ve been a perfect model child and all of a sudden there’s this huge behavior change. Teacher’s would try to solve the mystery — is it at home?
“In the Valley, those that abuse drugs don’t know what they’re doing and can abuse their children. The women who don’t have a lot of education believe they can’t live without a man and find themselves co-dependent on this person. These women believe that they cannot live without a man.”
Della believes there is something society can do to help.
“A lot of these families are young people having children and not knowing how to raise them. Ultimately it goes back to education,” she said. “We’ve got to start teaching people when they’re in school what is right and what is wrong — what behavior is acceptable or not acceptable so they will grow up with that knowledge.”
Meanwhile, something needs to be done to help those children caught in the quagmire of abuse.
So Angels of Love was born and they have been learning about their daunting task as they went through this first year. With first, a small fundraiser, and a then a 5k run behind them, they are on their way up the mountain to their goal.
“The best way was to form a non-profit to be eligible for grants, etc., to offset some of the costs. That’s what most non-profits are about. We’re trying to do something to right some kind of wrong or make something better for a particular area of society,” Della said.
A few months back, CPS asked Della to have a party for those children who are in family-based care — not foster care.
“Those kids don’t ever get a party and actually need it more because the families don’t get a check every month like the foster families do,” she said.
Initially told the party would be for around 100, Della readily agreed. “We can do that.”
When she was given the list and scanned page after page, she found there were 1,232 children in the family care program in the Hidalgo County alone — loads more then the original 100. Already well into their arrangements, the decision was made to host a party for 260 children and their guardians at Rancho El Charco.
“Someone said to me when we were starting Angels of Love up, ‘I don’t know if you’re going to be able to get this thing done.’ I said, ‘We’ve got to try! If we don’t ever try we’re never going to make it happen. So go sit on your couch and watch TV. I’ll choose to get up and start walking and make something happen!’”
Sitting there, her eyes alight with excitement and determination, she said with conviction and total confidence, “It’ll happen. I have full faith that it will happen!”
Angels of Love has a lot of events planned for 2011 including a fashion show, a 5k run and a Buy A Brick campaign. Keep an eye out for this dynamic non-profit.