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Children At Heart Ministries Newsletter Vol. 8, No. 1 - Jan/Feb 2014

Then and Now

Inside: STARRY ¾ A Goodnight Kiss Gracewood ¾ Raising the Bar Miracle Farm ¾ Living the Dream TBCH ¾ He’s Ba-a-a-a-ck!

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Stories of Lives You Have Helped Change

So Now What?


hristmas is over and the New Year is here. Sometimes there is a letdown following the holidays that almost implies, “Is that all?” It reminds me of two passages in the Christmas story that really relate to much of life – especially at the end of one year and the beginning of another. Luke 2:19 says, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” The passage is talking about the events of what we call the Christmas story – the journey for the census, no room available in the inn, bewildered shepherds whose work was suddenly interrupted by an explosion of angels, and these same shepherds being the first worshippers of the newborn Christ. What a sequence of events to ponder! As you reflect back on this past year, what do you treasure and ponder? Personally, my family celebrated the graduation of our daughter from high school, treasuring and pondering the quickly passing years that led to her being in college. I reflected back on parents who in December observed their 50th wedding anniversary – what an example to their children and grandchildren. I cherished still having my 94-year-old grandmother. What a privilege to have known all of my four grandparents and to realize the impact they have had upon our family. As ministries – Texas Baptist Children’s Home, STARRY, Miracle Farm and Gracewood – we look back and treasure the impact, encouragement, hope and significance we have

Vol. 8, No. 1 Jan/Feb 2014 Published for friends of

Children At Heart Ministries 1301 N Mays Round Rock TX 78664 (512) 255-3668 Todd L. Roberson President/CEO On the cover: Jon and Amanda Andes with their children, left to right, Eli, Ainsley, Isaac and Canaan. Photo by Sharon Strong.

A Letter from Our President had in the lives of children and families this past year and for many, many more years before that as well. Most have come to us out of circumstances they would like to forget, but to break the pattern of generational dysfunction and to begin a new and positive path in life is something to treasure! We reflect upon donors, volunteers and prayer partners who helped to make this work possible and we are grateful. A passage in Matthew 2:9-10 states that the Magi “went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” The Magi were a forward looking bunch! They saw the star and went seeking the newborn King. We too have the opportunity to be forward looking people! What will 2014 hold? I don’t know fully, but I do know that we can seek Christ’s best for us in the year ahead and can be overjoyed. For Children At Heart Ministries, we look forward to the path that God has for each of our ministries this year and in the years ahead. We know that the challenge hasn’t changed. We will seek to honor God, we will strive to build a better world by serving children and strengthening families, and we will continue the endeavor of breaking the generational cycle of child abuse and family crisis. Will you join us in making new hope possible in 2014 for the children and families who come our way?

Todd L. Roberson, President/CEO

“We are a family of Christian ministries that exists to honor God and build a better world by serving children and strengthening families.” Home, Hope and Healing

Communications Office Bill Martin Director of Communications Danna Reeves Graphic Designer Ginger Swann Communications Coordinator Jordan Maney Communications Assistant Cindy Davis Haley Smith Jeannie Rodriguez Contributing Writers ©2014 Children At Heart Ministries

2 Turning Points | Jan/Feb 2014


Printing by Sunset Press, Inc.

Gracewood Don Forrester, President Debbie Rippstein, Executive Director 1617 Elmview, Houston TX 77080 (713) 988-9757 Miracle Farm Don Forrester, President Alex Hamilton, Executive Director 10802 FM 2621, Brenham TX 77833 (979) 836-0901 STARRY Don Forrester, President Richard Singleton, Executive Director 1300 N Mays, Round Rock TX 78664 (512) 246-4288 Texas Baptist Children’s Home Don Forrester, President Keith Dyer, Executive Director 1101 N Mays, Round Rock TX 78664 (512) 255-3682

A Goodnight Kiss



ix year-old Issac Andes lies in bed as his mother, Amanda, tucks him in for the night. She leans in for a kiss and a sly smirk eases across young Issac’s face. He looks across the room to his father, Jon. “Look Daddy, I’m giving your wife a kiss!” he brags before throwing his arms around Amanda and attacking her with his lips. He kisses her on the cheek, the nose, and the forehead. Between each display of affection is the sound of laughter. This is Issac. He is the lover in the family and the first of four children adopted through STARRY into the Andes family household. Issac was adopted in March 2010. His sister Ainsley, also 6, was adopted just five months later. The two siblings quickly formed an inseparable bond. “Never have I met a kid with a heart that Issac has,” Amanda said. “He loves people, he loves helping and he loves his family. He is seriously a jewel.” After adopting Isaac and Ainsley, Amanda and Jon continued to foster children through STARRY while enjoying the time with their new family. Their hearts still longed to expand their family and Amanda prayed for God’s guidance. If they weren’t to pursue adopting more children, she and Jon wanted some peace of mind. But the peace never came. “We kept feeling like there were other kids that God wanted in our family,” she said. Jon and Amanda called STARRY to give notice of their availability for any children seeking adoption. Because they had adopted two children already, they doubted the likelihood of being chosen as parents The Andes family from Turning Points, Spring 2010. again. They still believed the Lord was calling them to grow their family, but how? They began to consider the possibilities of an international adoption, but God had other plans in mind. Within a week of their decision, they received the phone call from STARRY that they were on the final list for two little boys, Eli and Canaan. “As soon as we stepped out there and said, ‘Whatever you want, God. We’re willing to do whatever we have to do,’ we got a phone call,” Jon said. “It was one of those times where you know that it was God who answered what we were going through at the time.”

The Andes family today.

In October 2012, Eli and Canaan were adopted into the Andes family. The addition turned Issac and Ainsley’s world around. Ainsley now had to learn to share her beloved big brother. Issac, being the lover that he is, embraced his new role. In a casual display of brotherly duty, Issac asked his dad where he could find the vacuum cleaner to pick up after his siblings. “It’s not my mess, but it’s my responsibility,” Issac told his dad. Amanda said that Issac and the rest of her children have taught her more about herself and about love than anything else. “If it wasn’t for my kids, I would have never changed or wanted to change into the person God really wants me to be,” she said. Amanda admits she is still learning how to handle the different personality types, and about emotionally being able to handle the children asking about their biological parents. “I’m still learning how to be okay with that,” she said, “but how awesome that I get to learn that. Not everyone gets this opportunity.” As for the kids, they are currently learning how to raise chickens and milk goats at their country home north of Georgetown. However, the most important lesson Jon and Amanda say they are trying to teach their children is that of God’s love. “No matter their past, future or how they are treated by others, I want them to know they never have to doubt the love God has for them,” Amanda said. “May they always feel the security in knowing that their heavenly Father loves them.” — Jeannie L. Rodriguez Jan/Feb 2014 | Turning Points


Raising the Bar



ilvia Deloitte and her son, Alex, are pictures of success. Silvia works as an accountant at one of Houston’s oil and gas companies, where she was recently awarded the employee “Spotlight on Excellence” award. She also works as a teaching assistant at the University of Houston, where she is earning her master’s degree in accounting. Alex started kindergarten this year and already loves to read. “We are unbelievably proud of Silvia and Alex,” said Debbie Rippstein, Executive Director of Gracewood. “They are truly a testament to what someone can accomplish when given the right environment and tools to succeed.” Silvia and Alex first arrived at Gracewood in June 2010. After leaving an abusive marriage, she was looking for resources to help her continue her four-year degree program while parenting three-year-old Alex. A native of Romania, she had 66 college credits and a green card when she came to Gracewood. Gracewood’s relationship with the Children At Heart Foundation allowed her to receive a scholarship, which helped minimize her student loans and reduce her working hours so she could focus on studying. “When I came to Gracewood, I had a 2.53 GPA and I ended up graduating in the top 15 percent of my class, magna cum laude,” said Silvia. “Gracewood saw my talent, cultivated my drive and believed in Silvia and Alex from Turning Points, Spring 2011. me.” At Gracewood, Silvia learned to manage her time and to save and plan for the future. She also became a United States citizen, received professional development training, and secured the job at the oil and gas company where she continues to work. “Having the right environment and support was the key to accomplishing my ultimate goals,” said Silvia. “Through counseling, I learned how to achieve work/life balance and pave the way for our future.” Gracewood also allowed Silvia to have quality time with Alex without having to put him in a full-time day care.

4 Turning Points | Jan/Feb 2014

Silvia and Alex today.

“The children at Gracewood are like a family. Alex got to be a kid without having to feel the financial stress we were under,” said Silvia. Silvia and Alex lived at Gracewood for three years and moved out in May 2013, the same month Silvia graduated from college. “When we left, I had two degrees from U of H, one in accounting and one in supply chain management, as well as a certificate in oil and gas accounting. I had self-confidence and funds to be on my own,” said Silvia. “We felt ready, not scared, to move on.” Silvia credits her Family Life Coordinator, Brandi Hobratschk, for helping her develop a daily schedule and manage her time efficiently, allowing her to participate in professional case study competitions and achieve academic excellence. With the generosity of Silvia’s mentor, Kellye Brooks, who continues to be involved in their lives, and a group of ladies from Sugarland Baptist Church, Silvia and Alex have new furniture and appliances for their apartment. Silvia will graduate with a master’s degree in accounting in December 2014. “My 5-year-old already thinks about what he will get his master’s degree in someday,” said Silvia. “Gracewood has not only raised the bar for me, but for future generations.” — Haley Smith

Living the Dream



Miracle Farm alumnus, Army Sgt. Darrell Smith is living the dream. A Team Leader in the U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment based at Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia, he spends his days chasing adventure in a way that might seem enviable to some. As one of the “quiet professionals” of the military, though, training for dangerous raids and assault missions can be grueling. His responsibility for his unit’s preparation for combat weighs heavily on the 28-year-old. “I have to make sure I’m ready, that my guys are ready, and that the equipment’s ready,” he said. “I look at some of the kids coming in now, and I wonder if they’re going to be able to handle some of the things we’ve seen in combat. It is my job to make them understand what it means to work hard and to be mentally tough,” he explained. “I spend a lot of time just coaching them on being a man and accepting responsibility for the things they do.” Having spent 27 months overseas during three different deployments since enlisting in 2006, Darrell has a deep understanding of discipline and hard work. He credits this to his 22 months at Miracle Farm. “The intervention I had – and I didn’t see it at the time – pointed me in the direction I needed to go,” he said. “All the guys come to Miracle Farm with baggage, and I was no different. I blamed my behavior on everyone else. “They give you all the tools, and then when life is right in front of you, you either take those tools and use them or you don’t. It’s your choice.” Darrell admits to a few lost years after high school when he skated through some dead end jobs and walked on the wild side of some pretty dark roads. The turning point came when he circled back to the Farm for a visit and spent a day with a former staff member, Tim Webb. “Mr. Tim had this way of seeing right through me. He looked me dead in the eye and said ‘whatever you’re doing, you need to change.’ It crushed me because I knew that if Mr. Tim said it, it was true,” he shared.

Darrell Smith today, with his mother, Darrelyn.

Those words yanked him back to his days at the Farm, when he learned how to be a man after God’s own heart. Darrell knew deep down that his life was meant for better things. A year later, he enlisted. His mom, Darrelyn, could not be more proud of how far her son has come, saying that Miracle Farm “brought his heart back to where it needed to be.” She credits his house parents, Joe and Cheri Baker, with teaching him how a husband and wife should respect one another, something that comes in handy these days. Married for two years to wife Jennifer, Darrell’s role as a husband and father means more to him than anything else. And as exciting as his day job might be, most of his conversation is wrapped around home. He says the highrisk work he does can be tough on a lot of marriages, so he’s especially grateful to have his family as an anchor. He adores Jennifer, calling her his greatest encourager, and places high value on her steady partnership in building a Christian foundation for their family. He’s also deeply committed to his role as dad to Ryan, his three-year-old son from a previous marriage, and to Jennifer’s nine-year-old son Luke. The family attends church together as often as his schedule allows and they have built some great friendships there. His Miracle Farm house mom, Cheri Baker, is humbled by what God has done in Darrell’s life. “There were a few years when Darrell was making choices that made me very afraid for him,” she admitted. “These days, he’ll touch base to check in and more often than not, will end up encouraging me instead of the other way around. He truly has become the man we always knew he could be.” — Cindy Davis

Left, Darrell Smith from Turning Points, Fall 2008.

Jan/Feb 2014 | Turning Points


He’s Ba-a-a-a-ck!



hris Sawey has always been one of the most intriguing of Texas Baptist Children’s Home’s prodigal sons. In and out of children’s homes since he was a child, he was just a fifth grader when he landed at TBCH, where he stayed through high school. Armed with an ingratiating personality and a rib-tickling sense of humor, he was an unforgettable and much-loved character with a bit of a wayward streak. While growing up, Chris lived in the Campus Life and Independent Living programs at least three different times. He had a short stint at an area university and was homeless for a period of time. Always outgoing, he even tried his hand at stand-up comedy and acting in community theater productions. Finally, in 2010, he was admitted to the theater program at the prestigious Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. Entering the program was something of a gamble for Chris in the eyes of those who had watched him take two steps forward and one step back for so many years. But the investment has paid off and today he’s come back to his roots in Texas, armed with a freshly minted degree in theater education, with an emphasis in performance: acting. “It means I’m a glorified story teller,” he said. Today, he is searching for the next step of the journey God has for him. “I’m not going to get very far without God, so I have to trust Him about what the next step will be,” he said. Chris is a few years older and a little wiser since he left for college in 2010, and still deeply introspective. College life in the northeast expanded his world view, introduced him to different perspectives, and tested his own belief system. “My faith was tested like never before,” he said. “Seeing other people’s world views and experiencing how other people choose to live their lives, it really caused me to look deeper into the things I believe, to ask ‘Do I really believe this?’

Chris in Turning Points Summer 2009.

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Chris Sawey today.

“It challenged me to re-think everything about my faith, about my God. As difficult as it was at the time, I am really thankful for it now because it taught me to really own my faith and own what I believe in. And not just own it, but live it. It really did make me stronger.” In an interview before he left for college, he said he felt called to use his gifts to lead others to Christ. Now he’s not sure he had that quite right. “I came away from Emerson with a stark realization that it’s not as much my job to lead people to faith as it is to point people to Jesus,” he says now. “I spent a lot of time and energy trying to lead people to a God that they didn’t want to have anything to do with. “I was trying to lead people to Jesus and not all of them wanted to follow me. That was one of the biggest tests I faced,” said Chris, who is attending The Austin Stone Community Church. Since coming home to Central Texas, Chris has been working as a substitute teacher and with Ascend Outdoor Adventures, a Christ-focused recreation ministry, while he looks for opportunities to minister and serve. “When Jesus called Peter, He called him to be a fisher of men,” Chris said. “There are people in this world that we are called to reach and be a light for. Only God knows who they are. My prayer since I got back is for God to use me. “Big or small, I’m in.” — Bill Martin

34 Years of Selfless Service


For more than three decades, Mom and Pop Toner have been points of light for the children and alumni of Texas Baptist Children’s Home. Now, after 34 years of faithful service, John and Brenda retired at the end of December. For hundreds of children, they provided love and structure to young lives when it was most needed. The impact they have had on TBCH is immeasurable. Numerous former residents still call the Toner cottage their home and frequently come back to visit “Mom” and “Pop,” often the only real parents they have ever known. As the Toners begin a new stage in their lives – and as we consider a future without their steady hands and spiritual influence – we wish the best for a couple that have epitomized “good and faithful servants.” May God continue to bless you as you have blessed us.

Jan/Feb 2014 | Turning Points


A Difference for Generations to Come!


s I drove to work one recent morning, a wonderful Hillsong praise chorus was playing on my iPod. The song moved me to tears as I contemplated the life change and heart change that occurs in the lives of those served by Children At Heart Ministries. Hear these words… On that day when I see all that You have for me; when I see You face to face, there surrounded by Your grace. All my fear is swept away, in the light of your embrace; When Your love is all I need, and forever I am free.

Dawson Clark, CFRE, is Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Children At Heart Foundation. You can reach him at (512) 246-4221 or email him at

Where the streets are made of gold; In Your presence healed and whole; Let the songs of heaven rise to you alone.

No darkness no sick or lame, no hiding, You hold me now, You hold me now...

As I listened to the song again and again, just worshipping and thanking God for His abundance of grace and the promise of healing when He takes us home, I couldn’t miss the correlation to the grace and healing that exists in the children and families served across Children At Heart.

The 22nd Annual Children At Heart Golf Marathon APRIL 28, 2014 MONDAY

The Golf Course Star Ranch Hutto, Texas


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Our Father holds them and through Him, at the hands and feet of our faithful and amazingly committed staff, there is comfort from the weeping, hurt, pain, suffering, darkness, sickness and hiding that so often leads to crisis in the lives of those who turn to us for help. He holds them now. And YOU hold them, too, when you pray for, volunteer, donate or help spread the word about God’s hand at work at Gracewood, Miracle Farm, STARRY and Texas Baptist Children’s Home. You are making a difference in their lives. We pray that you sense great satisfaction and blessing in knowing that you are breaking the generational cycle of child abuse and family crisis in many lives today. You are helping set the stage for healthier, loving families for generations to come. We could not serve as we do without you. We are grateful!

No weeping, no hurt or pain, no suffering, You hold me now, You hold me now;


Children At Heart Foundation

Dawson Clark Vice President and COO Children At Heart Foundation

Help Finish the Family Cottage The new HomeAid Family Cottage on the TBCH campus will open soon and we need your help to make this house a home! Visit to find out how you can help single mothers and their children.

2014 Turning Points - January/February  

Children At Heart Ministries Newsletter

2014 Turning Points - January/February  

Children At Heart Ministries Newsletter