Home filled with hope: Agency brings low-income families closer

PEÑITAS — For the past two months, Maria Luisa Morales and her family have been living in a tidy, sky-blue house provided by the Buckner Family Hope Center. Before that, Maria, her husband, and four children had been living in a one-bedroom mobile home.

“We were crowded in there,” Maria said in Spanish. “Only two people could sit down at one time. We had to put baby Eric’s play pen on the bed because there wasn’t enough room on the floor.

“We didn’t have a sink in the bathroom. It was outside around back. We slept in two beds with the three older children in one bed and my husband and I would sleep in the other bed with Eric.”

The Morales family lives in Peñitas, a small township north of Mission, which is home to some 300 working-class, migrant and low-income families. The enclave is characterized by numerous ramshackle houses and trailers, but it is also dotted with colorful Buckner Family Hope Center Homes similar to the one that was awarded to the Morales family last November.

The homes are built for families with children who accumulate a certain number of points. Those points are earned by attending classes on topics such as financial planning, leadership, craft making and parenthood.

“We have one class called ‘Madres Maravillosas’ which is our nurturing and parenting curriculum,” said Buckner Family Hope Center spokesman Gabriel Flores. “It’s a state program and we are a certified facilitator for that. Basically, they go through 12 sessions in about 12 weeks, one to two hours, and basically they talk about the growth of our kids.”

The points can be accumulated or traded for “Buckner Bucks,” which can then be used as currency at the Buckner Market. Families can purchase items such as clothing, household accessories and food. Maria used some of her “Buckner Bucks” to buy a lamp for the living room and, for the first time ever, she was able to buy Christmas gifts for her children without going into debt.

“My husband brings home about $350 a week at his new job,” Maria said. “Because of the Buckner classes on household finances, we are able to plan out everything and this year we were able to buy Christmas gifts for the children without going into debt. We also paid off three debts that we had pending, because of that class.”

The Morales’ biggest reward, however, is their new three-bedroom, wood-frame house, which they earned after three years of Buckner classes. For Maria, it has strengthened her faith in God and cultivated a sense of pride and accomplishment for the entire family.

“This house is everybody’s,” said Maria. “From the youngest to the oldest, we all went to the classes. My husband went to classes for the fathers and financial planning. I took some wonderful classes on faith and spiritual development. We also volunteered at the center helping out with what we could. It’s everybody’s achievement, not just mine, because we all did something to be able to qualify for this house.”

Buckner Family Hope Center is one of 20 organizations benefiting from the annual AIM Charities fund-raising campaign. The charity, now in its third year, raises funds for the hungry, homeless and those in need of basic essentials in the Rio Grande Valley.

AIM Media Texas, the parent company of the Valley Morning Star, The Monitor and The Brownsville Herald, underwrites all administrative costs, ensuring 100 percent of all monies raised go directly to client services.

Although Buckner’s programs are fully funded, the agency is able to use AIM funds to help families who face unexpected emergencies.

“We had a client that lived in a small trailer and their refrigerator was outside,” said Flores. “Well, somebody came and stole their food from them. So, that’s one situation where we were able to replace their food. That’s one of the ways that AIM has helped us. And we really do appreciate that.”

For Maria and her family, Buckner did much more than just replace food. Its program classes have brought the family closer together and has filled Maria with a renewed sense of optimism.

“I give a lot of thanks to God each and every day for the home that we have now,” said Maria.

“I’m like any mother who only wants a better life for her children and this has made that possible for my children.”

How to help,

To donate or learn more about Buckner Family Hope Center of Peñitas and other agencies supported by AIM Charities, visit: aimcharities.com.