HARLINGEN — It was an evening of dramatic, emotional storytelling.
The story of Kassy Elizondo, a 13-year-old, was told because one of the rooms in the Valley Haven Emergency Children’s Shelter in Harlingen is named after the young girl who loved everyone but passed away last year.
Her sister Yocelyn Elizondo and students from the UTRGV Health Physicians Assistants Program raised more than $6,000 for Valley Haven that will open its doors soon to children in need of a safe place.
Gracie Bradwell teared up as she dedicated the shelter to the children who are out there, the babies thrown in the air because their abusers think it’s funny and for the children abused because they wet their pants during a potty training.
And it was more than enough to believe why the Valley Haven nonprofit for children is so important for the Valley.
But above all — the sad stories, and even the good ones.
Nobody affirmed the need for Valley Haven better than Child Protective Services Youth Specialist Monica Rodriguez, who shared her story about when she was whisked away from her home by authorities and taken to Dallas because there was no shelter for children in the Valley.
She said it was hard, and she had to beg and plead to the judge to place her anywhere in Harlingen as a foster child.
Situations like Rodriguez’s are what Valley Haven administrators want to put a stop to by opening their doors for children in need of a home.
On Thursday this past week, more than 100 community leaders, business owners and members of the community were in attendance to see the Valley Haven’s ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house event.
The Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce welcomed the new organization into the community that plans to help up to 32 children at a time get out of dangerous situations and are in need of a safe place.
“We have been wanting a location like this for a very, very long time,” said Angel De La Garza, a Department of Family and Protective Services program director. “Our staff is constantly looking for placement for them.”
Through donations, Valley Haven has been able to convert a former business location into a home where children in need can be placed.
“There is a need at all times,” De La Garza said. “We have had instances where children have had to stay with social workers at the office overnight.”
He said a shelter in the Valley that can provide 32 additional beds is greatly needed and can keep children close — a dream come true.
De La Garza said Valley Haven will prevent CPS from having to send children to Houston or Dallas just to find placement for children in need.
“This allows them (children) to be here, be close to their families and their culture,” De La Garza said. “Children will not have to go through the shock of going to another area.”
He said because Valley Haven is willing to open up its doors and help out children up to 17 years old is going to be a fantastic opportunity.
Often, children taken from a dangerous home situation stay with case workers in a hotel until a safe place is located for the child or sometimes children. In extreme situations children have stayed the night in caseworkers’ offices.
“When we open we will be able to have them housed here instead of them having to be sent to Corpus Christi or Laredo,” said Kristin Million, Valley Haven president and executive director.
Million said the organization is still waiting for licensing from the Department of Family and Protective Services until they can accept children into the home.
In the meantime, Million said Valley Haven staff and volunteers will be going over training plans to care for the children who will eventually be placed with them.
Bradwell and her daughter Million created the idea to build a shelter for children in the Valley two years ago. They both had volunteered for the Court Appointed Special Advocates before realizing they could provide more services for children in need of immediate help on there own.
And eventually they helped the Valley Haven organization raise enough funds to purchase property at 5501 W. Business 83 where they now have the 32-bed facility available for children coming from abusive homes and bad situations.
“What a great asset for the community for the kids here in Cameron County,” said Jesus Garcia. “We were here a year ago, and to see the transformation is truly inspiring and amazing.”