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Hello. Facebook world. This is Sondra Ajasin and I am coming to you live today to share a little bit about what’s been happening in the world of foster care and update you guys on some of the work that we are doing. We have been, as usual, working hard to provide as many kids a safe place to go as we possibly can. We currently have 87 licensed foster families throughout our region from about the San Marcos line down to Attascosa over to La Vernia over to Karnes county … I can’t talk today … up to Hondo over to Spring Branch just kind of all over the place. So we have 87 licensed foster families currently with TruLight and those families are, at this point, pretty much at capacity. We do have some foster families who are looking to, well the adoptive families that are looking to just straight adopt kids. And so they’re, they have openings because we’re trying to get them matched with the kids that they want to adopt. And so that’s a bit of a different process than people who go and foster and take in emergency placements. Those homes usually get filled out pretty quickly. So we are working hard to make sure that we provide safe homes for our kids in foster care. And we really still have kids, as usual, from as far off as Killeen with kids right now, all the way from Del Rio. And, you know, we have an open door policy. And that means that if kids needs us and we have the capability to care for them, we will care for them. And so we are working hard on our child placing agency side with our foster families and our adoptive families to make sure that we get kids into foster homes as fast as we can and to help them to feel settled and to start the healing process and to understand what love and nurture mean, and that they are really just God’s pride and joy. And we want them to know who they are. And that is our mission, is to shine truth and light into lives of hurting kids. And we are working hard to do just that on the side of the CPA, which is the Child Placement Agency side. Um, we are doing pretty good in that aspect of licensing and training new foster families. We’ve had some changes on our child place and agency side where we are being very diligent and very focused on what we do and we really hope that these changes will really impact the lives of kids, you know, for for a long time off. And we want them to know that we are working hard because we love them and we cherish their lives. So the CPA side is thriving with 87 families. I mean, that’s a good number. We’re always looking for more because really there’s always a need for families who will say yes to kids in crisis. And that means emergency care included and older kids and sibling groups and different things of that nature.

So I wish that I had some real like better news, but sadly I’m going live because I want to be transparent and honest about some of the hiccups that we are hitting at TruLight. And we are in a spot where we have had to deal with COVID through 2020 and 2021 and then huge inflation issues going on with the prices of food and gas. And well, really just everything the prices of everything has just gone up significantly. COVID threw us for a big loop. We had some major funders who really helped carry us through 2020 and 2021. We’re very thankful for them. But the reality is, is that while everything in the world has gone up in price, the amount of money that the state provides for these kids and care has not budged at all. And so while we’ve had to pay more in order to do more, we are not being reimbursed on that level. We have really struggled with making sure … struggle seems harsh. But it is true. We have grocery bills of about $1800 dollars a week out at the village, anywhere from $1500 to $1800, sometimes less. We have some amazing people who really know how to budget and we’ve been really diligent about making sure that we do right by that. Now, I have told you before, and I will tell you again, we could go through USDA-type of menus and food orders, which would be cheaper for our menus. But I have a hard time wanting to do that because our kids eat that at school and home and school are not the same thing. And I don’t want the Village to feel like an institution. I want it to feel like home. And so us being able to provide our kids with quality dinners and quality lunches and breakfast is very important to me. No, I want quality over quantity any day. And so we have stuck by that where we wanted to make sure that they have a say in their meals and we have focused on that as far as the food prices go.

On top of the food prices, if you add the fact that we need laundry detergent, fabric softener, cleaning chemicals, mop mopping chemicals and disinfectant, I mean, COVID’s not going away. So we still have to make sure we have plenty of disinfectant — Germ-X, when our kids get sick. Our kids do, you know, if kids do get COVID, our staff gets COVID, we have to have the supplies, the mask and the gloves and different things that they need to in order to keep everybody else safe. You add on top of our just our groceries, you add in there the fact that we need toilet paper for staff and kids for four houses, paper towels. We need dish soap, we need sponges. I mean, you just start to nit pick it. And I don’t know what it is about silverware and kids, but I feel like we replace silverware every week. Every week somebody is out of silverware in one of the houses that’s just making a little lightheartedness of that. But it’s true. We find them when we’re mowing, but they lose silverware all the time. And I mean, you just kind of continue to topple onto that. And then we’ve had a water heater go out in one of the houses. We had to have AC fixed in one of the houses. And then along comes the county and decides that the plan that they had, well, somebody had approved at some point was not approved. And we had to redo our septic system out there. We are still in the process of getting one of them done, but the other two rounded around $30,000. So we’ve just been hit with repairs and upkeep of everyday things. I mean, if you ever managed a property or you manage your own home, you understand that keeping up for houses and an admin building is a lot of work. Yes, Tara, it’s been fun. So in that process of still dealing with inflation, still dealing with huge hiccups in the septic systems and the water heaters, oh, we had to buy a new washer for one of the houses. It’s, it’s been hard, guys, and we’ve tried and we’ve budgeted and we’ve tightened our strings and we have put forth all the effort that we can to make sure that these kids have quality living. And we want to continue to do that work. But what we’ve seen is that we cannot financially take care of 35 kids at the village anymore … for a time. Let me say it that way, for a time. Um, I wish I could say that we could, but we cannot.

The Village, the reimbursements that we get for the Village is not the amount of money that we need to take care of 35 kids as well as our staff. During the inflation process, we had to increase our wages just to get people to come to work, and we had to be competitive in that so that we could make, make it so that people could come and work for us … um and pay them well for what they do. And don’t get me wrong, our our staff that, our team … I hate to call them staff because we’re, I’m so close with the majority of them. Our team works hard with our kids. They don’t come in and try to clock in and out. They come in and try to make an impact on their lives. So they deserve, they deserve wages that reflect that. During COVID, we had some members of our team that came in and worked their tail off despite the risk. Despite all of the fear that was coming around, they stuck it out with us and with our kids. During the early parts of summer, though, we knew summer was coming. We had to hire more staff to take care of the kids during the summer because they’re home all day. Again, that was a financial blow to us because in order to hire them with a pay increase, we we were really just I mean, it was just sucking us dry. And we have, we have some amazing people. But when you count the cost of what it is to take care of 35 people versus what we get reimbursed for, it does not even come close to equal amounts.

And I know that our kids at the village … I am sorry … deserve to have quality life and they deserve to get the chance to play on sports teams and dance and cheer and join clubs and do all the things that they want to do. And I want, I want that for them. And I want them to succeed at life. And I want them to have every opportunity that they can to be the best that they can be. And I do not like saying no to any kids that come across our emails and our phone calls. However, we cannot afford to do that anymore. And so we have made the decision to lower our census at the village and where we could take 35 … We will probably take more like 20 to 25 until we can get to the place where we can comfortably give them the type of care and love that they need. And so in saying that, I am humbly asking that if you can find a way to give, that you would give. Thank you, Tyra. So that this period of time doesn’t last long, because having empty beds means kids being split up, sibling groups being broken apart. It means having to tell teens “no” when everybody else already tells them “no.” And I don’t like that. I don’t like saying no. The minute we made the decision, this decision and I promise you like 20 emails come out for kids that I kept thinking we have so many beds open. Why? Why can’t I say, yes, God? But the reality is, is that I have to put on my business hat and I have to make a choice. And we have cut some costs. We have eliminated some positions within our agency to help.

But the reality is, if if I’m honest, the village just literally is never going to be a moneymaker. And I don’t need it to be a moneymaker. I need it to be there to take care of the kids. But I can’t do that at this point. And so we are being open with you all and asking that you share. Asking that you consider helping. Asking mostly for miracle and for prayers. Because I do not want to have to say no to kids for a long time. It’s only been a week and a half and we have seven empty beds. And it’s killing me. I’ll be … It’s just killing me. So keep us in your prayers. Keep these kids in your prayers. Keep… I don’t know, like, pray, guys, pray. I know that God loves these kids and I know that he wants the best for them. And I know that TruLight has been called for time as this. And I know this is a hiccup in the plan. But boy, my heart … my heart is not dealing well with this. And I know there’s resources and I know there’s a miracle on the horizon. I know that God cares, and I know that we have always done our best to always say yes and to help these kids. And I know that even though times are not what we want them to be, that God is still working. And with the kids that we have there, he will continue to use us in in any capacity possible to make a change in their lives.

And, guys, it’s working. I, I … just a month ago, I thought this one kid had to go like I just knew it. He wasn’t making good choices. He was not doing well whatsoever. He’s putting other kids at risk. He was struggling so hard. We reached out to his family and they were an absolute no, they weren’t going to help. They are privately placed there. They’re not in CPS custody. They and they they turn their back on them. And he told me that he was done making these stupid mistakes. And I was like, at this point kind of in my head thinking, oh, sure, sure, guys, in three weeks, I have never seen a kid set his mind to change the way I’ve seen this kid. His grades are up, his attitude is down, his room is clean, his chores are being done. And I know that the work we do is God’s way of showing him that he can do anything if he puts his mind to it. And that’s what it’s about. So we’ll keep moving on. Even if we have to lower capacity to do so, we will keep moving on and we will keep pushing and we will keep fighting the fight for these kids because… nobody else is going to do it for these…

You know, we have another boy, juvenile probation, mistake after mistake after mistake. We said in staffing after staffing and me and Tiffany just back and forth, who’s fighting for him, Sondra? Who’s fighting for him? And I’m like, I don’t know. He’s leaving us. He’s leaving us. And in the end, I looked at Tiffany and I said, We can’t let him go. Nobody cares. Like, literally, none of the people who are supposed to fight for him care. So if we let him go, who’s going to do that and yeah … He looks like a horror, a  horror show on paper? But we chose to say yes to him. So he’s our yes and we’ll fight for him and we’ll fight for them all. And we will fight that the Village would rebound from this with double blessings so that we can focus on the kids, which is where our heart’s at we don’t need to focus on all the crap that comes around just on them and loving them. And so there was a lot of emotion, a lot of talk.

What I asked that you guys pray with us, ask that if you have resources or capabilities or ideas or anything, feel free to share with us. We are filling out grants and applications left and right. You know, we are still doing well on our CPA side, but our kiddos at the Village is, all of our money goes toward that. And I do mean all of our money and which is not a bad thing, but it just kind of sucks that we’re in the position we are with the inflation and the wage increases and just go say it, the government giving out money for all the other things except to take care of the kids. So you can pray for a big miracle on that side that our legislation would see that it’s not fair to these kids to not provide for them. I’d like to call it that they owe us a whole lot of child support. So they have done a lot of changes that cost us a lot of money. But again, no changes for the kids in that aspect. So pray for that, pray for TruLight, pray for me. I’m just going to humbly ask that I would have wisdom in what I am called to do and that I would not grow weary in this fight. And thank you guys for always loving on these kids any way that you know how. We, we appreciate you. Thank you so much. You guys have a blessed evening.

Please, if you have questions about anything, let me know if I can help answer any of them. I will. And we, we love y’all very much for always being a part of who we are. So God bless you guys. Uh, this video was the literally hardest video I’ve ever done. Saying out loud that I have to say no to kids was harder than what I thought it would be. [sigh]. But I do, I do want to tell you that in order to because I feel like this is important, because people want to know what it is we need in order to get back to where we need to be and really get to where we can keep on saying yes to kids. We really need about $100,000 to $150,000. And so if you need a specific prayer that’s your prayer. I mean, we need more than that to always take care of them. But if we need to get back to saying yes, because I know I’ve already gotten a message that some people will ask in order to get back ahead. And where we need to be to be a little bit more stable, we would need about $150,000 just so we can open our doors back fully again. So there you go. Thank you so much, Tara. I believe it’s a detour and it’s a hiccup. And you know what? TruLight was called by God and nothing, nothing can stop his love for these kids. And so I believe that this is a, a season and a time and we will get through this. So God bless you guys. Have a good evening. I’m done vomiting all my emotions on you. Thanks for listening and thanks for sharing.

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