Buckner Children’s Village hosts final on-site meeting

On Saturday, more than a hundred former Buckner Children’s Village foster children gathered on campus with past and current staff for the annual family reunion.

Like any family reunion, there was food, games, and activities like a petting zoo and a mini train ride through campus.

But more importantly, there was time to reconnect and remember.

For some, it was the first in-person opportunity in decades.

Carol Mahagan hugged Jennifer Adams again and again as Adams and Buckner Turtle Creek residential treatment resident Justine Hill arrived at the event.

“Those were my dolls,” Mahagan said, as the group reconnected.

They were two of many children she worked with after moving to Beaumont with her husband in 1995.

The former special education teacher was shopping at Market Basket on Phelan Boulevard in Major Drive in the middle of a job search at her new home when she almost literally encountered a man turning a corner in the aisles.

This man worked in the nearby village of Buckner Childen.

A conversation ensues which leads to her suggesting that she apply to the institution given her experience.

Mahagan applied and was hired immediately as a childcare specialist at Buckner, where she remained for the next four years, helping kids like Adams and Hill.

“Some came and went and some had been there for a long time, but a lot of them who thought they would never get there had great lives,” Mahagan said.

Former staffer Charmaine James, who worked for the Buckner system for more than 16 years, added that some “became doctors, lawyers and social workers”.

Shaneka Guidry is one of those success stories.

She arrived in the village at 16 years old. It was the first foster placement that reunited Guidry and his brothers after years of systemic separation.

“It helped to have family ties,” she said.

These are relationships she is now paying for in her work with child protective services in Beaumont.

“I actually had children placed here,” Guidry said. “Just being in foster care, period, has helped me get to where I am now. People in foster care develop a strong bond. Other kids in foster care become like brothers and sisters. That’s why we have a meeting.”

This reunion also brought alumni like Ron Phillips, now a manager at Best Buy in Fort Worth and a father of three, to the event.

When Phillips arrived at Buckner Children’s Village at age 13, he was the little brother.

Later, he became a little brother and then, at 18, a big brother.

“We just started our own family,” Phillips said of her siblings and parents, except “it was a family of 16 brothers instead of a normal size.”

Like any family, they got into trouble together; they had their share of quarrels, “but if someone from the outside came after one of us, we were all there to support them,” he said.

And no one supported Phillips when he walked onto the field with the West Brook football team like his family.

“All the children in the village would come out to watch. They had signs and encouraged me. People thought I was famous,” he recalled, adding, “It was a lot of fun, a lot of fun.

Among the family Phillips reconnected with decades later at Saturday’s annual Buckner family reunion was John Schmidt, who credits Buckner with helping him get into college after graduating. degree from West Brook. He obtained an engineering degree and is now married to his wife Emilie.

As they searched the wall of photos of graduates lining a hallway in the main building, memories of their days at Buckner, and the boys and girls who had become family, came flooding back.

For Norma Plank, who lived in an on-campus girls’ house in the late 1980s alongside Phillips and Schmidt, the memories were bittersweet.

She was 14 when she arrived in the village in 1987.

“I was hospitalized for depression, and when I was able to leave I was told I could either come here or go back to my grandparents. I came here. It was my choice and the best decision I ever made,” she recalls.

“I needed stability and structure,” she said, and met a boy who became her best friend throughout her four-year stay.

When she left the foster care system at 18, they separated. Plank got married and moved out. The marriage didn’t last, but eight years ago she reconnected with her best friend Buckner. They later married and spent four years together before his death in January.

“He would have loved to be here today, but part of him is there,” she said, her fingers moving to a necklace containing some of her ashes.

But what she really attributes to her time at Buckner is a relationship with her birth mother while in foster care.

“Because of that, I had no regrets when she passed away in November 2021,” Plank said, adding, “I don’t think my life would have gone this well,” if she hadn’t. decided to come to Buckner.

These larger-than-life family memories are about to become a thing of the past as Buckner transitions to community foster care in smaller homes, closing Buckner Children’s Village by the end of the year. year 2022.

Since its inception in 1979, replacing the Beaumont Children’s Home – essentially an orphanage, Beaumont’s Buckner Village has served nearly 3,200 children in need of foster care or adoption.

It also runs residential treatment centers, like Turtle Creek, which closed after Hurricane Rita, and free community programs aimed at providing parenting classes to stem the tide of future foster care placements.

Those programs will remain in place after the village closes, and Buckner will focus on community care, May said.

It also has a 90-day emergency center, a foster and adoption resource program, and two prevention programs – HOPES and FAYS.

HOPES serves nearly 400 families in the multi-county Golden Triangle region, helping parents ensure children reach developmental milestones “so families at risk or whose parents are not meeting development programs” get the resources they need to put their kids on the right track,” said principal Laura Mays. “It also prepares children for school so they have a better chance of success.”

FAYS has several hundred registrants, offering crisis intervention from primary to secondary for children struggling with school absenteeism, acting out or other problems. Aftercare programs will remain in place to ensure that any foster child between the ages of 16 and 26 can get help in the form of financial, career or housing assistance.

“We’re working to make sure the family has a healthier relationship and stays intact,” Mays said. But when that is not possible, resources are available for foster care or adoption.

And “as adoptions have increased and these families are no longer available to foster, we need to recruit more foster families,” May said.

But these families will not be living in the village like years past at the end of this year.

And that worries oldtimers like Schmidt, who said Buckner Village “has done so much for me”, as well as Robert Watson of Port Arthur, who has revisited for the first time in years.

“I wish they could find funding or something, because it’s my home,” Watson said. “A lot of us, we didn’t know anything more than that.”

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