A Conversation With Kevin Benz at Concordia University

March 18, 2013 by

Benz@concordiaKevin Benz, Media and Marketing Strategist, and current Chair of the LSS Board of Directors, joined host Dr. Donald Christian, dean of the College of Business at Concordia University, as the March featured speaker in Concordia’s Conversations With…Speaker Series. The Speaker Series gives students and staff of Concordia University Texas and the greater Austin community an opportunity to learn from a variety of professionals who model Christian leadership.

While the conversation centered on the “media as storyteller,” it also evolved into discussion of how radically the news world has changed – with significantly fewer people watching newscasts today – and the power of today’s media to tell stories that help people navigate through their culture.

Benz, who spent the early part of his career as a photojournalist, has been a media trailblazer and innovator in Austin-area news, with three decades of experience in launching and running broadcast, cable, and online newsrooms. He helped launch 24-hour news station News 8 Austin (now YNN) in 1999, the online lifestyle magazine CultureMap Austin in 2011, and most recently I-Media Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in multi-platform content distribution.

It is clear that Benz is not averse to risk, and he encouraged students to “Take risks, and chase what you passionately believe in.” His advice to consumers: “Be more skeptical about what you see, hear, and read. Polarization is caused by a lack of skepticism; it’s important to recognize and put your own bias aside.”

On a subject dear to our hearts, Benz emphasized his belief that “nonprofits are the thread that holds communities together.”

Benz is married to Olga Campos, the former news anchor at KVUE-Austin (who also happens to be our Foster In Texas spokesperson on TV and radio) and has been an LSS board member since 2005.  kevinbenz@concordia

Iowa Students Spend Spring Break at Bokenkamp

March 14, 2013 by

bokenkamp bear groupA group of students from Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, chose to spend their winter break (which is Texas’s Spring Break) volunteering at Bokenkamp Children’s Shelter in Corpus Christi. From March 2-9, the 14 students and staff went to work at the shelter, painting, cleaning, and generally spiffing up the dorms. They also had the chance to test out and practice their Spanish as they got to know the residents, all unaccompanied refugee minors from Central America.

A fun and creative stop for the group was the Build-a-Bear Workshop® in Corpus, where they stuffed and lovingly finished 75 bears just for the Bokenkamp kids. They were able to make this generous contribution from their fundraising efforts prior to making the trip. These bears will give each new intake at Bokenkamp something warm and fuzzy that they can call their very own and hold onto during their difficult transition.

A trip to the Texas State Aquarium with six of the Bokenkamp boys was another highlight of the Wartburg group’s week. And what a treat it was for the lucky six, who were selected based on their length of stay and very good behavior at Bokenkamp.

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Corpus Christi graciously hosted the student volunteers, and held a special dinner for them one night.

The Wartburg visitors ranged from sophomores to seniors, and one of them shared her experience in this blog: http://wartburgcollegeservicetrips.blogspot.com/?m=1

Fostering Hope at Celebre la Familia

March 12, 2013 by

celebre la FamiliaEvery month in El Paso, dozens of children are removed from abusive and neglectful homes. What happens to these children? They are placed in foster care. Foster care is considered to be a short-term placement until a long-term living situation can be arranged for the child.

Children, ranging in age from birth to age 18, enter the foster care system frightened, lonely, and dealing with the wounds of abuse, abandonment, and/or neglect. While they come from many different backgrounds, they have the same fears, hopes, dreams, and needs as any child. Foster placement stops the abuse cycle while the child heals.

Celebre la Familia – A Way to Help Foster Families

Celebre la Familia  is an annual fundraiser to benefit the children in Lutheran Social Services’ Foster In Texas (FIT) program in El Paso. The event will take place Thursday, April 4th, at the Marriott El Paso Hotel from 5:30-9:00 p.m.  Funds raised that night will go directly to support FIT foster families – helping provide hope for abused and neglected children while creating a support system for the true heroes, our foster parents.

Although the state Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) compensates foster parents for a small portion of each child’s care, there is still a very significant gap that must be covered through donated funds. School fees and supplies, clothing, medical supplies, psychiatric services, and specialized training are the “extras” that can add up and create a financial strain on foster families.

El Paso’s Foster Home Shortage

“The El Paso region is extremely short on foster homes,” according to Jose Alamillo, Area Director for FIT in El Paso.  Alamillo says that right now, there are about 90 children in need of adoptive placement and there is a particularly high demand for foster homes that will take large sibling groups and Primary Medical Needs Children. “While foster parents come from all walks of life and circumstances, one thing they have in common is a dedication to the well-being of a child. Foster parents are the bridge to a more hopeful future,” Alamillo said. If you’re in the El Paso area and interested in becoming a foster parent, please contact Jose Alamillo at 915-598-5410.

Parade of Homes: Art Show by Local Artists

Celebre la Familia also features one of the most creative silent auctions you’ll ever see. El Paso’s premier artists create and contribute individual, one-dimensional wooden houses that become beautiful collector’s items the winners can proudly display. This year it is anticipated that there will be 80 of these unique and whimsical houses for the auction, all benefiting our FIT families. You can preview the houses online at www.FosterInTexas.org/CelebrelaFamilia.


Important Info About the Event:

When:   Thursday, April 4, 2013, 5:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Where:  Marriott El Paso Hotel, 1600 Airway Blvd. Complimentary parking at the Hotel

Reservations: Tickets are $30 per person and may be purchased online at FosterInTexas.org, or call Debblie Telles at 915-373-9220. Tickets will also be available at the door.

Cocktails & Dinner:  5:30 p.m.

Live Auction: begins 7 p.m.

Live music: by “2’s Company”

For additional information about Celebre la Familia, call Debbie Telles, Event Chairman: 915-373-9220.

Michael Loo Chosen as CFO of Lutheran Social Services

March 8, 2013 by

Michael LoowebMichael Loo has been selected as chief financial officer of Lutheran Social Services of the South (LSS),

Loo has more than 25 years of non-profit and for profit experience, 18 in higher executive management positions. Before joining LSS, Loo was executive vice president and CFO for Sopogy, Inc., a technology provider in the solar power sector. From 2003 to 2010 he served as vice president of Finance and Administration at Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate, the largest private landholder and private school system in the State of Hawaii. Prior to his employment with Kamehameha Schools, Loo was vice president/controller/treasurer for Hawaiian Airlines for seven years, and a senior manager with KPMG LLP prior to that time.

“Michael Loo’s extensive background in strategy development, financial analysis, and organizational planning mesh perfectly with the requirements of our agency, as we develop our vision for the future of LSS,” said Dr. Kurt Senske, chief executive officer of LSS.

Loo has historically been very active in his community having served on the boards of Hawaii’s Make-A-Wish Foundation, Boys & Girls Club, and the Better Business Bureau.

Easter Chicks at New Life this Saturday

March 7, 2013 by

NL easterEaster will arrive ahead of schedule at the New Life Children’s Center in Canyon Lake. The ladies from  ACTS Church Lakeway are bringing Easter to the girls this Saturday, March 9th.  The Canyon Lake Chapter Chicktime volunteers will share the true story of Easter with the girls through music and crafts … and jelly beans!

The mother/daughter service group “Chicktime” is very active and involved at New Life, and every month they host creative activities at the Center. Chicktime encourages the New Life girls through fun projects that bring a bright spot to their lives, and leave them with some new skills and the knowledge that someone truly cares about them.

Chicktime always welcomes new volunteers and is a great way to get involved and make new friends while enriching the lives of the troubled young women at New Life. To learn more, call or email New Life Director of Volunteers Lisa Brown:  lisa.brown@lsss.org; 830-964-4390.

The Golden Age of Paris Revisited

February 28, 2013 by

HHgreetersMais oui! On Saturday, February 23rd, the Eiffel Tower sparkled, the artwork by the Krause kids impressed, and our friends and supporters raised more than $155,000 for the Krause Children’s Center. It was the second annual Healing Hearts Gala, “An Evening in Paris,” held at the Julia Ideson Building in downtown Houston. True to the Paris-in-the-20s theme, participants dressed the part, with flappers and beret-wearing bon vivants enjoying a night dedicated to raising funds to support the severely troubled residents of the Krause Center in Katy.

LSS CEO Dr. Kurt Senske lead a successful appeal to fund summer school at Krause, and with this “Gift of Education” the Krause kids will be able to get the educational boost of year-round school– helping them to regain credits needed for graduation.

To the live and silent auction winners, our generous sponsors, and the committee and staff responsible for coordinating this dazzling event, we can only say merci beaucoup!

Click here to view photos from “An Evening in Paris.”

beret coupleweb HH hat ladyweb zieschangsweb

The Measure of a Year: What LSS Accomplished in 2012

February 27, 2013 by

2012 blockThis past year, as with every year of the last 13 decades, LSS served the most vulnerable members of society. Of those we served, 96 percent are low income or impoverished. Through providing innovative, quality Christian care, and adapting to the needs of our clients, we strive to strengthen lives, families, and communities.

To help convey the scope of our services, and who they touch, we compile a list of what our agency has achieved in the past year and post it on our website. The numbers tell quite a story!  What they don’t tell is the sheer volume of hard work and loyal support of our volunteers, donors, and a statewide staff of more than 800 individuals who make all of it possible.

In addition to adoption and foster care, our vital programs and services also include residential children’s centers, charter schools, disaster response, emergency assistance, senior retirement communities, and spiritual care.

Following is our 2012 accomplishment list. We’re grateful that we have been given the opportunity to serve so many in need—over 25,000 to be exact.

Children’s Services

  • 1,913 children were provided foster care in 15 communities across Texas—Amarillo, Austin, Conroe/The Woodlands, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Harlingen, Laredo, Lubbock, McAllen, Mesquite, Robstown, San Antonio, Tyler, and Victoria, Texas.
  • 445 formerly abused children, ages 6-17, were served at two residential treatment centers: Krause Children’s Center in Katy, and New Life Children’s Center in Canyon Lake, Texas.
  • 557 child refugees were served at Bokenkamp Emergency Shelter, Corpus Christi, Texas.
  • 228 child refugees were provided transitional foster care in El Paso, Texas.
  • 107 Texas children were adopted through LSS domestic adoption program.
  • 69 children from countries such as China, Korea, Ethiopia, Colombia, India, Russia, Uganda, Ukraine, The Philippines, Kazakhstan, Thailand, and Taiwan were adopted through the LSS international adoption program in partnership with other international adoption agencies.
  • 4,545 volunteers served at New Life, Krause, Bokenkamp, and fundraising events.
  • 145 New Orleans foster youth were served by BeREAL, a mentoring program for teens “aging out” of the Louisiana foster care system.
  • 1,084 students were served at Trinity Charter Schools.

Senior Services

  • More than 989 older adult residents of LSS senior living options, ranging from independent living to skilled nursing and memory care, in Houston, Brenham, Victoria, Round Rock, and Lubbock, Texas.
  • 19 individual patients (1,904 hrs) were served through Care-Connect care management at The Village in Spring, Texas.

Services for Families in Crisis

  • 10,294 individuals were provided emergency assistance with rent, utilities, prescriptions, and other basic needs at Neighborhood House in Lubbock, Texas. More than 127,000 lbs. of food and hygiene products were distributed.
  • 1,668 individual patients were served during 8,121 patient visits through Health For Friends Clinic in Lubbock, Texas.

Disaster Response

  • Approx. 150 families were helped with emergency disaster assistance in TX and LA (wildfires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes).
  • Rebuild/unmet needs funding went to more than 30 families in Bastrop and Spicewood.
  • Aid was given to more than 300 farm families suffering drought/wildfires through Haylift to Texas efforts.
  • Repair/rebuild work was done on 60+ homes in Bastrop.
  • Coordinated approx. 1,900 volunteers for nearly 53,000 volunteer hours.
  • Total clients served by LSSDR = 540 families; 1,458 individuals

Who is This Little Girl in Pink? Meet Jannine from Bulgaria

February 20, 2013 by

JannineIsn’t Jannine a cutie? That’s her photo on the left (although Jannine isn’t her real name). She was born in 2001 and will be 12 in May.  Jannine lived with her birth parents off and on over the years, but has been placed in “a home for children deprived of parental care” (or orphanage) since 2009.

Jannine is described by her caregivers as “lively, energetic, and communicative.” She is good-natured and a “smiler,” with very good social skills and excellent self-care habits and personal hygiene. Her very favorite activity is painting. She makes friends easily and has proven to adjust very well to new environments and situations.

The following description of Jannine comes directly from the orphanage’s background summary: “Child has positive affect and empathy for others. External emotional expression is extremely bright and revealing. She is not aggressive and does not initiate conflict. She is sensitive and if verbally attacked by another child, she is quick to cry. Demonstrates good character.”

Jannine had surgery to correct a heart defect shortly after her birth, but shows no signs of heart problems today. She has normal mental and academic development with mild cognitive delays – which is the norm for kids in an institutionalized setting.

Wouldn’t Jannine make a wonderful addition to a loving Texas family? If you are interested in finding out more about her, or other children awaiting adoption in Bulgaria, we would be happy to share additional information with you. Please contact Konnie Gregg by email at Konnie.Gregg@lsss.org or call either 512-454-4611 or 800-396-4611.

Welcoming Our New Board Members

February 14, 2013 by
L to R: Sig Cornelius, Kurt Senske, Jerry Leeseberg

L to R: Sig Cornelius, Kurt Senske, Jerry Leeseberg

Gerald (Jerry) Leeseberg of Flower Mound and Sigmund (Sig) Cornelius of Katy have been elected to the Lutheran Social Services of the South (LSS) Board of Directors.

Leeseberg spent 40 years in management in various business environments including federal, retail, banking, oil, and computer consulting. He has been a foster parent himself, and adopted two teens from Louisiana foster care. Leeseberg volunteers as a school mentor and in several capacities for LSS’s children’s ministries. He is also a program board member of the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch.

Cornelius retired in 2010 as senior vice president of Finance and chief financial officer, from ConocoPhillips after serving over 30 years with the company in a variety of assignments. He currently serves on five corporate boards and two nonprofit boards, and does part-time consulting work in the natural gas industry.

Selection for the LSS Board is based on demonstrated interest, expertise, and involvement in serving LSS through its social ministries, and carrying out its mission of providing help, healing, and hope to those in need, regardless of religious beliefs, ethnicity, gender, or age.

“We feel doubly blessed that Jerry Leeseberg and Sig Cornelius have joined the LSS Board of Directors. They have vast experiences, talents, and skills to share with our agency,” said Dr. Kurt Senske, CEO of LSS.

A Kruse Village Love Story

February 12, 2013 by

krusevalentinewebAh Valentine’s Day “… when a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” At Kruse Village, the LSS retirement community in Brenham, this Alfred Lord Tennyson quote could be slightly amended to include a not-so-young newlywed couple. Kruse Village residents Laverne and Ray Sanders, both 82, tied the knot just over a year ago, and say that now, “Every day is Valentine’s Day.”

Ray and Laverne met in a water aerobics class they took twice a week, and both say they weren’t looking for love. It kind of just crept up on them. They started chatting after the class, and discovered that they were very compatible. Both grew up in Texas, and say their similar values and faith are characteristics that brought them together. Once they began dating and decided to wed, Laverne and Ray invited her son and daughter-in-law out to dinner to ask for their blessing. No problem there, and their next decision was whose home to move into. Since Ray’s duplex was a bit larger, they merged into his.

The staff at Kruse say it makes them smile to see the couple strolling about, always holding hands. Ray and Laverne enjoy exercising, reading, and just being together. Coy Fontenot, executive director of Kruse Village said everyone was thrilled when love bloomed for the two residents. “They really act like newlyweds,” Fontenot said. “It’s love, Kruse Village-style.”

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