These two success stories illustrate the power of just a handful of people to rebuild broken lives, support their communities, and help DFPS protect the unprotected.

APS Volunteers "Rebuilding Together"

El Paso staffers give up a Saturday to restore house for elderly homeowners

The scene at 204 Toledo looked as if Extreme Home Makeover met "this old casa." APS workers-turned-home remodelers were busy scraping, painting and cleaning in a one-day final sprint to make the Estrada home ready for the big reveal.

"This family got taken for all their money by providers," said Region 10 APS SME Liz Hinojosa, using the term loosely. Her clothes were splattered with white paint intended for a living room wall.

El Paso's Rebuilding Together project was in high-gear on Saturday, April 26, and "Casa Estrada" was just one of 20 area homes getting a makeover. Building contractors donated services and materials while volunteers did the work. The community-wide effort rehabilitates "casas" for low-income homeowners, particularly the elderly and people with disabilities.

Angels sent from heaven

Eighty-six year-old Carlos Estrada picked up a flyer at the Sambrano Senior Center, but he never thought he'd be chosen for the free home re-do.

"It's like angels sent from heaven!" said daughter Dolores Estrada, who also lives at the family home along with her three grandchildren.

After four generations and 44 years, the Estrada's home needed help, but they couldn't afford the massive repairs needed to keep their house a safe place to live. "If you saw this place before - the living room roof was caving in and there were holes in the bathroom floors," said Dolores. "We even had mice running around!"

Fernando Garcia of Carefree Homes started the remodel project six weeks ago, installing a new roof, bathroom floors, windows, and refrigerated air. "This family is very deserving," said Garcia.

True Dedication

"I'm a believer in what comes around, goes around," said Dolores. "I've volunteered all my life with CASA, STARS, and Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Even in his 80's, my dad still volunteers for the Del Norte Food Bank."

Now, a group of more than 20 volunteers from APS and other community groups were returning the favor. Investigator Melissa Padilla arrived at 7 a.m. with 11 kids ready to help out. APS staffers Ray Marquez and Jesse Ontiveros sweated in the midday heat to prep the eaves for painting - true dedication to a good cause! 

APS Subject Matter Expert Cindy Vizcarra, who was admittedly sore for two days after painting, indicates that the Rebuilding Together folks are hoping to redo another 20 homes in El Paso before the end of 2008. "Their focus is primarily homes owned by elderly, disabled, and low-income residents. I'm sure they'll be looking to APS for a few more referrals."

- submitted by Paul Zimmerman, Region 10 Media Specialist

Region 5 Packs "Luggage of Love"

High school students combine form, function, and foster care

Take an old piece of luggage, a paintbrush, some brightly colored paints and what do you get? If you are a Port Neches-Groves (PNG) High School art student, the answer is "Love."

As part of a community service project with Child Protective Services, students at PNG created one-of-a-kind gifts for children in the foster care system. They called these gifts "Luggage of Love."

Foster children often have very little to call their own, and they often use trash bags to transport their meager belongings. This can be embarrassing and potentially harmful to a child's self esteem. But, armed with some gently used hard-shell luggage and art supplies - all donated - the PNG students gave some foster children small, practical pieces of art to call their own.

The students displayed over 50 of these suitcases at Central Mall in nearby Port Arthur as part of an art show and contest. Another student, who had shot a documentary about the "Luggage of Love" project, screened the video while the suitcases were on display. The brightly decorated bundles were then loaded up on a school bus and transported to Buckner's Children Village and received by foster children of all ages.

- submitted by Shari Pulliam, Region 5/4 Media Specialist