Stories of Hope & Healing
Director of Justice Programs
On a Tuesday morning late December, Quentin Thomas, Director of Justice Programs for CHCS, was approached by a man on the street who appeared disheveled and in desperate need of something. Anyone else might be quick to pass judgement, but not Quentin. As he would learn, the man simply needed directions, something Quentin would guide him across the street to find at a local café. The man didn’t speak English, but with some level of patience and kindness, Quentin Thomas found a way to meet him where he was, and connect him to a resource who could help — a Spanish-speaking server who was able to provide directions to Catholic Charities.
It is the spirit of helping others that has guided the steady course of Quentin’s life. While serving in the Navy, he discovered a passion for psychology, and eventually went on to earn a Counseling, MS from Texas A&M University Corpus Christi. After a few years of working in behavioral health settings Quentin found himself in the role of a lifetime — working alongside people with mental illness who are also involved in the criminal justice system.
“I chose this field because helping people make positive changes in their lives is what I feel I’m supposed to do. It’s a calling,” said Quentin. “The people I serve through these programs are just that — people. They’re not any different from anyone else, they’ve just had different circumstances. Many of them are dealing with substance use or mental illness, or both, but all of them are people,” he added.
Under Quentin’s direction, CHCS oversees 12 justice programs including Texas Correctional Office on Offenders with Medical or Mental Impairments (TCOOMMI), Court Ordered Treatment (COT), Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) and the Community Reintegration Program (CRP) — to name a few. In his role as director, he oversees 115 team members with a caseload of 1,200 people and four locations, and builds and maintains relationships with community and criminal justice counterparts including parole officers, district attorneys and judges. But perhaps the most important part of his job is finding out what this population needs, and creating innovative solutions that can be packaged and funded to meet those needs.
It is estimated that 25 percent of people involved in the criminal justice system have some form of mental illness, and 99 percent of all people in jail or prison return to the community. Through these justice programs, clients have an opportunity to improve their life and change their circumstance, all at no cost. In some cases, participation in these programs is a condition of parole, probation, pretrial or a civil commitment requiring the client to meet with a judge on a weekly basis. All 12 programs share a common goal — to help people get better and stay out of the criminal justice system, and with Quentin at the helm, these programs have done just that — touting a recidivism rate of 5-to-12 percent compared to the national average of 50 percent.
Quentin recognizes that the success of these programs is due to the sometimes difficult job the Therapeutic Justice team performs every day. “This is the kind of work you don’t get praised for, and the population we serve is not always ready to seek help,” said Quentin. “It’s so important that we give staff reassurance, and let them know that what they’re doing is important. Often times they are helping people who are not appreciative of the help they are receiving, but our people continue to give them opportunity after opportunity. They’re the ones doing the hard work,” he added.
When Quentin isn’t at the office, he celebrates life by staying busy with his wife of 15 years and middle-school aged son who is an active member of the school band. A Louisiana native, Quentin also has a passion for cooking, and makes a mean gumbo, dirty rice and jambalaya.
But what keeps Quentin grounded is his passion for helping those who can’t advocate for themselves. “I’m no different from anybody else. Our circumstances may be different, but in time, I might end up in a similar situation. We will all need an advocate at some point in our lives, and you never know who that person might be,” said Quentin. “It might be someone who didn’t have a place to go one night so they slept near a house and had the police called on them. Or it might be someone who had an addiction that led them to committing a crime. That doesn’t mean they belong in jail. It means they need treatment for that addiction. We can’t ignore these people — they are our relatives, our neighbors. They need patience, support and understanding, and we need to do a better job of really listening to what they’re trying to tell us. Everybody needs somebody, and as human beings, it’s our responsibility to help each other.”
Program Director, Early Childhood Intervention Services
How do you console a grieving family whose expect-ations of a “normal,” healthy baby has just been derailed by a medical diagnosis of spina bifida, cerebral palsy or down syndrome? Will my child walk, talk, and be able to do things for himself when he’s older? What happens to her when I pass away?
These are questions Zaida Yzaguirre, ECI Program Director, has helped thousands of families work through since 1980 when she began her life’s work serving babies and toddlers with special needs. As a college graduate, Zaida, who was 22 at the time, spent her first years answering what she now considers “God’s calling” on the backroads of south Texas driving to and from the homes of families who needed her.
“Traveling outside Bexar County gave me a view of what was to come,” said Zaida. “I never thought I’d fall in love with the babies right off the bat, especially without understanding anything about medical diagnoses, but I met a lot of beautiful kids and wonderful parents, and it took over my heart,” she said.
At the age of four, Zaida experienced a life-changing event after suffering a traumatic head injury and spending three months in a coma. After making a miraculous recovery and returning home, the hard work began. Zaida remembers people coming into the home to help her relearn to walk, stand up, and put weight on her legs. Almost two decades later, she would find herself on the other side, now the one helping families with the hard work. It was here where Zaida felt most comfortable — reminding families that although they may have lost the normal child they anticipated having, they still have a beautiful baby who can do great things. And so began an almost 40-year career of advocating for “voiceless angels” and giving families confidence in their ability to help their delicate child thrive.
As Program Director, Zaida now spends her time teaching and offering guidance to a staff of 64 early intervention specialists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and administrative team members who serve over 720 families and children on a monthly basis.
“This line of work is challenging and takes a special kind of person,” said Zaida. “The team always comes first. I have to make sure they’re nurtured and cared for so they can treat our families well, and go home at the end of each day to a family life, too,” she added.
The ECI team works with babies and toddlers zero to 36 months with special challenges, and helps families understand the diagnosis, learn to advocate for their children in the public school system, learn how to ask questions at the doctor’s offices, and quite simply, learn how to cope as parents.
“We’re working with the child’s entire development, but sometimes the focus might be just on feeding, or learning to crawl,” said Zaida. “And sometimes, families just want to be able to make sure that when their changing their child’s diaper, nothing is going to happen to the bones and joints. Infants can’t tell you what they need or if they’re hurting. You have to anticipate for them, and then you have to teach that skill to the parents so they can bond,” she added.
When Zaida is not at the office, she’s still working, spending free time bargain shopping for diapers or formula — things that ECI families desperately need. She also has an incredible network of childhood friends, family and neighbors who she stays connected to. But for Zaida, she will continue to show up for her family at the office as long as God will allow her to serve her community.
“I can’t even explain the rewards to loving something you do every day and knowing that you’re helping these babies and families,” said Zaida. “It’s been beautiful to have done the work and see things change, and it’s also beautiful to be able to go back and teach the staff. It’s was God’s plan for me.” she added.
As Zaida has watched the grant-funded program change over the course of 40 years, there is one thing that she wants to see changed — the need for more men in a historically female-dominated field.
“We need more men to step up and become nurturers, supporting these families,” said Zaida. “Our babies need men. That’s a male influence that they might not otherwise have. There are a lot of wonderful men out there who want to educate. I challenge those men to think about doing it outside of the classroom setting as a therapist, or educating parents on ways they can help their child with special needs,” she added.
For questions about ECI, or to donatemuch-needed items to the program, pleaseemail Zaida Yzaguirre at ZYzaguirre@chcsbc.org.
Director of Substance Use Treatment Services
During a 2016 family vacation, Briseida “Bee” Courtois, Program Director for Substance Use Treatment Services, and her 12-year-old daughter, shared food from across the table with a man they had never met, listening as he told tales of his time in Texas, and how he ended up there — in a small roadside diner, alone and hungry, somewhere out in California. Bee didn’t think twice about purchasing a gift card to buy the man food, but instead took action as if duty had called. And all the while an impressionable young girl would be watching yet another act of kindness from a mother whose compassion knows no bounds.
Raised in Chicago by immigrant parents who believed in always helping one another, Bee and her older siblings learned early on the true meaning of humanity. As a 10-year-old girl, Bee began serving her community as an interpreter, working alongside her parents to help fellow neighbors complete unemployment applications or taking them to appointments because they didn’t speak the English language.
Kindness and compassion were as much a part of her then as they are today, and what drove her to the Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, Texas where she began the first of many experiences in what would become her life’s work in social services. Over the years, Bee’s journey would bring her into the lives of so many including children, adults and the elderly, but it was an internship with a methadone program that sparked her interest in substance use treatment for women, and the complex nature of their needs.
25 years later, Bee’s passion would carry her into her current role as Director of Substance Use Treatment Services, where she oversees approximately 60 team members with a caseload of 1,300 clients, and all substance use treatment programs including: Outreach, Screening, Assessment and Referral (OSAR); Co-Occurring Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Disorders (COPSD); Opioid Addiction Treatment (OATS); Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) Residential Treatment Program; Mommies Program Specialized Female IOP Substance Abuse Treatment; Intensive Outpatient Substance Abuse Treatment; SA Job Development; and Centro de Vida — HIV prevention, intervention, outreach and testing. Additionally, in this role, Bee manages local, state and federal funding to ensure evidence-based, client-centered services are being provided to help people move forward in their lives.
“At The Center, we’re offering well-rounded, curriculum-based, substance use treatment services to a predominantly Hispanic community,” said Bee. “It’s a lot of moving pieces so I have to ensure that the right staff is in place to perform a very important job — a job that could mean life or death for someone. The team is what makes the services, and every member must first possess passion, compassion and drive. It’s not something you can learn from a book. You either have it or you don’t,” she added.
But for Bee, that innate sense of kindness and compassion that was handed down by caring and emphatic parents is what rings true, and the reason why she keeps coming back to The Restoration Center day after day. “I’ve always felt a huge drive to serve and will keep doing it until I can’t do it anymore,” said Bee. “For me, it’s the clients — it’s who we serve that keeps me coming back. It’s simple really — our clients are you and me. They are mothers, daughters, nieces — they are us. Substance use disorder does not discriminate, and it’s imperative that as a society, we accept this from a disease-model concept just like heart disease or diabetes,” she added.
Open-minded and nonjudgmental are how clients describe Bee. She is a champion for all and never gives up. Bee is a tried and true advocate of hope and healing, and believes whole-heartedly that the programs and services offered by CHCS are saving lives and helping people get better. “Our clients are important, and so many times they don’t have support or someone to tell them they matter,” said Bee. “What they really need is for someone to listen. Be kind to people. You don’t know the journey they’ve been on,” she adds.
Of the thousands of lives Bee has touched since the early age of 10, perhaps what hits home the most is seeing her now 14-year-old daughter follow in her footsteps, faithfully armed with a bag full of healthy snacks and a compassionate heart for that someone who might need a little kindness along the way.
DD Operations Administrator, Day Activity and Health Services (DAHS)
Bernadette Herrera’s lifelong career began as a young college student when she found herself working with a very special population — people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD). 32 years later, Bernadette’s job title and day-to-day responsibilities may have changed, but her passion for serving people “who have so much to offer and ask for nothing in return” remains steadfast. “The people we serve through DAHS, have different abilities not disabilities,” said Bernadette. I’ve known some of these wonderful people for over 30 years, and I believe I’m a good person to advocate on their behalf,” she added.
In her role as Operations Administrator, Bernadette oversees a staff of 8 people who, like Bernadette, all have a true passion for working with people with IDD. “The staff I oversee have a heart of gold,” said Bernadette. I believe in the mission and core values of The Center, and the people I work with keep it interesting. I never know what tomorrow will hold, but rest assured, I will always put their needs first,” she added.
DAHS serves as an adult daycare for up to 65 people who have two functional disabilities related to a medical condition, and need physical or medical oversight or professional therapies to remain independent. Additionally, DAHS provides comprehensive caretaking services in a safe, stimulating and social environment that includes: personal care and help with activities of daily living including toileting and eating; individual supervision; medical care provided by an on-site nurse; medication supervision and administration; transportation to and from home; social activities including arts and crafts, movies, games and seasonal projects; and a peer group for social interaction and friendship.
By enhancing wellbeing, dignity and choice, Bernadette and the entire DAHS team help lives become richer. “I have compassion and respect for the people I serve. I believe that everyone has a right and a voice, and you should never let anyone tell you that you are different or deserve less than anyone else,” said Bernadette.
Bernadette’s passion for people extends well beyond her career and into her family life where she enjoys spending time at home making memories with her husband, children and now grandson. It is there where she continues to make a difference in people’s lives by teaching her family the importance of standing up for what you believe in. “I feel that if you treat people how you want to be treated then you will always do the right thing,” said Bernadette. “Everybody deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. It’s important for me that my family and my extended work family alike believe that everyone has something to offer another person, no matter how big or small. As long as I have breath in me, I will stand up and advocate for the IDD population. I can and have made a difference in the lives of the people we serve.”
Cynthia Gomez Dandridge
When a person wakes up addicted, the plan for the day is always the same: get money, buy drugs. They don’t hope for an alternative— substances seem to be the only alternative. They feel stuck in the lifestyle.
Cindy Gomez Dandridge was born into the lifestyle. Her mother kept a drug-infested home, and Cindy and her brother were subject to abuse and neglect. Somehow, she got good grades in elementary school, but she was struggling. By her middle school years, Cindy started running away from home and staying with friends or a boyfriend. She started drug use at 14 and had her first baby when she was 18.
It wasn’t until Cindy helped an 80-year old man inject heroin that she made the decision to do something different. “Life was beginning to stand still and I asked, ‘Who am I?’ I came to the Restoration Center for detox— the four scariest days of my life. The substances had been removed and I had to face life with all the stuff that I had piled on over the years,” said Cindy.
Detox staff introduced her to The Center’s In-House Recovery Program (IHRP), which requires a commitment to stay sober. “I was really scared, because my comfort zone had become the way I had lived for so long, but I was willing to make that leap of faith to transition to IHRP,” she said. “The wonderful thing about The Center is that it touches every aspect of a person’s broken life. You have enough time away from the chaos to sit still and think about the changes that need to be made in your life. They give you hope.”
Cindy stayed at the Haven for Hope campus for four months. She found a job, enrolled in college to become a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC) and began working with Judge Ernie Glenn and the Ministry of the Third Cross.
Today, Cindy is happily married, interning with The Center and raising her two grandchildren. Cindy tells the women she works with that there is a way out— there is life after drugs. “Recovery taught me how to love again. Without love, you have nothing.”
On a cold winter night in 2009, Zachary Bullard found himself in a familiar place — the back seat of a police car — hearing some very unfamiliar words.
The officers told Zachary that SAPD, the Sherriff’s office and The Center for Health Care Services had started a new program and they could take him to 601 N. Frio — the Restoration Center, or they could take him to jail.
“For almost two years, I was in and out of detox and I ran the gamut of recovery programs —Salvation Army, Lifetime, all of them. I would sleep at The Courtyard in Haven for Hope sometimes. I went through Detox at The Restoration Center five or six times, and although I always completed successfully, I always just left, and didn’t go anywhere for treatment. I started IHRP (In-House Recovery Program), but I didn’t complete it. I heard their suggestions, and I would start feeling better, but then I would leave,” Zachary remembers.
Finally, I stayed in IHRP for six weeks and they showed me a different perspective of the steps (the AA 12-step program) at a different level. At first, to completely just give up and follow a program was really hard. I always want to do things my way and I didn’t know that I needed to try someone else’s direction. Since then, it’s been everything they always told me it would be. In May, I will have been sober for four years,” he said.
A combination of experienced counseling, an open welcome and Zachary’s will made the difference.
“I made it because people kept telling me that I could be the one in 100. The counselors never judged me, they never gave up on me. Whenever I came back, they were always welcoming. They didn’t talk down to me because I was coming back over and over, they just kept telling me what to do,” he said.
Today, Zachary is working as a Recovery Support Specialist in the IHRP program. He helps new clients navigate the program, taking them to group sessions and meetings, and supports them as they get started in their own recovery.