Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas 2009

What a fun Christmas the kids had! 
We left Friday evening, December 18th.  By the time one movie ended, the kids were asleep.

Saturday morning we arrived in Beatrice, Nebraska.  Randy's sister and husband met us there later in the day.  They wanted to go their home church on Sunday.  While we waited for Deb and Bryce to arrive, Randy drove out to the home place, past his church and stopped at the cemetery to say Merry Christmas to his dad.
When Randy got back in the car Chip asked Randy, "Did you find him?"  What a sweetie!

At the hotel the kids were elated to find that they could go swimming in an indoor pool even though it was snowing outside!

After church on Sunday we spent some time with Randy's Aunt Grace and his cousins, Joan and Diane and Jr.  What fun they had playing games and doing puzzles.  I think they are beginning to understand family relations and how special they can be. 

Monday and Tuesday was spent playing in the snow.  There was just enough to make for perfect sledding!  After a few trips down on the saucers, it was packed and slick enough for going down on their stomachs.  I sat on the enclosed, heated sun porch and laughed and laughed at their fun.

Wednesday brought wind and snow - an old fashioned blizzard.  With wind gusts up to 50 mph, we stayed inside and played games. This lasted until Saturday evening when it snowed so hard that we could not see to the next block!
Christmas morning FINALLY came! 
Some favorite gifts were: 

Spongebob pajamas

A new Nutcracker for Marquel's collection

A Dallas Cowboy shirt

New dolls

Special ornaments for their Christmas tree

Chip would say "oh, that's what I've been looking for!"

We spent time with Randy's mom at the nursing home, played games, read books, played more games, watched movies, played more games - and had a great time.

On Sunday we ventured out to see the snow.  The snowplows piled snow in the middle of intersections (that is me at the bottom of the hills and a 2 story building in the right back!)

This is our 3rd Christmas in Nebraska with the kids.  They are finally resigned to "bundling up" before they go outside.

Marquel helped shovel snow for several hours - and loved it.  We don't know how much snow we got from Wednesday through Saturday, but this picture of Bryce and the snowblower give you an idea.  We figured at least 15 inches on top of what they already had!

Randy's sister had the kids working on a surprise project.  All we could figure was that it had something to do with hands, because she asked Randy to take this picture of the kids.  At the school they worked on a really neat calender with pictures made with hand prints for each month.  It is a very special gift that can be re-used from year to year.

So from us and the kids - Thank you so much and Happy New Year!

Randy and Stephanie, Marquel, Annie, Charlie and Chip

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

This year has gone by so fast and this holiday season has been too hectic!  School work, Christmas play practice and Science Fair Projects have occupied the last few weekends.

Marquel's Science Fair Project turned out nice.  She made lollipops and learned about different types of sugar and the chemical composition and interactions that make candy turn hard.  It was due December 15th, which is really bad timing for those of us who have to do these things on weekends, but we managed to get it done.  It seems she came in at 4th place out of her class, so we are really happy for her.

Last Sunday the kids had their Christmas program at church.  Randy and I had tears in our eyes as we watched Chip sing "loud and proud" with his group of little Angels.  Annie and Charlie sang in the kids choir.  This was Annie's chance to sing in church, something she has been begging us to do!  They looked so cute in their new church clothes. 

Sharon did an awesome job taking pictures of the play.  You can view them here and more pictures with Santa here.  Even Marquel took her turn on Santa's lap, although she tugged at our hearts when she told Santa she would like her Mom for Christmas.  One day she will understand, and in the meantime she prays every night for God to watch over her mom.

When we see the kids enjoying these things it always makes us think of the condition they were in when we picked them up in New Orleans.  To see them happy and thriving reminds us how thankful we are for your support.

Friday the 18th we leave for our annual trek to Nebraska for Christmas with Randy's family.  A couple weeks ago they got over 10" of snow, so we are looking forward to sledding and snowball fights!

In case we don't have a chance to say it in person,
Merry Christmas and Thank You for all your love and support this year!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Randy and Stephanie, Turk and the kids

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

New! "My Travel Book"

New Book ~ just in time for holiday travel.

Learn about the United States while playing the license plate game.

106 pages in full color!

Maps, facts, trivia, activities and more.

Hours of fun for you and your kids.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

At this time of year we want to let you all know how much we appreciate everything you do for "our kids".  This is a mission that we feel was "assigned" to us and many others.  We could not do what we do without all of you.  We have been blessed not only by the kids and their progress but by getting to know so many wonderful people along the way.

Last weekend Marquel was invited to a party hosted by several of the girls in her 6th grade Sunday School class.  One of the mom's asked me if it would be ok, and said her girls were really enjoying getting to know Marquel.  I was so thrilled it brought tears to my eyes. 

This event brought to mind several challenges that the kids face.  With their mother in the Projects of New Orleans, time was of no real meaning.  They ate when there was food and slept wherever they happened to be.  Even though their Father was more middle class for New Orleans, time is still an issue.  A few weeks ago I told him I would pick the kids up around 7:00pm.  I arrived at their house at 7:05 and their car was gone.  About 10 minutes later they pulled up with a gallon of milk.  Since the grocery store is only 2 blocks away, I knew they had left around the time I told them I would be there.  The one clock in their house is usually not on the correct time, something we find quite unsettling for our lifestyle.  We have learned to always call him when we are on our way! 

The kids have finally figured out that breakfast is in the morning, lunch is in the middle of the day, and supper (or to confuse things more "dinner") is in the evening.  Leaning to tell time has taken several years for Marquel to master, and she has become our daily "planner". 

Parties with friends might be expected with most girls, but for Marquel it truely was a monumental event. She thoroughly enjoyed herself and we are so thankful that she was included in the fun.

Marquel's party was to be from 5:00pm to 9:00pm.  Her first concern was what time we had to leave our house in order for her to be there at exactly 5:00.  Then we complicated things further for her by saying we would take the other kids to family movie night at church and that movie did not start until 7:00pm.  We finally had to assure her that we would get her there on time and pick her up at 9:00, no earlier and no later. 

For all she has been through, Marquel seems to be comfortable and confident with herself.  We are so thankful to her friends who invited her to join their fun.

Another issue quickly came to light as Annie wondered how she would manage for a few hours without Marquel.   Annie feels rather insecure when Marquel is not close by.  At our house their bunk beds are head to head, but at their house they sleep together in the same bed.  If Annie is at our house by herself she quickly becomes bored.  When Marquel talks about going to a different school for high school or college, we can sense Annie's anxiety.

We know that as they experience these situations they will become more comfortable with them.   These little lessons are harder to learn than for most kids who grow up with schedules and a feeling of security.

As I looked for a recent picture of Marquel, I ran across pictures of her when we first met them.  How little she was and how tall she is getting!

Happy Thanksgiving to each and every one of you!

Randy, Stephanie, Marquel, Annie, Charlie and Chip

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Poverty & Welfare - Myths, Misconceptions and Facts

With Thanksgiving approaching, I began thinking of the big meal and fun day we were planning with friends.  How much we have to be thankful for!

I recently had the opportunity to listen to two ladies discuss their opinions on poverty.  One lady worked for Family Services for years and understood the challenges and issues of people living in poverty.  The other lady was quite judgmental and had some very disparaging remarks.  It was an enlightening experience.

Over the past few years we have learned more than we ever thought we would need to know about "welfare".  We had a lot of misconceptions. 

One of the biggest lessons we have learned is that we must be able to put ourselves in someone else's shoes in order to help them.  This is not an easy thing to do.

When Mr. Thornton agreed to take on the responsbility of his wife's 4 children, we knew he needed help with expenses.  Our system is sometimes very unfair.  Mr. Thornton receives a small Social Security check and also Social Security Disability due to a very serious injury.  His disability check is $125 a month, certainly not something he can live on.  And, it denies him the right to have a job.  He is not a lazy person, and he would much rather be working if he could.  

Since he had never applied for any kind of assistance, we took him to the "Welfare" office to apply for food stamps.  What a humbling experience that was (and continues to be).  Finding where to go was our first challenge, then we filled out pages and pages of forms in triplicate, then we waited - and waited - and waited.  When we ask how much longer we need to wait, the girl behind the desk looks over her glasses and gives us a curt reply.  This trip takes most of a day, and then we must wait up to 30 days for an approval letter. 

In Texas the maximum amount alloted on food stamps is about $125 per person.  Could you feed your family on that?  Would you be able to purchase the most nutritious food?  Thankfully Mr. Thornton knows how to cook beans, rice, and other nutrious foods that go a long way.  Many people do not know how to do this.

Food stamps are for food items only.  You cannot purchase other necessities.  There is no monthly cash payment.  If you apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), this federally funded program allows a one time cash payment of $1,000 (or it can be spread over 6 monthly payments). 

If a family's total income is low enough (we have not been able to asertain the exact amount, but it is somewhere around $5,000 yearly income), the family can receive Medicaid.  This is a state run health insurance program.

Applications for food stamps and Medicaid must be completed every six months for on-going assistance.

According to the San Antonio Food Bank many people who qualify for food stamps do not apply.  I encourage you to take their Hunger 101 exercise and get just a tiny taste of what it takes to get assistance.  This is not for the meek and mild!

As I was working on this blog last night, PBS had a special on Hunger in America.  One of their guests was the director of the San Antonio Food Bank.  They have seen a marked increase in applications for assistance due to the economy.  They have also experienced a drop in donations, as they rely mostly on private food drives.  He stated that previous donors are now asking for assistance.  Hunger is at an all time high in America. 

The last time you had the opportunity to participate in a food drive did you contribute?  Did you dig to the back of your pantry for the oldest can of food or the box that was a year out of date?

Many of those who qualify for Medicaid do not use it.  This is a result of generational lifestyles.  If you had never gone to the doctor or dentist as a child, would you understand the importance of taking your own children?  It is a very cumbersome system, and one which Mr. Thornton would not be able to navigate on his own.

We are extremely thankful that "our kids" qualify for Medicaid.  We make sure they get their yearly checkups and dentist appointments.  They are learning what they will need to do for their own children someday, and in the process breaking the cycle of poor health.  Medicaid covers mental health issues, and we would be in big trouble without the counselors and doctors who treat the Post Traumatic Stress, issues of abuse and neglect, and ADHD symptoms.

Are there some who abuse the system?  Of course.  There are those who will find a way.  But the next time we are tempted to be critical of those who receive "welfare", we need to be sure that we really understand the issues.  And we need to ask ourselves, what are we personally doing to make the situation better for future generations?

Until next time. . .

Monday, November 16, 2009

Catching Up!

The first 9 weeks of school were very successful for the kids. Marquel had only one C in Social Studies, but we think that is more due to reading comprehension. Annie struggles a little with Math, but she has a Math tutor. Charlie got all A's and B's and comes home almost every day with E for Excellent behavior - amazing! Chip is getting used to going to school and Pre-K has been good for him. He is speaking more clearly and his social skills have improved.

Charlie got a ribbon for AB Honor Roll and all except Annie got ribbons for Good Citizenship. Annie's teacher this year is more no-nonsense, which is good, but it has been a learning curve for Annie! She had an "Awesome" for last week's behavior, so she is improving.

Halloween was great fun for the kids, and they got lots of it. Marquel is 12, but not willing to give up a costume and candy! They had Fall Festival party at church, Halloween party at our neighbors house, and Trick-or-Treating on Halloween with our friend Teresa. We don't mind spending a little on costumes because they get lots of use and lots of memories for these kids who had so little.

We decided the kids had progressed enough that we could try taking them to Sunday School with them on a regular basis. Marquel is in a class with just 6th graders and an awesome couple who leads the class. She is really enjoying the class and has made some great new friends. They have invited her to a party, and she is SOOOO excited!

This year has gone by so fast and Christmas will be here soon. If you would like to sponsor one of the kids for Christmas, please let me know. They don't ask for much, but they do have a few needs and wants.

Until next time . . .

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hermann Sons Humanitarian Award

Last Friday we were invited to attend a meeting of the Hermann Sons of Boerne. They are a non-profit insurance group in Texas that sponsor summer camps for kids and retirement homes. Each year they honor a Humanitarian of the Year to someone from their community.

Randy and I were extremely honored and very humbled to receive this award. We want each and every one of you to know that we share it with you, because without you we could not do what we do.

Thank you!
Randy and Stephanie

Friday, September 25, 2009

Our Chuckle for the Week

After a week of cloudy weather, drizzle and rain, the sun is a cheerful welcome today! It is hard to complain about the rain after a summer of record draught, and it is nice to see some green grass again.

It has been a long, frustrating week. Chip has suffered from sinus infections since he was an infant. Last weekend he spiked a 101.5 degree temperature and we decided something must be done.

We have learned that there is a big mistrust of medical professionals, and home remedies based on old wives tales are often employed. So we made the appointment and took Chip to the doctor. Clinics in that part of town operate entirely on their own time frame with no regard to the patient's schedule, so it is usually a very long wait. Finally, armed with several prescriptions and specific directions, it was time to attempt explain them to his father who has many other things on his mind.

Then it was an emergency trip to take Annie to the Orthodontist because she had run into a door and knocked a couple of braces off. We still can't quite figure out how that happened!

Marquel has been in a 6th grade class of all girls so far this year. Evidently the boys and girls classes have gotten large enough that they are adding a 3rd class. So Marquel volunteered to go to the new class. Her father was quite upset, he was sure that she wanted to do this so she could be near the boys! It took some talking to calm him down and remind him that there is no keeping her away from the boys.

Tomorrow a friend who is attending college is taking Marquel to show her around her campus. Marquel is learning the basics of Basketball and Volleyball this year in a sports elective, and she is quite good. We found a basketball hoop for her and she practices every weekend. All of them love it, even Chip who will work for hours trying to get the ball into the hoop!

Over the last few months we have been working with the kids to learn to use proper English. They have lots of little sayings and terminology that we understand only because we have gotten used to it. One of those little sayings is "Cut it up" which means "turn it up" and "cutting up" means acting badly.

This morning Randy called his Chiropractor to make an appointment to take care of a pinched nerve that is causing his hand to go numb. I heard him say "My shoulder has been cutting up on me".

We had a good laugh and Randy said "Well, if you can't beat them, join them!"

Until next time - -


Friday, September 11, 2009

Parenting the Child of Trauma, Abuse and Neglect

Over the past few months we have done some reading and research about kids who have experienced abuse and neglect. We can understand how children in orphanages around the world who are tied to a bed with little care and human contact can have long lasting problems, but what is not so obvious is the same type of neglect from an alcoholic mother.

"Our kids" are very fortunate to be quite smart, however they do exhibit some of the physical characteristics of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. What is more hidden is the psychological effects.

This type of abuse and neglect leads to a host of problems for the child and there are a couple that I would like to talk about here.

1) They learn very early that adults are not to be trusted to take care of them, therefore they must be in control of everything around them otherwise something horrible might happen to them.

2) Their little lives are so miserable that this becomes "normal" for them, a they will revert to this feeling to feel comfortable in a given situation.

What does that mean for "our kids"? In order to begin to heal the wounds, we must throw out all we thought we knew about parenting. Techniques for parenting these kids are in some ways opposite to what you might do for "normal" kids.

We have learned that we have to limit their activities in certain areas until they mature and learn how to act. If they are not able to handle a certain situation they will do what they know best; be disruptive, hyperactive or insolent.

It will take time for them to learn how to act or react and if we expect changes in their behavior too soon, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Allowing them to be in situations that they are not prepared for is only setting them up for failure and ourselves for frustration.

Now that we are in our "back to school schedule" we only have the kids on weekends. These new parenting techniques are time consuming and exhausting. They may seem rather harsh to others who do not understand. But then there are the rewards.

Last weekend Charlie spent an hour on my lap while he struggled to get over his bad attitude. During that hour he told me over and over how much he hated me. Then he spent another hour sitting at the table until he finally gave in. Later in the day he was looking at the calendar wanting to know what date it was. When he discovered that it was Saturday he said "Yea! That means another whole day here!" I wanted to cry!

We hope that by sharing some of the struggles along with the achievements of "our kids" that those around us who care so much for these kids will understand when they don't act in the way that "normal" kids act.

We ask for your patience with them and with us as we learn how to help them best.

Until next time . . .


Thursday, September 3, 2009

New Shoes for School

You may have seen the commercials for Tom's Shoes, a shoe store that donates a new pair of shoes to charity for every pair it sells. After delivering shoes to other countries, in 2008 they began donating shoes within the United States. In their words:

“The domestic need is very different from the need in international places TOMS gives shoes,” explains Programs Manager Ana Maria. “In the states, kids may be wearing shoes that are too big or small, worn out beyond repair or shared, and we want to bring awareness to that. Every child should have a pair of comfortable shoes to call their own.”

My parents struggled to keep 4 kids in shoes, insisting that we had good fitting, comfortable shoes that were not hand-me-downs. As a grown up I can appreciate their efforts.

Each year before school starts we make sure "our kids" have new, comfortable and good fitting shoes. They get to pick out the style they like (cost within reason!)

Since they wear uniforms to school, it gives them a sense that school is special when they can walk in on the first day with new shoes and a new backpack.

Thanks to all who have helped with donations to the fund for school clothes and supplies. You don't know the psychological difference you make for 4 little kids who have a little lighter step on the first day of school!

Until next time . . .

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Back to School Already?!

When I was a kid I remember vividly being bored after about a month of summer. I had plenty to do, but school offered the routine that kept my mind busy.

Here we are 2 weeks away from the start of school, and I haven't heard the kids complain at all about being bored!

The summer started with 2 weeks of swimming lessons at the pool in Boerne. What great fun they had, and what good swimmers they have turned out to be. Annie says she would like to be on the Olympic swim team some day, and she has the build for it. She also has the potential to have the drive and determination to work hard for what she wants.

We want to say a great big Thank You to the sponsors of the swimming lessons!

Miss Debbie (Randy's sister) came for a week. That is always a special time for the kids. They love spending time with Miss Debbie. They read books, work in their Math workbooks, play games and get lots of attention.

While Miss Debbie was here we decided that we would have a 1/2 birthday celebration for Charlie since his birthday is in January and he wanted to go swimming in the ocean for his birthday present. On the way to Corpus Christi he told us over and over that he had heard on the news that there were jelly fish in the water and that we should be careful. Well, sure enough, Miss Debbie got stung by a jelly fish! And Charlie identified it correctly as a Man of War. He is so fascinated with sea life, we decided that maybe he will be a Marine Biologist when he grows up!

The girls spent a week at Camp Chrysallis. This was their 3rd year and they said it was the best ever!

Marquel attended Summer Celebration at St. John and thoroughly enjoyed it. Marquel is rather shy and we thought it would be a good way for her to meet the kids her age at St. John and feel more like a part of the St. John family. Thank you so much to the girls who made her feel welcome.

Now with the start of school close, Annie can't wait to fill her new backpack with school supplies. This morning she was working in her "How not to Worry" book, and one of her worries is not being able to pass her 4th grade tests. We have a lot of work to do to calm her fears and help her have the confidence she needs.

Marquel will be in 6th grade and is looking forward to getting involved in more athletics. Her first love is volleyball, and that is the best way to go for a college scholarship in girls sports. We hope to get her into the Volleyball program at the Parks and Rec center near their house this winter. Last year she grew so much she went through 3 clothes sizes, and she needs all new clothes again!

Charlie has qualified for Special Ed due to his ADHD, and the Special Ed teacher is delighted to have this extremely bright boy in her program. She has lots of fun things planned to keep him busy and out of trouble. We have come to understand better some of the issues created by the years of abuse and neglect from his mom. This summer we have worked with him to help him understand that he can trust the adults in his life to take care of him.

Chip turned 4 on July 24th. All the kids birthdays are a milestone for them, but Chip's birthday always reminds us of how tiny he was when we first met him, and how far all the kids have come. Chip is proud to tell everyone that he is 4, he got 4 shots, and he is ready to go to school! He will be attending Pre-K this year. In all the clothes that have been given to the boys, we have plenty of uniforms for Chip, and enough for Charlie until he gets to a growth spurt.

In addition to making sure they have enough uniforms that fit and the school supplies that they need, we get the kids new backpacks and new shoes. Their backpacks get lots of hard use, so they need to be replaced each year, and it is fun for them to pick out a new one with their favorite design or colors.

A while back I heard about a charity that a lady started because she felt every child should have a new pair of shoes on the first day of school. Her charity is called "My New Red Shoes" She felt if a child could walk into school with pretty new shoes, the boost to their confidence was invaluable. So each year we make sure the kids have new shoes to wear on the first day of school.

If you want to help the kids with back to school supplies, you can make a donation to the Thornton Family Fund:

Make Checks Payable to:
St. John Lutheran Church
Memo: Thornton Family Fund
Mail it to:
St. John Lutheran Church
PO Box 1081
Boerne, TX 78006

Thank you to each and every one of you! You are making a difference for these 4 kids!

Until next time . . .


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Another School Year is Over!

For most kids, the end of school and graduation to the next grade is a given. For "our kids" it is reason for celebration. At our house we have a red plate that is used for special achievements or occasions. When final report cards arrived, all three made A-B Honor Roll. Charlie, Annie and Marquel got to take turns eating off the red plate.
Chip got a turn at the red plate because he will be starting school next year!

All three received medalions to celebrate their achievements.

is still playing catch up from missing out on 1st and 2nd grade. She has worked incredibly hard. Her A's were in Language Arts and Reading, which is even more amazing. While we take learning English for granted, when you consider that English is the hardest language to learn, and for kids who do not have a good start with Pre-K, Kindergarten and 1st grade to learn the basics, Marquel has demonstrated her determination and inner drive.

Annie struggled with 3rd grade Math. Reading comprehension has been a challenge for her, and 3rd grade Math includes more word problems. We have become much more aware of why some say that standardized tests are a bit unfair to kids from different cultures. They have not been exposed to many of the things we take for granted, so they do not have that "picture in their mind" as they read. They truly do speak a "different language" at home and with their friends, their grammar and pronunciations of words is different. Vocabulary is limited, and words that are spelled the same but have different meanings are very confusing.

We have come to understand how Charlie's ADHD hinders his learning. While he is very smart, the Attention Deficit portion makes it hard for him to focus, and the hyperactivity keeps him constantly on the move. He reads above grade level, but his work often suffers because he either cannot focus on it long enough to get it done, or he feels that since he knows it, why should he bother doing the work. His teacher was very patient with him and helped him get all A's with only one B.

will be in 6th grade next year, Annie in 4th, Charlie in 2nd and Chip will start Pre-K. Chip is already a little celebrity at the school, all the teachers know him. Charlie will have the benefit of the special ed teacher next year to help out when his behavior gets in the way.

Since the kids are spending a considerable amount of time with us this summer, we have the opportunity to read lots of books and do lots of Math worksheets. After lunch each day is rest time when they can lay on their bed and either take a nap or read a book. Yesterday they discovered a box of books that had been donated to us and begged and begged to get them out. Marquel even found a new book that she thought looked interesting.

Annie loves to read, and already has a long list of books that she has read this summer. They might be short little books, but they are books, just the same. She enjoys her chapter books too.

Charlie loves to be read too. Randy started reading the Hardy Boys book #1 to him, and while he read he thought maybe it was too old for Charlie. He soon learned that Charlie was listening intently and understanding it.

Reading is hard for Marquel, she would rather watch movies. I believe it is because she has a difficult time with "making a movie in her head" as she reads.

Chip sits and either recites a book he has memorized because it has been read to him so many times, or makes up stories from the pictures.

We are so proud of "our kids" and we hope that they will keep their love of reading and learning! And a big thank you to all who have given books to the kids. Reading is the key to education and education is the way out of poverty. For those living in poverty, there are few if any books in their home.

August will be here before we know it, and the kids will all need new uniforms for school. Last year Marquel went through 3 sizes! If you would like to help with school clothes and supplies please consider making a tax deductible donation:

Make Checks Payable to:
St. John Lutheran Church
Memo: Thornton Family Fund
Mail it to:
St. John Lutheran Church
PO Box 1081
Boerne, TX 78006

100% of this fund is used for the family needs.
Until next time . . .

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Happy Birthday Marquel and Annie!

Marquel turned 12 and Annie is now 10! Since both girls have May birthdays their Father let them have a party and invite their friends, which they thoroughly enjoyed.

Marquel has grown so tall, she has gone through 3 sizes this school year alone. We came up with a plan for doing extra chores to earn money so that she could pick out her own clothes and learn the value of money.

Both girls passed their Reading and Math achievement tests. Yeah!! They got to take turns eating off the red plate that we use to celebrate special occasions. Marquel can now look forward to 6th grade and Annie to 4th.

Events such as birthdays always make us look back over the events since we met them in September, 2005. How far they have come -

from never going to school to never wanting to miss a day!

from failing grades to passing their tests easily.

from needing help to get dressed to picking out clothes that actually match.

from never having any toys to learning how to take care of their things.

from existing on a bag of chips to eating a family meal with good manners.

from looking at the floor to looking people in the eye to say hello.

We realize they have a long way to go to bring their emotional development up to their chronological age, but we see so much progress. We have learned more than we ever thought we would about the results of a mother who is an alcoholic and the long-lasting effects on the children. They will no doubt have to work the rest of their lives to overcome the trauma caused by neglect and abuse.

A few weeks ago Marquel asked me, "Will I still come to your house when I am in college?" I assured her that she sure could if she chose to. How wonderful that they have a future to look forward to! Of course we could not do this without the help of all of you!

Until next time -


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Marquel Passed her Math Test!

We are so proud of Marquel! At our house we have a special red dinner plate. When one of the kids has a special event to celebrate, such as birthdays, passing a test, or an exceptionally good report card, they get to eat off the red plate.

Last weekend Marquel was counting the money in her bank that she has earned for doing extra chores or given to her by wonderful friends for special occasions. As she was counting she asked me, "Miss Stephanie, will I still come to your house when I am in college?"

I was very touched by her question. Our sincere hope is that she will be able to attend college without the extra burden of being mother and supporter of their household as their father gets older.

5th grade tests include Science, which is one of Marquel's favorite subjects. We'll let you know how she does.

Annie's Math test will be the last week of April. Please keep her in your prayers!


PS. Results for the Survey question: Only 60% of Texas children pass the Math portion of the test. We are SO PROUD of our girls!

Monday, April 20, 2009

"Trouble the Water" on HBO

Last summer we saw this movie in the theatre. We had heard that it created a lot of buz at Sundance, won several awards, and was a Best Documentary nominee for an Academy Award. So we went out of curiosity more than anything.

It is the story of one couple with their video camera, capturing what came along for them during Hurricane Katrina. The raw footage is revealing and their calm spirits during those horrific days is uplifting.

We came away from this movie moved by the tenacity of the people, disturbed by some of the events that they captured, and uplifted by this couple's enormous desire to get their life back. We were also saddened at their loss, not only of home and belongings, but of their entire community, which to them was their extended family in many ways.

This movie will be shown on HBO on Thursday, April 23rd at 8:30 PM ET/PT

I thought you might like to know, and be able to watch it if you so desire. I do recommend it!
Until next time!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Easter Fun

The kids were thrilled to spend a long Easter weekend with their favorite "aunt and uncle", Randy's sister Deb and her husband Bryce.

We hate to complain about rain when we are in such a draught, but we were sure glad to see the sun come out Sunday morning! When we got home from church, the Easter Bunny (AKA Teresa) had found our house and left eggs all over the yard.

If any of the kids doubt the existence of the Easter Bunny or Santa, they don't let it show. We feel that Marquel and Annie missed out on so much of their childhood, just being allowed to enjoy the innocent fun things, that they want to hold on to these fun times as long as they can. The Easter baskets that we got them 2 years ago have been used and reused - they even use them for Halloween!

And a special thanks to Leigh and Ed for including the kids in their fun! What great memories everyone is creating for these kids.

The long weekend was a welcome break from studying for tests. But then, studying Math with Miss Debbie is much more fun! Marquel has taken her Math test, and Annie is cramming for her test the end of April.

Hoping you all had a great Easter weekend!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Girls TAKS Reading Test Results!

The other day Marquel was complaining about what she perceived as bad behaviour and special treatment of her younger brothers. In an attempt to pacify her, Randy said, "Well just remember, in a few years you will be out on your own and you won't have to deal with it."

"I'll be in college," was Marquel's quick reply.

Randy and I were so thrilled to hear her say this. We talk about college as if it is the expected next step after high school, but we weren't sure that they really comprehended the concept. Any cash that they are given goes into their bank, which is their "college fund".

Marquel continued by asking, "How will I get to college?" We assured her that we would make sure she had a way to get there. "But if I have a car, what if I have an accident?" We realized she had given this a lot of thought!

Considering Marquel's latest school progress report shows 90's with one 86, and taking into account that she has the height and physic of a basketball or volleyball player, we are hoping she can maintain her grades, keep out of trouble and qualify for a college scholarship.

New Survery question: While we do last minute cramming and studying with the girls for their TAKS tests (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills), I found some statistics for Texas that were interesting. Let's see how our girls who had such a poor start in school will measure up!

Vote now!

(See below for girls test results)

Last Survey Results for "Primary Risk factor of Low Income"

According to National Center for Children in Poverty, a primary risk factor for low income is the lack of Parental Education. 67% of those who voted in the survey chose this answer. When you think about this, it makes perfect sense:

  • A parent who does not have a high school diploma or GED is destined to low paying jobs

  • This parent is more likely to become involved in alcohol/drug abuse as an escape

  • Crimes such as theft or drug dealing is more tempting

  • Lack of education means lack of access to or understanding of the importance of health care

  • As a result, children have low expectations for their own future and model their parent(s), continuing the cycle of poverty

"The most commonly held stereotypes about poverty are false. Family poverty in the U.S. is typically depicted as a static, entrenched condition, characterized by large numbers of children, chronic unemployment, drugs, violence, and family turmoil. But the realities of poverty and economic hardship are very different. . . About 40 percent of Americans will experience poverty at some point in their lives; only a small minority experience multi-generational poverty and chronic dysfunction." from: National Center for Children in Poverty

Statistics like this make us realize how fragile that line can be and how vulnerable we all are.

Now for the girls Reading test results: A score less than 2100 is not passing. A score 2400 or above is commendable. Both girls scored over 2300!!

According to the Children's Defense Fund statistics, 70% of 4th graders in Texas public schools are reading below grade level!


Friday, March 20, 2009

The Crooked Princess

Our neighbors had a garage sale and Annie came home with the most fitting purchase for our little drama queen - a Barbie Princess crown!

She wore it all day every day - along with a big smile.

The fact that it was a little crooked was even more perfect!

It was a great opportunity to learn that if you are a princess you must act like a princess. This seemed to go much further than nagging at her to mind her manners.

She is immensely proud of her braces and her pretty new smile.

School has been more of a struggle this year. We have studied hard on reading comprehension and Math. Her teacher has been outstanding, getting Annie extra tutoring and even doing tutoring herself before and after school.

In the process of trying to help Charlie better with his ADHD, I have been reading a book that the counselors recommended. I think I also found Annie described in that book, realizing that Annie is a very "concrete, black-and-white" thinker. We call her our "Calendar Girl" because she knows everyone's birthday, and loves to keep track of important dates. A calendar is organized nicely into little boxes, but when it comes to more abstract word problems in Math, she has a hard time. Perhaps this will help us find more effective ways to help her learn.

Annie was probably the most influenced by her mom's lifestyle. When her mom partied with her friends, beer and "explicit" songs blaring, Annie loved the drama of it all. Our challenge is to channel her wonderful energy and spirit into more constructive avenues.

We are so pleased when our friends are around and demonstrate the same values. It helps the kids understand that Randy and I are not just mean old fuddy-duds, our friends tell them the same things. And they do listen! We overhear many little conversations and comments that let us know that they take these lessons to heart.

Keep up the good work, and keep us all in your thoughts and prayers.


ps - Remember how hard Marquel struggled in school last year? Her last progress report was all 90's with one 86. Prayer works!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Charlie turns 7!

Charlie's birthday is January 15th - he is now 7 years old.

It is hard to imagine that Charlie was only 3 1/2 years old when we met him (that is how old Chip is now)!

"Hmmm-one candle left!"

The last 3 years have been a challenge Charlie. When we met him at the shelter he would run and run, as fast as his little legs would go. After a few days he started talking and his clarity and wisdom was amazing for a little tyke.

After a year of counseling we decided his ADHD would be better controlled with medication, and we embarked on a year of trial and error. We now think he is doing well, much more capable of controlling his behaviour.

Learning about ADHD has been quite a journey, and we know there will be much more to learn. Some of the lessons have been hard, such as understanding that without the medication he truly cannot control himself and no amount of punishment will change the behaviour.

With the medication his face and body relax, allowing him to make choices and learn. It allows his teacher to teach class without the constant interruptions of Charlie throwing pencils or erasers and then scrambling around the room to find them, or clapping his hands for 15 minutes straight and then banging his head on his desk, or yelling out the answers before other students have a chance.

It is easier for him to speak in a normal voice rather than screaming at the top of his lungs. The medication allows him to have feelings; crying when he is sad, or just being quiet when he is in a melancholy mood. He is learning that he cannot always be the "boss", that he must listen, learn and obey.

The decision to put him on mind altering drugs was a difficult one, but we want to give him the best chance to succeed in life because we know that this is something he will live with for the rest of his life. He is reading above his 1st grade level and constantly surprises us with his knowledge.

We are so thankful for the patient teachers, the gifted counselors, and all those who love Charlie so much. Here again we think of where Charlie might be if he was in New Orleans. Through your support, we are all working together to give Charlie the life he deserves.

Happy Birthday, Charlie. We are so honored to get to spend it with you!

Randy and Stephanie

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What it means to be poor - Survey Results

To the left is a Quick Survey. These survey questions are meant to give you something to think about. From time to time I will change the survey question and post the final results of the previous survey.

"Poverty" is one of those words we really don't want to think about or talk about too much. If we don't know about it, we can ignore that it exists, or complain about people on "welfare". Over the last few years we have learned far more than we ever thought we would want to know about poverty.

Survey Results for "What income level is considered Poverty Level for a family of 4? "
40% chose $21,200 (Correct answer)
40% chose $29,400
20% chose $31,700

$21,200 would be a job that pays $10 per hour/40 hrs per week, which means a full time job can leave you living at poverty level. It most likely does not provide health insurance, or if it does, it is going to take more of your check than you can afford. Many people would feel very lucky indeed to find a $10/hr job!

Now consider that many people have far less to live on. How would you support your 4 kids if your total income was $9,600 per year, and the government said you cannot have a job, and no one in your household can have a job. Rules such as this do not allow people to escape their plight.

Think about it carefully - could you support your family on this income? Or do you say to yourself, "There for for the grace of God go I"?

Is my success due to my own hard work, or is it a combination of my good fortune to have middle class parents who were smart and well educated, who encouraged and guided me, gave me a secure home with nutritious food and the benefit of good schools and solid values so that I could use my brains to pull it all together? What if I had none of these things? Where would I be?

Did you know:
  • 12.5% or 37.3 million people, were living in poverty in 2007
  • 58.5% of Americans will spend at least one year below the poverty line at some point between ages 25 and 75

The Poverty Threshold is determined by the census bureau results as a guide to states in determining the eligibility of certain benefits such as food stamps or Medicaid.

I ran across a blog that has a very poignant list of what it means to be poor. I encourage you to read it! Judging from the 450 comments left on this blog, I think it certainly hit a chord with many people.

There are some things on this list that remind us of what "our kids" can identify with, and other things that we don't necessarily think of, such as being humiliated to say "I get free lunch" in front of all your classmates.

Thanks to Mr. Thornton and to so many of you, "our kids" have been able to benefit from good, wholesome food, security of a home and bed to sleep in, plenty of clothes and even some fun, "cool" toys. Being able to go to school in clean, well-fitting clothes and shoes gives them a boost before they even walk out the door each morning.

I have a new Survey question - be sure to vote!

Until next time ~

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Happy New Year!

Another Christmas is over and another New Year has begun. The older we get, the faster times flies by.

We picked up the kids on Friday, December 19th, dropped their dad off at the bus station and headed for Nebraska. What a great Christmas the kids had, thanks to so many of you. It was a much easier trip this year, as the kids are a year older, more mature and more calm. Click here to see pictures!

Mr. Thornton was able to get some rest and relaxation while he visited family in New Orleans and fished to his heart's content. His peaceful time was disrupted the day after Christmas when his nephew was killed in a robbery attempt as he walked the few blocks to the neighborhood store. What a sad saga real life in New Orleans continues to be for so many.

Mr. Thornton arrived home on New Year's Day. We took the kids home, as they were anxious to see their dad and he was anxious to see them.

Over the next few months we will be busy helping the girls study for their TAKS tests (Texas achievement tests). They both lag a little behind in Math, but their reading skills have improved, which is helpful to their Math word problems. They keep their good attitudes about school, for which we are thankful.

Charlie is reading above his 1st grade level, so our challenge is to keep him challenged. Over the holidays we discovered that he loves puzzles and will work for hours on Lego projects or transforming his Transformers. We have learned that his ADHD allows him to concentrate for long periods of time on these things, so we will find more projects like this for him.

The used LeapPad that I found for him proved a big hit! (picture at right).

Chip follows Charlie everywhere, wanting to do what Charlie is doing. He is growing fast and is beginning to wear clothes that Charlie wore when they first came to Texas.

Tomorrow we will be meeting with a lawyer to finalize a will for Mr. Thornton. He is requesting that Randy and I become legal guardians of the kids if anything should happen to him. We all feel a sense of relief that this will finally be in writing. Thank you Jim and Janet for helping us get this accomplished!

Marquel has expressed an interest in seeing her mom again, even though none of the kids have any desire to live with her. We will always keep in mind that they do have a mother, and no one will ever take that away from them. Some day they will have the maturity to understand why she is not able to care for them.

We thank all of you for your love, encouragement and support over the past year.

Stephanie, Randy, Turk and "our kids"