A New Team for Real County

A partnership with Methodist Healthcare Ministries and five other local organizations is providing rural community development in a Texas frontier county.

When Yvette Sosa’s son won full custody of his infant daughter, Sosa knew he would need help. He and the baby moved into her house, and she helped him learn the ropes of new fatherhood.

Then one day he came to her, frustrated and defeated. Camp Wood, a town of less than 1,000 people in Real County, didn’t have the kind of job opportunities he needed to support himself and his daughter. He needed to move.

Sosa told him to leave the infant with her until he got on his feet. Finding a new job is tough enough without having to find childcare to go with it.

“I just want to have my grandchildren have something stable,” Sosa said.

Mother and son agreed the arrangement was temporary, and he set off to find work.

Seventeen years later, Sosa’s granddaughter, Cadence, is moving out of her grandmother’s house, not to be with her father, but to go to college.

As it turned out, Sosa’s home had continued to be the safest, most stable home for Cadence. Sosa has been “both mother and father” to the child, who has grown up to be a responsible teen—a track star, prom queen, and aspiring nurse.

“She’s a happy kid,” Sosa said. “The spiritual life that I have shown her is very important.”

It all would have been easier if she had been Cadence’s legal guardian, with the papers to prove it.

There were bumps along the way though, she said. Whenever Cadence needed a parent signature, she and Sosa would have to make arrangements to meet her father somewhere between Houston and Camp Wood. Simple doctor’s appointments were logistical nightmares, and Cadence couldn’t get her driver’s licence until she turned 18 and could sign for herself.

It all would have been easier, Sosa said, if she had been Cadence’s legal guardian, with the papers to prove it.

That was the common refrain among the grandparents gathered at the Camp Wood Public Library on May 3, as they met with Team Real, a coalition of nonprofits working to improve community health in Camp Wood in Real County.

In addition to the H. E. Butt Foundation, Team Real includes Bluebonnet Children’s Advocacy Center, Hill Country Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Centers, Methodist Healthcare Ministries’ Wesley Nurse, Workforce Solutions Middle Rio Grande, and Community Health Development, Inc. The team is one of 16 Methodist Healthcare Ministries’ “Prosperemos Juntos | Thriving Together” Learning Collaboratives.

The Prosperamos Juntos model looks like a collective impact model, but takes it a step further, explained Tim Barr with Methodist Healthcare Ministries. Collective impact brings together nonprofits, government entities, churches, schools and other groups all working to solve a problem. Each uses insights and tools from their respective spheres to reach a holistic, multi-faceted solution.

What collective impact efforts often miss, Barr said, is the deep engagement, the humble partnership with those being served.

“Part of the transformation is recognizing when we are stuck in a charity mentality,” Barr said. Prosperamos Juntos wants to move from charity—bringing in solutions; to equity—partnership and community leadership; to liberation—power coming from the community and generating pride in the community.

The new coaltion’s work compliments the efforts of the H. E. Butt Foundation in Leakey, where the Real County Community Initiative (RCCI) is currently focusing on early childhood education and childcare.

But rather than simply trying to replicate the Leakey work in Camp Wood, the Foundation decided to join up with Team Real and follow a learning collaborative model. When they listened to Camp Wood, said Dana Williams, director of RCCI for the Foundation, grandparents like Sosa spoke up, stepped up, and will soon be part of the Team Real leadership, shaping their own support.

“We know (grandparents raising grandchildren) is not unique to Real County, but we recognize that the solutions that are most powerful are unique to the county,” Williams said.

Their first gathering, safely outdoors on a beautiful spring day, confirmed what they had been seeing: these grandparents were facing complex challenges, but they were willing and able to meet them.

“They weren’t just there to get, they were also there to give. When one had a question, the other one had an answer,” Williams said. “Ultimately we’re going to see it as an asset in the community.”

“The people with the lived experiences will come up with the best solutions.”

— Dana Williams

The details are still coming together, Williams said. Leaders whose lived experience of raising a grandchild will bring as much to the effort as the lawyers and nurses who will help them address the specific needs that come up along the way. “The people with the lived experiences will come up with the best solutions,” Williams said.

Sosa is both a source of lived experience and someone looking for new resources as she enters her second round of grandparent caregiving.

This time, with 10-year-old Daniel, Sosa knows what’s ahead. She wants to get their legal work in order so that she can access the Medicaid, food stamps, and records she needs to provide for him. As a part-time cook with Real County Nutrition Services and recently elected member of the volunteer Camp Wood city council, Sosa said, raising another kid with her granddaughter in college is … tight.

She thought she’d be done raising children once Cadence graduated, Sosa said with a chuckle, but “the Lord had other plans.”

At the library meeting, other grandparents and Team Real representatives shared insight into how to get legal assistance, help accessing government benefits, and counseling opportunities for Daniel.

“I know there’s a lot of issues there,” said Sosa, reflecting on the turbulence of the child’s life so far. She’s determined to keep him with her and to give him what she gave Cadence. “He needs a bed where he can come and lay his head every single night and not feel that he’s in danger.”

Team Real has been helpful, she said, but even just having peers to talk to was comforting. She knows other grandparents caring for their grandchildren in the community, and she’s eager to invite them to the next meeting. Many have been doing this work for a long time without support, she said. “Grandparents used to be on the back burner.”

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