Mario Falcon is a single father of three boys. After he served in Iraq, PTSD made life difficult at home. Unable to handle the outbursts, his wife left. Now, Falcon has custody of his two younger sons and legal guardianship of his oldest, and he recognizes how difficult it is to be a single parent while also working.
“It takes a lot, you know,” he told Laity Lodge Family Camp. “The cooking and the homework and making sure their clothes are washed, making sure they’re eating, making sure they shower.”
Ten years ago, Falcon’s boys got involved with House of Faith, a ministry to economically disadvantaged, high-risk children, youth, and families in San Angelo, Texas. But Falcon only picked them up or dropped them off.
House of Faith cares about families, though in practice its programs have focused mostly on children and youth.
Its strongest program, Backyard Bible Clubs, brings together nearly 2,000 students every week at 15 public elementary schools in the San Angelo area. Jimmy Hill, Director of Operations and Families, leads one of the clubs at Grape Creek Elementary. The week before Thanksgiving, 237 students signed the roster and attended Backyard Bible Club. Each of them received a snack and played on the school playground for nearly an hour supervised by House of Faith staff.
“Then I blow a siren on a bull horn,” explained Hill, “and everyone knows they have ten minutes to clean up.” When Hill blows the siren a second time, the Backyard Bible Club gathers on the basketball court—nearly half of the students from the elementary school in some cases. Students sing and pray together, then divide into age-appropriate groups to study and discuss the Bible. Middle school student leaders help the weekly events run smoothly.
Clearly, the community of San Angelo trusts House of Faith. Public schools ask it for help, and local churches support it.
House of Faith has been building something good since 1993, when its co-founders, Kevin Reynolds and Rachel Beaver, laid out a three-part vision. According to Hill, “The third phase of our ministry was families, but for 24 years family ministry could hardly get any kind of traction.” The parents of San Angelo often only saw House of Faith when they dropped off or picked up their kids.
As the staff and volunteers in San Angelo poured into the community and prayed for solutions to the parent gap, Laity Lodge Family Camp senior director, Cary Hendricks, was busy exploring partnership options. “We seek out organizations that are doing transformative work in their community,” Hendricks said, “and we ask, ‘Hey, can Family Camp be a tool to help in your work?’”
But Hendricks wanted to do more than offer a retreat. He knew that lasting change typically requires more than a weekend away.
“It was really just a scouting trip,” he said about his visit to Colorado Springs. He was following a lead about a research-based program called Raising Highly Capable Kids, which offered a 13-week curriculum designed to “help parents raise healthy, caring, and responsible children.” He thought of House of Faith right away.
“They get it done. They impact a ton of people in San Angelo on not a very big budget.”
When he sat down with Jimmy Hill and the staff at House of Faith, Hendricks offered to purchase the curriculum for their ministry and host a free retreat weekend for every family that completed a modified test-run of six parenting classes. Would this further House of Faith’s three-point mission, and were they interested?
They told Cary, “We feel like we do a good job of impacting kids in San Angelo, but we want to go deeper with their families.”
In fact, House of Faith had been praying since 1993 that it would eventually serve families. That prayer was about to gain some traction with the launch of Parent University.
Mario Falcon was one of the first parents to sign up. In the program, he gathered around tables each week with other moms and dads and guardians to discuss relevant topics such as Parent Involvement in Schooling, and Positive Communication. He would find camaraderie and encouragement, and receive care from volunteers like Cathy Brown, a volunteer table host.
“You can see as the weeks go by,” Brown reflected, “how they open up and let you into their lives. They start helping each other, figuring out problems for each other—what works and what didn’t work.”
“I knew I could use it,” Falcon remembers thinking when House of Faith called. Ironically, he had learned about this outreach in the mid-1990s, long before he became a parent and at a time when serving parents was only a pipe dream for House of Faith. He wasn’t interested then. Today, however, he sees it differently. Engaging with House of Faith in their parent training program, he said, “was about me being a better father and about handling situations better with my boys.”
Brown said, “I love House of Faith. They’ve done so many great things, but this parenting thing? Ho, ho, my goodness,” she laughed. “It’s something we’ve been waiting for for years. It’s an answer to prayer.”
As Falcon attended each week, he realized he was getting pieces of the content right as a dad. “Before the classes, I always told myself, ‘Man, what am I doing wrong? Or, what am I not doing?’”
Reflecting on what he learned, Falcon realized, “I’m not doing excellent, but I’m doing good. And I see that now.
“Dealing with PTSD, there’s so much that I have to hold back. Instead of blowing up or getting loud and angry—doing things that puts fear in my children, I try to understand them now. When they need to talk, I want them to know that I want to listen. I care about their feelings. And since I’ve completed this class, they’ve been more understanding and want to talk with me more.”
Falcon’s parents fought violently when he was young. They were evicted so many times that Falcon bounced through five different elementary schools. Today, he is praying and working to provide better stability for his own children.
“It makes me feel good to hear them tell me, ‘Dad, you’re doing a great job.’ My boys tell me that a lot now. They can see that I’ve changed.”
Brown added, “I wish we would have had these [classes] when I was young: ‘Here are some things that can help you, and here are some people who will help back you up.’”
Thirty-three families received a diploma for completing the course this past summer. Considering the chaos and complications many of them face, these diplomas symbolize success for each family.
Thinking about the program makes Cary Hendricks smile. He said HEBFF and Family Camp had believed “[House of Faith] might actually do something with this curriculum and this program that could be special.”
And it certainly has.