Circle of Living Hope

Nonprofit helps children find purpose

Kedrick Dickerson is well on his way to attaining a bachelor's degree in business management, but when he arrived on Daniel Osteen's porch July 14, 2011, he described himself as someone who "had no intention of doing the right thing."

Dickerson had just been released from juvenile detention for aggravated robbery and assault. Before being incarcerated, he had bounced around two shelters and two foster homes. Then he arrived at Osteen's home.

"From my experience, that was my first time really being around an established man," Dickerson said. "Growing up, I was never really around a man who was established."

Osteen has been working and living with young people such as Dickerson since he started Circle of Living Hope in 2006. The organization helps teens in foster care prepare for independent life by teaching them basic living skills such as budgeting, cooking, cleaning and making what Osteen calls "positive decisions."

The results of Osteen's work are apparent in Dickerson's life. The 20-year-old is in the middle of his second year at Austin Community College and plans to attend either Texas Tech University or Texas State University to wrap up his bachelor's degree in business management. Dickerson said he wants to try his hand at real estate when he finishes his education.

For most of the children who enter his home, there is what Osteen calls a "lightbulb moment" when they realize they can turn their life and attitude around.

"They come to me and tell me, 'I thought you'd give up on me like everyone else. I'd be dumb to continue that behavior when there's someone like you showing me unconditional love and not giving up,'" Osteen said.

Much of Osteen's work involves educating the children about the benefits they are eligible for. In the state of Texas, children in the foster care system are eligible for educational training vouchers worth up to $5,000 each year toward public or private institutions that offer bachelor's degrees or credits toward associate degrees, transitional Medicaid and more. Many of Osteen's children, including Dickerson, have taken advantage of these benefits.

"When we get through working with these kids, the State of Texas is going to think twice about giving away that free education," Osteen said. "That's the goal, make a dent in their pocket there by taking advantage of that resource."

Since starting the nonprofit organization, Osteen has seen more young people than he can count pass through his front door and take up residence in one of the rooms in his home. Once they arrive, they might stay for a couple of months or a couple of years.

Young children are more likely to be adopted soon after they enter care, so it is the teens who typically "age out" of the state's system when they turn 18.

"Those are the ones who get stuck in the system and don't really have a permanent place or family after they turn 18, so we make sure that they're self-sufficient and that they can function on their own and are well-equipped to take care of themselves," Osteen said.

Osteen said the stigma attached to foster care presents one of the biggest challenges for his children. Osteen chooses to look at the situation as a positive thing and encourages his kids to do the same.

"The harder the situation, the greater the calling," Osteen said. "[Being in foster care] is something to be proud of and excited about, because what they've gone through means they have a great purpose and a meaning in life."

Osteen said he still is not exactly sure how he came to be the founder of COLH. Osteen's parents opened their home to foster children when he was growing up, and he said the experience was enough to convince him to get as far from foster care as possible.

"The man upstairs had an alternative plan," Osteen said. "We might have our own plans, but we end up going back towards where we're supposed to be."

In March, Osteen learned COLH had just been approved by the State of Texas to become a child-placing agency. The approval means COLH will be the second CPA in Hays County. He will now be able to license foster homes and expand his life's work.

"I definitely know that I'm in my purpose now," Osteen said.


Foster care in Hays County

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the state agency that is responsible for foster and adoptive care, reported there were 15,794 children in foster care in the state as of April 7. Of those in foster care, 44 hail from Hays County. Osteen said there are too few foster homes in the county, so he applied to DFPS to become a child-placing agency. His application was approved in March, so he will soon be able to license more foster homes in the area.

Circle of Living Hope, 1216 Estival Drive, San Marcos, 512-216-9615, www.circleoflivinghope.org



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