Making the Grade
Of the many young children who come to Texas Baptist Children’s Home, few have known success in the classroom.
Lackadaisical attitudes, sporadic attendance, the absence of parental involvement, and undiagnosed learning
disabilities have left them grade levels behind and often unmotivated to succeed.
TBCH begins turning that around the day a child arrives, providing structure where none previously existed. Not every child becomes a success story but many do, thanks to support from staff and donors who make this ministry possible.
The fact that so many go on to attend college is a tribute to the ability of children from unstable backgrounds to grow into dedicated students and successful adults.
“We’re not just a place for kids to come live,” said Keith Dyer, Executive Director of TBCH. “We want to be a place where they tap into that part of themselves that is special, where they can find the inspiration, discipline and spiritual grounding to achieve their goals.”
Currently a number of former TBCH residents are attending colleges from Texas to New York and Boston. Each of them is following in the footsteps of those who can serve as role models because of what they were able to overcome on the path to higher education and success in life. Four alums shared their stories, representative of hundreds of other TBCH students through the years.
Jerry Tidwell was a freshman in high school when he and his sister came to TBCH in the early 1990s because of tensions at home. Intending to be a lawyer, he was accepted at Baylor, but didn’t feel like he fit in and dropped out.
Jerry transferred to Texas Tech, but, still floundering, he flunked out and moved back home with his dad. Continuing tension in the family motivated him to save money to return to college. After four years, he was back at Tech.
With the help of scholarship assistance available to former TBCH residents, he was able to finish college and attend law school. Today Jerry practices law in Plano, a career he said was made possible by TBCH.
“They believed in me and supported me when I didn’t and couldn’t,” he says. “I didn’t realize all the lessons I was learning when I was at TBCH. At the time, I would grumble about the chores and the rules. But, it taught me that you have to work hard to get what you want in life. I feel like a lot of people’s prodigal child.”
By the time he was 6 years old, Greg McAuley had already had three stepmothers. By the age of 14, he had a serious streak of rebellion. In 1980, Greg arrived at the TBCH campus, bitter and brimming with attitude. He didn’t take kindly to authority figures, but he found comfort in academics.
“Schoolwork was my safe place,” Greg remembers. “And the staff at TBCH helped me maintain that. They encouraged me to focus on my studies, knowing that none of my emotional issues would derail me from that.”
TBCH staff helped him find scholarship money and prepare college applications. He went on to earn a degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M, a professional engineering license and an MBA from the University of Phoenix.
“They just continued to encourage me to focus on the good things instead of the bad,” he said of the TBCH staff. “Even though I crossed the line over and over again, they never gave up on me. I never quit because they were there to motivate and encourage me.”
Shirley Zirkle and her sister had been in the foster care system for four years when they finally found a safe haven at TBCH in the 1960s. Although always a high achiever in school, Shirley finally at age 10 was able to focus on excelling thanks to her newfound security.
“TBCH was stable. That was something I hadn’t had before,” she said. “I was finally secure. It gave me a place where I could be comfortable and happy.”
At Round Rock High School, Shirley was a cheerleader, on student council and held offices in student organizations. That success continued throughout her college career at Hardin Simmons University and later at the University of Texas. She went on to become a computer analyst working for the government.
For those readying for college and life, Shirley has one bit of advice:
“Our senior quote was, ‘From knowledge, understanding; from understanding, peace,’” she remembered. “I think that says a lot about education, but it also says a lot about God. The more you know Him, the more peace you have.”
When Jason Holmes came to TBCH 14 years ago, it was supposed to be a temporary stop while STARRY’s Foster Care Program decided his future. Instead, his new home became a place of comfort and direction, and led to his adoption by a new forever family.
“Being at TBCH allowed me to explore my academic potential,” he said. “The environment was ideal for a troubled youth.”
That environment led Jason to achieve a BBA in Computer Information from Texas State University. He’s currently a Consumer Experience Analyst in Houston, where he manages 35 to 40 percent of his employer’s revenue.
Jason attributes the majority of his success to the core values he gleaned from TBCH.
“I learned the concept of family, dedication and discipline,” he said. “I’ll forever be thankful for that because I will pass these ideas on to my kids so they, too, can be successful in whatever they do.”