Painted in beautiful script on a wall at Upbring New Life Children’s Center in Canyon Lake is a quote from the Walt Disney movie Mulan:
“The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.”
Casual observers might chalk it up to nothing more than motivational rhetoric. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that those 14 words speak volumes about the life-changing work being done in this safe, nurturing home tucked away in the rolling Central Texas Hill Country.
Upbring is a faith-based nonprofit working to break the cycle of child abuse in Texas. Our agency launched New Life in 1993 to help girls between the ages of 11 and 17 heal from trauma, in many cases the result of severe abuse and neglect.
Child abuse is a pervasive issue that crosses cultural, economic and geographic boundaries. During 2016, the Department of Family and Protective Services reported nearly 60,000 confirmed child abuse victims in Texas. That number includes 382 children in Comal County.
More than a number
The girls that Upbring serves at New Life are far more than a number, label or statistic. They are warriors who have survived extraordinarily difficult circumstances most people could never imagine.
Consider Amy*, who once told a New Life employee that her life was worth a six pack of beer and a pack of cigarettes. Why?
“Because that’s how much my father traded me for,” Amy said.
In light of the horrific experiences that framed many of their childhoods, you might expect the girls who call New Life home to give up on themselves. But Amy and her peers are working hard to build brighter futures, and they are not alone.
Treatment from the heart
Unless you have a Ph.D. in neuropsychology, the inner workings of the human brain and its 100 billion neurons might be hard to wrap your head around. Easier to understand, however, is the impact chronic trauma has on one of our most important organs.
Research shows that when a child experiences trauma, her brain’s communication centers are injured, just as her arm might break if she fell off her bike. But unlike a broken arm, emotional wounds cannot be cured by a cast.
That is why the New Life team delivers a heart-felt, clinically based treatment program tailored to each girl’s needs. With in-depth therapy, personal development activities and spiritual care, girls start to develop a renewed sense of hope for their futures.
Supporting the girls on their courageous path of healing is a compassionate team of therapists, social workers, direct-care staff and volunteers, many of whom live in the Canyon Lake area. The team is led by an executive director who considers working at New Life his personal calling.
Leading with vision
Jacob Huereca is executive director at New Life and a social worker who remembers the pivotal moment that opened his eyes – and his heart – to God’s plan for his life.
“When I worked for Child Protective Services, I placed a kid on Christmas Eve and had to move him from one foster home to another,” Jacob said. “His parents put his belongings outside in trash bags. I picked him up and had to take him to a stranger’s house—the night before Christmas. My heart broke.”
That’s when Jacob dedicated his life to working with abused and neglected children. Today, he channels his passion into his role as executive director of New Life Children’s Center.
Jacob, who is also a foster-to-adopt parent, says the best part about his job is watching girls grow from youngsters who cannot see a future for themselves into adults with thriving families of their own. He has a clear vision for New Life’s future, and it starts with reshaping how people view kids in the foster care system:
“Our kids are not ‘troubled or bad girls.’ They’ve just had horrible pasts. It’s up to us to get them back on track.”
To my favorite teacher
To call New Life a children’s center belies its significant impact on girls’ lives. For many, New Life is the first safe home they’ve had where adults lift them up rather than push them down.
In a letter titled “To My Favorite Teacher,” a young girl named Ashley* talked about her relationship with Teresa Mitchell, a long-time educator at Trinity Charter School on the New Life campus.
“Ms. Mitchell instructed me in something books can’t teach you, which is how to succeed in life,” Ashley wrote. “She is one of the reasons I am going to be adopted. A family believed in me because she showed me how to believe in myself.”
Ashley’s success story is just one of hundreds being told at New Life. With support from Jacob and his team, these young girls are discovering that they, like the flower that blooms in adversity, are beautiful, strong and worthy of a bright future.
More to come
A version of this article originally appeared in Canyon Lake Living Magazine, and is the first in a series of articles about how New Life Children’s Center impacts lives in the Canyon Lake community. In future installments, we will tell more stories of girls who are healing, growing and thriving at New Life.
*These stories are true, but the girls’ names have been changed to protect their identities.
Want To Get Involved?
Apply for a Career at New Life: https://www.upbring.org/about-upbring/upbring-careers/