The Early Years
The seeds for Lutheran Social Services of the South were sown in the early 1860s in Louisiana, with the origination of the Bethlehem Children’s Center in New Orleans. In 1866, a Louisiana society that raised money to support needy orphans tried to build an orphanage, but failed, due to poor economic conditions following the Civil War. The German Evangelical Lutheran Bethlehem Orphan Asylum Association was incorporated to the society in 1881, and in 1883 a plantation house became the first orphanage for Bethlehem. A new building capable of housing 80 to 100 children was constructed in 1886.
Texas’ Lutheran charitable work started when a pastor set up a Widows’ Aid Fund in 1867. But the agency officially began in 1881 to help those in need. Lutheran churches in Texas, along with out-of-state churches, helped raise $7,827.15 for people who lost everything in the 1900 Galveston hurricane. The Good Samaritan Society was created in 1924, but to avoid being mistaken for other organizations with similar names, the society later changed its name to Lutheran Aid and Orphan’s Society.
The newly chartered Lutheran Aid and Orphan’s Society bought Trinity Lutheran College property in Round Rock, Texas, with the help of the Augustana Association of Charities. The $25,000 purchase funded the creation of Trinity Lutheran Home, a haven for orphans and elderly that opened in November 1929. Due to a decline in the number of children cared for (from 33 a year to only 17 a year), the program for children ended in 1958. In its place, the Society decided to help unwed mothers and their infants.
In 1944, the Lutheran Aid and Orphan’s Society changed its name to the Texas Lutheran Welfare Society and expanded its services to include a social service office in San Antonio. There, the organization offered unplanned pregnancy counseling and placed children in foster care and adoptive homes.
In the 1950s, Bethlehem’s services in New Orleans expanded to include foster care for pre-school children (those under the age of 5). Eventually it became a children’s residential treatment center caring for children with severe emotional and behavioral problems who were referred to Bethlehem by child welfare.
In 1954, the Texas offices were moved from San Antonio to Austin. Texas Lutheran Welfare Society eventually became known as Lutheran Social Services (LSS) in 1965 and expanded to include senior and children’s services.
Services to the Poor
Since 1967, Neighborhood House (NH) has provided emergency help in the form of basic necessities to economically disadvantaged people in Lubbock County. NH serves a diverse population with a focus on single parents, older adults, and persons with disabilities living on low or fixed incomes at or below poverty level. NH also serves persons who are homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless.
Health for Friends Clinic (HFFC) is a sister program to Neighborhood House in Lubbock. HFFC began operating in 1991, and provides services for low-income patients who suffer from chronic health issues and have difficulty accessing health care due to no health insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare. HFFC offers screenings for diabetes and hypertension at the clinic as well as a number of outreach sites across the South Plains.
Development of Senior Services
Lutheran Community Services of El Paso began an adult day care program at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in 1975. The next year, the first adult day care center opened in El Paso, which was the first in Texas and one of the first in the country. The Buena Vida Adult Day Care Centers (which closed in 2012), provided professional care to elderly and disabled individuals so their usual caregivers and family members could work and attend school during the day.
At one time, LSS operated four nursing homes in Texas and Louisiana as part of its ministry to the elderly, but transitioned out of those services as society’s needs changed. LSS now operates independent and assisted living communities: Copperfield Village in Victoria, Trinity Place Apartments in Round Rock, and Wedgewood South in Lubbock. LSS also operates two full range of care retirement communities: Kruse Village in Brenham and The Village at Gleannloch Farms in Spring.
In 2008, LSS launched a geriatric care management program called Care-Connect, to help seniors maintain their independence. Care-Connect was later offered exclusively at our retirement community in Spring, Texas, before being phased out in June 2014.
Expansion of Children’s Services
LSS merged with the Louisiana agency in 1993 to form Lutheran Social Services of the South, Inc. That same year, LSS began operating children’s residential treatment centers.
In 1993, LSS purchased a 15-bed alcohol and drug treatment facility near Canyon Lake, Texas, and created New Life Children’s Center. New Life today serves emotionally disturbed girls ages 11 to 17. Three other centers were purchased in 1995 – from a provider that specialized in the treatment of adult and adolescent substance abuse – and were transformed into children’s residential treatment centers.
The Nelson Children’s Residential Treatment Center in Denton, the Krause Children’s Center in Katy, and the Bokenkamp Children’s Center in Corpus Christi were all licensed in 1995 to serve children with severe emotional and behavioral problems, most stemming from past abuse and neglect. Most of the children were referred to the facilities from the child welfare system. The Nelson Center closed its doors in August 2011. Krause Children’s Center transitioned in 2014 from serving both boys and girls to only serving girls ages 12 –17.
After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005 and heavily damaged Bethlehem Children’s Center, residents of Bethlehem Children’s Center were moved to the Bokenkamp Children’s Center in Corpus Christi, where they stayed for several months before being returned to Louisiana. As a result of extensive damage, both Bethlehem and Peace Lake Towers in New Orleans, a facility for low-income and disabled seniors, remained closed after the hurricane.
Peace Lake Towers was sold, and Bethlehem was converted to a disaster volunteer camp before becoming the home of the current BeREAL (Ready, Educated Accomplished, Leaders) program, for youth aging out of foster care. BeREAL moved into a more central location in New Orleans in August 2013, and provides mentoring and support to 100-125 foster youth each year.
A new BeREAL program was established in Austin in September 2014. BeREAL Austin provides Supervised Independent Living (SIL) to up to 30 former foster youth ages 18-21.
In the spring of 2006, the program at Bokenkamp was revised to become Bokenkamp Emergency Shelter, providing emergency assistance to unaccompanied immigrant children from Central and South America. LSS works closely with the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at Bokenkamp, and another ORR program in El Paso that lends emergency transitional foster care placement to immigrant children in the area.
In 2014, due to the influx of unaccompanied minors into Texas, LSS expanded its ORR services for immigrant minors to include an ORR transitional foster care program in Corpus Christi and the LSS-New Hope Emergency Shelter in McAllen.
Award-Winning Foster Care & Adoption Programs
LSS is at the forefront of foster care and adoption programs in Texas, and has won national and state-level awards. In 2009, the foster care program was renamed Foster In Texas (FIT) and recruiting new foster families became an agency priority. Each day almost 400 LSS foster homes care for 800 – 900 abused and neglected children through 14 offices located throughout Texas.
LSS offers unplanned pregnancy services and domestic and international adoption. A milestone was reached in 2007 when the agency placed its 7,000th adoptive child; an additional 1,000+ have been placed since that time. The international adoption program first received Hague accreditation in 2008, and has partnerships with about 40 international agencies/adoption service providers around the world. In 2010, LSS was accredited to provide adoption services in Bulgaria as the adoption service provider to families both in and outside the State of Texas. The name of the LSS adoption program was changed in 2012 to Lutheran Adoption Services of Texas (LAST).
The LSS Child and Family Services program is accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA), and in August 2011, earned the maximum possible accreditation (three years), from the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). CARF Accreditation was renewed for another three years in 2014.
Until Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast, LSS provided disaster response services on an as-needed basis. LSS Disaster Response (LSSDR) has had significant growth since that time. Following Hurricane Ike in 2008, Recovery for Ike Survivors Enterprise (RISE) case management program was formed and managed by LSSDR. Over a two-year period in 2009-2011, RISE connected Ike survivors to nearly $30 million in services to assist them in their recovery from the disaster.
LSSDR also committed to helping meet the unmet needs of those impacted by Hurricane Isaac in late-August 2012, and has aided in the long-term recovery efforts of the Louisiana communities that suffered the greatest damage, such as Plaquemines Parish.
LSSDR was also actively involved in recovery efforts for the Texas wildfires in the fall of 2011, lending immediate aid to families in need. In September 2012, LSSDR was selected by the Texas General Land Office (GLO) as the case management firm to assist eligible residents of Bastrop County in rebuilding their homes under the Community Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program.
In the spring of 2013, LSSDR responded to three high-profile disasters: The explosion of the fertilizer plant and resultant fires in West, Texas, and two massive and destructive tornadoes in Granbury, Texas, and Moore Oklahoma, which resulted in tragic loss of life and widespread property damage.
LSSDR is also participating in the long-term recovery of victims of the October 2013 “Halloween” floods in Central Texas.
Today, LSSDR continues to serve Texas Louisiana, and Oklahoma. LSSDR offers rebuilding assistance, case management services, and help in finding affordable, available housing.
Trinity Charter Schools
In 2004, Trinity Charter Schools (TCS) were established to address the unique needs of children served by the three LSS residential treatment centers and emergency shelter. The need for a specialized education program was identified because most of the children admitted to the centers are two or more grade levels behind academically, come from home environments where education was not a priority, and frequent moves through the foster care system disrupted their education. TCS performs an educational assessment on children when they are admitted and develops an individualized education plan for each child.
Additional schools were established on the Pegasus Campus in Lockhart in fall 2013 and three Azleway children’s homes in the Tyler area in September 2014.
Upbring has an annual operating budget of $70-75 million, serves more than 27,500 people annually in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma, and has approximately 750 employees in 23 communities.