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December 12th

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LSSS.org Archives • Upbring

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“Adoption is Addictive” – Konnie Guenther Gregg, Director of Upbring International Adoption

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When Konnie Guenther Gregg joined Lutheran Social Services as an infant adoption worker on October 10, 1975, she had no idea that this position – or calling – would remain her passion for 40 years. Konnie has held a pivotal role in LSS/Upbring adoption programs since that first day in October – including infant adoption, older child adoption through CPS, supervising the infant foster care program, working with birthmothers and then exclusively in international adoption since 1990.

According to Konnie, adoption in 2015 is a whole different world than it was just two generations ago, when it was cloaked in secrecy and silence. When her then 19-year-old sister placed a baby for adoption, it sparked Konnie’s interest in working in the adoption field. “Helping people build their families, watching kids thrive and flourish in loving, permanent homes is just so rewarding … and addictive!” she explained.

During Konnie’s tenure in international adoption, she has witnessed and worked through changes that included the opening and closing of adoption programs in numerous countries, as well as the implementation of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.

A new set of regulations for intercountry adoption was implemented due to the impact of the Hague Adoption Convention, which went into effect in the United States in 2008, with LSS becoming Hague-accredited that same year. The Hague Treaty ensures that countries follow standards that are designed to protect children and provide transparency for adoptive families. This has contributed to a slowdown in international adoption, as different countries establish new structure and regulatory systems.

In 2010, following Konnie’s trip to Bulgaria, LSS initiated a partnership with New Beginning Association, a non-governmental organization (NGO) accredited by the Bulgarian government, as a primary provider of intercountry adoption services to work together to find loving homes for Bulgaria’s orphaned children. Since that time, nine adoptions from Bulgaria have been finalized, with several other families in the process of adopting waiting Bulgarian children.

Most memorable to Konnie are “the phenomenal families I have worked with. They seem to stretch beyond what they expected of themselves, with such commitment and the ability to ‘make it work.’ They just rise to the challenge, which can include huge medical and emotional issues.”

Upbring International Adoption Team: Donna Morrison, Erin Patterson & Konnie Gregg

Upbring International Adoption Team: Donna Morrison, Erin Patterson & Konnie Gregg

About Konnie

Konnie was born in Germany and immigrated to San Antonio with her mom, dad and three sisters when she was seven, coincidentally through the resettlement services of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS). During Konnie’s high school years, they moved to Houston. In 1967, she met her husband Mark Gregg at the University of Texas, and they had three children – two adopted from CPS. When one of Konnie’s sisters died in an auto accident, they also took in her teenage son. In 2012, after 45 years of marriage, Mark died from complications related to treatment of Hodgkin’s disease. Today, three of their four children live in the Austin area and she has 11 grandchildren. Konnie’s busy life included playing (and watching) a lot of soccer, and she is an avid gardener, reader and traveler who tries to never miss her grandkids’ athletic activities and gets the extended family of up to 18–20  together for family dinners every other Sunday.

Konnie & her sisters

Konnie & her sisters

Konnie with 3 of her 4 kids

Konnie with 3 of her 4 kids

Konnie with 2 of her grandkids

Konnie with 2 of her grandkids

Konnie Gregg is not one to talk about herself, but at Upbring we think a professional anniversary of four decades is something to celebrate! The many lives Konnie has impacted are evidenced by three bulletin boards hanging in her office, crammed with photos of happy families whose adoptions she has personally facilitated.

konnie collage board web

Upbring/LSS has facilitated thousands of adoptions over 60 years; Konnie Gregg has been an important part of many of those. Thank you Konnie, for all you have meant and continue to mean to Upbring/LSS!

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Upbring Health For Friends Clinic – A blessing to the Lubbock community

The United Way Program Review Committee recently visited Upbring Health For Friends Clinic and committed funding for an additional three years.

Health For Friends is a nurse-managed clinic in Lubbock that provides quality services for people who might not be able to otherwise have access to health care because they cannot afford health insurance. Screenings and consultations – including diabetes, high blood pressure, nutrition, cholesterol management and weight control – are offered at no cost to those who qualify.

In 2014, 1,277 individual patients were served during 7,080 nursing contacts through Health For Friends. In addition, the clinic distributed 46 glucometers, 408 boxes of glucose strips and 154 prescriptions.

As we begin writing the next chapter in our agency’s 134-year-old history, Upbring, the new Lutheran Social Services of the South, steps forward with renewed focus and vigor on reducing recidivism in child abuse and improving long-term outcomes for all Texas children. Our mission – to break the cycle of child abuse by empowering children, families and communities.

Upon examining the key markers for breaking the cycle of child abuse — education, health, life skills, safety and vocation — Upbring found that numerous studies rank Texas among the lowest states on relevant measures of well-being, such as children living in poverty, percent of the population living with food insecurity, the teenage birth rate and the rate of uninsured for health care.

“Upbring is investing in this effort by looking to create opportunities to expand services for our community programs in Lubbock County that will positively impact families in new ways over time,” said Joy Loper, Upbring Program Director Neighborhood House and Health For Friends Clinic.

Janis Putteet, Vice President/Community Impact Director of Lubbock Area United Way, values the Health For Friend Clinic partnership and appreciates the services they provide to the local community. “Health For Friends has a great history of helping local citizens learn about diabetes and how to manage it better,” said Putteet. “Joy and staff have a long tenure with great dedication and exceptional nurse commitment – client impact is huge and the clinic continues to be a great service the Lubbock community needs.”

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Upbring receives generous donation from the Southwestern Texas Synod

The members and congregations of the Southwestern Texas Synod selected Upbring, the new Lutheran Social Services of the South, to receive half of the offering collected at this year’s Synod Assembly held May 1-3 in McAllen. After all the gifts were tallied, Upbring received a check for $35,452.37 – with the potential for additional funds arriving in the coming months. This support is designated for the immigrant children and families we serve in Corpus Christi, El Paso and McAllen. The Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest was chosen to receive the other half of the offering.

In partnership with the ELCA and Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR), Upbring is a key partner in an ecumenical and community-based response to the unmet basic needs of immigrants. This includes finding ways to support immigrant families who often are living in the shadows and have limited access to food, transportation, education and other necessities. Upbring has added a full-time staff position in the Rio Grande Valley to support these communities and to work in partnership with area churches and church and community organizations to fill gaps in services. This gift from the Southwestern Texas Synod will directly support this program.

Upbring also works with the Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to ensure immigrant children are in safe, temporary environments, surrounded by professional staff and trained, nurturing foster parents. This contribution will give unaccompanied immigrant children access to educational opportunities, shelter and legal resources.

Upbring ORR Programs include:

  • Bokenkamp Emergency Shelter in Corpus Christi (serving up to 120 children at a time)
  • ORR Transitional Foster Care in Corpus Christi (up to 32 children at a time)
  • ORR Transitional Foster Care in El Paso (up to 50 children at a time)
  • New Hope Emergency Shelter in McAllen (up to 60 children at a time)

”We are honored by the partnership we have with the Southwestern Texas Synod and deeply grateful for the generosity of the members and congregations of the Synod,” said Mike Nevergall, Upbring Vice President for Agency Advancement. “The theme for the Synod’s Assembly this year was ‘Welcome the Stranger,’ which is a fitting title for an event held in the Valley but which also perfectly describes the work Upbring does each day with immigrant children and families, guided by our faith to serve those in need.”

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We are diggin’ the New Life garden

new life garden collageThe vegetable garden at Upbring New Life Children’s Center – still in its early stages – already has mint, basil, dill, rosemary, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, okra, cantaloupe, artichokes, zinnias and sunflowers planted! With all the rain in Central Texas, everything is coming up green and gorgeous.

Christine Kline, New Life’s “gardener extraordinaire”, is working alongside some of the girls in a raised bed garden – demonstrating how it’s done while cultivating their gardening knowledge.

“We are just getting started on our garden project,” said Christine. “Our goal is to create an efficient means of producing food that will not only benefit the campus diet but will empower the kids by teaching them how to appreciate and ethically produce their own healthy food.”

With harvest time not that far away, they’ve promised to take more photos as we all watch the garden grow.

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ARTreach Holds Vision Board Workshop at Krause

ARTreach, a nonprofit in Katy, TX, has as its motto “We use the arts to change lives.” ARTreach is a frequent visitor to Upbring Krause Children’s Center, where they lead the girls in dancing and art workshops. Recently they held a “Vision Board” workshop, created to inspire the girls to make their desires a reality. ARTreach artist Melba Lee told the girls that they “… can draw into their lives the things that they desire.”

The activities and projects that Melba creates have been referred to as “Heart Art.”  The girls decorated their boards and collaged pictures and words that visually represented what they wish to experience in their lives. They were excited to share their boards with each other and the workshop proved to be a powerful tool for increasing the girls’ self-esteem – giving them focus and direction along with a visual reminder of those things that they expect to draw into their lives.

Previously, ARTreach held a week-long Spring Break Camp at Krause that included a collaborative t-shirt design project, a lesson in screen printing and learning a hip-hop dance routine. They put together a fun video from that week at Krause – take a look!

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Laredo FIT Gives “Best Foster Parent” Awards

Every one of our 14 Upbring Foster In Texas (FIT) offices is sure they have the best foster parents in Texas – Area Director Oscar Guerra, and all of the FIT staff in Laredo, decided to make that proclamation official. During a recent Foster Parent Appreciation Luncheon, FIT presented each foster parent/family with a trophy, individually laser-etched with their name and “Best Foster Parent.”

As a child’s guardian angel, the foster parent advocates for their best interests and promotes the healing and resilience children need during their stay in foster care. “The winged angel trophies are small mementoes of our appreciation,” said Oscar Guerra. “They represent the role foster parents play as the guardian angels of their foster children – foster parents provide the children with love, guidance, support and protection.”

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The appreciation luncheon, sponsored by the Lamar Bruni Vergara Grant, was held at Tony Roma’s in Laredo.

Learn more about FIT and becoming a foster parent at Upbring.org.

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Upbring Update: Disaster Response

AP Photo/Eric Gay

AP Photo/Eric Gay – Scroll down more photos

Memorial Day/Weekend Floods

Upbring Disaster Response continues to work with our network of community partners – including congregations and the government – to respond to the devastating flooding that occurred over the Memorial Day weekend and beyond, across Texas and Oklahoma and into Louisiana. In Texas, San Marcos and Wimberley have been active scenes for Emergency Operations, with 350 homes destroyed along the Blanco River and more than 2,000 damaged across the region.

Disaster Response has been providing financial assistance for immediate needs of food, clothing and shelter to those impacted, as well, as spiritual/emotional care and devotional materials through coordinated efforts at Multi Agency Resource Centers (MARC) in San Marcos, Wimberley and Blanco.

Over a five-day period of MARC operations, Upbring Disaster Response supported: 

MARC Wimberley:

  • 46 households
  • 110 people
  • $2,350.00 gift cards

MARC San Marcos:

  • 174 households
  • 596 people
  • $9,600.00 gift cards

MARC Blanco:

  • 21 households
  • 52 people
  • $1,275.00 gift cards

As we begin to turn our attention from immediate response to long-term recovery, Disaster Response will be there to assist families unable to recover on their own – including those with special needs and those most vulnerable – in the repair and rebuilding of their homes and lives. In addition, they will continue to offer spiritual and emotional care for individuals and families seeking prayerful comfort and support.

Upbring Disaster Response is grateful for your prayers and support during these response efforts. The quickest and easiest way to help is to make on online donation to Upbring Disaster Response, and designate “2015 Storms” in the drop-down menu.  As funds allow, we will address this demand as long as it takes and are here for the “long haul.”

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FIT Laredo: Celebrating Saidee’s Adoption

Daniel and Laura Browne have been foster parents for Upbring Foster In Texas (FIT) in Laredo since 2012, and on May 28, adopted Saidee during an adoption consummation hearing presided over by Honorable Judge Martinez of the 43rd District Court. To commemorate the occasion, Laredo’s FIT staff surprised Saidee with a doll house and Laura with a beautiful bouquet of roses.

The Browne family is happy about their wonderful experience as foster parents and very appreciative for the guidance and support they received from the Laredo FIT staff. Proud father Daniel said, “My wife and I are grateful for the support we’ve received from the agency throughout the years, and for all the people who participated directly with us. May God continue blessing this agency, the workers and all the children who come into foster care.”

Moving forward, the Browne’s have decided to no longer be foster parents – they are committed to the well-being of Saidee and want to continue focusing all our attention on her. Saidee is a lucky girl and we are so excited about her future! Permanency is an important goal for FIT staff, and the best outcome for all foster children.

Saidee with FIT staff (l to r): Dora Solis, FSW, Rocio Chavez, CPS advanced specialist IV, Oscar Guerra, AD, Saidee Browne

Saidee with FIT staff (l to r): Dora Solis, FSW, Rocio Chavez, CPS advanced specialist IV, Oscar Guerra, AD, Saidee Browne

Upbring Foster In Texas is always looking for loving, qualified foster parents like the Browne family. We have 14 foster care and adoption offices throughout the state committed to our new mission to break the cycle of child abuse by empowering children, families and communities. Learn more about FIT and becoming a foster parent at Upbring.org.

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