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January 2, 2012

Holiday Stories Keep Coming, So We Keep Sharing

With the Dec. 19/26 Connection, we thought we’d received the last of the holiday stories for the season. But then we received several more submissions about all the wonderful things health and human services employees did to make the holiday brighter for people in their communities — and for their own clients — and decided we needed to let the spirit spill over into the new year.

Here are the headlines for the stories we added this week:


Mexia Living Center Residents, Staff Make Cards for Soldiers

Mexia State Supported Living Center has participated in a Cards for Soldiers project for the last six years. The individuals [residents] and staff make and decorate cards, which are sent to the American Red Cross for shipment to U.S. soldiers who are deployed overseas during the holidays.

After meeting this deadline, we mail the remainder of the Christmas cards to VA hospitals in Texas for our injured soldiers and veterans. We typically make between 750 and 1,000 cards each year. It is an opportunity for many of the individuals and staff to be creative and to give to others during the holiday season.

— Charlotte Kimmel, DADS, Mexia

DADS Region 3 Helping ‘Stomp’ Out Hunger

Employees in the DADS Region 3 office and several local offices have teamed up to “Help Stomp Out Hunger” in their area with a canned food drive. According to coordinator Kris Conner, the goal is to donate 1,500 cans of food to the North Texas Food Bank. The food drive ends Nov. 30. For more information, email me at kris.conner@dads.state.tx.us.

— Kris Conner, DADS, Grand Prairie

The Central Office Choir in Austin is looking for carolers to join them in singing during the holidays at the Austin State Supported Living Center and Austin State Hospital.

Choir Continues Caroling Tradition at Local Living Center, State Hospital

Our voices ring through the hallways, into the courtyards and out into the workshops of the Austin’s state supported living center and state hospital buildings. Each year in December, the residents and patients look forward to our visit with great anticipation and excitement. For some 30-plus years, a group of traveling troubadours from Central Office has been sharing the gift of music with the clients we serve. We are known simply as the Central Office Choir.

Some MHMR veterans may remember Sam Baker, who started this group back in the 1970s. It is still going strong today, and there are a handful of charter members who continue to be a part of this joyous pastime. Whether the carolers number four or 24, we give of our time and talents to spread goodwill and joy to clients.

Often the music is sung in four-part harmony, with some instrumentation provided by Charles Shedd, a longtime member of the group and a fine musician. When Sam retired in 1989, I took over the group and have been leading this activity ever since.

Each choir member is given a notebook with a couple of dozen popular Christmas carols, along with a red and white Santa cap and jingle bells to complete the ensemble. We meet on performance day at the facility chapel to warm up with a few songs and get our books, caps and bells. Then we drive to the first of several drop-off points. We are then escorted through nearby buildings, singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” causing heads of workers and clients alike to turn — and work to slow down a bit while all enjoy a few songs. Sometimes Charles sings a solo, accompanying himself on an autoharp or a portable electronic keyboard. Then, with another chorus of “We Wish You …” we are off down the hall or to the next building.

Just seeing the smiles on faces of clients and workers brings joy to our hearts. It wouldn’t be Christmas for me without leading these folks and seeing the joy and happiness this brings. You cannot take part in something like this and not be changed. Singers and clients alike enjoy seeing familiar faces from years gone by, and friendly hugs are often exchanged.

If you’d like to join us, email me at ann.moeller@dads.state.tx.us — and I’ll be glad to add you to our Central Office Choir mail distribution list. No audition is necessary. The only requirement is that you like to sing.

— Ann Moeller, DADS, Austin

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DARS in Lubbock Helps Charity Pack, Distribute Gifts


Kelly Wages and Gordon Robison were some of the DARS Lubbock employees who helped Salvation Army worker pack and distribute gifts.

DARS’ Division for Rehabilitation Services regional office staff in Lubbock helped brighten up the holidays for local youth and their families by volunteering to assist the Lubbock Salvation Army’s Christmas Toy Distribution Center.

The employees made time during their own busy holiday schedules to show up on Dec. 19 and help Salvation Army workers pack and distribute gifts to selected families.

In addition to the community service, the Lubbock Regional Office had a food drive and collected canned goods, dry goods and articles of clothing, as well as some toys. Three boxes of items were taken to the Salvation Army for distribution through their food bank. 

— Belinda Salazar, DARS, Lubbock

DARS Austin Tree-Decorating Contest Garners 620 Pounds of Food for Local Food Bank

The DARS Division for Blind Services Austin Field Headquarters had its third annual tree-decorating contest, with four groups each assigned a tree to decorate. This year’s tree themes were gingerbread cookie, winter, candy and silver. Voting was done by employees’ placing nonperishable food items under each tree, and the tree that got the most donations was the winner. This year’s winning tree was the gingerbread cookie tree.

Some 620 pounds of food (equivalent to 496 meals) was taken to the Capital Area Food Bank — a new record that topped our 2010 donation of 450 pounds of food.

Every year, we also adopt a family and collect clothes, food and gift items that are on the family’s wish list to help make their holidays a little brighter. This year, our family was a mom and four children who range in age from 11 to 15. Items were delivered to the family Dec. 23.

— Laura Rook, DARS, Lubbock

Arlington DARS Employees Helped Needy Families Have Good Thanksgiving

The DARS Vocational Rehabilitation Services Arlington Field Office helped an Arlington elementary school gather can foods for Arlington Charities the week of Nov. 14–18. The donations helped Arlington Charities feed about 700 families this past Thanksgiving. By the end of the week, our office had collected almost 70 cans and 15 boxes of stuffing and mashed potatoes.

— Sarah Chance, DARS, Arlington

DARS ECI Staff in Austin Donate Money, Food to Food Bank

The DARS Early Childhood Intervention staff are truly a generous group. By mid-December, we had raised $385 for the Capital Area Food Bank (and 15 nonperishable food items). Each dollar represents two meals for Central Texas residents who might go without food otherwise. That means we have provided 770 meals!

— Trellanie Bostic, DARS, Austin


Gingerbread cookie tree was the winner in the DARS Austin Field Headquarters decorating contest.

DARS in Lubbock Helps Charity Pack, Distribute Gifts

DARS’ Division for Rehabilitation Services regional office staff in Lubbock helped brighten up the holidays for local youth and their families by volunteering to assist the Lubbock Salvation Army’s Christmas Toy Distribution Center.

The employees made time during their own busy holiday schedules to show up on Dec. 19 and help Salvation Army workers pack and distribute gifts to selected families.

In addition to the community service, the Lubbock Regional Office had a food drive and collected canned goods, dry goods and articles of clothing, as well as some toys. Three boxes’ worth of items were taken to the Salvation Army for distribution through their food bank. 

— Belinda Salazar, DARS, Lubbock

DARS’ Early Childhood Intervention Staff Gather Money, Items for Local Food Bank

The DARS Early Childhood Intervention staff are truly a generous group! As of a week ago, we had raised $385 and brought 15 nonperishable food items for the Capital Area Food Bank. Each dollar represents two meals for Central Texas residents who might go without food otherwise. That means we have provided 770 meals!

We will be collecting cash, checks (made out to Capital Area Food Bank) and nonperishable food items until Dec. 21.

— Trellanie Bostic, DARS, Austin

DARS’ Annual State Office Food Drive will Help Feed Hungry Central Texans

DARS is conducting its annual central campus food drive for hungry Central Texans. Barrels have been placed in the Brown-Heatly Building, DARS Administration Building and Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center to collect donations of nonperishable food, diapers and personal care items from employees, including:

Any financial donations should be mailed directly to:
Capital Area Food Bank of Texas, Inc.
8201 South Congress Ave.
Austin, TX 78745

Checks should be made payable to the Capital Area Food Bank.

The donations will be collected by close of business Dec. 15 for delivery to the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas.

— Judy Kew and Mary Alice Garcia, DARS, Austin

DARS Arlington Staff’s Thanksgiving Food Drive a Big Success

The DARS Arlington field office (Vocational Rehabilitation) collected almost 70 cans of food and 15 boxes of stuffing and mashed potatoes during the week of Nov. 14–18 to help an Arlington elementary school with donations for Arlington Charities, which fed about 700 families on Thanksgiving.

— Sarah Chance, DARS, Arlington

DFPS Killeen Staff’s Friendly Competition Means Food for Hungry People


DFPS Killeen staff with some of their donated items for “Cans for Christmas Caring.”

What started out as a friendly challenge between two Killeen DFPS offices turned into a hugely successful food drive. In November, Child Protective Services case analysts Cindy Roberts and Evelyn LeBlanc had an idea to coordinate a Christmas food drive. With local food banks and service organizations depleted after the busy Thanksgiving holiday, a canned and dry goods drive seemed like a good way to give back to the community. From this idea, “Cans for Christmas Caring” was born.

Even though Cindy and Evelyn have offices in the same city, they are headquartered in a different building. After some discussion on how to coordinate the multi-office drive and encourage maximum participation from staff, a friendly competition was waged between the Killeen DFPS Elms Road and Priest Drive offices. The challenge was for each office to collect as many nonperishable food items as possible. For a prize, the office bringing in the greater amount would receive the “Giving Hope Award” for being the most generous DFPS office in Killeen.

Staff opened their hearts and wallets opened to purchase food for those in need. Donations began Nov. 28 and ran through Dec. 16. Email blasts were sent weekly between the offices marking progress and challenging each person to give as much as possible.

At the end of the three-week drive, both offices came together for the Elms Road Annual Christmas Brunch. Donations were counted and — to the amazement of all — more than 650 canned and dry goods were collected for the local Salvation Army Food Bank. As for the contest, the individual office totals were close, with Priest Drive staff declared the official winners. The true winners, however, were the families benefiting from the kindness of DFPS staff.

— Cindy Roberts, DFPS, Killeen

DFPS’ Statewide Intake Staff Spreading Joy in their Community — and Around the World

DFPS Statewide Intake’s “Helping the Children We Protect” Holly Day Tree is decorated with hearts representing children served by Child Protective Services. Staff will select a heart and replace it with a gift for a child.

The Statewide Intake Community Enrichment Committee is celebrating the holidays by hosting fun-filled and community-building activities during our 12 Holly Days Dec. 12–23. During this time, there will be contests for staff to showcase their best cookie recipes and cubicle decorating skills and craft activities for relaxation and fun. We will build a gingerbread village with the theme of “It Takes a Village to Protect Texas Children.”

More important, the committee is hosting many different opportunities for staff to help those less fortunate during the holidays through various drives and gift-giving events:

— Betty Burris, DFPS, Austin


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DSHS Austin State Hospital Patients Treated to Food, Gifts

The fourth annual Holiday Celebration for the Adult Units at the Austin State Hospital was Dec. 13. Patients were treated to a smorgasbord of festive cookies, cupcakes and brownies and sang carols with each other and staff. This year, our unit adopted 150 patients. Each person received two wrapped gifts such as non-wire journals, hats, gloves, scarfs, caps, socks, playing cards, tote bags and crossword puzzles. The remaining gifts were given to the children’s units.

Special thanks to all of the DSHS “elves” who donated their time and resources to make this year’s holiday celebration a huge success!

— Claudia Leal, DSHS, Austin

Proceeds from DSHS Regulatory Services Contests Benefit Salvation Army


Rod Moline, left, who won the best dip contest, is shown with Salvation Army Development Director John Welton and best salsa contest winner Barbara Taylor.

The DSHS Regulatory Services’ Policy Standards and Quality Assurance Unit had its Second Annual Salsa Contest at the Exchange Building Dec. 14 to raise funds for the Salvation Army’s Forgotten Angel Project. The funds helped purchase gift items for “angels” who did not get picked or sponsored for gifts this year.

More than 20 employees competed for best dip and best salsa. Prizes included trophies, a “Braggin’ Rights” certificate and $25 Visa gift cards. More than $230 dollars raised for a very worthwhile cause.

— Dora Fogle, DSHS, Austin



DSHS Vital Statistics Unit Stretches Creativity, Boosts Morale

Vital Statistics

Vital Statistics’ Mailed Requests team won the holiday decorating contest with their “1946 Christmas” theme.

The winter holiday season tends to remind people of the things they are grateful for. To savor our blessings while spreading some holiday cheer, the DSHS Vital Statistics Unit took time together for an office-decorating contest. Nine teams joined in the fun and stretched our creative imaginations by decorating our work areas. Working in collaboration, we were able to enjoy the friendly competition and still get our work completed.

Friday, Dec. 16, was a day of holiday events for the unit. It began with our Employee Appreciation and Recognition Committee members wearing elf hats to help our Santa pass out candy canes to all 100-plus staff. Our decorating contest followed, with our three judges and two members of the committee visiting each team to hear a story about the area’s themes. Vital Statistics and Health Information Director Yvonne Howze, State Registrar Geraldine Harris and Branch Manager Andrew Gonzalez judged our teams’ creative efforts. Criteria for judging included originality, arrangement and theme.

The day also included a holiday luncheon and gift exchange. At the end of the day, the Mailed Requests team was named winner of the decorating contest.

— Angelica Torres, DSHS, Austin

DSHS, HHSC and DADS Region 1 Staff Give Generously to Area Special-Needs Children

One room in the DSHS Region 1 office is filled with between 600 and 700 colorful and beautifully wrapped Christmas gifts! Regional staff provided clothing and toys to more than 300 children in the Children with Special Healthcare Needs and Tuberculosis programs.

Employees from DSHS, HHSC and DADS adopted more than 50 children from an “angel tree.” In addition, staff coordinated the donation of gifts from a local church and school for the remaining children. Case managers from these programs will deliver the gifts to families before Christmas. This is the fifth year for this office tradition.

— Tricia Vowels, DSHS, Lubbock


DSHS Division Has Winter Clothing Drive for Terrell, North Texas State Hospital Patients

This holiday season, the DSHS Mental Health and Substance Abuse Division had a winter clothing drive for adult and child patients in need of warm clothing at the Terrell and North Texas State Hospitals. Patients often arrive at these facilities with only one set of clothing, and the hospitals depend greatly on the community for gently worn donations. We had six collection boxes on the main campus and made weekly collection trips to pick up donations in other buildings. Jackets, sweaters, jeans, shoes and other items were generously donated.

The first shipment went out Dec. 1 to Terrell State Hospital, and the second went out to North Texas’ Vernon and Wichita Falls campuses Dec. 8. Because we continue to receive donations, we will have another shipment to Terrell the first week of Januaryl. Many thanks to DSHS staff, staff from our sister agencies, friends and neighbors! Due to your generosity, our patients will have warm clothes for the holiday season.

— Claudia Leal, DSHS, Austin


DSHS Regulatory Services Trims Tree, Begins Annual Toy Drive

DSHS Regulatory Services’ tree soon will be surrounded by toys for Blue and Brown Santa to deliver.

The DSHS Division for Regulatory Services kicked off the holiday season with our annual tree trimming. This year’s theme is “Childhood Memories.” Division groups brought decorations, many of which were homemade, to complete the tree decorated with paper chain garland and bows. The tree-topper star was made by Lizzy Tennyson, daughter of Environmental and Consumer Safety Section Director Susan Tennyson.

The tree trimming signals the beginning of division’s annual Blue and Brown Santa toy drive, and some of the toys are decorating the tree. Historically, approximately 100 toys have been donated by Regulatory Services employees each year — and this year is already starting off very well!

— Vicki Cowling, DSHS, Austin


Children Can Get Call from Santa, Thanks to State Hospital Volunteer Project

On the evenings of Dec. 13–15, 2010, children in San Antonio and other cities in Texas and the United States will be receiving unexpected phone calls from a volunteer Santa Claus. 

“Phone Calls from Santa” is an annual fundraising event of the Volunteer Service Council of the San Antonio State Hospital, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization whose mission is to support the patients and facility by arranging for goods and services not provided for by state funding.

To participate, fill out a “Phone Call from Santa” form and mail it with a check to the address on the form, to arrive no later than Dec. 9. On the date you select, and as close as possible to the time you request, your child will receive a call from Santa, who will talk in English or Spanish not only about hoped-for presents but also about the child and his or her pets, siblings, hobbies, school and other information you’ve provided.

For more information, call 210-531-8004 or e-mail me at patricia.rangel@dshs.state.tx.us.

— Patti Rangel, DSHS, San Antonio


Livingston DSHS Employees Helping Fill Stockings with Toys, Clothing and Food

Each year, schools and social services providers in Livingston work together to provide food, clothing and toys for hundreds of Polk County children. This picture from Christmas 2010 shows DSHS staffer Mona Eckelman with some of the donations to the Empty Stocking Project.

Each Christmas, employees in the DSHS Livingston office help provide food, clothing and toys for hundreds of Polk County children through the Empty Stocking Program. The nonprofit program, which was started in 1988 to help low-income families provide Christmas for their children, is a combined effort of area schools and local social services providers to eliminate duplication and better serve the needy families of the county.

In 2010, we served 878 children and 370 families and expect to serve even more this year because many local families have experienced job losses or medical crises.

If you would like to help with Livingston’s Empty Stocking Program, email me at ramona.eckelman@dshs.state.tx.us or angela.morrison@hhsc.state.tx.us, who volunteers with us each year.

— Mona Eckelman, DSHS, Livingston


HHSC Operation and Program Support, Executives Donate Toys to Dell Children’s Hospital

Debbie Carter of HHSC is shown with Cheryl Rouse of Dell Children’s Hospital and Jessica Arevalo of HHSC.

This year, the Operation and Program Support Department plus some executive staff from the seventh floor donated Christmas toys to Dell’s Children Hospital. Cheryl Rouse with the volunteer office at the hospital was overwhelmed when she received the gifts. 


— Debbie Carter, HHSC, Austin





HHSC San Antonio Eligibility Staff Collect Donations for Military Families


Some of HHSC’s Roszell Office Staff with items collected for the Fisher House.

Staff at the HHSC Roszell Office in San Antonio shared in giving for this Christmas season by collecting donations for Fisher House. Fisher House provides caring and compassionate “home away from home” management of military hospitality houses for family members of patients receiving medical treatment in the San Antonio area at no cost to family members. They do this with warm hearts and an uncanny empathy for the individuals that they serve. The vital mission of Fisher House would not be possible without the dedicated efforts of donors and volunteers from the community.

— Lesia Anderson, HHSC, San Antonio

Children at El Paso School Receive Gifts, Thanks to HHSC Staff

HHSC’s Customer Care Center staff in El Paso have continued a tradition of providing gifts for local children.

The employees of the El Paso Customer Care Center collected gifts for the children of Montana Vista School in El Paso. Many of the children would not have received any gifts this year were it not for the caring and giving employees. This project has been ongoing for many years, and each year the staff have generously participated. The staff are given a name of child, their gender and age. The staff buy and wrap presents for their child, and the gifts are delivered to the contact person for the region, who takes them to the Montana Vista School.

— Judy Lugo, HHSC, El Paso

HHSC’s Texas Work Policy Staff Make the Season Brighter for Nursing Home Residents

For the past three years that I have worked at Texas Works Policy, we have “adopted” residents of a local nursing home. Each year, the nursing home director provides us with a list of residents who do not have families or who need items — plus lists of what each resident wishes for Christmas. The staff who participate then pick a resident and purchase the requested items.

— Maria Olivares, HHSC, Austin

San Antonio HHSC Units Collect Gifts for DFPS Children

This year, staff at the HHSC Centralized Representation Unit, Centralized Partner Interviewing, Kids Medicaid and the San Antonio Customer Care Center collected gifts for the children of DFPS’ Child Protective Services. CPS has about 1,000 children who will not have families to spend the Christmas holiday with, and we teamed up to give our partners at DFPS a helping hand so that these children have presents to open for Christmas.

— Yvette Rodriguez, HHSC, San Antonio


Penguins’ Annual Visit Creates Jolly Mood in Arlington HHSC OIG Office

A flock of penguins, plus a few reindeer, lighten the mood of the HHSC OIG office in Arlington every year during the holidays.

Each year, a group of penguins invade the Office of Inspector General Unit 31 in Arlington. This visit is a long-standing tradition for the unit, and people from all over the building visit the OIG area to get a glimpse of these aquatic, flightless birds.

Every year, as the holiday decorations start to go up, members of the penguin clan — complete with a sheriff, deputies, emperor celebs, tweens and babies — appear outside the office doors of the OIG staff members on a daily basis swapping stories, telling jokes, singing carols, etc.

These well-dressed creatures are a welcome sight and help to brighten the day of the staff — although there have been reports of penguins being backed into corners and even stabbings and shootouts. (That’s the reason for the sheriff and his deputies.) These random acts, which normally happen after case readings, have been blamed on OIG staff. But clear and convincing evidence always points to “Rudy the Rude Reindeer.” Rudy is mean, rough, tough and sneaky — nothing like the sweet reindeer mentioned in those Santa Claus stories. Immune to intimidation, these web-footed sea creatures form a strong and unbreakable bond with the OIG staff to fight waste, fraud and abuse.

— Jean Flanagan, Office of Inspector General, Arlington


Regional Administrative Services, Agencies Support ‘Mission Thanksgiving’ in Abilene

For the third year, Region 2/9 Regional Administrative Services in Abilene has collected food, clothes and money for “Mission Thanksgiving” from all five health and human services agencies located in the regional headquarters. This nonprofit organization goes to the streets of Abilene daily and travels to various areas where homeless people camp to provide food, clothes and assistance wherever help is needed.

On Nov. 18, Regional Administrative Services delivered boxes of food, clothing and more than $500 in cash to the drop-off site.

— Vickie Wilhite, HHSC, Abilene

Renee Beckham (DSHS), Sharon Newcomb-Kase (DSHS), Sherri Hammack (HHSC) and Debi Ballard (HHSC) volunteered again for Austin’s Empty Bowl Project. The neon shirts indicate that Beckham and Ballard are on the board of directors for the event.

HHSC, DSHS Employees Help with Austin Empty Bowl Project

For the second year in a row, two HHSC and two DSHS employees volunteered together for the Austin Empty Bowl Project. The purpose of the event is to raise money for the Kids’ Café at the Capital Area Food Bank — in other words, to feed hungry children.

The way is works is that local potters, including three of the four of us in the photo, make and donate bowls for sale at the event. (Sharon is the only non-potter, but we are working on her to expand her creativity in that direction.) Local restaurants and bakeries donate delicious soups and breads, while musicians donate their time and talents for the event, which is always on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Then friends and families come together, choose a bowl, purchase it for $20, have it filled with soup and enjoy the music. The bowl is theirs to keep as a reminder of those whose bowls are empty.

All of the money raised by the event goes to feed the kids. Annually, this event raises around $70,000 for the food bank.

— Debi Ballard, HHSC, Austin

Laredo HHSC Office Participating in Colonias Shoebox Project

Laredo Eligibility Services staff and their gifts for local children several years ago.

For the past several years, the HHSC Laredo Casa Blanca office has participated in a local gift-giving program for the needy called the Colonias Christmas Shoebox Project.

Every year, we help provide gifts for 100 needy children in the city. It’s become a yearly activity, and the staff look forward to providing that extra help during the holidays that our community needs. Up until last year, one of our local clerks, Sylvia Ortiz, headed this project. Sylvia retired in August — but there were plenty of staff willing to pick up where she left off. This year, Sandra Chavez took on the task and is eager to get the job done!

— Terri Werth, HHSC, Laredo

Pampa HHSC Employees Support Children’s Shopping Tour

HHSC employees in Pampa participate in a program called Children’s Shopping Tour. It is a different twist on helping families. Children between the ages of 5 and 10 are eligible to participate. These children are picked up at their homes by registered volunteers in the community and taken to Wal-Mart to shop and buy gifts for their family members. This is a lesson on giving instead of receiving.

While they’re with the children, the volunteers find out what each child would like for Christmas. After shopping, the children go back to a community building, wrap their gifts, eat lunch and visit with Santa. The volunteers pick out gifts for the children, who are surprised to see their “Santa gifts” when they get home with their gifts for their families.

This is a community-wide program, with more than 40 nonprofit organizations participating. Money is donated by the community to purchase the gifts. This is the 49th year for the Children’s Shopping Tour of Pampa, and HHSC employees are proud to participate in this event.

— Sandra McKinney, HHSC, Pampa