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now 17, grew up in a home filled with abuse, neglect and drug use. “Life was hectic,” she said. “[A relative living in the home] was very abu- sive toward me. I was kicked out at 12 years old, and I didn’t come home for a year, until my brothers finally came and said, ‘Come home.’ There were people in and out of our house because there were drug deals.” That lifestyle, she emphasized, hurts. “I mean, you don’t have a daddy figure. You don’t really have a mom figure because she’s been locked up most of your life,” Vzysha said. “And now your grandma has to raise you when she should be living her life. Then, being the older sister, it’s like I have to struggle, and I’ve got to make sure my brother eats.” She said her former lifestyle also put her in danger – of becoming part of an unhealthy lifestyle.

“If I hadn’t [removed myself from my family], I think I would have been six foot under be- cause I was around gangs and drug dealers all the time,” Vzysha said. “I think I would have followed my mom’s footsteps.”

In and out of foster care and friends’ homes, Vzysha eventually asked the court system to grant her separation from her family because of the abuse and neglect. The court granted her request, and she

was placed with the Ochoa family in November 2013. It gave Vzysha a 180- degree change in how she viewed family, parents and home.

“I said no [to my family] because I was not going back to my old life. I had no structure there. I needed to change my ways; this wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I decided not to go home because I didn’t know where I would be.”

It’s a ministry

While safety and security are important to Arnold and Crystal Ochoa, they also want their foster children – just like their birth chil- dren – to know they are in a home where Christ comes first. In fact, the couple first felt the call to foster during a sermon at their church, Mid-Cities Community Church in Midland, Texas. Both see their fostering role as a ministry. For Arnold, his role as a father is to provide children “a home and love, [modeling] what it is to be a family. The way they were growing up is not the way it’s supposed to be. We just try to put in the right

guidance, plant that seed, point them where they’re supposed to go and, hopefully, they’ll go from there.” “I think we provide for the foster kids a family, love, hope,” Crystal echoed. “Just letting them know that there’s a different way. No matter what they’ve been through, it doesn’t have to be who they are. I think that gives them a new meaning to life and lets them know there is another way.” For Arianna, it means love and stability from a couple she now calls mom and dad. “Now, I know I have a forever home, and they’re not going to kick me to the side,” Arianna said. “They’re always going to take care of me, and I don’t have to worry about if I’m going to get fed tonight, if I’m going to be able to sleep or if someone’s going to get in my house. I’m safe, and I’m secure.” Arianna also appreciates the roles Arnold and

Crystal fill as parents. “It’s so cool to say I have a dad because I never

had a dad,” Arianna said. “Just to say, ‘My dad’ – that filled a big hole in my life. I have someone to protect me. And my mom – my biological mom was physically there, but emotionally, she was a mess. She wasn’t there. My foster mom is amazing. She’s my role model, my mentor. She’s my mom. She’s my mom given to me by God. Those are my parents.

“I’m free. I matter. I’m a mom…I’m a great mom. My son has everything he could ever want and anything he could ever need. I’m in a great place. I’m in a godly home. I’m in a home, not a house.” Vzysha says it a little more succinctly: “I am Vzysha Bell, and I’m a member of the Ochoa family.” Alejandra Smith, foster care case management

supervisor for Buckner in Midland, laughed when she explained how Buckner is a part of the big extended Ochoa family: Between four biologi- cal children, four foster children and Tristen, the

Ochoas number 11. Add Buckner’s team of support, and it can get cozy when everyone gets together. But adding Buckner to the mix adds a layer of support for the foster children. “The support is something that they never experienced in their bio- logical homes, unfortunately,” Smith said. “We want to keep supporting them. Years down the line when they call us and say, ‘I’m getting married’ or ‘I’m having children of my own,’ we want to be there. “We have become one with those children. We have truly become their mentors, their family and they look to us as that. They always say, ‘It was through Buckner that I am able to see what a great life I can have.’” n

36 Buckner Today • SUMMER 2015 ISSUE

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