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Alumni Stories

Vic Alvarado


My story starts a year or so before coming to FaithWorks. Life then was totally different from what it is now. Drugs and self-destruction had finally gotten a good grasp on me. By then I had lost several jobs due to bad choices in part because of my drug use. Not to mention my daughter had been placed in my parents’ home because of a CPS call. That’s when my life turned upside down. I had always thought I had control of my drug use, but with prescription medication it is never that way. It’s only a matter of time before they get a hold of you, and that is one grasp that is hard to break free from. Keep reading and you will see for yourself.

Olivia had been with my parents for a little while, and I felt so empty without her. Her father and I had cared for her just fine for two years and now she was gone. So with that emptiness inside I started to turn to Xanax to numb out the pain I had inside. At first it started with one every once in a while, then two, or three. By that point I was blacking out. This was fine with me. I could care less; I just knew I didn’t want to feel pain. In the area where I was living and working, any type of drug was easy to get. All you had to do was get to know the right person. Before I knew it, I was able to get pills brought to me while working. That is when things started to go south at work. I lost all respect for my job; I started taking pills and smoking weed at work--not caring if things were done correctly. I cared about nothing more than using anything that would or could help me forget my life. I was miserable. I would tell myself, “Oh I love my daughter and would do anything for her.” That clearly was farthest from the truth. I couldn’t stay clean to save my own life, much less get her back from CPS. I thought I was so good at deceiving the caseworker; I would tell her everything she wanted to hear and more. I even learned how to pass the mouth swab drug test she came with. Who does that right? Me. I cared more about myself than my 2-year-old innocent daughter. As long as I kept my lies or stories straight everything would work out like I wanted. Or so I thought.

As CPS picked up their case the relationship between her father and me was in a downward spiral. I had been unfaithful and that was already tearing whatever kind of relationship we had left to shreds. The CPS case was just an added stress. Our arguments were getting heated, then the physical violence started. We never had put hands on each other, but this time it was different. We wanted to cause pain and we did. Cops were called several times and the fights were starting to even take place at work. Being on the Southside of town you see a lot of people struggling with the same drug problem. In this small area, the drug of choice was ice. Not too long before living here I had experimented with it. Let’s just say that experiment lasted for three days straight and ultimately cost me my job. Starting a new job, I thought to myself, “Ah, I’m not addicted to it so I’ll be fine.” After some time working--I’m not sure why--but I decided to “try” it again. With this particular drug there is no trying and done. It’s like one time turns into another and another. That’s exactly what happened. Knowing my boyfriend would kill me if he knew I was doing this again, I hid it from him. How you ask? I would be using at work. To any sober person that is wrong on so many levels. But to me it was just getting high where I knew I wouldn’t get in trouble--just another way I cheated the system. As time went on I kept adding to my web of lies and it was nice and big. The thing is when building your own web of lies, at some point you get trapped. Everyone does, it’s only a matter of time. By then, slowly but surely, certain people started to notice some type of difference in me. Customers started to tell me I looked tired or out of it some days. I would brush it off and say I was tired from work and needed some rest. In reality I had been up for some days with no sleep at all. November rolled around and Thanksgiving wasn’t far, so it was busy at the store. One day an angry customer had some choice words for me. “Lay off the ice pipe, it’s starting to show on your face.” And just like that he was gone. A line of customers heard these words. That cut me so deep inside, I didn’t know what to do. I was shocked and embarrassed at the same time. I knew it was true, but to hear it from someone who didn’t even know me hit home. Those words shook me to the core and I will never forget the feeling that came along with those words.

A week later I received one of the scariest calls of my life. My daughter Olivia had a seizure. There she was on a bed with a room full of nurses and all sorts of wires and tubes connected to her. The feeling I had was one of helplessness and pain. My daughter was too young to be struggling like this and I couldn’t do anything to help. My eyes filled with tears watching a machine breathe for her small body. Here I was perfectly healthy and choosing to use drugs over my daughter. Now she seemed like the one to be paying for it. Nothing made me feel worse as a parent than knowing that. That ate me alive on the inside. To top off this scary day Olivia was going to be flown to Cook’s Children’s Hospital in Ft. Worth. After days of testing and talking with all the amazing doctors there, it was finally time to go home. After a physically and emotionally exhausting week for me, I was ready to go home. We all were. That week spent in the hospital really hurt our finances for the month. Bills were behind, utilities were getting cut off, and there was no food in the refrigerator.

I was being overworked and underpaid, and I hated it. I was walking to and from work every day. I felt like the world was closing in on me, so I was going to take what I needed to get by. I would lie in bed at night planning how to get enough money to get by. My family was done helping me and so was everyone else. The only logical answer in my eyes was to take from my job. That was a new low for me; I had never thought like that. I was changing, and it wasn’t for the better. I felt like my job owed me something for slaving away for them. I started to tell myself that to push my feelings of knowing it was wrong out of my head. The worst part was I started to believe what I was saying to myself. That’s when my thoughts turned into actions. I know that is not the right way to think, but I didn’t care. It was take the money or lose the roof over my head. So that is exactly what I did. I had always known that it would be impossible to take this money without any consequences. With that in mind, I took until someone caught on. My drug use hit an all-time high around this time. Sure I was using the money for bills, but greed had gotten the best of me and now I was taking just to get high. I was doing ok, I thought. Sure people were wondering where the money went, but I didn’t care. I just played along like I had no idea what was happening. One day I came in and opened like any other morning. I noticed someone new hanging around the store with the big boss. That was the day I lost my job. It turns out the new guy was part of the theft prevention department. He asked me some questions about how I did it and the reason why. I told him my story, wrote my statement, and then waited for an officer to escort me off the property. I was told not to come back and that was the end of that. It was a week before Christmas. I felt bad and a bit mad, but I couldn’t blame anyone but myself. I made the choice and now I was paying for it. Now the hard part was next--telling my boyfriend that I had lost my job and the reason why. I knew that would lead to a huge fight. I braced myself, then made the call. The thing is, I never told him what I had been doing the whole time. I always told him that I was getting help or the money from my family. Here I thought I was helping the situation by taking this money, but in reality I made the situation worse. With only one person working, there was no way to make the rent or bills. So we started packing up our house, trying to get out before getting evicted.

After some time apart and getting another job, slowly but surely I started to get back on my feet again. I got a job that allowed me to work early in the morning and be off by noon. The pay was more than I had made at my previous job, plus tips! I had a pretty perfect job and I knew I didn’t want to mess that up. I kept telling myself, “Don’t mess it up; you’re doing great. You have money, and you get to spend time with your daughter.” Finally, I felt things were starting to go right. Easter came around and we had plans to spend time with friends at the park. It was a great day. We played with Olivia until she was tired. We took her home to take a nap for the day. After all, she did wake up early that morning. Shortly after dropping her off, we got a call she was having another seizure. My heart dropped. Once again CPS was called and just like that they picked up the case again. The reason this time--we neglected her heath. Thinking the caseworker was there to see Olivia I went up and started talking with her. The first question she had for me was what medications I had given Olivia for that day. So I went down the list. She then asked if I gave them on time, implying that maybe I had caused the seizure by not giving them at all or maybe I was too late giving them. I was offended. I understood the importance of my daughter’s health problems and how important it was to give her medication on time and every single day. Who was this lady to tell me if I was doing it correctly or not? I had gone over this with my daughter’s pediatrician many times before. So I knew I wasn’t wrong; it couldn’t have been my fault. Or was it? Now I was starting to second guess my actions as a mother. The caseworker tried to get her father and me to sign her back to my parents. When we refused, the caseworker finally decided to leave.

Fast forward a month. The next time we saw the caseworker, she was back to get Olivia to take her into CPS custody. That was a day I will never forget. This happened just a couple of days before her third birthday. As I cried trying to process what was happening, a sheriff came and asked why I was crying so much. After all this was just for ten days--not long at all. I let him know her birthday was near. He said, “Oh, she’s tuning three. I’m sure she wouldn’t know that her birthday was missed. Have a party when you get her back from foster care.” Once again she was gone and I felt that there was no point in anything. I started abusing pills again, and it started happening at work again. Falling into the same old pattern again, for some reason I chose to steal again. The perfect job I had was now gone and I had failed once again. I hated myself. I just wanted to die, so I began to cut myself. Emotionally I was numb inside, so I wanted to feel that physical pain. After all, I felt I deserved it.

That’s when I started to remember a co-worker from a year or so before. She had mentioned FaithWorks to me. She had always dropped hints or reminders to me every once in a while saying it would be good for me. Finally, after some time thinking about it, I went to see what it was about. Everything else I had done led me to a miserable place that I was trapped in. I was tired and ready to get out of this life style. I wasn’t sure what to expect or who to trust, but I knew I was open to a change. As classes started, I would sit there and wonder why in the world do these people even care to help someone such as myself. If only they knew what I’d been through or what I’d done, surely they would be quick to judge and turn away. As the weeks went on and I started to open up to class mates, I started to realize that we all have some type of real life struggles to deal with. Whether students, instructors or mentors, we are all here for each other, to encourage and to sometimes be that shoulder to cry on. My mentor has been such a blessing to me. At first I was afraid to let her know my real story, but when I did tell her my story, her response shocked me. It looked as if she was proud of me, and she praised me for being brave and strong enough to come to FaithWorks. Slowly but surely, I was starting to see that I’m not my past and I can overcome anything life throws at me. As classes went on and I got closer to my second family, I felt myself getting stronger and stronger. I wanted to fight and get my life back. Now I had the proper tools to keep going forward in my life. I know there will be times when I just want to throw in the towel and quit. But I know that my FaithWorks family won’t let that happen. As I continue to fight for my daughter and my desired life style, I will always have the tools that FaithWorks has instilled in me.  I also know that if I ever need anything or something as simple as having someone to talk to, the door will always be open and I am truly grateful for that. I wasn’t sure that thirteen weeks could help me change in any way, but it changed my entire way of thinking. Thanks to this amazing program I realized I wasn’t too far gone to get my life back.

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Angela Humphries

Angela Humphries

I grew up in a very dysfunctional household. I dealt with an alcoholic and abusive mother, as well as her alcoholic and abusive men. I was sexually abused, dealt with depression, and was suicidal. I wanted to die because I felt I wasn't wanted and had no purpose. All this led up to me making a horrible choice out of fear and I ended up going to prison.

I spent 18 years incarcerated in the prison system. While there, I took that time to work on me--to find me and fix me so something like that wouldn’t happen again. God used that time to heal me. I got out on Valentine's Day of this year and life has been very overwhelming for me. The world is vastly different and a great deal faster than it was 18 years ago. So I came to FaithWorks to help me get adjusted to life out here and to get started on the right path.

While here, I have grown. I have developed a confidence I didn't know I could have, but always wanted. I was scared of being around people because of my past and where I came from. Now I've developed a family and a support system that I know I can always turn to. But I also developed a faith and a confidence in myself that I can do anything I put my mind to. I'm not my past. I'm an overcomer.

Recent update from Angela

"I just wanted to share something with you. I have a great job where we pray together every morning, now I'm full time so it's great pay with full benefits, I pay my car payment, insurance payment, cell phone payment, I just bought my own bed and am fixing to get my own dresser and nightstand. I help with groceries here. And I came from a dysfunctional house growing up and spent 18 years in prison. I'm just in awe of God to the point of tears!"

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Tracy Baker Matera

Tracy Baker Matera

Before FaithWorks I was raising my niece and nephew and taking care of my two younger sisters because my mom had ovarian cancer and my dad was a truck driver. I moved from one dead end job to another. I had very low self-confidence. I was on the brink of giving up

I believe that angels are everywhere. I was at a gas station talking with a friend about not being able to find a job, getting a Big Gulp, when someone overheard us, and she told us about FaithWorks of Abilene. On our way back home we talked about how it couldn’t possibly be real because who would help someone like us find a job, give us skills we were lacking or even better, help us realize not only what we want to do, but what we’re capable of doing with our lives. We ended up filling out an application and started class the next week… we were still skeptical.

During my time at FW I lived in Tye. I woke up super early every morning and drove my dad to work which was near Anson, took my sister to school in Eula, my niece and nephew to day care, and myself and a friend to FW. Then at the end of the day I had to drive to Eula, then nearly to Anson to pick up my dad and make it back in time to pick up my niece and my nephew from day care. I was constantly on the go.

At FW I had a new type of family. It was my spiritual family which included my classmates, Joyce and the other FW staff members, and an amazing mentor by the name of Terri Simons. My parents were not supportive during my time at FaithWorks mainly because they felt I was wasting my time. However, after even the first day of class I knew my life was a gift and it was given to me by God. I knew He had a purpose specifically for me.

At FW I learned that working with children and families was my calling and I interned at Day Nursery of Abilene. After graduating from FW in December of 2005, I landed a full-time job at the same place. After a while, I was talking to another employee about wanting to return to school when a parent of someone in my class overheard the conversation. She told me to write a letter about what I wanted to go to school for and why I would benefit from any aid. I gave her the letter the very next day and later she said, “My father and my mother would like to talk to you.” The next thing I knew I heard these amazing angels on the phone saying that they wanted to help me go to school. My mind was blown. First, someone changed my life by referring me to FW, then grandparents of a child in my class help me make my dreams actually happen! Still even to this day when I think about the people that have truly blessed me and how I got to where I am, I get tears in my eyes.

I began my college journey at Abilene Christian University in August of 2006. I graduated from ACU with my Bachelors of Science Degree in Family Studies in May, 2010. I began a Master’s Degree in Family Studies at Texas Woman’s University. I plan on graduating in December of 2013.

I am working on a project right now with a friend to open a nonprofit 24 hour day care center in Abilene, with a classroom for teaching parenting, financial planning and relationship building skills. My goal is to provide quality child care for all ages and developmental stages during both traditional and nontraditional hours as well as help strengthen families and be able to help them find additional resources within the community.

I truly believe that without FW my life would be headed down an entirely different path than it is now. I thank God for the people who have come into my life every day. Without FW I wouldn’t have been working at the day care and met an amazing family who has given me a future. I wouldn’t have graduated from ACU and continued on to TWU for graduate studies, and I wouldn’t be planning to open the family resources and child development center either.

So now I want to leave you with some things to remember: Never give up on yourself. Never think for a minute that you’re worthless. And most importantly, never forget that He has a plan for you, and it is a good plan.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

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Linda Balencia

Linda Balencia

Before coming to FaithWorks I was lost on what my purpose was for life. I had only been living in Abilene for a month. I did not know anybody or anything about Abilene. I had just moved from Minnesota where I lived for 15 years and was working at a casino. The casino was the only job experience that I knew. I was so empty inside that I knew I needed a change in my life. So one day I quit my job and came to Abilene where I was living with my mother’s friend, and she helped me get a job. Well, the job was working at another casino. As I was working there I was thinking, ‘This is not what I wanted for my life. I left one casino job to work at another one.’ I was confused and did not know where my life was going. I thought that I had made a mistake leaving Minnesota. Little did I know the Lord had everything worked out for me.

I would pray every night for the Lord to help show me the direction that He wanted me to go . Every night at work I would read the newspaper so that I was able to get to know Abilene a little better. On September 14, 2005 I was reading an article about FaithWorks. I thought, ‘This is it! This is what I want to do: try this program.’

So I quit the casino job and started attending the 12 week program which began on September 19, 2005. This program helped me build up my confidence. I was depressed, lost, and empty inside. I had low self-esteem and I had built up walls all around me from everything I had gone through in my life. I did not know how God was going to use me with all the baggage I had built up inside of me. FaithWorks helped me learn and see that I am perfect in Him and it gave me a chance of hope . Also, FaithWorks helped me find the skills that God had given me and showed me how to use them for my future. I did not know what I wanted for my life. It helped me discover what my interest was and led me in the right direction. That direction was leading me back to school.

At first I thought, ‘I cannot go back to school.’ I had quit school in the 9th grade. My educational level was very low. I had difficulty reading and understanding what I read. After a lot of prayer, I decided to go back to school. FaithWorks helped me fill out a FASFA and gave me the confidence and support that I needed to go back. If it wasn’t for the help of this FaithWorks program, I would not have returned to school, and I would not have known the potential that I have within me to succeed and the accomplishments that I have done since I completed this program. After FaithWorks I attended Cisco College. I graduated on August 30,2012 with an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science in Respiratory Therapy. – Linda Balencia

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