PORTLAND – The emergency youth shelter, located on 209 Lang Road and operated by Connections Individual and Family Services, opened its doors to the community on Thursday, Oct. 3, for public tours. That allowed area residents and local officials to learn about agency programs while also generating support for the youth living in the shelter.   

Connections Individual and Family Services was established in 1981 and covers 17 counties with three residential facilities – two in New Braunfels and one in Portland.

“It began in New Braunfels, with a group of folks there that just felt like we needed to be doing more to help at risk youth,” Connections Individual and Family Services Outreach Coordinator Megan Dupree said. “And so they went door to door and got petitions and started a nonprofit to help.

“And we just continued to expand from residential to also, in some of the counties that we serve, we do counseling programs, and then we do a very in-depth comprehensive prevention program in the schools.”

In addition to short-term emergency shelters and prevention programs, Connections’ services also include a transitional living program, counseling services, life skills training, substance abuse prevention and referral services.

The emergency youth shelter serves as a temporary home for youth that are in the state foster care system and those that are classified as runaway/homeless. Shelter residents, who are between the ages of 5 and 18, can reside at the shelter for up to 90 days while waiting for a permanent placement to become available.

Dupree joined Connections two years ago for one simple reason.

“I wanted my job to mean something,” she said. “I just really wanted to be able to give back and feel like what I was doing was important and to have something that didn’t feel like a job.

“So it’s great.

“We get to work with some amazing kids, they’ve been through a lot. But all of our staff are trained and know how to best engage with them and face interaction and support them to take them on this journey.”

Connections relies on community donations – both monetary and in-kind – to provide basic amenities to the youth in shelter care.

Interested individuals can get involved by dropping off meals, hygiene products, new packaged underwear and socks, pillows, twin-sized sheets, etc., at the house or they can call 830-629-6571 for more information on donation delivery.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner, Dupree is looking for the public’s help and support to make the children’s stay at the facility a memorable one.

“We are always in need of donations; even though we are primarily grant funded and do have some corporate and foundation support as well, there are certain times of year where we really need support,” Dupree continued.

“We’re coming up on the holiday season which is one of those times.”

Dupree said that Connections has a meal sign up list to make sure the kids get something special to eat for Thanksgiving and Christmas and asks people to drop off holiday meals.

“We also create an Amazon wish list for each of our kids,” Dupree said. “So we’ll have that posted online so folks can log on and see exactly what the kids are asking for. 

“All of that gets delivered to our offices, and we sort them all by kids, and then we have a huge wrap party where we wrap all of the presents a few days before the big day.”

Dupree said that residents interested in helping out can sign up to the company’s newsletter at connectionsnonprofit.org or like their Facebook page at facebook.com/Connectionsifs to stay informed of upcoming donation opportunities.

“We enjoy having a facility down here in Portland,” Dupree said. “This community has been really good to us, and we had a lot of support so that’s really, really good to see.”

Paul Gonzales is the editor at the News of San Patricio and can be reached at 361-364-1270 or at mathisnews@mySouTex.com.