Wednesday, March 20, 2019
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20181205 Childrens Haven Intl Moering 1022The words “Having somewhere to go is home; having someone to love is family,” symbolizes the ministry of Children’s Haven International (CHI), a Pharr-based non-profit organization dedicated to providing loving Christian care for needy children in Reynosa, Mexico.

Winter Texans and converted Texans have a crucial hand in making it possible for CHI to operate one of Reynosa’s oldest and largest children’s homes, along with a school that embraces the surrounding community.

The facility, known locally as International Refuge for Children, consists of a 13-room school and seven recently remodeled group homes on a 14-acre site, which used to be the outskirts of Reynosa. Currently, there are 50 children cared for by dedicated house parents, according to Betsy Chacon, who with her husband Randall, have had oversight as CHI directors for the past 10 years.

The children, ranging in age from infants to older teens, come from broken, abusive or impoverished homes, or no homes at all. Having been house parents and directors at the Refuge for Children for three years from 1997 to 2000, the couple experienced these children coming from situations where often the kids were left with grandparents by parents who didn’t want the responsibility, or it was a poverty because of absentee fathers.

Chacon feels that “CHI stands between life and death for their children.” Among the hundreds who have passed through “Haven’s,” Christian environment, they have been cared for physically and spiritually while receiving an education that included hearing the gospel message. Sadly, a few of their graduates have died in drug cartel incidents.

20181205 Childrens Haven Intl Thrift Store Moering 1028That might be one of the reasons that CHI lists prayer as number one priority in ministering to children. The prayers are for health and safety, discernment for CHI leadership in endeavors, grace and favor with government officials and authorities on both sides of the border, patience and unity for house parents and all staff and to invite new people to become ministry partners.

CHI’s school has an enrollment of approximately 165 students, only 30 from the “Haven” homes with the rest from outside as an outreach to the adjacent community. Chacon speaks proudly of the CHI students’ accomplishments. One uneducated parent has had two sons at CHI, with one now a dentist and the other a teacher. Four students still living on campus are in college, two studying to become teachers, one to become a lawyer and another in computer science. While graduates usually end up in white collar jobs at the area Mexican factories, one student earned an engineering degree and was recruited to work in Houston on a permit.

“The goal is to produce Mexican citizens who will be productive members of society,” Chacon emphasized.

As the only paid staff, the ministry relies on volunteers to help the ministry. “Friends from across the border in the U.S. have always played a key role in the home’s development and continued support,” Chacon said. Financial support initially came 100 percent from Winter Texans, when CHI was started 45 years ago by Shirley Mendoza, originally from Flint, Michigan by way of central Mexico.

Individuals still provide most of the direct financial support, with about 60 percent of it from Winter Texans. Beside financial donations, the help can take many forms, such as being part of the total operation of a thrift store at the Pharr location, which produces significant revenue, according to Chacon. Some of the donated items are passed on to other Christian ministries on both sides of the border.

Full time Texans now, Karen Smith and her mother, Rosemary Jenner, work one morning a week in the thrift store, located at 400 East Minnesota Road. The pair, originally from Montana, said they were recruited six years ago by a neighbor in Pharr South Park, who was managing the store at the time. Smith does much of the work in displaying items on the store shelves.

It takes 60 to 80 regular volunteers from a number of RV and mobile home parks to run the store. The store is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.

Residents of two parks in Mission, Hidden Valley Ranch and Leisure Valley Ranch, are among the Winter Texans doing a cookie bake each week. A half dozen come from Mission to turn on four ovens and spend about three hours baking approximately 100 dozen cookies, which goes to the campus, is used to treat tour groups visiting the school, for special events and is given away in the thrift store to customers.

Kermit Larson, from Leisure Valley, coordinates the bakers from the two parks from now until the end of March, plus supplies batches of cookie dough each week, according to Jerry Putz, a Winter Texan from Lacona, Iowa. Darrel Spaulding, a Winter Texan from Altoona, Iowa, related walking in his park and Larson, who is on the CHI board, recruited him to help for a short time every couple of weeks. That was 12 years ago. Word of mouth led to more neighbors joining in the project.

An “undercover” event staged by Hidden Valley supporters the third Sunday in February results in enough underwear to meet the needs of the students for an entire year, according to Wilbert Schoenrath, a Winter Texan from Swan River Manitoba, Canada.

There is also support from outside the “Valley,” such as the Fenton United Methodist Church, where members sew pajamas every year. The members produced 46 pairs for students this time, which were brought by Winter Texans returning to the “Valley” for the winter. Chacon said many churches of various denominations contribute items like that.

While clothing for students is always welcomed, this is the time of year when toys are a predominant request. And a toy drive is on now. Toys can be brought to thrift store.

Some people have sponsored a “Haven” child, with commitments starting as low as $25 a month. Attending a fundraising event is another way to help CHI, or help at the administration headquarters in a number of ways. A tour of the children’s home and school in Reynosa can also be arranged.

“Should you like to put your gifts or talents to work somewhere that will truly make a difference in the life of a needy child, please contact us,” Chacon said. “There is a place for you at Children’s Haven.”

To find out more about CHI opportunities, call 956-787-7378 or just stop at the Pharr thrift store on Minnesota Road, just east of the Highway 281 freeway. One can also look them up on Facebook, through a link at their website—

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