By Carol Baass Sowa
SAN ANTONIO • The new executive director at Seton Home, Thelma Gutierrez, has hit the deck running since coming aboard June 15. Born and raised in Floresville, the graduate of the University of Louisville with a degree in psychology has quickly become well-versed in the operations and mission of the 36-year-old home that serves pregnant teenagers in crisis who wish to keep and parent their child.
“Ninety-five percent of our moms are placed by CPS (Child Protective Services),” she relates, “and they all have a history of abuse and neglect and domestic violence.” With Seton Home’s move to the Trauma Informed Care model, she explains, the focus is on rebuilding connections with people. Clinical staff and case management work as a team to provide a sound support system for the moms, helping them break the cycle of abuse with their own children. “We do a lot of modeling of parenting and a lot of work on human trauma,” says Gutierrez, who notes Seton Home is a leader nation-wide in use of this program.
Her social service bent took root during her United States Army years in the 1990s. “After the First Gulf Conflict, there was a shift to more humanitarian type services,” she says, “I was fortunate enough to be part of a team that was traveling a lot in Central America doing humanitarian work, and I just fell in love with working with people and babies and children.”
The team was involved with schools, immunizations, dental clinics and drilling water wells. “After that,” she adds, “I just knew that what I wanted to do was work with people.” A 17-year career in human services followed her Army time, first with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and then Baptist Child & Family Services.
As director at Seton Home, Gutierrez was overseeing care of 21 mothers and 21 babies in July, with “five on the way,” as well as an international emergency center for detained young mothers with children, whose number fluctuates daily. The count the day of the interview was 11 mothers and nine babies.
Mothers-to-be at the home attend classes on campus at a school chartered by the University of Texas at Austin, while their little ones participate in the Head Start program, also on campus, which partners with the City of San Antonio. “That allows our moms to be able to come and visit their babies during lunch,” she notes. A Jesuit volunteer offers the youngsters grounding in the spiritual side of life.
In addition to helping the young mothers learn how to work with their babies, there is the Chow’s On Us program, which provides an opportunity for community groups to come to the campus and provide a dinner and interaction for the girls. “We’ve had some really great partners and we’re always looking for more,” says Gutierrez. The girls also do volunteer work in the community, assisting such groups as the San Antonio Food Bank and Animal Defense League.
The home is beginning to implement and grow their community outreach program, which means getting out into parishes with a parenting program whose focus is on parents with babies up to age two. “But we definitely will work with families that have older children, as well,” she notes, “helping them establish their parenting skills and with any crises intervention that they need.” There are case management, clinical support and counseling services that can be of help.
The only cloud on the horizon has been a downturn in donations. “They are truly the most important thing to help us continue to do all those extra things that we need to do for our girls and for the babies,” says Gutierrez. For the children, this means age-appropriate sensory and developmental type toys, and for the student mothers, school supplies and toiletries. It has been a tradition to present moms and their newborns with little baskets of “goodies” when they come back from the hospital, and Gutierrez wants to be able to continue this. “When we get special stuff, that’s always a big treat for our moms,” she adds, “because, at the same time, they’re still teenage girls.”
On the “up” side is the possibility of a corporate-sponsored leadership academy being brought to the campus, offering new mentoring opportunities. New Executive Director Thelma Gutierrez is looking forward to that and more. “I’m very blessed to be here,” she says.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_widget_sidebar][/vc_column][/vc_row]