Tom Buell '73 helps at-risk families stay together
Shelly* was 18 when she got a wake-up call. She knew it would be tough, but she was determined to make a drastic change in her life.
She wanted to overcome her cocaine and methamphetamine addiction.
She didn’t want her baby to be born an addict.
She had no family, no positive support network where she was living in Wichita, Kansas. She found the help she needed when she was referred to DCCCA Family Preservation Services. The staff reached out to her and embraced her. “We became her family,” says Tom Buell ’73, regional director of the non-profit. They brought her food baskets, drove her to doctor’s appointments, brought her to job skills and parenting classes, and helped her find a job.
Most importantly, they placed her in a treatment facility where she was able to get clean. They connected her with older women who had walked in her shoes and could mentor her. After in-patient treatment, they provided a place for her to live while she continued her recovery.
Today, Shelly is drug-free. She and her son live in an apartment on their own. She works full-time, attends AA meetings regularly, and still benefits from parenting classes at DCCCA.
“Her life is completely turned around,” says Buell. “Her baby has the chance to live a drug-free life with a mother that really loves him and can care for him.”
That’s the kind of story Buell likes to tell about the work he does—ministry work that touches lives every day. His organization primarily contracts with the state to help families that have been reported to social services for child abuse or neglect. DCCCA offers a wide range of services, from substance abuse treatment to life skills classes, all with the aim of keeping children and parents together.
Safety is the first concern, says Buell. Sometimes it is necessary for a child to be removed from the home. Often, though, the trauma of taking them away from their families and placing them in foster care only adds to the child’s problems. “Children need their families,” says Buell. “We have no way of knowing which families are hopeless. We believe that troubled families can change. A crisis in a family—a crisis in any life—is an opportunity for change…we provide them with hope and provide them with the support they need to be better parents.”
Does it work? The statistics say yes. Buell’s organization boasts a 98 percent success rate of children living at home with no additional abuse or neglect.
Many of the parents DCCCA works with were never taught basic skills necessary for success, says Buell. Often their problems go back generations, with children repeating the mistakes of their parents, unaware there is another way to live.
If you grow up in a home where alcoholism and physical abuse are considered normal, chances are, you will continue the trend.
But if someone steps in and helps you to see the dysfunction for what it is and then provides you with the tools you’ve needed all along, amazing things can happen, says Buell. Lives can be transformed. Families can have a second chance. Cycles of abuse can be broken.
Buell knows all about the importance of second chances. His own story illustrates the power of redemption.
He came to York College in the fall of 1971 with one ambition: to play baseball for Coach Paul Touchton ’61. “I had no interest in church or school,” he says. “I was having a good time at York College because I met a lot of people I really liked and we were having fun.”
In fact, he was having so much fun, he was asked not to return for the spring semester. His GPA was abysmal. Still, he really wanted to be at YC. Buell had a long talk with Tom Schulz, professor of Bible, about his situation. Schulz told him it was time he got serious about life and started to appreciate the opportunity he had for a great Christian education.
“He championed my cause to the administration,” says Buell. When he was allowed to come back on academic probation, he worked hard to prove worthy of Schulz’s endorsement.
Without the distraction of athletics and with the added motivation of having to leave school if he didn’t improve, his grades came up dramatically. He declared a major in psychology, which would lay the groundwork for his future career.
Things were looking up for Buell by the end of his freshman year. No longer on academic probation, he was looking forward to returning to athletics in the fall semester.
That’s when tragedy struck: Buell was in a serious car accident that left him blind in his right eye. “I thought my athletic career was over. I got pretty depressed. I didn’t know if I even wanted to go back to school,” he says.
York College wasn’t ready to give up on him, though. “There was such an outpouring of support and caring…they really showed me that we were family.”
Buell gets emotional when he recounts this story.
“This was probably the turning point in my life,” he says.
When he returned to YC, Coach Touchton worked to keep Buell on the field. “He let me play…I don’t think there’s another coach anywhere who would have given me the chance to continue in athletics and who would have worked with me.”
Touchton asked him to play soccer that fall, keeping him on the right side of the field so that he could see the entire field with his good eye. When baseball season arrived, Touchton put Buell on third base—a position he’d never played before—so that he could compensate for his vision.
“We did well,” says Buell. “I made second team all-conference for both sports.” He couldn’t have done it without the friends and faculty who reached out to him in his time of need, he says. The York College family believed in him before he had done anything to merit their faith.
It’s like the work he does today with DCCCA, where his team invests in people whom others would dismiss.
“I learned a lot of life lessons at York College,” he says. “I learned the guiding Christian principles that I still live by today.”
Buell went on to finish his bachelor’s degree in psychology at Lubbock Christian College (now Lubbock Christian University) and earn a master’s degree in social work at Tulane University. He has worked in social services for nearly 25 years.
*Not her real name.