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Medina County widow offers free housing for foster families

Debbie Southwell has worked to keep her and her husband's vision alive following his death.

SAN ANTONIO — For John and Debbie Southwell, it started with a simple desire to volunteer as CASA Advocates. It didn't take them long to see the need was bigger than they ever imagined.

Thus was born their endeavor, HANK Homes (Helping Abused And Neglected Kids). 

"Oh, it means everything to me," Debbie Southwell said. 

This hasn't been the easiest time for Debbie, with John having recently passed away. But his vision is her vision, and that's been her inspiration to keep the effort alive. 

"To see this take off and open the third home is just amazing, and really a testament to who John was," she said. 

Credit: Vinnie Vinzetta

The Southwells have opened three homes in Medina County—two in Hondo, and a third in Devine. As of now, only one of them was occupied. 

They offer free rent and a free vehicle for any families fostering sibling groups. And that point has been the critical mission for the Southwells – keeping foster sibling groups together – which is also one of the most critical issues currently facing the child welfare system.

"It keeps me connected to him knowing that I am carrying his legacy forward," Southwell said. "Someday someone will take over for me."

The opportunity is open to anyone and everyone with foster siblings. 

"If you own a home and wanna rent your home and come live here rent-free, then SJRC would love to work with you and license you," said Director of Child Placement Rachel Powers. "Even sibling groups of three are being split between different homes far away from each other. They are not able to maintain that sibling connection, so now more than ever we need families to step up."

Credit: Debbie Southwell

Debbie's sole mission is to offer help, and she always finds herself hoping that HANK can help foster families as children work their way through the child welfare system. 

"We want the sibling groups to be together," she said. "They've already been through who knows what, and then if siblings are split up and sent to different homes, that is something else they are gonna have to deal with. In my opinion they need to stay together, and I just love that HANK has been able to create that for them."

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