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The Hernandez Family: Anything to Be Together



The Hernandez Family is known for their generosity, resiliency, and their selflessness. They are genuine. The warmth of the smile on their faces, and the happiness they exude would never tell or hint towards their rough year that strengthened their family.


Almost two years ago, it was quiet night in their small one bedroom apartment. Javier and Maria were comfortably resting as they normally do at the end of typical workday.  The two have had been living the life most parents of older grown children do, a little less stress and worry free, and an empty nest.  Two of Maria’s older sons later moved in, but even then, the home was quiet.  Her sons were independent.  Then, it was just a family of four. The only sound murmuring in the room was from the TV until the phone rang abruptly at 8:45 pm. Javier picked up the phone.  His sister in law was on the other line, “I am turning myself in. I’m done being on the run! Please come pick up the kids. You have two hours to pick them up before Tijuana Border Patrol turns them in to social services.”  And just like that, with one phone call, Maria and Javier’s lives changed forever. 


“My brother and sister in law got into trouble with the law about two years ago in the state of Idaho. My brother got deported and my sister in law followed him to Tijuana and took the kids with him.  I got there at 11 pm that night. I barely made it in time,” said Javier, “I had to talk to my wife on what to do, and my wife told me to do what felt right in my heart and just followed how I felt…so I called my oldest brother to come with me to pick up the kids. It still gets me. It was so sad because the kids were crying. They knew it; they knew they were never going to see their mother again, and this was the last time.”    


The first week was a whirlwind.  With his two nieces and two nephews, social security cards, birth certificates, and immunization records in hand, Javier spent the first week taking the kids to the doctors to update their shots and check–ups in order to enroll the kids in school. Trips to the dentist and eye doctor were important. The Hernandez made sure the kids, who were all under the age of ten at the time, were happy and healthy. 


“What I did when we all got home, I went straight to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove’s family support program – ARCHES - and talked to a Case Manager there. I was given referrals to community organizations, including Oakview, then I called the places when I got home and got help getting the kids benefits,” said Javier.


By the end of the week, all four of the children were enrolled in school and ready to attend. They were excited, dressed up, and happy. The kids were also enrolled into the Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove’s afterschool program at their schools.


 Javier said, “We got each child into their class, and we came back to the office. The police were waiting for us in the front. They said, ‘Mr. Stevenson?’ I answered, ‘No, Mr. Hernandez.’ My wife and I, we both were nervous.”


Because the girls were in the system already, they popped up as missing when they were enrolled in school. The officers obtained Javier’s and Maria’s driver’s licenses and information. They then informed the Hernandez family that all was checked out. The police conducted a search of the family’s home and informed the family that they just needed to get a larger place to live so the girls would have their own room together.  Javier and Maria were also advised to follow through with the legal procedure and process to become the children’s legal guardians. The judge in California granted Maria and Javier custody of the boys immediately.  However, since the girls were in the system in Idaho, they needed to go back to Idaho for a month and go through the legal proceedings there.


“We had to tell the girls they needed to go back to Idaho because of the process. This was so hard because the girls were emotional and didn’t understand. The youngest daughter took it hard and was screaming that this was a horrible surprise.  She covered herself with entire blanket and followed me screaming and crying on the ground. It was really hard for us,” said Maria, “We can do nothing.  We told them these were the steps we had to take and were going to do our best to bring them back to us.”


While the girls were in Idaho, Javier threw himself into a program called Guardianship, Love & Logic and parenting classes, all great referrals from Olive Crest and Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove.  A guardianship course was instrumental in helping to complete the legal process.


“I went to the guardianship clinic every Monday. We got to hurry up and we got to push it. I drove 16 hours for the Idaho court date. I went with a Certificate for Love and Logic from Olive Crest, and three certificates from La Habra, all this I did to try to keep the kids. I got there at noon.  The court trial was at three o’clock,” said Javier. “They were afraid that we would release them to their mom in California.”


After reviewing all the certificates and forms, and hearing how hard an uncle worked for just a chance of giving his nieces a safe home, and reviewing the girls’ statements of who they wanted to stay with, the judge said he had no reason to deny Javier and Maria guardianship. It was what both parties wanted, and it was best for the girls.  The girls fought hard and continually voiced that their home was with Maria and Javier.


“A lot of people ask why we do this.  We wanted to break the cycle of the family getting into trouble. Since my brother and sister-in-law were teenagers, they got in trouble,” said Javier, “I could see how going to different foster homes, how difficult it was for the girls and their brothers; to be separated from their families, they understand now.  There’s more we can give them, we can give them love and keep the family together.”


Once home, the family overcame struggles with finding a bigger home to live in. However, one fateful day, Javier found a beautiful three bedroom two bath house, just minutes from his children’s school.  Another blessing, shared the Hernandez as they were approved to move in. With a less crowded home, a space for the children to go outside and play, the family settled into their new life.  The eldest niece is on the honor roll, and the others are doing well in school and bringing home award certificates. The four youngest kids are all proud Boys & Clubs of Garden Grove members. Javier got a job at Olive Crest as a mentor for parents going through similar struggles.


“The whole year had been a chaotic rush. It’s been a roller-coaster, but we are finally all happy and finally at peace,” said Maria, “What made me happy, is because I now can give to the girls what I as a young girl needed - a family - and be that someone to tell them that everything is going to be OK.  They look at my husband like a real dad.  It’s all so pleasant to be able to give to them love, a family, and security.”


Now the evening sun begins to set on the Hernandez home, they are gathering around the table for the BBQ dinner outside in their open back yard.  There is a beautiful pink and orange haze behind the orange trees.  Fresh smell of warm tortilla, guacamole, and salsa fill the air.


“And when we sat down, the orange tree and yard was in view, and I told the kids you know what I am so thankful that we are together, said Javier, “We thank our heavenly father for this opportunity. I told the kids look around, for this is all ours. We are all together and happy. What more can we ask for? We are eating outside in the open, together as family, and just happy. This was the first time in ten months that I truly felt we were going to be more than OK."

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