Beyond purple shirts: Nurturing love, compassion for foster care children

January 9, 2024

A collaboration between St. Helen’s youth ministry and the newly established St. Joseph Ministry since May 2023, they form a parish team providing essential material and emotional support to vulnerable youth and families in the Archdiocese. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Pro-Life Activities)

HOUSTON — Every month, the children residing at Kidz Harbor, a temporary shelter and long-term care facility located southeast of Houston, eagerly anticipate the arrival of a special group known as “the church in the purple shirts” — dedicated volunteers from St. Helen Catholic Church’s youth ministry in Pearland. Beyond routine visits, this connection transforms the lives of at-risk children aged birth through 18, enabling both volunteers and children to give and receive the love of Jesus through kindness and compassion.

The visits to Kidz Harbor began almost 15 years ago when the pastor and youth ministry leaders recognized the deeper meaning that service could bring beyond fulfilling checkboxes and meeting Sacramental preparation requirements for the teens. The focus shifted toward immersing the teens in the realities of the needs of foster families and children, providing them a unique opportunity to embody the compassionate presence of Christ and to become his hands and feet.

These efforts now include a collaboration between St. Helen’s youth ministry and the newly established St. Joseph Ministry since May 2023. Together, they form a parish team providing essential material and emotional support to vulnerable youth and families in the Archdiocese. The St. Joseph Ministry also offers mentorship to parents, families and youth while actively raising awareness about how Catholics can contribute to supporting children within Texas’ Child Protective Services (CPS) system.

With nearly 400 teens in St. Helen’s youth ministry actively participating in the St. Joseph Ministry, around 30 teens eagerly volunteer for the monthly visit to Kidz Harbor. Organized into teams, they immerse themselves in a range of activities — crafting, painting, cooking and serving meals — expressing their unwavering commitment to the well-being of at-risk children aged 6 to 18. The popularity of these opportunities is evident in the rapid sign-ups, reflecting the enthusiasm of teens dedicated to making a positive impact on the lives of those in need.

Katie Marchand, a teen with St. Helen’s youth ministry, has lived through the challenges of foster care herself and is now making a meaningful impact by giving back through the St. Joseph Ministry. She sees her involvement as a way to show the children at Kidz Harbor that they have people who care about them and that, with time, things can get better. Marchand believes that her journey from foster care to actively giving back serves as a testament to the positive transformations possible in the lives of these children.

“The thing that inspired me most about volunteering at Kidz Harbor is that I was also once in the foster care system, so I can better understand what the kids are going through, and I can try and support them by sharing God’s grace,” Marchand said. “One of the most memorable moments was a time I was dropping off some donations in the hall, and some of the kids that I bonded with my first time recognized me. They dropped everything and came and hugged me, and I started tearing up because that was one of the best experiences ever.”

Marchand has learned from the resilient spirits of the children she now supports.

“The kids have taught me so much about appreciating what God has given me and caring for those around me, no matter their background,” Marchand said. “The way that the kids adapt to their given living conditions and how they all help each other through hardships, it’s truly inspiring.”

Miriam Escobar, youth ministry director at St. Helen, said the primary goals of participating in the St. Joseph Ministry at Kidz Harbor are to act as the children’s big brother or big sister for the day, bringing them joy and ensuring they feel cared for, protected, loved and heard. She mentioned that, for many teens like Marchand, this experience can be radical and life-changing.

“The teens become very appreciative of all the blessings they have, and many come back after Confirmation,” Escobar said. “This also puts them on the path of service, and they start looking for other opportunities to serve those who need it most. Parents have commented many times on the changes the teens have in their home life, getting along better with their siblings and helping around the house.”

Escobar said she also forms a unique personal connection with the teens and at-risk children through the St. Joseph Ministry. Whether imparting cooking skills, collaborating on onsite projects or creating crafts together, Escobar experiences a special bond with these young individuals.

"I was personally inspired to participate myself because I wanted to lead by example to the teens in our program and to my own children,” Escobar said. “I want them to see that being Catholic is not something you do on Sunday; it is a way of life, and what we do outside our Sunday obligations is just as important.”

St. Joseph Ministry is part of the Archdiocesan Office of Pro-Life Activities, which is one of 60-plus ministries supported by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF). Julie Dumalet, director of the Pro-Life Office, said the mission of the St. Joseph Ministry is to support vulnerable families in the foster system in a variety of ways.

“In our work with foster and kinship families and youth, we recognize that not everyone is called, or is able, to be a foster parent,” Dumalet said. “At the same time, everyone can do something to support our vulnerable families. Although one of the newest DSF-supported ministries, over 20 parishes are already actively involved in the St. Joseph Ministry, with youth and young adults comprising a significant number of the volunteers.”

Escobar said that the St. Joseph Ministry and its collaboration with Kidz Harbor plays a crucial role in serving the foster families and children in need in the Archdiocese. When she discovered the high number of foster families in Pearland, she was particularly surprised to learn that some of these families were affiliated with St. Helen’s youth ministry. Among them were individuals who had experienced neglect and homelessness before finding refuge at Kidz Harbor or their foster homes.

“I believe that the services provided by the St. Joseph Ministry are of the utmost importance,” Escobar said. “We care for the most vulnerable, not only through material donations but also by being present and bringing the love of God to children who have endured unspeakable situations at such a young age. I would strongly encourage all the faithful to donate to this ministry. Even the smallest contribution goes a long way and brings joy to a child who hasn’t had the opportunity to be loved.”

Marchand expressed that her time spent volunteering with Kidz Harbor has led her to recognize that every donation and hour dedicated to volunteering, regardless of their size, will be appreciated in ways that may never be fully understood.

“One last thing I would like to share is that we should give back and volunteer out of the kindness of our hearts, not because we feel like we have to,” Marchand said. “In 2 Corinthians 9:7, it reminds us that, ‘Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.’”

To learn more about the St. Joseph Ministry and how to form a parish team, contact Julie Dumalet at the Office of Pro-Life Activities at 713-741-8728 or

The Archdiocese also collaborates in its efforts to support vulnerable families with The Riverside Project, a Houston-based nonprofit connecting churches and faith-based organizations to families in need.

To donate to the DSF, go to The DSF supports each of these ministries, whether direct service or education, which require this critical funding to remain in operation. Out of each gift given to DSF, 100% of every dollar goes directly to supporting these ministries.