New homes and a new roof. College and technical certificates that will give them better career opportunities. Peace of mind even during their darkest times.
That's what Statesman Season for Caring did for the 12 families featured in the 2020 program.
Each year, the American-Statesman selects families or individuals nominated by local nonprofit organizations. We share their stories and invite the community to donate money, goods or services.
Last year, the community donated the most ever, $1,534,099. Since 1999, Season for Caring has given $15.2 million to local nonprofits throughout Central Texas.
The donations go to help the featured families first, and then help hundreds of other families throughout the year with basic needs such as rent, food, utilities, medical supplies and transportation.
On Sunday, we launch the 23rd Statesman Season for Caring with a new set of featured families and local nonprofit organizations.
First, a look at how last year's families are doing and how Season for Caring donations helped them.
Give now: Donate to Statesman Season for Caring
After years of homelessness and struggling with an alcohol addiction, Gunther Aguado, 38, was able to find housing last year and move into a bigger apartment this year. Season for Caring helped him learn how to drive a forklift and become certified in that skill. He's now working a temporary job doing that and looking for a permanent job.
He says he was determined to make a change, and had a great caseworker at Caritas of Austin to help him, but the aid of Season for Caring "was just amazing. I have a bed I can sleep in," he says.
For him, it wasn't just about the tangible things he received, such as new furniture from Austin's Couch Potatoes and Factory Mattress or a vehicle from an Austin couple; it was what it did for his mental health.
"It helps people with self-esteem and to feel worthy," he says. "It's phenomenal."
"I am very much blessed," says Nelly Aguilar, 38.
She and her four children had been trying to figure out how to make it emotionally and financially after her husband was deported.
Because of Season for Caring money, the family was able to move to into a mobile home, which had been one of their dreams.
Daughter Cecilia Moran, 18, is now working at H-E-B and thinking about going to college. Her sisters Sophia, 7, and Yessenia, 7, and brother Cristopher, 11, are doing well in school.
"I'm really just so grateful," Moran says. "To help us out, to help us get back up from our lowest point. It was really not a good chapter. We were able to get back up and make some progress."
Community giving: P. Terry's donates $40,120 to Season for Caring
LaChantia Anderson's biggest goal was to be able to go to school and pursue a computer science degree. Season for Caring funding and Austin Community College have made that happen for this mom of five — two teenagers who live with her and three adult children.
Anderson, 40, has been invited to join the National Honor Society, and she's almost a sophomore now. She's hoping to do an internship in the spring.
Season for Caring money paid her rent and bought her a car so that she could concentrate on school.
"It took a load off," she says. "Everything you all did, I appreciate you all so much. I have a chance to have a different future. You all believed in me."
For Albert Byishimo, his wife, Esther, and his four children, Season for Caring has meant new opportunities for this family from Congo.
He has been able to go to school to get a commercial driver's license. Byishimo, 42, is just waiting to take the test and then he'll be able to drive a truck. Esther Kinyana, 38, just got a new job working for a manufacturing company.
They were able to seek new opportunities because Season for Caring helped pay their rent and bills.
"We really appreciate the Season for Caring, how they help us, how they care for us," Byishimo says.
The music producer and his family are seeing some of the work that was shut down by the pandemic begin to come back. He's now making money teaching music lessons and rents studio space from a couple of different places when he needs it. His wife, Mayra Reyes, 33, is doing more work in illustration.
For daughter Kirstan, 9, doctors continue to monitor her leg that was badly burned but has not gotten worse.
For Kemkaran, the biggest gift from Season for Caring was the Christmas that it gave his daughter. "We're extremely grateful," he says.
Both of his in-laws, Pedro, 70, and Alberta, 64, are doing OK with chronic kidney disease being managed. The biggest improvement for the family was a new metal roof donated by Ja-Mar Roofing & Sheet Metal. Their home's roofing structure needed a complete redo, and an anonymous donor helped pay for those supplies.
It's been a relief to know that there's a strong roof over their heads for his in-laws, Kemkaran says.
"It was a great help," he says. "They did a wonderful job."
After five years of living with stage four kidney cancer that had spread to his brain, Cline Meredith died Oct. 3. He was 68.
His widow, Velma Meredith, 64, says the family, which includes her two grandsons the couple was raising, Anthony and Aiden, "is hanging in there."
Anthony graduated from high school and plans to go to technical school in the spring.
Season for Caring helped with rent and medicine for Cline and other bills.
"I appreciate everything everybody did," Velma Meredith says.
New bed donation: Factory Mattress gives grandfather with cancer his first new bed
When the pandemic began, Renee Milam, 37, lost her job working at the front desk at a hotel. She didn't know how she would support her four young children, some of whom have developmental delays.
Milam has been able to get a new job working with Hilton Properties in customer service. She's also studying business management at Austin Community College.
During the February freeze, though, her apartment in Del Valle was severely damaged, and she had to move to Oak Hill to a smaller apartment. Soon she will be able to move to a larger apartment in the same complex.
Milam says she doesn't know what would have happened without Season for Caring.
Season for Caring donations, she says, "helped me build a structure for my family. It helped me to where I was able to get back onto my feet."
Within days of when teacher Jessica Molina, 40, and her four children began last school year, they lost husband and father, Juan, 41, to kidney cancer.
"It's really amazing that this is out there for people that are at their low point, their toughest time in life," she says of the program.
Season for Caring helped make last Christmas better for the family even though it was still a sad time. "The kids had plenty of gifts to open," she says. "It was amazing."
Jennifer, 16, Jordan, 13, and Juan, 11, are all doing well in school, Molina says, and oldest daughter Julie, 19, graduated from high school and is now at Texas State University.
Donations helped pay for many of the family's bills. Molina was then able to save up and buy a home in Hutto.
"I couldn't believe how many people were so generous," she says.
Gifts for Christmas: Academy gives $2,000 shopping sprees to 4 Season for Caring families
Season for Caring helped Deogratias Niyongabo, 39, who works as a janitor at the University of Texas, and his wife, Françoise Irankunda, 40, take more English classes.
Irankunda plans to go back to work as a certified nursing assistant soon, but she will need to renew her license first, which she hopes to do in January.
They had a baby, Kayla, in May, who joins two big sisters, Esther, 6, and Brianna, 4.
"I got all the things I need for my baby," Irankunda says. "You gave me too many things for my baby. I didn't buy clothes. I didn't buy diapers and wipes.
"We appreciate your assistance. Thank you so much."
Season for Caring "takes a little weight off your shoulders," says Monica Roussett, 46. She and husband James, 45, have continued their jobs as a manager at a burger restaurant and a cook at a day care facility.
They were able to move to a different apartment, and she says Season for Caring helped them keep up with their bills and with a down payment for a new van.
"It felt good to be noticed," she says. "The people we met along the way, how we were treated, the caring. We were helped with whatever we needed."
Holiday events: Domain Northside drive-in holiday movies help Season for Caring
Last year, Philip Sharp had to choose between cancer treatment and affording food for himself and his cat Sweetheart.
Season for Caring helped make sure that he could afford transportation and the co-pays for doctors' appointments and his medications.
"I've been able to get plenty of groceries delivered to my apartment, and the extra funds makes it possible to get out of the apartment more often," he says.
Without Season for Caring and Family Eldercare, he says, "I would probably be in a nursing home."
"Please thank everyone involved," Sharp says. "I was able to get a new coat and winter clothes that I would otherwise not have. It's a great program."
After having a stroke last year, the cook at the Driskill Hotel was unable to return to work. He and his wife, Maria, were taking care of two of their granddaughters.
Their granddaughters have since gone to live with their aunt after it became clear that the stroke made it difficult for Nelson Toala, now 66, to take care of the girls.
During last year's Season for Caring, the Toalas were able to reunite with their friends at the Driskill Hotel.
“This is a miracle of human affection, and it's a good feeling,” Toala said on the night he helped light the Driskill Christmas tree. “I feel so blessed to have so many people surround me and support what I need to continue in these crazy times.”
Holiday tradition: Driskill hotel chef returns after stroke to light Christmas tree
How to donate to Statesman Season for Caring
Read more Season for Caring stories and make a donation, statesman.com/seasonforcaring.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Season for Caring update: How the 2020 featured families are today