Family who lost their mother move into new apartment for Christmas

Keaity Ríos thought maybe the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Austin Area was taking her and her siblings swimming on Saturday. The club representatives had to giggle at that thought. The representatives knew the big secret they were hiding from the family wasn’t a trip to a pool.

It was a move to a new three-bedroom apartment that was fully furnished through Statesman Season for Caring donations and paid in full for a year by a donation from Austin philanthropists the Sheth family, who also made a $100,000 matching grant to Season for Caring this month.

Season for Caring tells the story of 12 featured families, including the Ríos Marcial family, and helps hundreds of others through local nonprofit organizations. Since 1999, Statesman Season for Caring has raised $11.3 million in donations.

The Ríos Marcial family — father Rogaciano, 46, and his children Alma, 10, Jasmine, 9, Keaity, 7, and Jesús Roberto, 5 — lost wife and mother Maria to liver complications a few days after Mother’s Day this year. Rogaciano Ríos Marcial had been trying to figure out how to continue to support his children, while also being a single parent. He was doing it in an apartment with a broken sink, broken cabinets, wires hanging from a light fixture and a ceiling that was falling down.

Earlier that week, members of the Boys and Girls Clubs told the four kids and their father that they needed to move their stuff into storage to prepare for an eventual move in January. When an apartment became available, the club decided to keep it a secret and give the family a big surprise just before Christmas. The club even took Alma shopping for new bedding and decorations for all the kids’ bedrooms with the idea that there would be a move, but not right now.

Apartment owners Bruce and Stephanie Petersen worked with the Boys and Girls Clubs to reduce the rent to make it more affordable for the family in the future. “We want to help them out,” Stephanie Petersen said. They have worked with other organizations in the past. “This is right up our alley. It became important to us to have them here. We’re always looking for ways to give back to the community.”

To welcome the family, the Petersens put up a Christmas tree in the new apartment and were there to greet them on Saturday, along with the staff of the Boys and Girls Clubs.

When the family walked in on Saturday, they were stunned. The apartment was filled with all new stuff, except for some wall hangings from their old apartment. “That’s why you were trying to take my wife’s big photo from us,” Ríos Marcial said in Spanish as he began to realize the plotting that had happened.

“Gracias,” he said to the volunteers who moved all the furniture into the new apartment. “I’m super happy. I’m overwhelmed,” he said in Spanish. “Thank you very much.”

“I continue to work hard to support my kids,” he told the volunteers, making sure they knew that he wasn’t taking this chance for granted. “It’s such a surprise. I don’t know what to say.”

Ernesto Reyna, who is the club director where the kids attend, said, “I’ve never seen his smile so big.”

Boys and Girls Clubs used Season for Caring money to purchase new furniture for the family in addition to beds supplied by Factory Mattress. They spent Friday putting together all the furniture and moving it in.

Alma has her own bedroom with a bed with panda-print sheets and a white dresser with a panda lamp. Jasmine and Keaity have a day bed with a trundle as well as a dresser and a small bookcase. “Wow, I want to sleep here,” said Keaity when she saw the trundle pull out.

Jesús Roberto shares his father’s room, which has a queen bed. He immediately started playing hide and seek in the closet. He got the rest of the kids to play, too.

Each family member has their own cross wall hanging and the club moved each one into the correct bedroom. They also framed family pictures. When Alma walked into her room and saw a framed picture of all her half-siblings and siblings, she broke down crying. The new apartment was so beautiful. She knew her mother would love it, but her mother wasn’t there.

A donated washer and dryer is in the apartment so the family will no longer need to go to the laundromat. The kids also checked out the kitchen, which has working appliances. Boys and Girls Clubs baked cookies in the oven to greet them.

When the agency brought all the family’s clothes and odds and ends over, the organizers noticed that Alma does not have enough clothes and all the kids have outgrown their shoes or their shoes are in bad shape. The kids also could use some more books and bookshelves. The family has a donated TV, but needs a TV stand. When Boys and Girls Clubs tried to move the family’s table, it fell apart. It was a sentimental item, but Ríos Marcial says he’s ready to move on with a new one.

The older kids could use a computer for school as well as internet service. The family also needs renter’s insurance.

When they packed up the family, the volunteers grabbed all the presents that the family had ready for Christmas. That’s when they realized that the family had taken gift cards donated from Season for Caring and used them to buy presents for others and not for themselves. Holli Lopez, the agency’s family engagement specialist, said the kids were so excited that, because of Season for Caring, this was going to be the first year that they could participate in their extended family’s gift exchange.

Lopez went out Friday night and bought the family Christmas presents with Season for Caring funds: dolls and strollers for Jasmine and Keaity, a nail decoration kit for Alma, and a Thomas the Tank Engine kit for Jesús Roberto and for Dad, an H-E-B gift card.

To find out more about the Ríos Marcial family or to give an item on the wish list, contact the Boys and Girls Club of the Austin area at 512-444-7199 or visit

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