By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
What a difference a year makes.
On Dec. 16, 2005, Rebecca Dolson turned 24. But there was nothing to celebrate.
She spent her 24th birthday in jail, and she had hit rock bottom.
She lost custody of her children to Child Protective Services for more than a year, and the father is no longer in the picture.
Since getting out of jail, Dolson has been on a quest to get her children back for good. She's met all the compliance requirements of the CPS and the courts.
But what a long road she has traveled, and what help she has received to get back on her feet.
Lou Griffin, the Killeen Municipal Police Association secretary, met Dolson through his wife and decided to help.
"We're on one end of it doing our job, but we're on the other end of it, saying a family needs to be a family," Griffin said. "They need a home. And we want them to be together."
Dolson sees her children every week or two because of the restrictions CPS implements, but in January, she will be able to take full custody of the children again.
Griffin said he saw that Dolson was on the path to recovery and had her life in order, but she simply couldn't afford some of life's simple necessities, especially things that a growing family needs.
"She doesn't have any money to do anything for them," Griffin said, "so we took it upon ourselves as an organization and asked the community to come in and help them."
Several businesses jumped in to support the program and the family. They donated food and furniture – including couches, mattresses, dressers, bookshelves, nightstands and dining room furniture – all things to help Dolson and her children when she gets full custody of them next month.
Griffin and KMPA members have spent the better part of 2 weeks putting all that together.
On Saturday, Rebecca turned 25 and received a gift she couldn't have imagined a year ago – a chance to raise her children properly. Griffin and several members of his organization, friends of the family and Dolson's friends from work arrived to help move out the old furnishings and move in the new.
Dolson knew about the new mattresses, but she had no idea of the level of support she had received until she walked into her newly furnished home.
"I'm shocked," she said. "I had no idea, and I see these people every single day. I've just been walking around clueless. They knew Christmas was going to be a tough time for me. They told me I needed a new couch, they told me I needed a new bed. But I had no clue how many people were involved and how far they went."
She said she's come a long way in the past two years.
"There was a lot abuse, there was a lot of drug involvement," she said. "I've been clean for almost two years now. It took a lot to get through all that, but it took even more time to get over the abuse."
And after that long battle, it appears she's finally on the path to recovery.
Griffin said he's never been a part of anything like this, a project so fulfilling.
"It doesn't matter if you're a police officer," he said. "The fact is we all have our hardships in life sometimes and it's nice to know somebody is willing to walk in the door and say, Let me come give you a helping hand.'"
He said getting the go-ahead from the KMPA was simple.
"We all have family," he said. "When I asked the board to jump in on something like this, it was something that I felt deep inside we all needed to do. Unanimously, everybody said, Let's go for it.' Christmas is about giving. Every one of us have given our time because we believe in her, and we believe in what she's trying to do."
Robert Nagley serves as KMPA treasurer and desired as much as anyone to come and help out someone in need.
"We realize that people make mistakes," Nagley said. "It's not anyone's position to condemn them for life. We're here to close that gap and make people realize that, yes, we have a job to do as Texas police officers to keep the peace. However, we also have a caring side, and we want to help people."
Griffin first met Dolson on Thanksgiving Day as she was waiting tables at Henderson's Family Restaurant. When Griffin walked in dressed in his police uniform, her three children jumped up and ran behind their mother.
Griffin said it really impacted him, and he made it a point to get to know the children and their mother.
"Every one of us who serve in law enforcement has a special attachment to kids," he said, noting that it was an easy decision after meeting the family and learning their story. "This is what a community is supposed to do. While we may be looked upon as the bad guys, we realize that people make mistakes."
Griffin said this is what the organization does best.
"We want to be a part of re-establishing families and help families in need," he said. "There are a lot of organizations out there but not out there from a law enforcement standpoint."
Dolson said she's discovered a new family.
"I've met so many people, and I've been helped out so many times," Dolson said. "It's amazing there are people like this out there. I didn't realize they all cared as much as they did."
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org