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Leadership Tangipahoa studies local social service programs

Posted: Thursday, January 3, 2019 | Views: 2420

Leadership Tangipahoa studies local social service programs
On Tuesday, December 18, 2018, the Leadership Tangipahoa Class of 2019 met for another incredible day learning about our parish. Our day was centered on Social Services and the amazing services they provide our community. This day showcased our community’s compassion and heart for helping those in need.

The first stop of the day was at the Council on Aging where we were greeted by Ms. Sheila and then Ms. Beverly Brazil who is the Hammond Area Supervisor. She explained how they have 5 senior centers in Tangipahoa Parish and serve the seniors a hot lunch daily for, if they have it, only one dollar. The Hammond center opens up at 8:00AM and serves breakfast and coffee to clients who begin arriving around 8:30AM by bus, which is provided by the Council on Aging. They also offer fun classes throughout the week such as; knitting, computer, exercise, book club and their most popular, bingo! They deliver meals to homes through the Meals on Wheels program. Ms. Beverly keyed in on how important it is for the senior citizens to have a place to socialize and find a warm meal. She also mentioned some even find their soulmate there!

Next we went to Options and were welcome by Ms. Carrie Mercke and their CEO Ms. Sylvia Bush. Ms. Sylvia has been with Options for almost 40 years and her passion for their cause was still so evident. She explained to us that Options’ mission is to help people with disabilities live and work in the community. Options started in the 1970’s by parents with children with disabilities like their founder, Mary Pirosko, whose son has a disability. Ms. Pirosko was on the local radio for many years. We also learned that Robin Roberts, who attended Southeastern and is now an anchor on Good Morning America, worked at the radio station with Ms. Pirosko and became a big supporter of Options. Besides their main campus, they have four community homes in the parish; two female and two male with people living in each that need 24/7 assistance. One of things that make options so special is that, besides their staff of over 300, they even employ some of the clients that they serve. Some work in the Options Garden Center, Fabulous Finds, the Weaving Studio, the Second Line Bead Recycling and Sales, and they even have a cleaning and lawn service. They also offer transportation with their many buses that are on the all throughout the day. All of the services provided is made possible through 80% federal and state funding, and the rest is through grants, donations, and more.

With lunch on our minds, we then arrived at Our Daily Bread (ODB), which is a non-profit food bank whose goal is to alleviate hunger in Tangipahoa Parish in an organized and cost effective manner. John Hair, who is the Executive Director of ODB, explained to us that they bring in 1.5 million pounds of food annually: 1 million is from Second Harvester and the rest is through local drop offs. Through their efforts they help around 2,000 families and provide about 3,000 hot meals a month. Mr. John mentioned about 33 percent of all food from a food box is thrown away so they have started empowering clients to “shop” for their groceries. ODB has 30 pantries throughout the parish and they have over 400 volunteers that they are connected with. Most of them are from local churches and other various companies, groups and organizations. Mr. John and his team had a desire to help others was inspiring and contagious!

While at Our Daily Bread we had the opportunity to help the volunteers that were there. With our hair nets on, many of us helped wash dishes, helped prepare food, and serve food to the community. After serving we were able to eat and connect with the people that rely on the free meals they get from ODB. It was a humbling experience to hear their stories and to see how grateful they are for the free hot meals that ODB provides.

None of what Our Daily Bread is able to accomplish would be possible without the support of sponsors such as United Way. Mr. John Hair shared that without United Way, there is no way they would be able to help near as many people as they do. We learned from their representative, Ms. Cammie Procter, that poverty is the #1 issue in the 7 parishes that she serves and many people are not able to put food on the table for their family. Thankfully, this issue is being addressed through the efforts of Our Daily Bread and United Way.

Child Advocacy Services (CAS) was next on the agenda for our class. Their CEO, Rob Carlisle, was there to greet us and explain what it is they do in our community. Rob informed us the mission of CAS is to give voice, healing and security to children who suffer from abuse or neglect. Their goal is to bring the system to the child rather than the child to the system. Through the efforts of CAS and their 250 volunteers, they are able to help 600 children in need annually. Rob also stated that their Tangipahoa office was the largest of the 17 offices in Louisiana. We then walked on to the second building that in on the CAS campus. We were introduced to the CAC Program Director, Joelle Henderson, and their professionally trained facility dog, Haywerd. This building was actually the place where children meet with Joelle and any others from the court system to share their story of abuse or neglect. They average 220 interviews a year. She stressed the importance of having a child friendly, residential atmosphere for the children to be in. That is the reason that Hayward is onsite to help when children have to talk about very difficult subject matters. We were also told the exciting news that their new building will begin construction in 2019!

Before arriving at our next location, we picked up the District 4 Councilmen for Hammond, Mr. Lemar Marshall, and took a trip through Lincoln Park. This area is one of the most impoverished areas of Hammond. We then arrived at the beautiful new park where Mr. Marshall explained the park might not completely solve the areas issues, but it certainly benefits the local children. The park has a playground, basketball court, a walking path, and brand new bathrooms are currently being built there. Mr. Marshall shared that Hammond has a 43% poverty rate and we discussed ways to improve the areas situation. He also stressed the importance of how it will take everyone working together to improve the areas that are impoverished and expand opportunities to the citizens in those areas. Mr. Marshall also pointed out that many of the children in Lincoln Park attend Hammond's Afterschool Program, which was our last stop of the day.

We ended the day with a tour of Hammond’s Afterschool Program. The program's director Desiree Dotey and Mayor Pete Panepinto showed us around the large facility that currently has 135 kids enrolled. The program is located at the Michael J Kenney Center and enrolls students in kindergarten through 8th grade. For $20 per week, the child receives a snack, hot meal, help with homework and care. Kids in Hammond city limits can ride the bus to the Center and receive a ride home as well. Due to many of the children being in poverty, steps are taken to make the program affordable for any parent. Southeastern Louisiana University supplements their paid staff with interns. Mayor Pete emphasized that the program offers an excellent opportunity for the children to be in a safe environment afterschool where they can be fed, helped with homework, and cared for by a group of people who have a desire to help the youth of our community.

We saw so many individuals whose lives were greatly improved through the effort of so many incredible organizations. By the end of the day, our class was so moved by all the giving and selflessness of the programs and agencies that serve Tangipahoa Parish. We are beyond thankful for all the work these organizations do and the services they provide to our community.

Lastly, we would like to thank Mr. Nick Gagliano for organizing and facilitating our day. The day brought us perspective and showed us how we can get involved and make an impact in Tangipahoa Parish. Also, a special thanks to the Tangipahoa Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Pelican State Credit Union for giving us the opportunity to be a part of Class of 2019.

Kyle Johnson and Sibyl Cannon
Leadership Tangipahoa Class of 2019

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