Lindsay Stogner & Denise Latour's Letter to the Editor on the Social Services Session
As we wrap up our year as the 2016 class of Leadership Tangipahoa, we experienced one of our most fulfilling and inspiring trips around our Parish thus far, on April 19th, 2016. Our visits this month were centered on Social Services offered in the Parish, and enlightened many of our members to the programs and non-profit organizations our Parish has to offer, while engaging with remarkable people who dedicate their lives to helping others in our area.
We began our day with a visit to the Tangipahoa Voluntary Council on Aging, with the passionate and genuine Beverly Brazil, Hammond Supervisor. She shared with us the services that are offered in the Hammond area location, including an 11:30 am lunch each day, the most popular of the meals being the Red Beans and the Gumbo, as well as breakfast specials served onsite. There is a Meals on Wheels program for participants who are homebound as well. Additional services include in home care services, such as cleaning and laundry, telephone check-ins twice per week and transportation to any appointments and needs the participant has.
A variety of classes is offered at the facility including Art, computer labs, and exercise classes, including chair exercises, offered Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
The program is sometimes the only family that the participants have and provides an outlet as well as interaction for them that they otherwise would not receive. The program welcomes volunteers as well as various donations of items and can be contacted at www.TangiCOA.com.
Our Leadership group then visited Options and met with CEO, Sylvia Bush and Carrie Menke, Programs Director, and some of the staff about the meaningful work of creating an inclusive community for individuals with disabilities as they are aging within our society. We learned about Options providing an opportunity to live and work in our community and creating a sense of value and importance for its participants.
Supporting 84 people 24 hours per day, and with over 250 staff working all different shifts, Options has a profound impact on the lives of those involved and their families. Relatives are able to know that their loved ones with Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities are cared for outside of the home, and the members provide a wonderful variety of services throughout the community including: Ironing Services in Amite, Hammond, and Ponchatoula, Bead Recycling and Sales for used Mardi Gras beads, Shredding Services, a Weaving Studio, Garden Center, and Commercial Cleaning Services. All offered at a lower cost than larger big name providers, while employing and empowering the Options partners. The Options group currently needs donations of Mardi Gras Beads and can be contacted at their Hammond location.
Next on our busy tour that day was Our Daily Bread with Myrna Jordan, who has graciously and passionately donated her time since 2001. Our Daily Bread is a Food Pantry that services over 2000 families in Tangipahoa per month, partnering with the United Way. They operate mainly with volunteer and donation resources and six part-time employees. Our Daily Bread has worked with and donated almost 60,000 pounds of food to other organizations this year, to make sure it reaches those in need before perishing.
They have received a grant from the Joyce Meyers Ministries Food Bank Foundation, and are should be able to operate a Soup Kitchen, in their new commercial facility in August, thanks also to the generosity of the Wal-Mart Foundation. Their hope is to create a program to train local youth from Hammond High School on career, finance, nutrition, and kitchen skills in the new kitchen, while providing hot meals to those need. It was really inspiring to see the dream of growth beyond the good this organization is already doing, not only to provide meals and now to also educate our young people in the community.
Lunch was graciously provided by the United Way. Jamene Dahmer, United Way VP, used an interactive activity to help us understand the difficulties families in our community face when trying to balance needs with insufficient incomes. Many of our neighbors have no choice but to eat only 1 meal a day, go without health insurance, or live in inadequate housing. 42% of Louisiana families are unable to meet day to day needs. In Tangipahoa Parish, 19% live below the poverty line. United Way has developed the Blueprint for Prosperity to address this issue. The goal is to eradicate poverty and create equitable communities that are healthy, educated, and economically stable. United Way does this by partnering with community members to invest in social and human service projects. The monetary support is provided by program grants and collaboration grants. The grants range in value from $25,000 to $200,000 but cannot provide more than 50% of a program's budget. Many of the agencies we visited today are able to provide services because of these grants.
Following lunch, we traveled to Child Advocacy Services which provides services through Court Appointed Special Advocates and Children's Advocacy Center programs. Court Appointed Special Advocates are volunteers that serve as a voice for children navigating the court system. The Children's Advocacy Center conducts forensic interviews in a safe, child-friendly environment for children who have disclosed sexual or physical abuse. Sadly, over 200 of these interviews were conducted last year. We also met Hayward, a Lab Golden mix, who is a professionally trained companion. His presence brings comfort to many of the children using services provided by the Children's Advocacy Center.
We finished the day with Lamar Marshall, Hammond City Councilman, as our guide. He believes that we must reduce the footprint of poverty and invest in kids. The new playground in Lincoln Park is one such investment. There is a walking path funded by United Way around the periphery. Guided activities are posted along the path to promote learning and there are also swings, playground equipment, and a basketball court.
From Lincoln Park, we traveled to the Hammond After School Program. 100 children participate in the program. Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. students have access to homework help provided by SLU education students, a computer lab, a reading room, an activity room which includes opportunities for arts and crafts and conducting experiments, and the recreation center. Students receive a snack upon arrival and are fed dinner before going home.
It was an eye opening experience to see the wonderful services being provided by the passionate employees and volunteers of agencies that are operating on a shoestring budget. Many of these services are a lifeline for the individuals seeking services and support within Tangipahoa Parish.
Lindsay Tarpley Stogner and Denise Latour