Alyssa Michelle Traylor, Seth Bleakley, and Mikey Doucet's Letter to the Editor on the Social Services Session
On Tuesday, December 17, the Leadership of Tangipahoa Class of 2020 met for another wonderful day of learning about our parish. Our day was focused on Social Services and how they work within Tangipahoa Parish. This day displayed each organization's compassion and love for the community.
The first stop of the day we were greeted by Ms. Shelia, at the Council on Aging and Ms. Beverly Brazil who is the director of the Hammond facility. Tangipahoa parish has five Council on Aging facilities that are located in Ponchatoula, Hammond, Independence, Amite and Kentwood. Each facility opens at 8 a.m. every morning and the buses start rolling in around 8:30 a.m. where they are greeted with warm cups of coffee and smiling faces. The facility serves seniors a hot lunch each day for one dollar if they have it. Each facility has many different activities for the seniors to participate in such as art classes, crochet, knitting, computer skills and many more. With the Council on Aging they offer many different programs to help their clients such as transportation, emergency response units, house maker assistance and many other different services. Ms. Beverly also mentioned the amount of social skills their programs help their clients build.
The next stop of the day was at Options where we were welcomed by their CEO, Mrs. Sylvia Bush. Options is a facility that helps men and women with disabilities. The organization was started in the 1970's by a group of parents with children that had disabilities. Their mission is to help people with disabilities live and work in the community. Besides their main campus, there are also four community homes in the parish; two for men and two for women. Options gives people with disabilities many different opportunities for employment. One of the opportunities is the weaving station that is located at the Options facility in Hammond. The weaving station was founded in May of 2015, and it gives people with disabilities the opportunity to learn how to weave on the looms and sell the items they make. Options shows that people with disabilities can still work along with others in the community. There are also other activities that their clients can participate in such as the Ballin' for Options Charity Basketball game. The goal of the games is to inspire community involvement, more active lifestyles for people with disabilities, and display disability awareness. They also offer transportation with their many buses throughout the day. All of the services that Options provides is 80% federal and state funded, and the rest are grants, donations, and more.
The third stop on our monthly tour was to Our Daily Bread Food Bank. We were taken back into the warehouse where we were able to see boxes upon boxes of food, canned goods, and many other items collected to redistribute to the less fortunate in our area. Mr. John Hair, Executive Director, dove deep into the facts and processes that make up their day to day. It was enlightening to hear how much goes on behind closed doors, as well as the level to which they serve. There are close to 30,000 people living under the poverty level in our parish, and for some, Our Daily Bread is their main source of nutrition.
Some of the things we learned? Well, Our Daily Bread stores 20 to 30,000 pounds of food at any given time in their warehouse. About 75% of this is supplied to them by Second Harvest, a Food Bank that operates on a larger scale. The rest of their inventory is donated through food drives, and the people in our community that have a calling to help. Our Daily Bread gives out monthly food boxes with around 25 to 30 lbs. of food to those that qualify. Alternatively, they offer emergency food bags which will contain a few items to help someone who finds themselves just a bit short in their pantry.
The biggest eye opener for us as a group was when we volunteered to help serve meals to their patrons. Our Daily Bread opens up their kitchen on Tuesdays and Thursdays to supply a hot meal to any who enter. They dish out about 350 to 400 meals each day, and it is amazing to see the unique community that has formed around this twice weekly meal. Most people would imagine a Food Bank to be gloomy and have a stereotype that portrays uncleanliness and unhappiness. On the contrary, Our Daily Bread was just like walking into your own family's home for a Sunday lunch. Everyone was as kind and welcoming to us as you would find anywhere else. If anyone has any free time and is looking for somewhere to serve, we would highly recommend helping give out lunch here. It is extremely rewarding, but more than that, eye opening.
After lunch, we heard from Mrs. Cammie Proctor, Senior Director of Resource Development for United Way of Southeast Louisiana. She explained that Our Daily Bread is just one off of the extensive list of non-profits that they provide assistance to. Eradicating poverty is United Way's end goal. Which, as Cammie relayed to us, is no simple feat. Although, why should this not be the goal? United Way's primary source of funding is through the employee giving campaign. Many of you probably receive those pledge forms from your employer, and maybe shrug it off with a small one-time donation. We would urge you to think about giving more this year, so that amazing organizations such as Our Daily Bread can continue to serve at the level as which they do, and hopefully much, much more.
After leaving our delicious lunch at Our Daily Bread, our buses were taken to Child Advocacy Services who is currently undergoing the construction of a much needed new building in which to operate. From the outside, Child Advocacy Services, may look like an unassuming quant home that someone may be living in, but that is the point. They want to be as kid friendly as possible in order to serve the demographic that they do; children. CAS is an umbrella agency that operates two different programs, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and a Children's Advocacy Center (CAC).
Joelle Henderson, CAC Program Director, greeted us at the door to tell us about the services that they provide. CASA is probably the program that most people are more familiar with. The Court Appointed Special Advocates program recruits, trains, and supervises volunteers who are able to be the voice for abused and neglected children going through the court system. After a child is taken out of their home, for no fault of their own, they often do not have anyone to speak for what is best for them. A CASA is there to stand beside the child with the primary goal of helping them to reach a safe and permanent home.
Many people may not have heard of the Children's Advocacy Center, and as Joelle likes to say, that's actually a good thing. The CAC offers a safe, child friendly environment for children who may have experienced abuse or witnessed a crime. They have a team of professionals which includes but is not limited to, law enforcement and CAS's own forensic interviewers. Their job is to interview the child and try to find out what happened in order to convict a perpetrator or simply find out the facts. The main reason this is important is because before the CAC existed, children were interviewed many different times and by law enforcement, lawyers, judges, and many other levels of authority, forcing the child to relive that trauma over and over. The Children's Advocacy Center makes sure that the child only has to do this once and is conducted by a forensic interviewer who is trained to guide the interview in a non-leading and friendly way.
The highlight and star of CAS though is Hayward. Hayward is a professionally trained Facility Dog who provides additional advocacy and support to children throughout the forensic interview process in the Hammond Office. During a child's visit to the CAC, they can meet Hayward and have him join them in the forensic interview. Hayward will sit beside the child so they can pet or touch him throughout this process. He knows over 40 commands, which while fun and cute, all have very specific reasons in regard to being a Facility Dog. Lori Banks, the Family Services Coordinator in the Hammond Office, and also Hayward's handler, allowed Hayward to join us on our tour of CAS.
All in all, it was incredible to see the amount of services offered in our own backyard to all of the children in our parish. However, CAS serves a much more wide spread area than that. Amazingly, CAS provides these services not only to our parish of Tangipahoa, but also to 9 other parishes: Ascension, Assumption, East Feliciana, West Feliciana, Livingston, St. Helena, St. James, St. John, and St. Charles. It is important to realize that organizations within our Parish are able to extend their reach and cooperation with many other neighboring parishes in order to better serve our own residents, as well as many others.
Our second to last visitation was with Quad V.E.T.S. where we were greeted by the Program Director, Dr. Dane Blakenship. Dr. Blakenship introduced Ms. Cherelle Lee whom has been working with the program for over 23 years. She spoke about the Community Action Partnership, Weatherization, Foster Grandparents, and At Risk Youth whom have the ability to train in construction and prepare for the GED.
Dr. Blakenship spoke of how the Quad V.E.T.S. program serves the 4 local parishes and has been doing so for 12 years. Homeless Veterans have the opportunity to be served if they have at least one day of active duty and have not been dishonorably discharged. He specified that the location for the Veterans to stay is not a shelter. The Veterans have the ability to stay for up to 2 years where the maximum cost they may have to pay to stay is $200 a month. The goal of the program is to help Veterans transition from homeless to self-sustaining.
Quad V.E.T.S. can have up to 34 Male Veterans stay there at one time. There are no programs for Female Veterans at this time and Dr. Blakenship strongly relayed that we have a need for the Female Veterans to have an opportunity like Quad V.E.T.S. The men have the opportunity to stay in a drug free environment where Medicaid and the V.A. help them with Healthcare. These men range in ages from 26-87 years old.
These men have the opportunity to work through an agreement with Tangipahoa Parish through jobs like cleaning our local streets. Dr. Blankenship mentioned with a gleeful smile how important it makes the veterans feel when they have a brand-new pair of work boots, 3 meals a day, full benefits, and a paycheck for their hard work! He even mentioned that a few of the veterans have even gotten the opportunity to work for the program.
There was a sense of joy when Dr. Blakenship mentioned that the program has an over 90% success rate with the Veterans who have stayed at Quad V.E.T.S. Veterans have entered Southeastern Louisiana University, and one has even achieved a master's degree through another University. This success is a testament to the leadership and love shown through the program. We are thankful for the passion and commitment Dr. Blakenship and his team have for the homeless veterans.
Our last stop for the day was at the Hammond Afterschool Program. The director, Desiree Dotey, spoke about how Hammond serves children from K-8 Grade with fees as low as one dollar a day. The maximum spent by the parents would only be $20 a week. The children are picked up in buses from the Ponchatoula and Hammond area schools where they have opportunities to continue leering with Certified Teachers.
As soon as the children enter the doors Ms. Lee greets them by their name. This makes the children feel welcome and breeds love and care for the kids. They are also given snacks and fed dinner while they stay in the program. The program has about 180 children who are grouped by grades to gain the tutoring and leering from the teachers. There is a $65,000 budget allotted by the City of Hammond for the program. It mainly pays for the salaries of the employees, field trips and supplies needed. There is a staff that consists of Ms. Dotey, Ms. Amanda McDaniel, Certified Teachers, and Southeastern Students. The program is also funded through 21st Century afterschool grants from the Federal Government.
The Mayor of Hammond, Pete Panepinto, was also present and spoke highly of how the children of Hammond are the future. He feels strongly about the education system in our communities and feels that teachers and first responders are the backbone of the community. The afterschool program is a vision from Mayor Pete to help our community and children have a better opportunity.
Alyssa Michelle Traylor, Seth Bleakley, and Mikey Doucet
Alyssa Michelle Traylor, Seth Bleakley, and Mikey Doucet
Alyssa Michelle Traylor, 22 from Ponchatoula, LA, is the Senior
Director of Sales at Chesterton Square Event Venue in Ponchatoula.
She has served on the Ponchatoula Chamber of Commerce board as a
2-year associate and the current Vice President of The Murphy
Umbrella Foundation. She has a passion to serve the Tangipahoa
Parish community and has set a goal to discover more regarding our
parish development. The honor of being a Leadership Tangipahoa 2020
graduate will fulfill a major missing piece to her understanding of
all of our parish organizations and governments entities inner and
Alyssa Michelle Traylor, 22 from Ponchatoula, LA, is the Senior Director of Sales at Chesterton Square Event Venue in Ponchatoula. She has served on the Ponchatoula Chamber of Commerce board as a 2-year associate and the current Vice President of The Murphy Umbrella Foundation. She has a passion to serve the Tangipahoa Parish community and has set a goal to discover more regarding our parish development. The honor of being a Leadership Tangipahoa 2020 graduate will fulfill a major missing piece to her understanding of all of our parish organizations and governments entities inner and outer workings
A resident of Tangipahoa Parish, Seth Bleakley graduated from Southeastern Louisiana University in 2016 with a bachelor's in psychology. He was an active member of Kappa Sigma Fraternity. Seth has worked with Child Advocacy Services doing Community Outreach, and with Southeastern Louisiana University as an admissions counselor. As a St. Thomas Aquinas High School graduate, he is very familiar with the community and passionate about building member relationships. He also serves as a liaison to the Greater Hammond Chamber's Small Business Committee, Ambassadors, and Young Professionals Committee.
Mikey Doucet is a New Home Specialist at Cretin Townsend Homes for over 4 years. He is responsible for helping families with planning and designing their dream homes. Ever since 2008 Tangipahoa Parish has made him feel at home. He met his wife, Jordan, in Hammond and they graduated Southeastern together in 2014. They currently reside in Hammond where they were able to build their dream home. The community has given so much to him that he would like to give back through service. He is truly blessed to call Tangipahoa Parish home.