Washington-Marion students making BIG impact for community’s LITTLES

Published 10:06 am Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Louisiana has received a $20,000 donation from the 2023-24 Washington-Marion High School LEAD Council to help support the new food pantry located at its headquarters.

A ribbon-cutting for the food pantry was held on Monday with members of the LEAD Council giving a presentation on their project.

The LEAD (leadership, enrichment and development) Council is a partnership-based initiative instituted at Sulphur High School in 2017 by Tellurian to cultivate future leaders. In 2019, the initiative expanded to WMHS.

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Each year, students are appointed to the council following an intense application and interview process. They are given a $20,000 grant and one rule, “Do good in your community.” They meet with local elected officials, non-profit organizations and business leaders to identify community needs. After determining these needs, the council develops and executes projects to mitigate them.

Council member De’Asia Batiste said she was interested in the initiative because she wanted to make a tangible difference.

“I was interested in LEAD because I felt as a teenager we are not often listened to, but I learned through this program that by being a leader, even as a teenager, I have a voice and can make an impact in the community,” she said.

After the group of 13 students met with BBBS-SWLA CEO Erin Davison, they realized the organization was a perfect fit.

“When we learned that Big Brothers Big Sisters programs have been proven to help children realize their potential and build their futures, we wanted to be a part of that,” Batiste said.

While BBBS-SWLA offers a variety of programing, the WMHS LEAD Council supported the BBBS MentorU Program, a curriculum-based mentoring group that works with children ages 12 to 16 in Calcasieu Parish who are at risk of dropping out of school.

Alongside Tellurian LEAD Coordinator Terri Bachand and WMHS Faculty Advisor Corry Allen, the council developed and led monthly dialogues for the MentorU program. Topics that were discussed include Black History Month and peer pressure.

The council also created the on-site pantry for BBBS-SWLA that will benefit MentorU students and BBBS Littles alike. The pantry will be stocked with food and hygiene items. To help support the pantry, as well as the MentorU Summer Camp program, they donated their $20,000 grant from Tellurian to the organization.

Heather Hohensee, director of government and public affairs for Tellurian, said they are impressed by WMHS council members year after year.

“The council members continue to amaze us by selecting truly worthy challenges to face and developing programs and partnerships that are making lasting differences in their community. Southwest Louisiana has some very bright leaders emerging for its future.”

Davison told the American Press that BBBS-SWLA will operate the pantry for as long as it is sustainable, especially since this is a long-term goal she has had for the organization.

“Both Tellurian and the Washington-Marion LEAD Council fulfilled a wish list item of mine, to have a food and necessities closet. My Littles and families will continue to thrive because of a simple gift of food, shampoo or water.”

The pantry will be a critical resource during the summer camp. Davis said more than 85 percent of the students who attend are from asset-limited income-constrained employed (ALICE) families.

“Most of the youth are from families working, earning wages, but are just above the federal poverty line and make too much annually to qualify for public assistance programs.”

The MentorU Big Futures Summer Academy is a five-day mini-academy centered around the “four E’s” — education, employment, enlistment and entrepreneurship. Students participate in activities about career pathways, financial literacy, positive relationships and physical fitness, to name a few.