Leslie Harless named Humanitarian of Year

Leslie Harless was named the Humanitarian of the Year Tuesday during the Family & Youth 2023 Annual Meeting at L’Auberge Casino Resort.

Harless has been an advocate for both families and youth in the community, serving on the boards of the American Heart Association, Lake Charles Symphony, Southwest Louisiana Ad & Press Club, Lake Charles Little Theatre, Women’s Commission of Southwest Louisiana and the Family & Youth Foundation.

“Leslie is a prime example of what it means to be an advocate in our community, always striving to make a positive impact in the lives of those around her,” said Matt Young, director of association sales at Visit Lake Charles, in presenting Harless with the award.

Harless said it’s been her honor to serve Southwest Louisiana.

“I’ve learned so much about our community by being involved in all of these organizations and maybe, in a small way, made things better,” Harless said. “It doesn’t hurt to go out there and try.”

Michael Hankins, chairman of the Family & Youth board of directors, said the organization believes all communities, neighborhoods and families have the capacity to solve their own unique challenges and live a full and healthy life so long as they have the support and help available to them.

“That’s where we come in,” he said. “Our umbrella business model has been a catalyst for change for thousands of lives in our area. No matter the background or stage of life you’re in, Family & Youth provides life-changing services to help deal with problems in communities and help families and individuals in their time of need.”

Family & Youth, established as a non-profit organization in 1970, provides affordable and professional family services in Southwest Louisiana. Eight agencies work under the umbrella of Family & Youth — Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Human Services Response Institute, Children’s Advocacy Center, Performance Employee Assistance and Business Services, Children & Families Action Network, Autism Support Alliance and The Leadership Center for Youth.

Board member Elizabeth McLaughlin said the agency helped thousands of people across Southwest Louisiana last year alone.

“In 2022, 300 children in foster care were served by the organization’s CASA volunteers,” she said. “They are powerful voices for abused and neglected children, speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

McLaughlin said HSRI advocates served 438 victims of abuse last year, closing 271 cases. She said the counseling agency provided services to more than 4,200 individuals, an average of 350 people each month.

CAC, a child-friendly facility that coordinates services for those who have been sexually abused, provided comprehensive services to 573 child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, witness to a crime and human trafficking.

“Let that sink in,” she said. “There’s 365 days in a year and the Children’s Advocacy Center of Louisiana served 573 child victims.”

Also at the event, Kaitlyn Thomas was named Youth of the Year for her academic achievements and community volunteerism; 3-year-old Parker-Kate Bradley received the Light of Hope award for asking loved ones to donate teddy bears and stuffed animals to the Comfort Closet at CAC rather than sending her birthday presents; and University United Methodist Church was recognized with the organization Humanitarian of the Year award for its efforts housing volunteers who traveled to help the area recover following Hurricanes Laura and Delta.

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