Adoption Helps Families Grow & Blossom

November is National Adoption Month, and we are proud to share the story of staff member Lori Arceneaux North, LCSW, BACS. Lori serves as the Program Manager of our Adoption & Maternity Services program, and she is also an adoptive parent. 

Lori (left) with her daughter  and husband

Lori (left) with her daughter and husband

“Adoption has tremendously impacted my life on both a professional and a personal level. After working for Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans’ adoption program, my husband and I felt compelled to turn to adoption to begin our family. We soon became foster/adoptive parents with the state. Our daughter joined our family in 2010. We have since adopted her. Through my personal experience with adoption, this has driven me to help other children like my daughter who need a forever family of their own. Currently, I serve as the chair of the Louisiana Adoption Advisory Board, a non-profit that consists of adopted persons, adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoption professionals. We seek to promote understanding and education about adoption-related issues. Also, I’m the secretary of NOLA Hope, a local foster/adoptive parent support group. We support, educate and advocate for both foster and adoptive parents and for children in foster care too.

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Lori’s daughter

It’s been an incredible experience to see my daughter blossom over the last four years since she joined our family. Sadly, there are so many other children just like her in Louisiana that need the same opportunity to thrive in an adoptive family. We hope to expand our family again through adoption in a couple of years. This firsthand experience with adoption has helped me to become a better social worker and to better assist the people we serve in our program. I can draw on my personal experiences to better understand their perspectives and assist them on their individual adoption journey.”

As a licensed adoption agency and a respected pioneer in issues such as open adoption, Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans’ Adoption Program has united thousands of families over many decades. We place infants in adoptive homes, counsel birth parents and adoptive parents and reach out to both groups with a variety of helping services that range from crisis counseling for pregnant women to home studies for adoptive couples. To learn more, visit our website,  email us or call (504) 835-3005.

You could be the lucky winner of a 2015 Mercedes CLA250 in our raffle benefiting our Adoption Program! It’s an amazing prize with a life-changing cause. Don’t miss out–get your tickets here.

The Value of Volunteering for Senior Adults

Ed & Mary Ann Brannan 2Ed and Mary Ann Brannan of Mandeville, LA, made it a point when they retired to stay involved in their community. More than ten years ago they began volunteering through Volunteers of America’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), each pursuing opportunities that fit their individual interests and skills. They volunteer, on average, a combined twenty-five hours per week.

Ed dedicates time each week to our Faith In Action volunteer option, which focuses on transporting senior citizens who are unable to drive themselves to doctors’ appointments, grocery stores, and other essential errands and tasks. Ed happened upon this opportunity years ago when a neighbor asked him to fill in as a temporary volunteer while the neighbor was away. Ed agreed, and was soon hooked on the rewarding experience of serving others in need. He decided to continue transporting his fellow seniors, and over the years has made new and lifelong friendships with those he serves and their families.

Ed & Mary Ann Brannan 3Mary Ann enjoys serving as a volunteer in several capacities, including her RSVP assignment working as a hospice volunteer with St. Tammany Hospital Hospice. She currently visits with a particular hospice patient every week, sitting with the patient when family members need a break, and listening to the patient’s entertaining stories about her relatives. Mary Ann notes that although some may see hospice volunteering as challenging or sad, she sees it as a much-needed service that supports patients and their families during a most profound time of need.

The Brannans feel strongly that the personal benefits they receive from volunteering are significant. They have met a variety of interesting individuals through their volunteer work, and have made many friendships with those whom they’ve served throughout the years. A strong sense of personal fulfillment from their volunteer work is, in part, why they’ve both continued serving for over a decade.

Ed aims to encourage other seniors to  volunteer and “experience the great things you get out of volunteering, as well as the many ways you can contribute.”  He hopes that more seniors will become aware of the needs of the community and embrace the exceptional benefits that come from volunteering as a senior adult.

Ed & Mary Ann Brannan 1

 To learn more about our Retired and Senior Volunteer Program click here. 

Q & A with our AmeriCorps VISTA

Emma Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans is grateful for our partnership with the Americorps VISTA program, which provides nonprofit organizations like ours with talented volunteers who support capacity-building for the organization. We have been fortunate to have Emma Murray, our Development VISTA who hails from Lexington, Massachusetts, serving with us for the past year. Emma has made many behind-the-scenes contributions to numerous projects throughout her time with our organization.  Emma wraps up her year-long term with Volunteers of America on July 18th.

Q: Why did you choose to serve as a VISTA with Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans?

A: “I thought it would be valuable work experience that I could take with me into a future career. I have always been drawn to human service work, and this position gave me the opportunity to see how one of New Orleans’ premier nonprofit human service providers recruits and distributes its resources in a way that effectively and responsibly supports multiple programs that benefit thousands of people.”

Q: What has been your favorite experience/part of working with Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans?

A: “Preparing for the GolfStar Classic, [our Adoption Program’s annual charity golf tournament]! The event supports a great cause, and I found the experience of recruiting food and auction item donations from community partners to be a challenging, yet rewarding one.”

Q: From your time working with Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans, what have you gained?

A: “I’ve gained a clearer understanding of what I am interested in doing professionally as well as new skills in grant writing, communication, and leadership.”

Q: What do your plans after finishing your VISTA term include?

A: “I will be attending graduate school at the University of Michigan to pursue a Master of Public Health degree.”

June Minister’s Message

Agency Chaplain Bud Snowden

Agency Chaplain Bud Snowden

The Gift of Ministry
by Bud Snowden, Agency Chaplain

Many Christians over the years have embarked on a quest to discover or identify their “spiritual gifts.” Inspired by the teaching that each Christian believer is endowed by the Holy Spirit with a gift or special ability to be used to help nourish and support the church, many believers of every Christian denomination have attended seminars and retreats and even taken “spiritual gifts inventories” all in the hope of learning which of the gifts listed by the Apostle Paul they might have received.

Unfortunately, for many Christians, including me, this quest has been a frustrating one because there have been no clear answers to the question, “What are my gifts?”

In his recent book, “What Are Spiritual Gifts? Rethinking the Conventional View,” Kenneth Berding points out that the source of this frustration may be the result of a misunderstanding of Paul’s use of the word “gifts” in his writings. Instead of thinking of “gifts” to mean a special ability or power (as in “she is a gifted preacher”) Berding contends that, “gifts” should be understood to mean “ministry, role or assignment.” So the question we should be asking ourselves is not “God, how can I discover the special abilities that you have given me?” but instead, “God, where do you want me to serve?”

Dr. Berding’s approach appeals to me for several reasons:

First, the interpretation of gifts as ministries implies that, rather than being a formal role exclusively for specialized clergy, ministry can be understood to be any activity that serves to build up the community of faith.

Second, the idea that “gifts” refer to ministries rather than individual abilities reminds me that while God usually empowers us when He calls us to serve, He sometimes calls us to serve out of our weakness rather than our “strength.” God asks us to serve in areas where we feel less than “gifted” so that He can do something, not just through us, but also in us. As St. Paul told the church in Corinth, God’s power is “perfected in weakness.”

Another reason this view of “spiritual gifts” resonates with me is that it is very consistent with Volunteers of Americas’ view of its ministry of service. We are called in Volunteers of America to “go wherever we are needed and to do whatever comes to hand.” There is no room in that statement to question whether we have the special ability required. Instead, we are to respond in faith, trusting that the Lord will provide. Of course, it is truly a blessing for all concerned when someone with a special gift from God is led to the right place and the right time to put that ability to work–but the lack thereof is no excuse for not doing the Lord’s work, “wherever” and “whatever” that may be.

Lastly, the understanding that “spiritual gifts” refers to ministry assignments affirms for me that ministry, whatever form it takes, is truly a gift from God, for which the proper response is humility and thankfulness. While God certainly does bless some believers with special gifts or abilities, he assuredly blesses all with the gift of ministering to one another in love and humility.

A Day on the Farm

Growing up in an urban setting often means children lack opportunities for a first-hand experience with agriculture. Yet, providing kids with the chance to see where their food comes from can not only be a new and fun experience, but one that teaches kids the importance of making wiser nutrition choices that can have a big impact.

On Tuesday, June 10th, Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans
madeBoy with tomatoes it possible for 30 New Orleans children in our Lighthouse Summer Program to visit Stoney Point Farm in Franklinton, LA. Farm owner Tim Roper gave students a tour while sharing the importance of local farming, and teaching the kids about his farming methods— including how hot peppers are grown and used to make a natural pesticide. The children enjoyed learning about planting and growing chemical-free crops, choosing healthy and fresh foods, raising chickens and honeybees, and more. A highlight of the farm visit was when the children had the opportunity to harvest fresh fruits and vegetables, which were made into a tasty salad to sample. Another of the children’s favorite moments was learning how chickens roost while looking for eggs in the chicken coop.

Stoney Point Farm, a family-owned and operated farm, has partnered with Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans’ Fresh Food Factor program. Dedicating two acres of land to Fresh Food Factor, this partnership supports the “Farm to School” initiative to provide local, organically grown produce for childcare centers, schools and summer camps that participate in the Fresh Food Factor food service program.

This partnership allows Fresh Food Factor to offer produce harvested in-season, at their peak of flavor.

The CDC has identified Farm-to-School programs as an effective means to improve the quality of school meals, enhance effectiveness of nutrition education, and provide opportunities for eco-literacy training of students through hands-on experiences in the outdoors. Farm to school programs support local farmers and economies, and of the farm to school programs that have been evaluated, most have demonstrated increased selection or intake of fruits and vegetables by students following the incorporation of farm produce into school salad bars, meal selections, or class-based education.

Urgent Need: Help Ms. Thelma

Ms. Thelma calls every Friday to ask if we have raised enough money to begin work on her house.

Please help us say “Yes” this Friday by donating to the Friends of Thelma Fund.

Volunteers of America GThelma150reater New Orleans wants to help retired New Orleans nurse Thelma Hines.  A truck smashed into the front of her home, after the driver was shot and killed; she has no means to repair it. Watch WWL-TV reporter Bill Capo’s feature on Miss Thelma.

“The truck came through there, two feet from me,” she said. “I thought that it was a tornado coming through, really, because it sounded like a train.”

Payne Diez, who manages the Volunteers of America Repairs on Wheels program assessed the damage. “Had the truck hit 24 inches over, it would have struck her in her bed,” said Diez. “It was a miracle.”

The Repairs on Wheels program is ready to help, but faces a major problem. We need funding help for this project.  It will cost approximately $8,000 to repair Ms. Thelma’s house and we do not have a grant to do this work in Orleans Parish.  So, Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans is looking to the community to come together and donate towards this project.

When asked how it felt to have people trying to help her, Ms. Thelma said, “It means so much. It means that I meant something, I touched some people’s lives.”

Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans has started a fund – Friends of Thelma – to raise the monies needed to repair Ms. Thelma’s home. To date we have only raised $225, even with Bill Capo’s report.  So, we are turning to you, our friends in the community, to ask you to consider giving.

Please Help Miss Thelma With Your Gift

 

May Minister’s Message

By Minister Melody Pritchard Minister's Emblem

Being 51 and having three children nine and under, I am constantly aware of the affects my actions have on them. I have two children who are high-spirited and one that would prefer to live on a desert island with Elsa from the movie Frozen. I have heard the songs from Frozen incessantly. I’ve heard “Love Is an Open Door” 400 times and “Let It Go” 4,000 times, give or take a few. I try to look at the bright side. My whistling at work repertoire has grown from the Backyardigans and Dora, to songs that I secretly like and that have great messages for all of us.

My children have a morning meeting every day at their school. They spend a few minutes for announcements, but the majority of the time is spent singing songs like “What a Wonderful World,” celebrating their accomplishments and discussing ways they can be better friends, citizens, and human beings. The children are challenged to live up to the core values that their school, Morris Jeff Community School, has adopted:

  • Caring
  • Open-minded
  • Knowledgeable
  • Principled
  • Reflective
  • Risk taker
  • Thinker
  • Balanced
  • Communicators
  • Inquirers

These values are written on banners that I see every day; we talk about them at home; and students of the week are chosen from each class according to who exhibits the core value for that week. Yet I still have a hard time remembering all of them.

Imagine (that’s a song by John Lennon) if we lived up to these core values in our professional lives. Imagine if we had a morning meeting to encourage each other to talk about our mission as not only an organization, but as individuals. Imagine if we let the words to “Let It Go” sink in and we really applied that message to our daily lives.

Minister Melody Pritchard

Minister Melody Pritchard

My challenge is to apply these core values at work and at home.  Be reflective, a risk taker, a thinker, an inquirer and knowledgeable. Be balanced and principled. Communicate better and be open-minded, but most of all be caring.

As Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

2014 GolfStar Classic Adoption Benefit

Every year in the U.S. more than 20,000 children age out of the foster care system without being adopted. Today there are over 104,000 children in foster care awaiting adoption (source: Adopt US Kids). Volunteers of America, Greater New Orleans’ annual GolfStar Classic golf tournament is a fun and heartwarming event that raises proceeds to help our licensed adoption agency create forever families for newborn infants and foster children.

ImageThis year’s GolfStar Classic, held on March 18th at TPC Louisiana, was met with brilliantly sunny weather and a turnout of 144 golfers. Several of the special adoptive families served by our program in the past were in attendance at the event, championing our ongoing efforts to unite children with loving adoptive parents. A partner in our adoption efforts, Wendy’s, presented Volunteers of America with a check for $18,500 and supplied the stylish logoed golf shirts, while nearly 285 additional sponsors contributed food, auction items, and financial support for the event. Numerous volunteers, including college students from Tulane University and Sewanee University, helped the activities of the day flow seamlessly. The exciting event culminated with a new highlight, our first luxury car raffle. The lucky winner of a 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 was Mr. Jesse Tauzier of Metairie, LA—congratulations!

ImageA perfect day for golfing and fellowship, the GolfStar Classic was a terrific experience for all and a marked success in support of our adoption program. The proceeds of the GolfStar Classic help bring renewed life and love into the lives of children and parents in Southeast Louisiana—thank you to all who helped make this year’s wonderful event possible!

Click here to view more event photos.

To learn more about our adoption services, click here.

The Client and the Volunteer

Ms. Earnestine (pictured left), a 56-year old client in our Supportive Housing Program, has been searching for an opportunity to increase her reading skills.  While adult reading programs in her area were unable to assist, her case manager and the director of the local Volunteers of America RSVP program developed a plan to help. Meet Ms. Joyce, an RSVP volunteer, who enjoys mentoring children in reading at Lyons Elementary.  She jumped at the opportunity to help Ms. Earnestine!

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Once a week, Ms. Earnestine and Ms. Joyce meet in the Volunteers of America office to work on reading skills.  The two have not only served as teacher and student but also have become friends.  They enjoy working together and look forward to their reading time each week.  Through the efforts of Ms. Joyce, Ms. Earnestine’s outlook on life has improved as she obtains a goal that at one time seemed impossible to reach.

Meet Terrell – A Special Olympian Champion!

ImageTerrell is a native of New Orleans. He proudly graduated from McDonough 42. While in high school Terrell always wanted to play football, but was not able to make the team due to having a mild intellectual disability and a hearing impairment. After graduation, he started working odd jobs. His mother moved to Mississippi and his father is not home much due to his occupation as a truck driver. Terrell’s family life lacked structure and he began to get mixed up in the wrong crowd. Although he knew better, he did not have the support of his family he needed with his disability.

In 2003, Terrell’s father found out about Volunteers of America’s Community Living Services Program, which provides community homes to adults and children with intellectual and physical disabilities. Terrell moved into the Gayoso Community home and instantly adapted to his new home and family. Not only has Terrell adapted, but he has thrived at the Gayoso Community Home!

He has his own room, daily chores and thinks of the other residents and the staff as his family. He found a job at a local McDonald’s cleaning the dining room, taking out trash and keeping the drink machines full of ice. He’s a hard worker and proud of his job. Terrell says that some of the regular customers give him tips because they are so impressed with his work ethic and his kind demeanor. Having a job at McDonald’s enables Terrell to feel good about himself, and to save money for his own place one day. He would love to get married and have a family one day.

In addition to the Community Living Services Program providing Terrell with a home, he has been able to achieve his life-long dream of being an athlete! He is a Special Olympics champion in volleyball, basketball and baseball. He was even invited to the National Special Olympics competition in Nebraska one year to complete in basketball. Terrell is very proud of his medals and looks forward to competing in the Special Olympics every year.

Terrell is just one example of the many lives being changed at Volunteers of America everyday. He is very happy at the Volunteers of America Gayoso Community home and appreciates everything Volunteers of America has helped him achieve.

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