Old habits are hard to break. No one knows this better than retired St. Tammany Parish residents Lou and Betty, married more than 60 years.
Outwardly, Lou was known as a good friend, popular and active in his community. But inwardly, a problem haunted him for most of his marriage. Often and without warning, he flew into extreme fits of verbal rage. Lou always felt ashamed and frustrated after an outburst. Betty felt hurt, helpless and alone. Their friends had no idea.
Over the years, Lou tried getting help through religion or therapists, but nothing worked. When his son tragically took his own life after struggling with depression, the crisis added to Lou’s burden and led him to Volunteers of America. It took a call to our Crisis Response Program for him to finally discover ways to control his rage.
He talked to Suzanne, a licensed social worker with the program, who listened carefully. Suzanne persistently reached out to help the couple, discussing coping skills and encouraging Lou to attend a 12-step program for those with similar challenges. She found him transportation to the meetings. Slowly, Lou learned ways to prevent his escalating anger. He admitted his struggles to others in the program and took responsibility for his actions. And, he discovered the painful truth that he had long suffered from untreated post traumatic stress since his Korean War combat service.
Lou sincerely apologized to Betty for the pain he’d caused over the years. Gradually–with the commitment of Suzanne and group support–Lou’s anger issues have begun to dissolve. Betty says Lou is truly a changed man. “Life is so much better now.”
The Crisis Response Program helps many in St. Tammany cope with behavioral health problems. The goal always is to intervene before a crisis escalates. Our staff is committed to offering hope and real-life solutions. As Lou’s experience shows, it’s never too late, or too early, to ask for help.
Start dusting off your Santa hats and breaking out the gift wrap! Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans is gearing up for our 15th Annual Christmas Wish Project to spread some holiday cheer to those in need this season. But we can’t do it without you!
How can you HELP? We are currently serving more than 55,000 individuals in need and over 1,000 will not receive a gift for Christmas. Help us make wishes come true by purchasing a present for one or more people in our programs! To see the joy your gift brings, check out pictures of last year’s Christmas Wish Project.
How can you GET INVOLVED? Let us know how many people you would like to adopt and we will send you their Wish List. We have asked those on the Christmas list to choose reasonably priced gifts they most need. Presents will need to be wrapped, labeled and delivered to our office by Tuesday, December 6th.
Don’t have time to SHOP? Make a monetary donation to the Christmas Wish Project by Wednesday, November 30, and we’ll do all the work for you! When entering your donation, please be sure to select “Christmas Wish Project” in the Gift Designation menu.
JOIN THE FUN! Email Victoria King, Community Outreach Coordinator, or call at (504) 486-8699.
Your support spreads Christmas joy! Thank you!
Every Thursday, you can find New Orleanian Gail Rouen at Terraces on Tulane, our Mid-City housing facility for seniors. Rouen began volunteering earlier this year. “I hit it off with everyone,” she says enthusiastically. “Their stories melt my heart I love listening to them and hearing about their backgrounds.”
Rouen’s interest in volunteering was piqued at a Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans breakfast, which she attended with a group from her husband’s company. Soon, she was volunteering at the Terraces, which serves lower-income persons 62 and over. Her assignment: be a friendly helper, doing whatever residents need, be it light housekeeping or sharing a meal. She quickly discovered she and the residents enjoyed their time together.
The staff then asked if she would take on a special project, working with resident Ronald, known for creating art from everyday objects. His apartment was overfilled with his late mother’s belongings and other items. Rouen began helping him sort out what to keep.
“We have a wonderful relationship,” she says. “We trust each other and have wonderful conversations.” All the while, Ronald’s apartment is being cleared and organized, with Rouen taking things he no longer needs to charity.
“Gail is God-sent,” Ronald exclaims. “She was sent to me right on time.” Ronald, who has lived at the Terraces for five years, remembers how depressed he was over his mother’s death. “I know how to clean and organize, I just couldn’t do it. Gail helped me see things better. She’s become a good friend and is highly intelligent. I don’t have to Google, I just ask Gail.”
Rouen encourages others to volunteer. “The rewards are so great. You feel like you’re doing something worthwhile. You can work out a plan to give however much time you have.”
What happens when practice, guidance, and positive reinforcement are combined? For students of Volunteers of America’s Lighthouse Afterschool Program, confidence and competencies for future success emerge. Before enrollment in the afterschool program, the letters A – N – D – R – E sat flat on the page for pre-kindergartener Andre of Moton Elementary. As you can imagine Andre was frustrated when he entered school as he was unable to recognize his name, didn’t know how to hold a pencil and could not focus his attention—basic skills his classmates possessed.
For three months, his Lighthouse Program teacher provided additional support and taught Andre the mechanics of writing. Her calm and patient approach also taught him discipline and focus. Now Andre is able to recognize and write his name independently, has developed self-control and confidence, and is thriving in the classroom. The dedicated Lighthouse staff has a personal investment in their students. They believe in their academic potential and challenge them to do their best. To learn more about the Lighthouse Program visit voagno.org/lighthouse-program.
At Volunteers of America, our dedicated staff work hard to care for the most vulnerable individuals in our community. As a result we place a high value on healthy lifestyles and seek to encourage and support employees in their efforts towards wellbeing.
Gary Zapata is one such employee who has shown leadership in the arena of healthy practices. Below, Gary shares the practical ways he sustains a healthy lifestyle:
What are your top 3 healthy habits?
“For a snack during the day I’ll have nuts, which are easy and healthy.
My wife and I shop on the outside edge of the grocery store, mostly, except for ice cream and freshly frozen veggies.
We also walk to the park with our son, Lucas, in the stroller—it’s a mile there, we walk in the park, and then a mile back. For five years my wife and I did not have a car, so we walked everywhere in the city.”
What is your favorite healthy food?
“As a comfort food at my house we eat lentils with carrots, potatoes, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. We eat it with pita and yogurt.”
Do you have any guilty pleasures as far as food or activities?
Do you face any challenges to your wellness?
“Scheduling—when you have a lot of roles and you have to serve your family members, your friendships, your community, and your work, it can be difficult to make time for your needs.”
What do you think drives you to be fit?
“It’s internal. I am very competitive with myself. I am often striving to be better in various aspects of life. I also enjoy the camaraderie of sports when I am able to play them.”
What’s your fondest fitness memory or experience?
“Going on 4-5 hour long walks with my wife (then girlfriend), in college when we were in Madrid.”
In your own words, what is wellness?
“Wellness is having good habits that can last a lifetime. It is not performing herculean acts or doing extreme diets, but having a balanced set of habits that can be maintained. It is not always easy, but it is sustainable.”
Gary does a great job of maintaining wellness on a personal level. To support our employees with their fitness goals, we offer ongoing initiatives such as reduced gym membership costs, a walking club (that is participating in the upcoming Crescent Connection Bridge Run), free yoga trial memberships, Biggest Loser competitions, our Wellness Fair, financial wellness consultations, and spiritual wellness opportunities.
The pathway to well-being is multifaceted, but Volunteers of America is proud to be a positive part of the journey.
Gary and his family will soon be moving to Seattle for new opportunities. We appreciate Gary’s many contributions to Volunteers of America over the years–including the example of wellness he’s been for our staff–and he will be greatly missed. We wish the very best of luck to Gary as he embarks on this new endeavor!
April is National Volunteer Month, and throughout the month we have been recognizing the contributions of our dedicated and selfless volunteers. While Volunteers of America is comprised of nearly 500 paid staff members, community volunteers are an indispensable part of the work we do. We are fortunate to have a partnership with the Americorps VISTA program which provides organizations with volunteers who make year-long, full-time commitments to serve on specific projects to enhance the organizational, administrative, and financial capacity of nonprofits. Gabryone “Gabby” Newman is currently serving as our Development VISTA Volunteer. In our Q & A below, Gabby shares what motivates her to volunteer in her own community, and what she’s learning during her term with Volunteers of America:
Q: Why did you choose to serve as a VISTA with Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans?
A: As a native of New Orleans, Louisiana, I wanted to serve in my own community, impacting the lives of ordinary people. My mother worked within the Human Services industry for 20 years. I wanted to transform lives and make a difference in the world like she did. Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans has given me that opportunity. As a Resource Development VISTA, I have expanded my volunteer/fundraising skills with one of New Orleans’ leading nonprofit organizations that focuses on moving underserved communities into self-sufficiency.
Q. What has been your favorite experience while working with Volunteers of Greater New Orleans?
A. My favorite experience has been preparing for the 2015 GolfStar Classic, our annual golf tournament which benefits our adoption program. Recruiting food and auction donations from businesses, hotels and restaurants was a challenging, yet exciting experience.
Q. From your time working with Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans, what have you gained so far?
A. I have learn new skills such as cultural competency, community outreach, event planning, database development and grant writing . Also, working within the nonprofit industry has opened up a secondary career option for me.
Q. What do your plans after finishing your VISTA term include?
A. Once my VISTA term is done, I plan on working for a nonprofit organization, radio/news station, or doing a second AmeriCorps VISTA term.
To Gabby and our many wonderful volunteers who do so much for our organization and our community: THANK YOU!
Sandra Smith, at age 63, attends many concerts and football games. She works as an usher at the Superdome, and her part-time occupation suits her lighthearted, helpful nature perfectly.
Sandra understands how important living independently is, so three days a week she travels to Volunteers of America’s senior adult living facility on Tulane Avenue to help “make life a little easier,” for those who she knows have already worked so hard.
Her call to action began when her mother, age 86, began needing help with fine motor skill tasks such as retrieving dishes or doing laundry. Sandra says that her mother has done a lot in her life and, in fact, still drives. But Sandra saw the opportunity to relieve her from small burdens so that her day ran more efficiently. Sandra’s belief is: since she can lend a helping hand, she will—so she turned to Volunteers of America to extend her reach. Now, she makes regular visits to residents’ apartments to share her smile and her time, assisting with things like ironing or simply wiping a table—small, thoughtful actions that make a big difference in the flow and enjoyment of a senior adult’s day.
Senior independent living often includes small aids like handrails or walkers; but, what is equally important is connection to others—the ability to help and be helped. So as February, which is National Senior Independence Month, continues remember the ones who have paved the way directly or indirectly for you, and do as Sandra does: lend a helping hand.
Are you inspired by Sandra’s story and want to get involved, too? Contact our Volunteer Coordinator, Logan Ebel at email@example.com or (504) 486-8699 to learn more about volunteering with us.
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.”
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
made 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.