Category Archives: Volunteers of America

Afterschool Enrichment: More than Homework

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

How to Make Wellness Sustainable

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: Gary3

 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?

Gary Slide“I like Candy, especially Smarties. I also definitely like to have a bag of Doritos on Super Bowl Sunday–it’s part of the experience.”

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?

Gary Bike

“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!

“Porgy” Debuts July 21

Students in Volunteers of America’s Lighthouse Summer School Program will be appearing in the DuBose Heyward play “Porgy” at Dillard University’s Cook Performing Arts Center July 21-23.  Students participating in the production are from the charter schools Lighthouse serves (Medard Nelson Charter School, Thurgood Marshall Early College High School, Pierre Capdau Charter School, and Gentilly Terrace Elementary).

This year Lighthouse is teaming with Dillard University Theatre, Tulane University Department of Dance and Theatre, and the New Orleans Recreation Department to host the 2nd annual Introduction to Professional Theater Summer Camp.  Held June 6th through July 29th, this eight week class provides free theater training and experience to New Orleans area youth, ages 8-18.  “Porgy” will be the culminating project of the theater camp.

The New Orleans Opera opened its 2010-2011 season with George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” at the Mahalia Jackson Theater. “Porgy” is the precursor to the Gershwin opera.  “Porgy” was written by DuBose Heyward in 1925.  The story takes place in the black tenements of Charleston, South Carolina in the 1920s and focuses on the life of a crippled beggar named Porgy and his love for Bess.   “Porgy” was the first Broadway production to depict a realistic version of black life.  The play opened on Broadway in 1927 and was a great success, running for 367 performances.  This is the first time “Porgy” has been performed in New Orleans.

The Professional Theatre Summer Camp continues Lighthouse’s mission to provide character-building, academic support, and cultural enrichment for at-risk youth in New Orleans.

“Porgy” will be presented at the Samuel DuBois Cook Performing Arts Center at Dillard University on Thursday, July 21 through Saturday, July 23 at 8:00 p.m.  Two matinees will be presented for the benefit of summer youth programs.  Ticket prices are $17.50 for the general public, $12.50 for seniors and students.  Summer Camp Kids matinee tickets are $5.00 for students and their escorts.  Samuel DuBois Cook Performing Arts Center is located at 2601 Gentilly Boulevard, New Orleans, LA 70122.

For more information please call director Ed Bishop at (504) 459-9445, or the Samuel DuBois Cook Performing Arts Center at (504) 816-4857.

At Home in the Gayoso Community

Meet Kenny, a resident of Volunteers of America’s Gayoso group home.  Gayoso is one of Volunteers of America’s 12 community homes located in residential neighborhoods in the New Orleans area.  These homes provide services for adults with developmental disabilities.  Each home has a comfortable, family-like environment where residents can get the care they need and learn new skills.

Kenny came to live at the Gayoso home in September 2009.  Kenny has moderate mental retardation and before coming to the Gayoso home he also struggled with an addiction to alcohol and had a brush with the law.  By the time Kenny came to the Gayoso home he knew the consequences of alcohol and drug use and didn’t want to go down that road again.  Kenny was very motivated to change his life around and quickly followed the Gayoso community home’s procedures established to help him make strides in his path towards independence.  He made swift progress with his behavior and was set free from the charges pressed against him.

Kenny continues to become increasingly more independent.  Last year he started working for the sanitation department of the Arc of Greater New Orleans.  Arc provides employment opportunities for adults with intellectual disabilities through numerous Arc Enterprises.  Kenny really enjoys his new job.  He works in a kitchen where he keeps the facility neat and clean, but as an excellent side benefit he gets to sample all of the food!  Kenny now spends his free time and extra earnings going out to see movies in the theater or watching DVDs at the Gayoso home.  At a striking 6 foot 8 inches tall he can still beat everybody in a basketball game, but prefers being a movie buff.

Kenny says his favorite part of living at the Gayoso home are the fun summer vacations they all take together.  He always enjoys being on the go and visiting new places.  Last year the Gayoso community home residents took a trip to Atlanta where they visited the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Museum, the Georgia Aquarium, Coca-Cola World, Six Flags, and lots of shopping malls.  This summer they plan on taking a road trip to Memphis where they’ll visit the recording studios of legendary music labels Stax Records and Sun Records, the Beale Street music strip, some theme parks and swimming pools, and maybe even a drive by Graceland!

To learn more about our community group homes please call (504) 835-3005 or visit the Community Living Services page on our website.

Jamie Now Knows Her Worth

Jamie is one of the thousands that Volunteers of America serves. She was born and raised in New Orleans, where she lives now. She is a massage therapist and she loves her job because “I get to help people relax and feel better” she says. She has a beautiful daughter, Sabrina, who is 12, and a son, Blake, who is 7. She has a good life with her children and they have fun doing things as a family.

Her life wasn’t always this happy. It’s been full of twists and turns. As a teen, she drank alcohol…and more. She went to school irregularly, only about 3 days a week. Mostly, she says she smoked weed and drank. Jamie was drifting in dangerous directions. In her late 20’s she and her children became homeless. It was then she decided she needed help and she called Volunteers of America. We provided the help she needed…counseling, help with finding a place to live and more importantly says Jamie “they gave me a sense of my own worth.” Volunteers of America’s Mental Health program provides services to people with mental illness and who are homeless by helping them live independently in the community.

Path Towards Independence

The following is a story about Mike from our Mental Health Services program, which serves people with chronic mental illness and who are homeless by helping them live independently in the community.

Mike came to Volunteers of America having no contact with any of his relatives. He now believes that the support he receives from our staff helps him to fill this void. With Volunteers of America’s help, he successfully obtained an Automotive Technology certificate from Delgado Community College. Mike desired to continue his education and re-enrolled at Delgado to obtain an associate’s degree. After his car broke down, Volunteers of America helped Mike find an apartment closer to campus – he had been commuting from the Westbank to City Park.

Recently, through a partnership between Volunteers of America, Unity for the Homeless, and the Housing Authority of New Orleans, Mike was able to secure a Section 8 housing voucher, which has allowed him to continue his path towards independence. This was a great accomplishment for Mike and a fine example of how the services Volunteers of America offers can equip individuals to make the best out of the hands they have been dealt.

Audrey’s Story

The following is a story from our Elderly Protective Services program (EPS), which works to prevent, remedy, halt, or hinder acts of abuse and neglect against elderly adults in the community while promoting the maximum possible degree of personal freedom, dignity, and self-determination for these individuals. For confidentiality purposes, the client’s name has been changed.

Audrey is a female in her 80’s who was living alone in a flood-damaged home in Jefferson Parish. EPS received a report from Emergency Management Services that Audrey was in trouble. She refused to go to the hospital, and when EPS arrived, they found her home in dire straits. There was just enough space to get around in the house, which was littered with clutter. Audrey was found sitting on her bed, which had no linens or sheets on it. Her living quarters were filthy. There was an unresponsive dog on the bed with her.

Audrey’s son was called in, and he encouraged her to go to the hospital to be evaluated. She went, and found out that in addition to a broken hip, all her other vital signs were off.

Audrey was nursed back to health and brought to a nursing home to be near her son. She is now doing well thanks to Elderly Protective Services’ intervention.

When the Odds Stacked Against, Molly Persevered

Even when the odds are against you, with self-determination and support, miraculous things can happen. Molly receives services from our Supportive Housing program, which provides housing support services to individuals with a documented disability and are in need of supportive services to maintain housing. Molly knows of this journey all too well. After hitting rock bottom from a heroin addiction, Molly admitted herself into an inpatient recovery program to clean herself up. She successfully completed the program, but was now clean, sober and homeless with no where to turn.

Molly lived out of her car prior to her participation in the Volunteers of America Supportive Housing program. With the support offered by Volunteers of America staff, she was able to make a fresh start. While in the program, Molly complied with all guidelines and recommendations. She has not had any further substance abuse or criminal occurrences and is actively pursuing the acquisition of her G.E.D. Her success in the program made her a good referral for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, which will allow her the freedom to move and own a home. Molly exemplifies the levels of success that can be reached with a little push and perseverance.

Veterans’ Graduation Ceremony

The Veterans’ Transitional Program recently held a graduation commencement which marked the end of an eight-week program of instruction and individual coaching for homeless veterans. The purpose of the program was to assist veterans with returning to the workforce. Curriculum included training in resume construction and writing, job applications, interviewing techniques and skills, and practice interviewing.

Left to right in photo:

Jim Leblanc, President/CEO Volunteers of America

Lenny Simmons, Board Member

Paul Graff, Board Member

Tom Grace, Board Member

Martha Huie, HR Consultant (volunteers for this program)

Ashley Gremillion, HR Director with Phelps Dunbar (volunteers for this program)

David Garic, Garic Consulting, Volunteer Team Leader for this program

Randolph A. Macabitas, Program Director, Veterans Services

Ms. Huie, Ms. Gremillion and Mr. Garic are dedicated volunteers to the Job Readiness program and are instrumental in its success. (Not pictured is Bob Billings, another volunteer with this project).

To view WGNO TV coverage of the event, please visit our YouTube page.

Albert Finds a Home

The following is a story from our Mental Health Services program, which serves people with chronic mental illness and who are homeless to live independently in the community.

Albert lived without a home for over 5 yrs. In April 2009, he was enrolled in our PATH (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness) program, which addresses the needs of individuals that are homeless, mentally ill, and substance abusers. PATH provides outreach case managers and workers an opportunity to search for homeless individuals throughout the streets of New Orleans, St. Bernard and Jefferson Parish.

The Outreach Team met with Albert and began talking to him, attempting to build a relationship. During the first several meetings, Albert was very shy and quiet, not giving too much information. However, through repeated contact and persuasion, he began talking with staff and befriended them. Albert discussed the death of his mother and family members who tried to take advantage of him for his money. Albert also revealed he was depressed. Staff referred him to a behavioral health clinic.

Albert began treatment and became stable on his medication. He was then referred to our PATH Outreach Case Manager, Ms. Marlene Chandler, to help him with housing and employment. Shortly after being accepted into our Case Management Program, Albert was housed in the Algiers area and was able to obtain a job with Burger King. Currently, Albert is living independently and continues to work different jobs to maintain his independence.