Tag Archives: new orleans

Volunteering Brings Joy, Rewards to All

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.

rouen_gail-with-terraces-resident-ronald-2-august-2016-jpg

Ronald and Gail

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.”

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!

Desire to Transform Lives Motivates Volunteer

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:

VISTA Volunteer Gabryone "Gabby" Newman

VISTA Volunteer Gabryone “Gabby” Newman

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.

Gabby helps at a special volunteer event

Gabby helps at a special volunteer event

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!

Senior Living: Independent, Interconnected

Sandra Smith

Volunteer Sandra Smith

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.

Terraces On Tulane

The Terraces on Tulane Senior Housing Complex

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 lebel@voagno.org or (504) 486-8699 to learn more about volunteering with us.

 

Adoption Helps Families Grow & Blossom

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.

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.

Bill’s Story

The following is a story about an individual who receives services 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.

Bill started receiving services from Volunteers of America in August of 2006. He sought stability; he’d lost his home and all of his possessions after Hurricane Katrina hit. The relative with whom he was living at the time could no longer able accommodate Bill, his spouse, and their four sons.

Compounding this was a history of mental health illness. Bill suffered from depression, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder.

Despite this, Bill expressed his desire to become stable again and to be a healthy and caring father to his family. The road to recovery was difficult, however – Bill was hospitalized after not taking his medications properly, which affected his relationship with his family. Bill’s wife made several calls expressing her frustration at her husband’s behavior.

Bill realized that the only way to achieve the stability he sought was to comply with proper medication intake. Since then, he has been receiving injections once a month. This has had a dramatic effect on his behavior – he has returned to taking courses at school daily and will soon be testing for his GED.

After obtaining his GED, Bill plans to further his education by enrolling in college to study business. He would like to open a convenience store with his wife.

Bill has moved into new housing and reports that his relationship with his family has improved.

Silent Auction

Need another reason to come to our Golf Star tournament this March 1? Check out a few of the of the sweet things we’ll be auctioning off at the Silent Auction during the tournament:

– $100 gift certificate to Atchafalaya Restaurant
– 8 guest passes to the Audubon Nature Institute
– Foursome (w/golf cart) to Chateau Golf & Country Club
– Wine Basket from Dorignac’s
– Ultimate Rum & Martini Parties by Glazer (at your own house, for 14 of your friends & family!)
– 16 tickets to a New Orleans Zephyrs game
– Breakfast for 2 @ Shula’s
– 1 night stay at the Royal Sonesta on Bourbon Street
– 1 enclosed minibus tour of New Orleans for 2

Sign up for the tournament today by calling Al Kohorst, 504.486.8670. All proceeds go directly to benefiting our Adoption & Maternity program, which creates loving families through adoption and serves birth parents and adoptive parents with counseling, support groups & community education.

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.