Happy birthday LightHouse!

Three women, a single vision and unique passion launched a program for children in Ledbetter Heights nearly 30 years ago.

They along with dozens of other volunteers and donors gathered this week to celebrate the LightHouse, which has been part of Volunteers of America for 25 years this year. In that time thousands of children have found academic help, guidance with life and lots of love.

“This is a story of faith that everyone has something to give for the benefit of this community, faith that the community would bring assets to help our most vulnerable members, and faith that in showing love to others there is no stumbling,” said Founder Paula Hickman, now executive director of the Community Foundation.

Hickman along with Jeanie Hamel and Leslie Akin each shared their early memories of coming together in the mid-1980s with a mission to help the children in the Ledbetter Heights. All they knew was education had to be the starting point.

“None of us knew how we were going to do it,” Hamel said. “We just kept our vision.”

Akin quickly realized the children wouldn’t be the only ones getting an education in tenacity, love and dignity.

“They refused to be defined by their environment,” she said.

And current LightHouse kids prove their risks were well worth it. Last year, the program served about 600 children at six different sites. Of those, 99 percent stayed in school and the average GPA was 2.9.

Mar’tavious, a fifth grader who has attended the program since he was in Kindergarten, credits the LIghtHouse with helping him excel in school. To those who make the program a reality, he said thank you.

“They have done a wonderful job,” he said. “These are some of the best people.”

Hamel encouraged anyone who hasn’t spend time in the LightHouse to volunteer.

“You will live a richer life because of it.”

Volunteers of America of North Louisiana is one of five organizations throughout the country chosen by the Department of Veterans Affairs for a pilot program to assist Veterans and their families who are transitioning from military service to civilian life in rural or underserved communities.

The Rural Veterans Coordination Pilot (RVCP) is a two-year program that awards up to $2 million. Volunteers of America intends to reach more than 400 Veterans by connecting them to quality medical and mental health services, as well as other critical resources such as housing and employment assistance.

More than 43,000 veterans live in the rural areas covered by the program, which includes 26 parishes/counties in North Louisiana, Southern Arkansas and East Texas.

“We are very excited to reach this population because they have been grossly underserved,” said Gary Jaynes, Director of Veteran Services for Volunteers of America North Louisiana.

Volunteers of America will bring veterans in rural areas to existing resources (through referral and transportation initiatives) and take resources directly to veterans (through telemedicine technologies and peer case management). In collaboration with Overton Brooks VA Medical Center, the program will also bring health care to veterans through telemedicine. With a mobile “health service center” equipped with telemed technology as well as a medical professional, Volunteers of America will be able to connect veterans with doctors and other health professionals to attend to routine health procedures.

VA will use the pilot program to evaluate the effectiveness of using community-based organizations and local and State government entities to improve services to transitioning Veterans and their families.

“We want to do everything that we can do to support our Veterans and their families,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “We are looking forward to working with these organizations. This 2-year pilot will not only be beneficial to those Veterans we currently serve, but to future Veterans as we learn best practices to replicate it in other rural communities.”

Also selected are:

  • Maine Department of Labor – State Entity;
  • Westcare Washington, Inc. – (Washington State to include Oregon) – Non-Profit Organization;
  • New Mexico Department of Veterans’ Services – State Entity; and
  • Nebraska Association of Local Health Directors – Non-Profit Organization

Celebrate 25 years of LightHouse services!

sistersTwenty-five years ago, Volunteers of America of North Louisiana merged with the LightHouse and made a special commitment to help children escape poverty.

Please join us the week of Sept. 8-12 to officially celebrate the anniversary of our merger with the LightHouse with an open house, volunteering and other events.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • 5 p.m. Sept. 9 – Open House at 802 Travis St., Shreveport. The three original founders of the LightHouse will be present and we will reflect on the impact of the program and its future.
  • Sept. 10 – Birthday parties at the LightHouse sites. Each of the community-based and school-based sites will have a birthday party for the LightHouse as part of their program.
  • All week:
  • We encourage community members to donate 25 minutes of time to one of the sites. You can show up at any of the sites between 3:30 and 5 p.m. to read to a child, help with homework or play a game!
  • Children in the program will be asked to perform 25 random acts of kindness and they will be tracking that throughout the week.

Since the merger, the LightHouse has been a flagship program of Volunteers of America. We currently serve about 600 children in three community-based sites and three school-based sites.

For the 2013-14 school year, the average GPA was 2.9, and 99 percent stayed in school. As well, 99 percent of children avoided any involvement in teen pregnancy or the juvenile justice system.

The program focuses on academics first with homework help, tutors and enrichment activities meant to reinforce what they are learning in school. From there the staff emphasizes enrichment, character and service.

School partnership will serve hundreds

Children in three Caddo Parish schools will receive more intensive community support through a partnership between Volunteers of America of North Louisiana and Communities in Schools starting this school year.

The partnership will use the proven CIS model to connect students with resources so they stay in school and succeed. In the first year, the partnership will address students at JS Clark Elementary School, Booker T. Washington High School and Linwood Public Charter School.

“We are thrilled to be launching this partnership,” said Chris Gabriel, executive vice president for Volunteers of America. “CIS has demonstrated success around the country. Combining their model and our experience with The LightHouse, we can make a positive difference in the lives of these students.”

CIS and Volunteers of America share a belief that any child can succeed if he or she has these five basics:

* A one-on-one relationship with a caring adult
* A safe place to learn and grow
* A healthy start and a healthy future
* A marketable skill to use upon graduation
* A chance to give back to peers and community

With that framework, the school-based program centers around a site coordinator who will be placed at each school. She will facilitate the two-pronged CIS approach. First, the model evaluates whole school needs and addresses those through larger scale projects such as a clothes closet, college fairs or health screenings.

Then the site coordinator will provide more intensive assistance to selected students, usually referred by teachers or counselors. The coordinator will link those students with necessary resources ranging from tutors to counselors to regular goal setting meetings.

CIS was founded more than 30 years ago and now operates in 2200 schools around the country. Last year, of the student receiving intensive services, 75 percent met their attendance improvement goals, 86 percent met their behavior goals, 97 percent advanced to the next grade, and 99 percent stayed in school.

The partnership is funded in part through grants from The Community Foundation, the United Way fund of The Community Foundation and The Grayson Foundation.

Teen Outreach Program expands

A program for teenagers, proven to keep students in school and successful, will expand its services for the 2014-15 school year.

Volunteers of America of North Louisiana implemented the national Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program®, focused on life skills, healthy behaviors, and community service for the first time last year. It served 115 teenagers in six different groups throughout the city.

For the upcoming year, we will be able to serve up to 200 students, and we expect to expand the number and location of groups. Pre-registration began July 1.

TOP is open to teens ages 12-17. The free program emphasizes life skills such as resiliency, academic achievement, compassion, values, conflict resolution, and goal setting. Teens are divided by age groups and participate in clubs once a week after school for activities, discussion and community service projects.

The Wyman Center has been addressing the needs of economically disadvantaged teens in St. Louis for more than 100 years. Eventually, they started replicating TOP® with community agencies around the country. Through their studies, the program has produced the following results:

52% lower risk of suspension

60% lower risk of class failure

53% lower risk of teen pregnancy

To pre-register or for more information, see the website or call Jennifer Stinson at 221-8404.

LightHouse students take the stage


A month of work came to fruition this week as the “Tadpole Players” made their acting debut.

The Highland LightHouse acting troupe performed four short plays with the coaching of Shreveport Little Theater.

Children had a chance to be kings, pirates, and billy goats. And the little ones stole the show as they pretended to be the wind and jumping beans.

Mary Joris was thrilled to lead the rehearsals, which happened twice a week.

SONY DSC“Theater combines all the arts, so they learn so much, build confidence and work together,” she said.

Bree, an 11-year-old who made a convincing billy goat ready to “strut her stuff” in “The Gruffs,” said they learned creativity and how to build a character.

Joshton, 12, made some discoveries about himself as he portrayed the Butler in “Get up and Close the Door,” a skit about a king and queen.

“I just like doing funny stuff,” the 12-year-old said. “I learned I can do anything for people.”

The program was funded by a grant from The Community Foundation.

Brammer models corporate-community partnership


Ka’Niya comes into the LightHouse ready to do her homework – especially when Stacey, her tutor is there.

Stacey Farhner is one of eight volunteers from Brammer Engineering, which has allowed the employees to have an hour a week of company time to work with students at the after-school program.

“It’s really a blessing,” Farhner said. “When we get out of it will be so much more than what we give.”

Brammer executives have long been supporter of Volunteers of America, and they wanted to do more for the LightHouse in particular, said Ellen Alley, director of Human Resources.

“First of all, the program is focused on children,” she said. “Secondly, these children need a safe and supportive environment after school to finish up homework and unwind from the day.  Lastly, the program has a proven track record of producing ‘Lighthouse Kids’ who become self-sufficient and educated adults.”

Each Brammer volunteer was paired with a student. They start their afternoons with homework and then move on to other academic activities. And sometimes they just have fun.

Many of the volunteers are new to Volunteers of America and have been surprised by all that goes on in the LightHouse.

“I didn’t know this was here and didn’t know what they did,” engineer Graham Thompson said. “There’s people out there that need help and there are ways to help that are fairly accessible.”

The volunteers encouraged other companies to follow the model.

“After the program concluded May 15, each of our employees commented about how meaningful the experience was to work with such bright, affectionate and sweet children,” Alley said. “What a rewarding opportunity for us and we hope for the children, as well.”

Change came for one Veteran

victorVictor sat surrounded by laundry in the basement of the VA hospital, and couldn’t be happier.

It’s an unlikely place for a Marine, but he is proud of the work he has done and thankful for the help of Volunteers of America to be there.

Victor enlisted in the Marines a year before graduating high school, and left for boot camps weeks after in 1976.

“The only thing I regret is I didn’t retire.”

He fell in love, and left the Marines to return to his wife.

As an infantryman, Victor was a trained “American Fighting Man” – not a terribly marketable skill in the civilian world. But he found work and took care of his children until about a year ago.

The Marine Veteran, by then divorced and in recovery for addiction, was laid off from his job in Monroe and his prospects for improving his situation were bleak.

So he drove down I-20.

“I wanted better things – to do something positive,” he said.

When he arrived in Shreveport, he stayed at the Salvation Army and then connected with the VA and Volunteers of America’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. Instantly, he was impressed by his case manager.

“She made me feel welcome,” he said. “She motivated me to want to do the right thing.”

Through the program, he found an apartment and established a home. He also found a job through the Vocational Rehabilitation program at the VA, which helps struggling veterans get back into the workforce.

Proud to be a federal employee, he jokes with co-workers and is happy to share his experience with Volunteers of America.

“Y’all gave me the right tools,” he said. “But you have to want it.”

A few weeks, he graduated from the program, and was elected by his peers to speak at the ceremony. He plans to close by singing Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.”

Power lifters bring strong message to LightHouse

Brian Hornback of Lifted in Faith, lifts two students holding on to a piece of steel.

Brian Hornback of Lifted in Faith, lifts two students holding on to a piece of steel.

Breaking a baseball bat requires 400 pounds of pressure.

Keith Nelson bench presses 450 pounds.

The Louisville Slugger didn’t stand a chance when he propped the bat on his knee. In about 60 seconds, it was in two pieces.

Nelson and his teammate Brad Hornback are part of Lifted in Faith, a power and strength team on a mission. They visited the LightHouse this week to talk about bullying and to share their faith with the kids.

“We break baseball bats and tear phone books as a platform to share the good news of Jesus Christ,” Hornback said.

SONY DSCThe tactics are effective. Children cheered, cringed and stared in amazement as the men showed off their strength. Hornback bent a half-inch piece of rebar holding it in his mouth while the crowd grimaced, and Nelson paused to tease the kids for their stunned expressions after he tore a license plate in half.

Amid the show, the message was just as powerful. Nelson spoke about the epidemic of bullying in schools.

“We classify bullies as cowards,” he said. “It’s not cool picking on folks and laughing. You should be a positive influence to everyone.”

Bullying can be combatted, he said, with teamwork and standing up for each other.

The team has been together about four years and they have travelled as far as Africa to share their message with schools, prisoners, and church groups.

“God orchestrated and put this together,” Hornback said. “We never thought it would get to this.”

LightHouse graduates

The class of 2014 is ready for college and careers.

Since preschool, the LightHouse has been part of SirDetrick’s life.

He is one of 15 LightHouse seniors who will walk the graduation stage at the Convention Center this week, and carry the lessons learned to college and careers.

“They taught me morals, and values and how to conduct myself,” he said.

He particularly remembers how the LightHouse took him on field trips and exposed him to new opportunities and connected him with staff, who always provided encouragement. This week, the staff and volunteer scholarship committee took one more chance to share some advice at the annual senior lunch:

“Be true to yourself.”

“Don’t expect anyone to do more for you than you would do for yourself.”

“Sit in the front.”

“Try something new.”

Each of the graduates has a plan for college or technical training with career goals ranging from firefighting to accounting to pharmacy.
Derrick shared a story of how the LightHouse helped shape his plan. Originally, he wanted to be a welder. But Teen Club coordinator Britney Waters encouraged him to have some options. He will enroll in LSUS in the fall to pursue a degree in business, with the thought that someday he might own his own piece of the construction business.

If it wasn’t for the LightHouse, Aaliyah said she would have spent most of her high school years sitting at home and just hanging out since her mom works two jobs. Instead, she volunteered, got help with her homework and developed a plan that will take her to either NSU or Southern in the fall.

Many of the seniors will stay with the LightHouse as employees over the summer, helping with the younger children in the summer program. To them, SirDetrick passed on the advice he learned: “Work hard and graduate.”