On Dec. 21, 1992, the Louisiana Secretary of State recognized the incorporation of the Louisiana Child Caring Foundation — the entity that eventually became the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation.
In recognition of our 25th anniversary, we’re catching up with grantees, starting with our 23 classes of Angel Award honorees.
When Sister Rosario O’Connell, a native of Limerick, Ireland, and member of the Sisters of the Holy Spirit, arrived in Houma in 1972, she found there was no place of refuge for children who needed to be taken out of their homes because of abuse or neglect. She worked with these children in the community, and in 1997 founded the Louis Infant Crisis Center. The following year, she won the Angel Award for her work there.
The grant came in handy when the organization realized siblings of the infants under their care needed help too and expanded to accommodate older children; it’s now the Louis Children’s Crisis Center, operating three homes with a capacity for 20 beds for children ages 2 to 14.
O’Connell passed away in January 2016 and Carolyn McNabb, an attorney who had done pro bono legal work for the children at the center as well as the nonprofit itself, took over the reins. “It’s quite frankly the best job I ever had,” she declares.
O’Connell was in her late 80s when her health began to fail. “She was so afraid when she was gone, the program would end; it caused her years’ worth of anxiety,” recalls McNabb. But McNabb had a background of service with organizations dealing with child welfare, including helping to found the Terrebonne Court Appointed Special Advocates; she was a natural to take over for the ailing nun.
“She knew me and she trained me. I miss her,” says McNabb with a laugh, “I kind of talk to her – I think she’s sending us signals.”
O’Connell, she recalls, devoted all of her time to the Louis Center, seven days a week. “The program she designed is brilliantly simple; it takes a lot of work, but it’s foolproof,” she says. The routine at the center includes safety, nurturing, medical and psychological care, structure, support and life skills.
Because she also has a background in and maintains an interest in the arts, the only change she made to O’Connell’s M.O. was to explore whether the kids that came to the center had an aptitude for the arts, with a little more focus on sports as well. “I can channel them in a certain direction,” she says, “ Anything you can give them to develop their self esteem is an added benefit for them. I let them climb trees; they all have bikes. I encourage a lot of physical activity.” Among the extracurricular activities enjoyed by children at the center are art class, a hip hop dance class, band and parish league football.
“Everything I know about child advocacy I learned from her,” says McNabb, “Everything – she was the consummate children’s advocate. And she would fight anybody, she’d take on the state, which she did on numerous occasions, the schools, doctors; she would get in her car and drive to Baton Rouge.”
“She was a force of nature, but in the sweetest way. She could work that accent, let me tell you. She was about five feet tall and probably didn’t weigh 80 pounds soaking wet, but I didn’t know anybody who could ever tell her ‘no.’”