The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation is proud to announce the 2023 recipients of The Angel Award.® This prestigious recognition program honors outstanding Louisianians who have demonstrated exceptional dedication and service to the state’s children.

Now in its 29th year, The Angel Award specifically recognizes people who have directly improved outcomes for young people. Each honoree takes an active approach to meeting the needs of children and has a history of persisting in the face of significant challenges – sometimes including loss of resources, operational challenges, or even personal tragedy.

“The 10 honorees selected for the 2023 Angel Award represent a diverse range of community-driven initiatives, including healthcare, education, social services, civic education, and more,” said Michael Tipton, president of the Blue Cross Foundation. “We are proud to celebrate this incredible group of distinguished champions for children.”

The Blue Cross Foundation extends heartfelt congratulations to the following exceptional individuals being recognized as Angels this year:

  • Mary Barrios of Farmerville, where she is the town’s Community Outreach Coordinator. Barrios has created festivals, learning outreach, and other projects celebrating cultural heritage, diversity, and inclusion of Latin American children in Northeast Louisiana.
  • Melanie Bronfin of New Orleans, the founder and former executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children. Bronfin’s work has guided statewide policy in the comprehensive reform of Louisiana’s early care and education system, and in more than 10,000 low-income Louisiana children gaining access to publicly funded, high quality early care and education.
  • Frederick Burgess of Alexandria, the founder of Stop the Violence, a mentorship program that interrupts cycles of fatal violence by giving young people the support needed to escape the adverse effects of generational poverty.
  • Lisa Conly Cronin of Shreveport, an attorney by trade who is also the CEO of Common Ground, a volunteer-driven organization that provides healthy meals, clothes, tutoring, mentorship, and child care in support of families in Shreveport’s Cedar Grove Community.
  • Ellen Doskey of Houma, an assistant district attorney who handles cases for children in need of care. She is also one of the founding members of Girls on the Run of the Bayou Region, an after-school program for girls ages 8-13 that uses running as a vehicle for mentorship and life lessons.
  • Murelle Harrison of Baton Rouge, the executive director of The Gardere Initiative, which delivers services, after-school education, meals and spaces for safe play to the children of Gardere, many of whom have parents who are first-generation immigrants.
  • Penny Smith and Melva Terrell Villard of Alexandria, who have distinguished themselves as tireless advocates for children with developmental and intellectual disabilities, including their own children, who are young women of college age. Their advocacy and fundraising helped create LSUA’s Special Program for the Enhancement of Resources and Opportunities for Students with Developmental Disabilities (SPERO), which provides an integrated higher education experience for young people who would otherwise be ineligible for college admission.
  • Chantelle Varnado of Denham Springs, the founder of Launch Therapy Center, a nonprofit that offers speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy in Livingston Parish, where there are few options for parents with children of physical and developmental disabilities.

Each of the honorees above will receive a $25,000 grant made to the Louisiana-based nonprofit of their choice.

Each year, the Foundation also honors a “Blue Angel,” a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana employee who has shown an extraordinary commitment to children. This year, the Foundation selected Tamiko Garrison of Donaldsonville. Garrison is the founder and coordinator of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, which invites the voices of young people and encourages participation in civic processes at a state and local level. The Foundation will make a $10,000 grant to the organization in Garrison’s name.

The 2023 Angel Award honorees will be recognized at an invitation-only gala on Oct. 16 in Baton Rouge. The ceremony will be livestreamed on the Foundation’s Facebook page.

More information about the Angel Award is available online at

About the Blue Cross Foundation

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation makes grants to improve Louisiana’s health outcomes. Its grant programs are particularly focused on the social determinants of health, which are the everyday circumstances that influence a person’s health. Since 2020, the Foundation has made more than $30 million in grants to nonprofits addressing public health, COVID-19 response, and natural disasters. The Foundation also facilitates connections between the communities, leaders, and everyday people who are working to make life better for their friends, families, and neighbors.