Tammey Cook has been a passionate educator for the past 24 years, and in that time she’s trained herself to look for any idea to help her students achieve, particularly those children whose opportunities are limited by systemic inequity in education.
One of those great ideas came to Tammey at her nephew’s birthday party. His parents had hired a mobile party trailer that brought the party to the kids wherever they were. Tammey knew she could bring learning to children in that same way.
So along with her husband and her father, Tammey bought a trailer, gutted it and turned it into School2U, a mobile classroom providing academic support to Lake Charles-area children. This classroom-on-wheels is a reconstructed 28-foot trailer equipped with computers, an interactive touch board and built-in desks and stools. The classroom reaches the children of hardworking families who don’t otherwise have access to extracurricular learning to reinforce math and reading skills.
School2U hopes to bridge achievement gaps by providing fun, year-round education to children. In the program’s first year, Cook worked with 65 students at two sites to improve test scores. School2U is growing rapidly, and Tammey hopes to reach 90 students three days a week next year.
Mark and Maegan Hanna
Both Mark and Maegan Hanna grew up with parents who encouraged community service and the importance of giving back. In fact, it’s one of the things that brought Mark and Maegan together.
The couple has supported various causes, but they knew that they wanted to make a lasting contribution with long-term impact for the community they love. They prayed together and kept their eyes open for the right cause, the right moment. Then, they found it: Though there were countless programs for elementary- and middle-school children in the Lafayette area, there weren’t any for teenagers—kids who have the potential to make or break their futures in a few short years, no matter what their background.
So the Hannas founded the Clearport Learning Center, a no-cost resource facility to help teens in the Acadiana area succeed throughout high school. The Clearport Learning Center offers educational support, mentoring, college preparation and career-readiness support.
More than 300 young people have enrolled in these programs over the past two years. On any given night, 70-90 students visit the center for tutoring support and a nutritionally balanced meal.
The Hannas want every child who comes through the Clearport to know that, no matter where they come from, they have a family through the center—people to count on who want each child to succeed. And that, the Hannas believe, can make all the difference in the world.
Jonathan James was born with severe hemophilia A, a genetic condition that affects blood clotting. Living with the disease is exhausting for most, and it means a lifetime of complex, painful treatment. Sometimes, the psychological toll feels more overwhelming than the physical symptoms.
After a particularly devastating period of treatment, during which Jonathan was unable to work, he and his family were lifted up by neighbors and friends who saw a family in crisis and acted to help. Jonathan was blessed with these connections, but many families with children who have hemophilia are not.
When he recovered, Jonathan devoted himself to creating Hope Charities, a Baton Rouge based nonprofit that helps young people living with hemophilia and their families by providing financial, emotional and practical support.
With a background as a financial advisor, Jonathan uses his professional and personal expertise to direct families to assistance and resources. He is recognized as an advocate for other families—testifying before the Louisiana legislature and other bodies to bring greater awareness to the cause.
Jonathan is now the full-time CEO of Hope Charities, and he continues to build a network of supporters to lift up families in need and give them hope in the face of a challenging chronic illness.
Anselmo Rodriguez manages Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana’s supply chain programs, helping make purchasing decisions for the 1.5 million-member company. He is known throughout the organization for his professional accomplishments, work ethic, enthusiasm, kindness and love of making others laugh.
His coworkers also know Anselmo for being a tireless advocate for many charitable causes within the workplace, but none more passionately than the Rotary Club’s CHOICES program, a volunteer-led school retention program designed to improve Louisiana’s 70% high school graduation rate.
CHOICES connects eighth graders with credible leaders from the working world, who mentor them and speak frankly about the impact of financial, health and educational decisions on the rest of their lives. Business and community volunteers like Anselmo take students through real-world exercises on time and money management and goal-setting. Controlled studies show CHOICES improves attendance and graduation rates and motivates students to put more time and effort into their grades.
Anselmo has recruited other Blue Cross employees to make presentations, has overseen their training and continues to motivate others to participate. Together, Anselmo and other volunteers have presented to more than 23,000 students in Louisiana middle schools. Nationwide, volunteers have delivered CHOICES programs to more than 5 million teens.
Peggy Kirby describes herself as a nurse by trade and a foster parent by choice. Having a deep love for children, she knew she wanted to get involved in a meaningful way with caring for children in crisis.
So Peggy and her husband Wayne opened their home as foster parents. Over the next 30 years, they cared for more than 100 teenage girls, with a lifelong commitment that runs deep. Peggy developed a scholarship program for foster children and helped shepherd the foster care bill of rights in 2006. She even added an extra bedroom to their home for girls who are transitioning from the foster system into independence.
Peggy is currently the executive director of the Louisiana Foster & Adoptive Parent Association, where she works diligently to improve the foster care system for the benefit of children and parents in the Monroe area. Peggy also serves on many local and statewide committees representing foster and adoptive parents, and she works with the Department of Children and Family Services, leading pre-service training for new foster families.
In early 2017, Wayne passed away after four years of illness. Peggy and Wayne never closed their home to children, even while he was sick. They continued to provide foster care to demonstrate that, although they might go through hard times, families of all kinds stick together.
One day in 2007, over coffee, Lloyd Dennis and his friend Arthur Wardsworth were hashing out a familiar conversation—the problems with today’s youth. And maybe the blend was a little strong, because this time, the conversation went a different way. They challenged each other to offer themselves up as part of the solution, forming the Silverback Society—a cadre of established older men—to mentor children one-on-one and put them on the path to success.
They chose their organization’s name to reflect that mature men begin to gray as they reach the peak of their lives as family men. The mission of the Silverback Society is to teach and inspire boys to become men who can claim this distinction.
After starting in just one school, the Silverback Society has grown to include 18 campuses and more than 150 men who volunteer to provide mentoring and classroom instruction to young people around New Orleans. Their curriculum has led to measurable increases in school attendance, academic excellence and self-esteem for the students participating. Since its inception, the organization has helped 1,100 boys.
Lloyd’s friend Arthur has since passed away, but the program he helped dream up is going strong. In 2012, over another cup of coffee, an advocate and donor to the program challenged Lloyd to take on the work full-time. It seems that cup of joe was pretty strong, too, because Lloyd now serves as the executive director of the Silverback Society and a full-time mentor for young people.
Kim Winston Bigler
When she was living in Los Angeles a little less than a decade ago, Kim Bigler was copied on an email chain of friends asking for a space heater. The heater was for a young woman who was recently emancipated from lifelong foster care. Living in an apartment with no furniture or heat, this young woman needed help desperately.
“What are we as a community doing if it takes a mass email to get something as simple as a heater for someone in need?” Kim asked herself.
A voice inside challenged her: “Well, what are YOU doing?”
Kim founded James Storehouse in Los Angeles in 2012, and upon returning home to Louisiana in 2015, she re-established it in Covington. James Storehouse is a nonprofit that ensures children who enter into the foster care system have everything they need to thrive in tough times. When children arrive to foster care without enough clothes, or when foster homes need an extra bed to keep siblings together, Kim and the James Storehouse team step up to meet those needs—day or night.
James Storehouse also helps foster children connect with safe family placements and supports those “aging out” of the system to reach stable independence. Last year, Kim and the team of James Storehouse served more than 1,000 foster children on the Northshore.
Dr. Clyde Johnson
Clyde Johnson started his career as a coal miner with only a high school diploma. The days were long, tough and filled with toil—and he spent them wanting a better life and a way to make a mark on the world.
He saw that education was the path to that better life. He returned to school and earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from West Virginia University. Dr. Johnson taught biology and physiology for decades at Southern University, where he noticed that many students arrived on campus lacking the fundamental skills needed to succeed in higher education.
So—upon his retirement from Southern—Dr. Johnson began looking for a way to make an impact on the community through education. In 2004, he began working with Volunteers in Public Schools, where he was inspired by the organization’s one-on-one tutoring and mentorship model. More than just a volunteer, Dr. Johnson has stepped up to help students who are struggling to read. As a result, VIPS has adopted the Ready4K! program, which sends helpful text messages to parents of 4-year-olds with tips on how to incorporate reading in family time.
Dr. Johnson continues to serve in the belief that a quality education releases a child’s greatest potential. After all, it did for him.
Verni Howard’s professional path led her to corporate banking, where her clients included government entities, non-profits and JP Morgan Chase. While Verni excelled in this field, she wanted to impact her community in a different way.
After moving home to Shreveport in 2014, she became a board member of Providence House, a nonprofit that provides a shelter and child development center for homeless men and women with children. When the previous executive director retired, Verni saw a clear path ahead. She left her corporate job and became the head of Providence House after a competitive selection process.
In the years since, Verni has used her for-profit business acumen to grow Providence House’s capacity and programs to assist more homeless men, women and children.
Providence House provides a unique and essential service: It’s the only shelter in Louisiana that keeps families together through homelessness. Of the 250 people supported by Providence House, more than half are children, who benefit from the organization’s housing, education programs, child care, parenting classes and more. Verni emphasizes improving educational outcomes for the children who come through her doors.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services used Providence House as a national case study. The program is currently ranked No. 1 in the area’s continuum of care for its clients. Through it all, Verni is recognized by the Shreveport-Bossier community as a tireless, fearless advocate for the homeless, going above and beyond to keep families together.