A calm spirit was over Erion Davison, author of Keep Running: How to Endure When Life Looks Impossible. The ninthgrade student at Cristo Rey High School offered a soft greeting and then sat primly as she waited for our interview to begin. I sat in awe as I watched my former student who appeared so familiar yet so transformed.
Davison’s book chronicles her walk with God since middle school, including struggles such as an absentee father, self-identity issues, peer pressure, acceptance and identification as a Christian. The wisdom she gained from studying the Word of God
spills from her voice. As a track athlete, Davison compares the rules of track and field to millennial life. On the book cover, the young author is running, clad in a maroon and yellow uniform with Hebrews 12:1 emblazoned on the front. Chapters titled “Sprinting through Relationships” and “Hurdling Over Fears” are testimonies to the common experiences many youths can identify with.
It was humbling to watch Davison, 15, share her testimony in a room full of people at her book release party at the Goodwood Library. As her former teacher, watching her growth was astounding. The bravery shown by this freshman while sharing her private struggles caused everyone to reflect: How could a teenager echo some of the very thoughts I had in similar situations? We were gripped by her tales of trust and mistrust, of success and failure.
Get your copy of the book today at www.visit eriond.org.
The pace of life has picked up during this spring semester for Davison, who is currently on a book tour. “I have been to mostly churches and have kind of ‘preached’ in Plaquemines, Mississippi and Memphis,” Davison said. “In New Orleans, we spoke at the House of Blues recently.”
When asked about the sinking faith of the younger generation, Davison she strongly encourages confidence in oneself to overcome doubt by others. “It’s one thing to show others my book and to tell them about it,” Davison said. “But you must not be afraid to have dreams which may be better than someone else’s dream. You can do it no matter what anyone else has to say about it.”
Davison juggles schoolwork and Cristo Rey’s unique work-study program. With her younger brother, she is also a member of 29:11, a youth group founded by Tremaine Sterling and dedicated to improving the community. Davison’s mother, Angela Bird, says she has witnessed growth in both her children. “29:11 offered my kids the opportunity to understand the Bible better,” Bird said. “Their walk with God is being perfected.” For more information about Davison’s book, visit eriond.org.
Jalissa Bates has taught secondary education in public, private, and charter schools. Bates is an English instructor for LSU and BRCC’s Upward Bound program, a historic federal program for first generation college students. Bates is a member of the National Council for Teachers of English, hosting read-ins to promote AfricanAmerican literature and literacy and serves as Louisiana K-12 Policy Analyst. Bates was selected as a recipient of the 2015 NCTE Early Educator of Color Leadership Award. Bates is a contributing author of Can I Teach That? Negotiating Taboo Language and Controversial Topics in the Language Arts Classroom
Hospice Owner Heeds God’s Call
To Provide Physical and Spiritual Comfort
by Lisa Tramontana
It takes a special kind of person to care for patients with advanced illness. It’s especially difficult when the word “hospice” emerges in family conversations, making it clear that comfort, not cure, is the best possible outcome.
Janette Roulston understands this on a personal and professional level, thanks to 40 years of experience as a registered nurse in the home health and hospice care industries. For the last 13 years, she has owned and managed Hospice in His Care, based in Baton Rouge. The company has a staff that includes nurses, aides, social workers, volunteers and chaplains who provide services for patients in their homes, in nursing facilities and in assisted living facilities. More than a supervisor, Roulston is involved in the company’s day-to-day activities, from providing medical treatment to serving lunches to organizing special events.
Hospice in His Care accepts patients when two physicians have certified that their diagnosis indicates they have six months or less to live should their disease follow its normal course — thus the term comfort care. It’s appropriate for many conditions, including late stage heart or lung disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s among others.
A positive outlook
Even so, it’s wrong to equate hospice with hopelessness, Roulston said. Hospice care is dedicated to helping patients and families accept terminal illness in a positive way with a determination to make the quality of life the best it can be. This means ensuring that the patient is surrounded by compassion, respect, sensitivity, hope and love during their final days. That means forming relationships and making connections, Roulston said. While some patients simply want help with household chores or personal care, others long for more, such as creating new friendships and sharing stories and memories.
During hospice care, patients continue to receive medical treatment, especially for things like infections, pain or anxiety. If their symptoms or conditions cannot be managed through hospice care, they can be transferred temporarily or permanently to an inpatient hospice in Baton Rouge — Carpenter House, The Butterfly Wing or The Crossing, for example.
Emotional and spiritual support
“But basically, we are providing physical comfort while offering emotional support and honoring the family’s wishes and choices,” Roulston said. “Hospice in His Care is not affiliated with any particular denomination, but the company honors all beliefs and backgrounds. And there is definitely a spiritual component to what we provide.”
The chaplains on staff visit patients frequently, sing and pray with them, bring Holy Communion to those who request it, and counsel patients and family members. The social workers help families secure funds, enroll them in appropriate healthcare services, and connect them to “Make a Wish”-type organizations. “We become very close to our patients,” Roulston said, “and we come to understand that it is a privilege to serve them in this way and at this time in their lives.”
Hospice in His Care was recently named a 2016 Hospice Honors Elite winner. The award, given by Deyta, a division of HEALTHCARE First, recognizes hospices that provide the highest level of satisfaction for both the patient and caregiver experience as noted by the patients’ families.
Hearing God’s call
In spite of the long hours and the emotional toll, Roulston loves her work and always has. After all, what could be more important than helping people pass away peacefully and with dignity as they leave the physical life behind and enter eternal life?
“I’m in a position to see just how short life can be,” she said. “I think the most important thing any of us can do is discover our calling — figure out what God wants us to do in this life. Every morning when I wake up, I want to walk beside God, hear his voice, and know that I am doing what he wants me to do. It’s important to me to answer his calling.”
Roulston says she is blessed with a 47-year marriage and an extended family that has grown to include five grandchildren. “God is wonderful,” she said. “I look around me and see that I’ve been blessed beyond words. And best of all, I’m happy — truly happy.”
For more information, visit the website at hospiceinhiscare.com or call (225) 214-0010. Roulston can answer questions regarding finances, patient services, staff support, and how to tell when hospice care is appropriate for your loved one.
Hospice care is dedicated to helping patients and families accept terminal illness in a positive way with a determination to make the quality of life the best it can be. This means ensuring that the patient is surrounded by compassion, respect, sensitivity, hope and love.
All parents want the best for their children, and that includes a quality education. But while most of us take that right for granted, those with a special needs child have a real challenge on their hands.
Lacey and Trey Prats felt that way as they tried to advocate for their son, Oliver, who was born with spina bifida and epilepsy. “He needed a lot of physical accommodations at school,” said Lacey. “He needed medications, a seizure protocol, a special desk, an aide for bathroom issues. It’s overwhelming to be an advocate for your child when you’re not aware of certain laws and regulations.”
Most schools identify a special needs student as one who has difficulty learning or functioning in a traditional school setting. Help is available through a federal law that mandates a special learning plan be created for students with special needs. The IEP (individualized educational program) addresses a child’s unique learning issues, which might require special modifications to class work, support services, assistive technology, therapy services and other considerations.
Parents work with schools to develop an IEP, but the process can be complicated and frustrating. That’s where Jannean Dixon comes in. Through her business, Cornerstone Educational Consulting, she helps families work with schools to create an IEP and learn how to navigate the system to assure the best education possible for their child.
Dixon retired last May after 10 years as a teacher. Her career change, she says, was a calling from God. Two years ago, she was working with a special needs student who was about to move into a mainstream classroom. “I loved this student and really wanted him to succeed,” she said. “I told his mother that I didn’t want to overstep my bounds, but to please make sure he had an IEP before switching schools. She didn’t know anything about it, so I went to her home, met with the family, and created an example IEP for their son, which his new school used. Later, she called me and said God told her to tell me that this is what I should be doing with my life.”
Dixon wasn’t completely surprised. Her career had provided her with knowledge about every aspect of the IEP issue, from the people involved to the paperwork required, and she enjoyed educating parents about the process. She had also been praying about the possibility of starting her own business.
“It had been on my heart,” she said, “and when I started to mention it to others, people came out of the woodwork offering to help me. Financial advice, a graphic designer, clients … so now I’m now consulting full-time.”
Oliver Prats, now 9 and a first-grade student at St. Luke’s Episcopal Day School, is one of many students who has been helped by Dixon. “Jannean is such a breath of fresh air,” said Lacey Prats. “She held our hand through the entire (IEP) process and took a daunting task and turned it into something pleasant. What she has done for Oliver and our family is invaluable.”
First and foremost, Cornerstone provides family advocacy and education. As Dixon’s website states, the IEP meeting can be a challenging experience, and parents need to be prepared. Cornerstone helps parents identify their child’s specific needs, discuss solutions, and have a list of questions ready for the principal or school officer involved. The company also provides transition assistance for children moving to a new classroom or new school. And Dixon conducts special teacher workshops to train educators about the IEP process.
In a short time, Cornerstone has helped many families who are grateful for Dixon’s expertise. Her website includes several testimonials from parents who praise her knowledge, experience and confidence.
You can learn more by visiting cornerstoneeducationalconsulting.com, or by calling (225) 931-8560. You can also email Dixon at firstname.lastname@example.org. The website includes articles of interest to parents, including how principals impact school culture, how to choose between a public or private school, and what to do if you suspect your child has a learning disability.
Dixon will be offering a free one-hour seminar for parents who have children with IEPs. For more details or to register, please visit the website.
On the morning of Friday, August 12, Parkview Baptist School made the decision to ‘postpone’ our Faculty InService planned for that day, assuming that we would start school as usual the following week. Obviously, South Louisiana and the families affected by the Great Flood would never be the same. At Parkview, we made the decision to open up an emergency enrollment scenario for families in the Greater Baton Rouge area who had either their house or school (or both) flooded out. Although the school was closed, the admissions office was open for business! Over the course of the next five days, we enrolled 70 students from Pre-K to twelfth grade from both Ascension and Livingston parishes.
Our library became a ‘free’ uniform store, stocked completely with uniform donations from our families. After we walked our new families through the admissions process, they were able to visit the uniform ‘store,’ where parent volunteers worked to get the right sizes, and student volunteers served as ‘fashion advisors’ to our new Eagles.
While this was going on, our cafeteria became volunteer central, where we had teams of parent, student, alumni and church volunteers organized in order to go out and help families clean out their houses. Almost two months into the ‘16-‘17 school year, only eleven of those students have returned to their schools in Livingston. The remaining students (including five seniors) have chosen to finish out their school year at Parkview Baptist because of the love and acceptance they have felt since they started.
Kallie, a senior from Denham Springs, said that she was really nervous when she started because it’s a totally different setting and she wasn’t sure what people would think of her. She said that everyone has been wonderful to her and her favorite thing about Parkview is that the school is centered around God and it makes her feel better that teachers open up classes with prayer.
Mya, another senior from Denham Springs, chose to stay at Parkview because as a Christian school, she said you can actually talk about what’s going in your life. Bible is her favorite subject because she can talk about things that are important to her. And it’s not just the seniors that have settled right in to the Parkview family.
Hayden, one of our new fourth graders, likes the food, auxiliary classes and likes singing and dancing in chapel. He says that chapel at Parkview is like Vacation Bible School!
Kole, in fifth grade, says he loves Parkview because he has made new friends and feels like he is being taught better than his old school. Whatever the reason God brought each of these students to Parkview, we are thrilled to have a part in their lives!
About Courtney: Courtney Haindel is the director of Marketing and Enrollment at Parkview Baptist School. She and her husband Ben, PBS High School Principal, attend Istrouma Baptist Church and have three daughters at Parkview. Courtney loves her job because she gets to tell the story of how God has blessed Parkview to each new family that comes on campus.
Editor’s note: This interview took place before the tragic killing of three law enforcement officers and wounding of three other officers in Baton Rouge. In light of these events, Rev. Zehyoue would like to add the following thoughts: “I would like to note that my condolences and prayers are with the families of the slain officers. I pray that our commitment to reconciliation and to peace continues to inspire us to move forward. I pray that the same compassion we have for the families of the slain officers can be shared for Alton Sterling’s family. I also pray that our commitment to each other motivates us to still justice in the case of Alton Sterling, and we don’t allow this tragedy to push us to ignore our neighbors and their continued cries for justice.”
Having experienced God’s miraculous intervention in his own family, Elijah Zehyoue is confident that the Spirit of God can bring together communities – and the nation – under the divine mandate to love justice, show mercy and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). It will take prayer. It will take faith. But he’s seen God work.
Born in Liberia in 1989, the Rev. Zehyoue views his path to the United States as a series of divine interventions. His father, Anthony Sr., moved ahead of his young family to Baton Rouge to pursue a doctorate in chemistry at LSU. In the meantime, civil war broke out in Liberia, dislodging families and making travel virtually impossible. He lost contact with his wife and children for a year. His mother, a devout Catholic, caught the eye of a priest who was impressed by her devotion to prayer. The priest happened to be sent out of the country to New Orleans on furlough. Soon, he was sitting in her husband’s living room assuring him the family was safe and well.
From one side of the world to the other, the family was reunited. With the help of the church, they moved to Baton Rouge when Elijah was 2 years old. He graduated from Catholic High School and also found spiritual nourishment at University Baptist Church where his experience blossomed into a call to the ministry.
Now, after serving churches in Chicago and Washington D.C., Rev. Zehyoue works for reconciliation through the New Baptist Covenant, an organization founded by President Jimmy Carter in 2008 to work on historic racial and theological divides among Baptists.
Rev. Zehyoue returned home to Baton Rouge after the shooting of Alton Sterling in the hope of helping the family of faith see into the souls of its neighbors. He believes the church is uniquely positioned to lead communities to true reconciliation.
“We have the resources for hard conversations that say we can hang up our privilege and consider ourselves in the shoes of somebody else,” Rev. Zehyoue said. He believes it’s all about relationships. After all, there is one Body of Christ. We are family. And families love and support each other.
So, what would Jesus do? Rev. Zehyoue said Jesus calls his people to work for reconciliation in several practical ways. They include:
Ask: How are you feeling? Reflect on their reply, not our own agenda.“I think that folks need the space, the face space, where they can talk about why they’re angry; they can talk about what really affects them,” he said.
“When my wife and I were dating, she would say, ‘I don’t feel like you’re listening to me,’” he explained. “And I wasn’t really hearing because I would either glance over at my phone or think about how I would respond to her. And the times when I’m listening is when I [realize], wow, I really did hurt you.”
“We can offer responses later,” he said. But to really understand, there is importance in “first letting it linger, letting it sink in a little bit – wow, our neighbors feel this way.”
Provide a ministry of presence. “It would be really powerful if evangelical pastors were to go out on the corner of Fairfield and North Foster,” Rev. Zehyoue said. “Offering to say, ‘we’re willing to pray for you.’” He also recommends deliberately setting aside time to talk about your own work in the community with others. Through the New Baptist Covenant, the pastors of two racially different churches in Macon, Ga., discovered that they held Easter egg hunts a week apart on the same plot of land. The resulting joint Easter egg hunt led to combined youth trips, and an eye-opening conversation about the fears black parents have for their children.
Create an environment for crisis conversations. As a youth minister in Chicago, Rev. Zehyoue opened the church to teenagers stunned by the random shooting death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, a high school majorette from King College Prep School, and one of the performers at President Obama’s inauguration. Many of the youth at University Church (Disciples of Christ/United Church of Christ) were friends of the victim.
Rev. Zehyoue provided microphones, joined in their impromptu rap contest and, most importantly, made himself available to listen. He told them, “‘I’m going to be a big brother for you because I know you don’t have a lot of other spaces where you can just be kids.’ I think that was a start for us.” The effort began an enduring conversation about issues such as bullying.
Explore our motivations. Why do people want to tell the stories of those whose lives have ended violently? “Even as a pastor, it’s really hard for me,” Rev. Zehyoue said. “But I tell the stories because I believe that it doesn’t have to happen again if only we tell enough people and we, together, are moved to compassion.”
Examine where you stand in relation to your neighbors. “As neighbors we advocate for justice for our brothers and sisters, particularly those on the margins and those who are the most vulnerable right now,” he said. “The work of peace has to be the priority of the church but to get there via justice. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God,’” (Matthew 5:9). Again, relationships are key. Rev. Zehyoue advocates deep reconciliation through a national conversation between poor Black communities and law enforcement, including efforts to “evaluate the probably very legitimate fear that they feel going into certain communities.”
Recognize that reconciliation takes time: commit to the long haul. “It’s too often viewed as something that happens immediately, as opposed to taking work and effort,” he said. “I get so much inspiration and encouragement from Scripture that shows us relationships are powerful. Scripture tells us that you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. I think truth is a first step to reconciliation. I think doing something sacred with the truth is a second step. Justice can be to say that we will repent for our sins, we will apologize for our sins, we will work so that you feel I’m not sinning against you anymore,” he said. “Reconciliation is being reconnected back to God and being connected back to each other.”
“I think we’re living in a big moment,” Rev. Zehyoue said. He believes the self-examination and actions that result from these crises will have a lasting impact on the Christian church. “The church asks itself so many questions about its future, about its budgets, about its ability to speak to society, about why not as many young people want to participate, about its relationship to culture. I think all of those questions will either be answered or will become less significant to us if we respond in a big way as neighbors.”
Rev. Elijah Zehyoueserved as associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. before becoming Director of Programs and Communications for the New Baptist Covenant. Rev. Zehyoue makes it clear that these are his thoughts, not necessarily those of his church or the organization for which he works.
Priest uses social media, popular culture to bring people to God
by Lisa Tramontana
Father Joshua Johnson is not your typical Catholic priest. Still in his 20s, he has a unique gift for connecting with young people. It’s in the easy way he carries himself, the way he interacts with others, and the way he has used traditional and social media to spread his “faith on fire” message.
In today’s world, being connected means having an online presence, so google his name and you’ll find Father Joshua not just on radio and television, but on Facebook, twitter and youtube.
“You’ve got to meet people wherever they are,” he says, “and especially for young people, that means social media. You’ve got to reach beyond the four walls of the church.”
Until a year ago, Father Joshua was assigned to Christ the King Chapel on the LSU campus, and he easily blended in with the students who attended his Masses. It was there that he produced many of his “rap” videos aimed at teenagers and young adults. All are posted on youtube.com. On his Facebook page, he shares inspirational messages, and photos and information about special events, mission trips, sermons, and more. His preaching and teaching style might be unconventional, but judging by the “likes” and “views” he gets, it is certainly effective.
“Today’s culture has actually been a gift to me,” he said. “To know where I came from and bring it to my ministry. It’s a place of connection between me and the young people. It allows me to walk with them as they learn to pray and to love Jesus. I encounter people who wanted nothing to do with God and then over time, I see them transformed.”
Father Joshua is now based at St. Aloysius as Parochial Vicar, and spends a great deal of time with the church’s youngest members. From reading Bible stories to the daycare toddlers — to leading School Assembly with the elementary students — to hearing confessions at Catholic High, Father Joshua builds relationships wherever he goes.
“I think to be a good teacher, you first have to be present,” he said. “You have to be visible. You have to let people know you. If they see you and know you and have a relationship with you, then they’ll listen to what you have to say. Their hearts will be opened.”
He is strong in his faith, but admits the path to the priesthood wasn’t smooth. It started on a mission trip in 2004 when he was just 16 years old. He remembers the day, the hour, the moment he fell in love with Christ … as if it were yesterday.
“I was on my knees at Adoration, praying in the presence of the Eucharist. Until then, the Eucharist had always just been a symbol to me,” he said. “but as I knelt there, I perceived that Jesus Christ was in front of me. He became real to me. All my life, I had been searching to fill this ache in my heart — with sports, with friends, with dating, with sin. And nothing worked. And now, here was Jesus Christ in front of me. Then I heard the words, ‘I love you.’ No mention of my sin or my faults or that I needed to repent. Just unconditional love. And it pierced my heart.”
The experience brought him closer to God, and he felt a calling to the priesthood — but he resisted the idea. Over time, Father Joshua says, he became more willing to do what God asked of him. “I began to desire for myself what I knew God desired for me.”
After a year at Southern University, he dropped out and enrolled in the seminary. He hasn’t looked back since. If there is one message he strives to share, it is to know that God is speaking to us … so listen.
In an interview on Catholic Life TV, Father Joshua noted that God has many ways of “speaking” to us. It could happen during prayer, reflection, a family event, or an everyday moment. “But it’s not always ‘words’ that come across,” he said. “It could be a feeling, a situation, or other people. Very often, He speaks to us through other people in our lives.”
Hearing … and heeding … God’s call brings happiness to Father Joshua. “What sets me on fire is when I see people be what they’re called to be. We’re all called to be saints, but every saint did not look alike. Ask yourself, ‘How is God calling me? Is it through marriage or through religious life? Or in some other way?’ Try to be who God has invited you to be.”
In a special video series, Called by Name, Bishop Robert Muench praises Father Joshua’s style of communication. “Father Joshua’s faith journey now inspires many young people to become active Catholics,” he said. “His unique approach to evangelization and his uplifting example are leading young people to a better life centered in Christ and grounded in the Church.”
“Science has moved forward at a rapid pace, so that we now possess the data to reliably define dyslexia … For the student, the knowledge that he is dyslexic is empowering … [It provides him] with self-understanding and self-awareness of what he has and what he needs to do in order to succeed.” – Sally Shaywitz, M.D. co-director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity – Testimony before the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, the United States House of Representatives.
Whoopie Goldberg, Jay Leno, Charles Schwab, Steven Spielberg, Mohammed Ali, Magic Johnson, Steve Jobs, Alexander Graham Bell, Agatha Christie, William Butler Yeats, and so many more. Names we hear every day, accomplishments that have spanned the test of time, all with one thing in common – dyslexia. People who have been diagnosed with dyslexia may have extra obstacles to overcome, but it does not keep them from reaching their maximum potential. Artists, community leaders, entrepreneurs, lawyers, scientists, teachers, writers, coaches, athletes, parents … dyslexia is not an end to one’s ability to live out his or her dreams.
“One in five kids suffer from dyslexia. That means one in five kids has a problem taking spoken word and matching it to the alphabet,” says Louisiana Key Academy co-founder Laura Cassidy, M.D. “It’s not seeing letters backwards; there’s all this erroneous information [about what dyslexia is]. If you think of the word ‘cat’, c-a-t, there are three distinct sounds. If you don’t have dyslexia you learn to pull [those sounds] apart very quickly, and that’s how you learn to read. Those are the building blocks. In dyslexics, that part of the brain doesn’t work very well, it’s called a ‘phonemic deficit,’ so it is a laborious journey to learn to read and most won’t learn to read on grade level unless they are diagnosed.
Dyslexia can be identified early – first or second grade – unfortunately it usually is not. Some early signs would be trouble learning and remembering the alphabet or they could have speech delays. It’s not the same for every person, but it’s trying to – whether it’s reading, writing, spelling or speaking – put spoken word to the alphabet. And when you think about it, everything you’re learning in school, the foundation, is language. So they are often told they are lazy or they are dumb. But their higher reasoning and critical thinking is all fine, it’s just this one pathway [that causes them to struggle].”
Cassidy was raised in Mobile, Ala. The University of Alabama and University of Alabama Medical School graduate completed her general surgery residency at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles and after traveling with her husband, Senator Bill Cassidy, with World Medical Missions, settled in Baton Rouge to serve as Chief of Surgery at Earl K. Long Medical Center.
From 1992-2006, she worked in private practice, specializing in the treatment of breast cancer, and was the first surgeon in the area to practice sentinel lymph node biopsies. She has also worked to expand access and early detection and treatment of breast cancer for uninsured and poorly insured women (as found on the Bill Cassidy for Senate webpage). Her passion for the medical community expanded after her retirement in 2006, and in August of 2013 the Louisiana Key Academy (LKA) was opened.
Although there are several private organizations that focus on learning disabilities and dyslexia in Baton Rouge, LKA is the only public, tuition-free charter school for children with dyslexia. Cassidy’s own daughter has dyslexia and attends a private school in Virginia, outside of DC, but, as Cassidy herself states, not everyone has those opportunities.
“My concern is when someone doesn’t have the resources. Say you are born in poverty, or realistically, even the middle class. What if they aren’t at a school where someone tells them about a concern with dyslexia, or even if they do, what if they don’t have the $1,400 for the [diagnostic] test? Half of the prison population is dyslexic. If you’re 13 and read on a second or third grade level, and in the classroom you’ve always been told you’re dumb, then on the streets you’re told you can [make money] selling drugs… That’s why we’re here. We want everyone to reach their full potential,” Cassidy explains,
But is there really a need devoted to one specific problem? “Some people are against schools like ours, and believe everyone should be in the same classroom. But I believe that’s the parents’ decision,” she says. “Some people will want to [mainstream], but it is very difficult if you have moderate to severe dyslexia and you are not identified, or you are in a classroom of 30. I don’t believe you’ll ever read on grade level [that way]. If you’re very bright you may be able to make B’s, but you have the potential to make A’s. We want everybody to reach their full potential, and beyond that to advocate for themselves because this won’t ever go away for them.”
“The biggest problem is we aren’t getting these kids until third grade, and huge damage has already been done. Self-esteem is huge — you want them to know how valuable they are,” something Cassidy says is nearly impossible when there is no understanding for either the child, or the parents and educators as to why the student isn’t performing well. A child with dyslexia simply cannot perform with the typical classroom strategies, which is exactly why LKA was created. “Every child is different. We have to get them what they need in small groups or one-on-one [settings] and continually build their self-esteem.”
There is an ideal 6:1 student teacher ratio, but since charter schools do not receive facility funding and a lot of resources and energy is devoted to fund-raising, LKA’s ratio falls more around 9:1. “We teach to mastery using multi-sensory techniques. Small class size is huge. That’s the only way you can identify where they are struggling. We start at the basics at c-a-t and build up to things like -sh- and -ch-. Think about the English language, as an amalgamation of Greek, Latin and Anglo-Saxon, it’s hard,” Cassidy says.
Although there has been an increase in the recognition of special needs and dyslexia, Cassidy says that has often had a negative impact for dyslexia because it gets hidden among other disorders and teaching methods. The only solution Cassidy sees is more options available for students. “There are no options for [many of these] children to reach their full potential. I have parents from all over the state who have their kids in the best school in the parish, but their child is 15 and still reading on a fourth-grade level,” she explains.
Kayla Reggio, assistant principal of academics and director of professional development says, “More important than our core curriculum is building a deep understanding for everyone on campus of what dyslexia is and what are the evidence based practices to use so the students can learn best.”
Heather Bourgeois, vice principal and director of math and content literacy subjects adds, “Do we have a curriculum? Yes. But what’s most important is how it is presented to each individual child, and to make sure they are engaging in the content. We make sure our language is consistent in everything that we do.”
Cassidy gives an example of how this is different from the traditional school setting saying, “Regular schools have reading, but then the students go to social studies or science and it’s basically a different language (especially in science), we don’t do that.”
So what are evidence based practices? Reggio explains, “When we talk about evidence-based practices we mean something that is systematic and cumulative that evidence shows, and has been repeated over several different areas with several different people, that this is going to work.” Cassidy describes several different approaches encouraged with dyslexia including special glasses, colored paper, larger fonts, etc. “Maybe it worked for a kid here and a kid there, and that’s great, you have the right to do that, but to say ‘this works’ is a falsehood.” Reggio adds, “It’s not a quick fix. Dyslexia is for life.”
One area particularly trying for both students and parents is the constant therapy and intervention. Many children are on waiting lists for years, and many parents spend their time and resources fighting for services — something the staff at LKA deems unnecessary and even harmful when a student’s needs are being completely met by a team who has been trained specifically in evidence based practices and dyslexia.
Bourgeois explains this is something she consistently deals with during the admissions process, “We have to deepen the understanding of what the core deficit is for that child. Doing [all of these separate therapies] without the basic concept in mind means your child is not going to make the progress they are capable of.”
Reggio continues, “I go back to the sea of strengths model the Shaywitzes use and look at all the things this child can do and what they’re capable of and what is grounded in the science that works.”
Cassidy adds her personal experience saying, “I was once that mom being sold all these things, told to go here and go there, and that wears out the child and the parent.”
“People are so used to all these vendors selling them expensive, shiny guarantees, but we are the opposite,” Cassidy explains. “We are tuition free, but we’re grounded in science and the truth. It’s just going to take time to get the word out. We are about more than just our school, because we can’t take every child. We want something for everyone.”
All data collected from the students is sent to the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity where it is analyzed and sent back as part of a longitudinal study to see if students make statistically significant gains over time. In fact, the model is being touted as one that should be used across the country.
Bourgeois closed by saying, “One of the joys of this is working with our parents to help them understand this therapy and what remediation looks like. Inviting them into the classroom is truly a game changer. They can see it happening. Every child has a team of people surrounding them making sure they have everything they need to be as successful as they can.”
Years ago, the Rev. John Edd Harper was working as a youth minister in a small town in Texas when he came up with the idea for a sex education class. The 8th grade girls and boys he taught seemed a little too worldly, and he believed it was only a matter of time before his students might be dealing with teen pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases.
Yes, sex ed is taught in public schools, but it is often limited to the biology of human reproduction. The moral element is missing, and this can create confusion and conflict.
With the help of a local physician, Harper designed a sex education seminar that combines the physical and spiritual aspects of sexual intimacy in a format appropriate for young people. Eventually, he developed two versions of the seminar, one for junior high and another for senior high. His message was simple: Sexuality is a beautiful, valuable and powerful gift from God that is meant to be saved for marriage.
His first concern was whether parents would be supportive … after all, many parents dread “the talk.” While they might feel relieved that someone else is willing to start that discussion with their children, they also are naturally curious to know about the topics that will be covered. In today’s world, children are bombarded with sexual images and themes from television, social media and the Internet. Just how much information is appropriate?
“I always have a meeting with the parents and explain the material I’ll be teaching, the language that will be used, and the lessons we’re trying to get across,” Harper said. “In all the years I’ve been doing this, only one parent has ever pulled their child out. Most of them realize that this is a very important and necessary educational opportunity. The kids are going to learn about sex one way or another. Isn’t it better that they learn it in a Christian setting rather than on the street?”
To that end, his students learn about physical anatomy, the reproductive system, their changing bodies, contraception and pregnancy. The next layer of learning focuses on beliefs about sexuality, making smart choices, and being in healthy relationships. Through discussion, Bible study and prayer, the students share their feelings about morality, mutual respect, peer pressure, and the consequences of their actions.
Some students who attend the seminar have already had sex and feel like they’ve made a terrible mistake and it’s too late for redemption. Harper never judges his students, but instead, encourages them by introducing the idea of “secondary virginity” — basically a promise to abstain from sex from this point on until marriage.
“It’s never too late,” he tells them. “God forgives you. You can decide right now that you believe sex is a gift from God and you are going to save yourself for marriage and the right person to share that wonderful gift.”
At one point in the junior high seminar, Harper invites the class to share every slang term they can think of for sex and for certain parts of the male and female anatomy. Understandably, it prompts plenty of laughter and snickering. Then he takes a rose and shows it to the class, saying, “What if I chose not to call this a rose anymore, and instead gave it a new name … a disgusting or ugly word?”
His point is that young people are profaning something beautiful when they refer to sex in crude and vulgar terms. “It always has an effect on them,” Harper said. “They get it.”
Most important, though, is that the students come away with a new respect for themselves and a deeper understanding of God’s plan as it relates to human sexuality, love, marriage and family.
Harper is a coordinator of the Board of Ordained Ministry, Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. His secondary appointment is as a pastor at Hope Community United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge. Harper has been leading human sexuality and morality seminars since 1985. He has served as a youth minister in Texas and Louisiana for more than 20 years. He can be reached at Johneddharper@LA-UMC.org.
Just a year ago, Stacie Triche of Hammond was promoting her first book, a young adult novel with an anti-bullying theme. Then her 14-year-old nephew died, and her world changed. Stacie’s literary work continues, but now, she has added activism to her resume, promoting awareness of the deadly practice that took her nephew’s life.
Charlie Stroud was a fun-loving boy, a good student and an accomplished athlete in Hancock, Miss. One day at school, a classmate took a can of keyboard air duster from a teacher’s desk and inhaled it. Called “huffing,” it’s a cheap thrill that has become fairly common among teenagers and young adults. The classmate told Charlie it was no more dangerous than sucking helium from a balloon.
A few weeks later, Charlie decided to try it at home while he was playing video games with his best friend. He huffed from an aerosol can of Dust Off (a keyboard cleaner), and then stood up and said he felt sick. His friend offered to go and get help, but Charlie said he just needed to lie down. Ten minutes later, his friend checked on him, but Charlie was unresponsive. He asphyxiated and then suffered a heart attack, also known as “Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome.”
Huffing is the deliberate inhalation of fumes, vapors, or gases from common household products such as canned air, air fresheners, even whipped cream (with nozzles powered by a dose of nitrous oxide). According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it’s a dangerous practice that can become highly addictive, and sometimes kills first-time users.
Stacie, of course, was devastated. Charlie, whose mother had died when he was very young, was like a son to Stacie. The main characters in her book, “Concealed Names,” were named after Charlie and his sister. Charlie loved “Concealed Names” and had told Stacie he believed it should be made into a movie. He said he couldn’t wait for her to release the second book in the four-part series.
After Charlie’s death, Stacie had a new mission. “I learned as much as I could about huffing,” she said. “I learned that 22.5 million Americans are abusing household products to get high, and 15 million of them are under the age of 18. Thousands of children die each year from inhalant abuse. I started going to schools and educating kids. I went on CNN and other news shows sharing my nephew’s story … anything to let people know about this dangerous practice.”
She revised her book as well, introducing a new character and a new storyline about huffing. Recalling Charlie’s idea that the book would make a good movie, Stacie pursued that dream as well. In a stroke of unbelievable good luck, she attracted the attention and interest of Lisa Arnold and Jarred Coates, who produced the recently released Christian film “God’s Not Dead.” They are seeking funding and once the financing is secured, there are plans to shoot the film in Hammond and Baton Rouge.
The film will have a strong anti-bullying message, and will promote awareness of inhalant abuse and Asperger’s Syndrome. Statistics show that more than 50 percent of children would never try an inhalant if they were warned of the dangers. “That means more than 7 million kids’ lives could be saved with the release of this movie,” Stacie said.
Her inspiration for “Concealed Names” came from a childhood visit to Cate Square Park in Hammond, a time capsule memory, and her own experiences of being bullied in elementary school. “At 12 years old, I transferred from a Christian school to a public school, and the kids made fun of me because I talked about Jesus and folded my hands to say grace at lunchtime,” Stacie said. “I have a memory of sitting down at a table in the cafeteria where there was a large group of students. After I sat down, one by one, they all got up and walked away.”
Hurtful yes, but Stacie has found a way to create something positive from those painful memories. She has already seen the fruits of her labor with her anti-bullying message, along with her anti-huffing education efforts. Several parents have contacted her to tell her she saved their child’s life. She is taking both messages now into schools, camps, churches, shelters and seminars. “There is no greater pain than a family having to bury their child, and I will do everything in my power to prevent this from happening to another family,” she said.
If you are interested in investing in the movie, you can contact Stacie via email at: ConcealedSeries@gmail.com.
“Go ye into the world and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, even to the end of the ages.” —Matthew 28: 19-20
On Wednesday mornings at the crack of dawn, teenagers from St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church are hitting their alarms, getting dressed and making their way to the Jones Creek McDonald’s for a weekly 6 a.m. Bible study. Yes, a weekly Bible study … at McDonald’s … at 6 a.m.
It’s certainly not traditional, but it’s effective and this particular group of high school students wouldn’t miss it for the world. The Bible study is led by St. Andrew’s the Rev. Darryl Tate, who used the same model when he was pastor at a church in Rayville, La.
“A young girl asked me one day, ‘Pastor Tate, if I bring some of my friends to meet you at McDonald’s one morning, will you feed us … not just breakfast, but spiritual food as well?’ That’s how it started,” said Tate. “There were five youths at that first meeting, and by the time I left Rayville, the group had grown to about 70. The ladies behind the counter would greet their customers, saying ‘Welcome to the Church of the Golden Arches.’”
As soon as Tate arrived at St. Andrew’s last summer, he worked with Youth Director Veronica Dudley to continue the McDonald’s tradition. The group is growing fast here in Baton Rouge, and includes students from at least five high schools, including Parkview Baptist High School, Catholic High, Runnels and St. Joseph Academy. Kids begin arriving as early as 6 a.m. and can order whatever they want for breakfast (St Andrew’s covers the cost). As they drink their coffee and unwrap their sausage biscuits, they prepare to hear Tate’s message.
Smiling and soft-spoken, Tate begins with Scripture and a discussion of biblical lessons and how they can be applied to real life. Next is devotional prayer, in which the teenagers share their concerns and special intentions. “Some ask to do well on a test,” Tate said. “Others pray for their parents’ health. One young man recently asked us to pray for a friend who had died of a drug overdose.”
Many of the young people at St. Andrew’s attend different high schools across the city, so the Wednesday morning meetings allow them to reconnect during the week. “I like seeing my friends from church,” said Chapman Cooper, a senior at St. Joseph Academy. “We can share what’s going on in our lives and hear Scripture together. The messages we hear are positive and help us deal with the day ahead.”
Heath Moser, 16, agrees. The Runnels student said he finds the McDonald’s meetings encouraging and refreshing. “It centers you,” he said. “It helps you focus your mind on Christ and how you can be a better person and an example to others.”
Tate has a strong connection with his young audience. He gets emotional when asked why ministering to youth is so important to him. “I’m filling a void,” he said. “Young people are falling away from church. Only 25 percent of them go to church anymore. If we don’t gather them and nurture them, some other entity will grab them and set them on the wrong path. We have to be flexible. Because of the life our young people are living today, there have to be different entrance points for getting them connected to the life of the church.”
The Wednesday morning gatherings draw parents as well, many of whom take seats at nearby tables while they wait to take their children to school. Beyond those tables, customers drift in and out, listening to Tate’s message.
Tate has similar Bible studies with at least four other groups, held at several CC’s Coffee House locations in the city. Clearly, he is willing to go the extra mile to build relationships, minister to others and share the Gospel. In essence, although he leads a church of about 1,200 people, he is also willing to take church directly to the community.
Evangelism has been in his blood since he was 12 years old and accepted Christ, he says. He knew that he would one day be a pastor. At 15, he was teaching Sunday school. At 17, he was already a minister and was sent to St. Martinville to help restore a church that had only three members left. Originally from New Iberia, Tate went to LSU and studied business administration, then theology at Fairfax University. Later, he attended Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology and earned his master’s of divinity. Over the years, he has led churches in Donaldsonville, Lafayette, New Orleans, Plaquemine and St. Martinville.
Aside from youth ministry, Tate is also deeply committed to disaster relief. For eight years, he served as president and CEO of the Louisiana Disaster Response team for United Methodist Council on Relief, which eventually helped rebuild 125,000 households destroyed by hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav. Those years revealed some very important truths, he said.
“In times of disaster, all the walls melt away,” he said. “No matter what denomination you are, it doesn’t matter. When we truly need each other, we all become the body of Christ.”
For now, Tate is focused on St. Andrew’s, which has proved to be a good fit for his personality, skills and leadership style. “My heart has always been to be a pastor,” he said. “To help the least, the last and the lost. I believe that you have to work at building relationships, that you have to bring the light of Christ to people by setting a good example, and that if you give people spirituality and hope, you can make a real difference in their lives.”
Kristen Maddox is quick to give God credit for taking her life from darkness to light. As the founder of A Door of Hope Ministries, Maddox has committed her life to helping women suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, sexual abuse, self-harm behaviors, post-abortion trauma, domestic violence and numerous other struggles. She is in a unique position to understand and to offer guidance.
At 16, Maddox found herself pregnant and had an abortion — a choice that led her down a 12-year path of desperation, addiction and incarceration. It was the Word of God that changed her life, she says.
“Jesus literally rescued me from a prison far worse than any jail I have ever been in. God’s love, His Word, and the power of the Holy Spirit healed every hurt and gave me the freedom I had been crying out for.”
Maddox was especially touched by a story in Hosea 2:15, which referred to a “door of hope” which transformed despair to victory. Trying to discover her own purpose in life, she had begun to envision a home for girls in trouble — a place where they could receive spiritual counseling from other women who had overcome their own struggles, a place to feel safe and loved and valued. She took a first step toward realizing that dream when she founded A Door of Hope Ministries four years ago. A Door of Hope offers counseling, classes, workshops, camps, retreats and other special programs with the goal of healing and restoring young women in crisis so they can go on to lead positive and rewarding Christian lives. “Our mission is to break the cycle of destructive behaviors and see them fully restored and transformed by Christ,” Maddox said.
Three years ago, Maddox met Shona Butler, and the two became fast friends. “We felt a closeness immediately,” said Butler, who had endured traumas of her own, including sexual abuse as a child. “The first day we met, we shared our stories, we cried together, and we knew we would be used for some greater purpose.”
That purpose turned out to be a platform that allows them to “speak life and spark hope.” The two are co-hosts of “Keeping It Real,” a television show that airs on the local FOX channel every Friday at 7:30 a.m. Guests always have inspiring stories to share, Butler said, and the show connects viewers with community resources and a live prayer line that can be accessed during the show.
“We talk with everyday people and let them tell their stories of how God brought them through a dark time in their lives,” Butler said. “We ask them, ‘When was the moment you met Jesus? How did he heal you?’ Our viewers may not be going through the same things that our guests are talking about, but they probably know someone who has had a similar experience. And our message, of course, is that there is always hope.”
Glory Riggins of Walker would agree. She sought help from A Door of Hope because of alcohol issues and problems with self-esteem. “They taught me how to have a relationship with Christ,” she said. “And they did it in an encouraging and empowering way. I found true freedom from the negative feelings I had, and I learned that I am a worthy and beautiful person. It truly changed my life.” Riggins is now in training to become a lay counselor so she can help others.
Chelsea Szymanski of St. Amant is also on the path to becoming a counselor. She says A Door of Hope helped her overcome a rough childhood marked by neglect and parental drug abuse. “Like so many other women, I was hiding behind a mask and was afraid to seek help,” she said. “A Door of Hope showed me that we are not alone and we don’t have to stay in the same place of hopelessness and shame. When you take off the mask, you can see clearly what God’s purpose is for you.”
One of the ministry’s most successful programs is Camp Hope, a free 4-day camp for young women (age 13 and over) in crisis. Last year, 20 girls attended and explored the theme Dream Big. They attended seminars on self-esteem, finding a purpose in life and helping others. The girls were treated to massages, manicures and gift certificates. “From the feedback we got, it was clear that the experience was very meaningful and helpful to the girls,” Butler said. “Three of the girls had a history of attempted suicide but came away from the camp filled with encouragement.”
Maddox is also very proud of the organization’s prison ministry, in which volunteers make monthly visits to female prisoners at the Livingston Parish Jail. “We have seen God do some amazing things,” Maddox said. “The girls are so hungry for the presence of God. They learn that even though they may have walked away from their relationship with Jesus and feel as though they have failed, they are not a failure. Jesus is waiting to restore them. Many rededicate their lives to the Lord, and it is an honor to speak life into them.”
Sexual abuse is a painful topic, but one that comes up surprisingly often among clients. Rise Up and SOAR is a special program that helps women unlock the chains that have bound them to their painful pasts. The eight-week course is conducted in conjunction with Nicole Bromley’s book “HUSH: Moving From Silence to Healing After Childhood Sexual Abuse.”
Other programs include Hope Closet – gently used clothing, shoes and accessories that are free to clients; One-on-one counseling – advice from lay counselors for managing self-destructive behaviors; Girl Talk – a group of girls meet to discuss, relate and inspire each other; and Overcome Retreat – an overnight retreat held each October in Ponchatoula for those age 18 and older.
An upcoming project very close to Maddox’s heart is a scholarship established in memory of her son, who died in 2014 at the age of 29 — the Ricky Maddox Jr. Never Lose Hope Scholarship.
A Door of Hope is always looking for sponsors, mentors and volunteers. Local businesses are especially needed to donate supplies for camps and retreats. If you can help, visit the website at adoorofhopela.com. A Door of Hope is located at Dixon Medical Center, Suite 5, 8369 Florida Blvd. in Denham Springs. Call (225) 665-HOPE (4673) for details.
Young people are faced with big decisions regarding their careers, their relationships, and their education. But perhaps the most important decision is the one that often gets pushed to the background.
What do I believe? What is my purpose? What is God’s plan for me?
These are the questions that LSU Cru staff members try to help young people answer — through prayer, reflection and reading God’s Word. Cru offers spiritual guidance, resources and programs tailored for people from all cultures and walks of life. Its ministries include athletic outreaches, church partnerships, family and marriage outreaches, and programs that address poverty and other social issues. Cru is also responsible for 6.5 billion exposures to the Gospel through “The Jesus Film,” which has been translated in more than 1,300 languages and shown all over the world.
Cru officially started as Campus Crusade for Christ, founded in 1951 by Bill and Vonette Bright on the campus of UCLA. It quickly became an international organization training thousands of young people in evangelism and discipleship. Today, the organization is comprised of 29 different ministries and projects in 173 nations around the world.
At the college level, Cru creates partnerships between U.S. campuses and those in other parts of the world. LSU’s “sister” college is the University of Bologna in Bologna, Italy, and an LSU group makes the trip there each summer for four to six weeks. A Cru staff team of eight is based there year-round. “Our purpose is to help others build a relationship with Christ, engage with their Creator, hear God’s Word and grow spiritually,” said Ali Enos, a senior staff member who has worked with LSU Cru for 16 years.
In Bologna, young people are very open to the idea of hearing God’s Word, Enos said, and there are many opportunities for Cru members to connect with them. A daily lunch on campus creates a friendly atmosphere for the Italian students to talk about their culture and show off their city to their American visitors. But more important, Enos said, is that young Italians are very relational, eager to debate, discuss and share their opinions in a tolerant, respectful way.
“We have a movie night once a week,” Enos said, “and the film we choose always has some redemptive theme, giving us an opportunity to discuss the spiritual aspects of our lives and invite the Italian students to learn more. There is also a daily ‘aperitivo’ in the evenings when people enjoy appetizers. It’s another chance for us to make new friends and introduce them to our thoughts on having a personal relationship with Christ.”
Enos finds her work gratifying because she knows firsthand what it is like to be young and in search of a purpose in life. “I was the typical college student who liked to go out and party,” she said. “But I was looking for meaning in all the wrong places. I would come home, stare at the ceiling and ask myself, ‘Is this all there is?’”
Eventually, a friend introduced her to the Gospel and Enos became a Christian. “I fell in love with Jesus and what He did for me,” she said. “My life changed. My friend taught me the difference between religion and having a true relationship with Christ.”
Until then, she said, she had looked to other people for her identity. She cared too much about what others thought of her. “When I became a Christian, I found my identity through Christ. Other people’s opinions of me didn’t dominate my thinking and it was very freeing.”
Enos is proud of the relationships she has formed and the students she has influenced over the years. “You don’t need a degree in theology to bring people to Christ,” she said. “And you don’t have to go to Africa to be a missionary. You can do God’s work wherever you are. I am grateful that God has used me the way he has. Over the years I’ve had students (and their parents, too) come up and thank me for sharing God’s Word. I don’t have children of my own, but I have ‘spiritual’ children, which makes me really happy.”
Cru has been life-changing for many others as well. Vicky Benton says that during her college years at LSU, the Word of God came alive because of the training and opportunities provided by Cru.
“I was blown away with the joy I experienced seeing God work through me to impact the lives of others,” she said. “I experienced the power of the Scriptures as I heard many outstanding speakers teach in a way that I’d not heard up to that point. I was able to rub shoulders with and be mentored by some of the most exceptional people I have ever known. Their impact lives inside me today.”
Benton later earned a degree in counseling — partly, she says, from the discovery that she loved investing in the lives of others. “Cru’s recruitment motto to join them full time after graduation was ‘Come help change the world!’ But really … I’m the one who was changed, and I will be forever grateful!”
For more information on Cru’s ministries, programs and activities, visit Cru.org.
“Vindicate the weak and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4
We as Americans have a profound disconnect from the realities of human trafficking. In our minds it is a movie plot, a third-world issue, a self-created lifestyle. It would be too hard for us to truly personalize such a heart-breaking reality. It’s hard to accept that it isn’t just kidnapped children or cultures overseas, that the truth is human trafficking is something our very own culture has created a demand for. Beyond that, not only have we created the demand, but we have created the supply that will feed it. The reality is we ourselves are broken people, living in a broken culture, full of other broken people, and the cycle of brokenness keeps thriving.
The biggest shock to our system is the fact that it isn’t just the evil pimps and kidnapped children forced into the lifestyle that have created this epidemic. The reason we keep ourselves so pleasantly disconnected from human trafficking is because admitting the absolute truth would place on us the personal responsibility that it is not just “society’s” problem, but it is our problem.
There may be a reason human trafficking isn’t talked about; why we accept this profound disconnect in our lives when it comes to an issue as significant as modern day slavery.
Understanding that in our everyday lives we encounter modern-day slaves without even going out of our way is just inconceivable. Yet, that discounted product you bought may have been made by modern-day slaves, that pedicure was possibly done by a woman who came to our country with the promise of a fulfilling career and has instead been tricked into manual labor for little to no wages, that woman sitting in the bar isn’t waiting on her boyfriend but is instead looking for a client so she doesn’t get beaten by her pimp. Modern-day slaves aren’t kept hidden from view, they don’t need to be. We as a society are so blinded to their reality that they are completely invisible while in plain sight.
We would like to think that our lives are protected from the atrocity of slavery, but the truth is there are more slaves today than there have been ever before. The truth is that not only our culture, but we personally, contribute to an ongoing desire and necessity for slavery. The truth is that our brokenness creates more brokenness whether we desire to or not. That decisions we pay no mind to have consequences we could have never imagined. And one aspect of modern-day slavery is too uncomfortable for us to talk about, especially in the church. Which is where we should be talking about it the most, especially since we are not yet a part of the solution and are still a part of the problem.
Luckily, some are willing to talk about it. Ending sex trafficking is the heart behind this organization. Trafficking Hope Louisiana is one of only a handful of organizations in the United States committed to the immense task of completely eradicating sex trafficking by raising awareness throughout the community, empowering churches and organizations, and treating victims rescued out of slavery at their live-in facility, Hope House. The very work that is to be done speaks to the blindness we as a culture still have when it comes to the issues revolving around human trafficking.
It is a fight that cannot be done alone. It is a fight that has no one-size-fits-all solution, a fight that requires an immense devotion of time and financial responsibility. In fact, the blindness we have had towards sex trafficking for so long has done much to hinder the ability of organizations like Trafficking Hope Louisiana to successfully do the work they are called to do.
I remember when I personally began doing work with the organization five years ago. I told God, “I don’t want to get too deep into this.” I didn’t want to hear the stories of the victims for fear of opening up personal wounds that I had suffered. Yet, immediately I began to receive messages from people that I had known for years saying, “I see you are working with human trafficking, let me tell you my story.”
These people, whom I would have never guessed had been through anything like what they described, poured out their stories. It truly is our neighbors, our friends, and our kids. George Mills, President of Trafficking Hope Louisiana, recently told a group he was speaking to, “I could take the residents of Hope House and put them in the room with you all right now, and none of you would even be able to tell who they are.” It truly is happening in our own backyards. It’s happening in all areas of our community, it’s happening in our schools, it’s happening in our churches. It’s not even a matter of “if” or “when,” it is a matter of “it has been” and “it will continue.” The time is not just “now,” the time to act has already passed us up and every second we wait is another second wasted.
Right here in Baton Rouge we are in one of the very hubs of the human trafficking epidemic. Our geographic location, high rates of poverty and childhood homelessness, as well as an overflowing foster care system only uphold the typical issues that perpetuate a culture ripe for sex trafficking, placing us at the top of the human trafficking list. Much work has been done, but there is so much work left to do, and the work will be never-ending as long as this is the culture in which we are raising our sons and daughters. It is a problem that requires work from all sides.
Every single person taken into this program requires a different method of care, which is where George’s background comes in. It is a completely individualized, continuous treatment plan that spans from their spiritual lives to addiction treatment, mental health, trauma recovery, education, and even basic social and life skills. Some don’t know how to shop for themselves, how to feed their children (40 percent of the women come to them with children), or how to eat in a restaurant. Many struggle with the basic realization of the abuse they have actually suffered.
It is truly trailblazing work and creating a successful treatment program that will be able to be proven and used with other organizations is key to continuous work throughout the United States with this epidemic. The program has been reworked once since its birth and is continually in a process of growth.
George says this about the movement, “What needs to happen is this: we have a box that we think human trafficking is in. First of all, human trafficking is just a politically correct word for ‘slavery.’ It’s much easier to say someone is being trafficked than someone is being enslaved. So, our box is a woman being forced to have sex with someone, and we call it trafficking. But sexual slavery includes chat rooms, pornography, strip clubs, anything where dollars are changing hands for sexual activity. And the truth is there is no way you can know if that person is a willing participant in that or not. Peel back [the layers] even more and the truth is [no one comes into that lifestyle without pre-existing conditions that led them there].” Breaking open that box certainly has major implications in the successful eradication of modern-day sexual slavery.
But there is only so much individuals and organizations can successfully do without the support and financial backing to continue. We need to stop stuffing the problem back down into the shadows where we are more comfortable with it, and we need to bring it out into the light, front and center. Luckily, we have an organization like none other right here, dedicated to partnering with the community to make a difference in our city and in our nation, not just for our culture today but for the culture we are leaving behind for future generations.
For more information about Trafficking Hope Louisiana and Hope House, or for information on how to become involved in the fight against modern day sex slavery visit: www.traffickinghopela.org. Also, keep an eye out for “Caged No More” in theaters January 22, and mark your calendars for the Faces of Hope Gala March 19.