LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center is putting science to work for a healthier Louisiana. Its researchers and dietitians are constantly striving to assure that the community is equipped with the latest in health information and that it is accessible and easy to use. Here are some heart healthy nutrition tips that research has shown can make a difference in our well-being.
Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
The more colorful the better, because brightly-colored foods such as bell peppers and berries are high in cancer-fighting antioxidants.
Choose red, orange, and dark-green vegetables like tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and broccoli, along with other vegetables for your meals. Veggies and fruits are naturally low in sodium.
Ensure you are getting enough lean protein, which is packed full of energy-supplying vitamin B12.
Nuts can be a great source of protein, but watch your portion size. Nuts and seeds are a concentrated source of calories. One serving of protein should be about the size and thickness of the palm of your hand.
Great sources of lean protein are eggs and beans, or chicken and fish that can be baked, grilled or broiled without adding the extra calories of frying.
Healthy fats should make up about 30 percent of your diet.
Foods like avocados, nuts, and salmon are all great examples of foods that contain healthy fats.
Cut out as much processed food as possible.
This will help lower the amount of saturated fats, which can contribute to clogged arteries.
Pay attention to condiments. Foods like soy sauce, ketchup, pickles, olives, salad dressings, and seasoning packets are high in sodium.
Saturated fat can even hide in places we wouldn’t suspect, like packaged cookies and other baked goods.
Add in whole grains, which can be high in fiber to help with digestion and lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Look for the word “whole” at the beginning of the ingredient list. whole oats, whole-wheat flour, whole-grain corn, whole-grain brown rice, wild rice, whole flaxseed, whole-grain bread and whole-grain pasta are great.
Biscuits, pies, cakes, doughnuts, muffins and white bread should be eaten in moderation.
Pennington Biomedical’s nutrition research extends from the laboratory into the kitchen. The DASH Diet, currently ranked as the #1 best diet by U.S. News & World Report got its start through research done at Pennington Biomedical. You can find the eating plan at www.pbrc.edu. Pennington Biomedical’s dietitians are also busy developing recipes for research studies that analyze the impact of different foods and meal plans. You can find a sampling of delicious original family recipes at www.pbrc.edu/kitchen, and look for more information about participating in a research study at www.pbrc.edu/healthierLA.
On a daily basis, every person is impacted by a story that has been told or heard. Since the advent of social media, there is now a platform for everyone to tell what’s going on in their life, with their family, their work, etc. As we go through our lives, stories become the way we connect with each other and share in the highs, lows and in-betweens. Whether it is in the classroom, living room or the boardroom, the power of a story is what connects us to each other in a rich, meaningful way. Often, however, we are so busy that we don’t take the time to share a story.
A few weeks ago, I was running errands and needed to make a trip to the bank. Until this time, I had not noticed that the bank was charging for each deposit transaction. With bank statement in hand, I walked up to the counter and explained my problem to Linda, the bank teller. After hearing what was happening, Linda walked me to her desk and proceeded to search for my account on her computer. Being all about business, she dove into her computer to look up my account. I noticed that she had a beautiful engagement ring on, so I asked her if she was soon to be married.
I then began to tell her of my daughter’s wedding and how they had recently celebrated their first anniversary. I shared with her how my daughter said the week of her first anniversary that, “If the first year of marriage is the hardest, then we are in for a really good life.”
At that moment, Linda, who had been busy searching for the answer to my problem, stopped what she was doing, leaned over the desk and locked eyes with me to tell me that this was the best thing she’s heard in a long time. Instantly there was a connection made between us that went beyond what I came in requesting. Meeting Linda and sharing a story with her created an instant connection between the two of us. She finished locating and correcting my account so that future charges would cease. Without me even asking, after completing the paperwork on my account, she looked at me and said, “I am also going to delete the fee that was charged to you last month.” The simple power of a story created a connection between us while gaining favor for me on my account. Next time, I would already have a trusting relationship established when I enter the bank. This is just one example of why you should incorporate stories in your work, your meetings and throughout your day.
In the past, storytelling has been understood as a way to connect effectively by great minds such as Aristotle, and later, even Dale Carnegie had a “knowing” that stories are powerful. Even the Bible is written in mostly story form. But today, scientific research has proven that there is a powerful connection that happens when we hear or tell a story.
Through placing fMRIs on the speaker and the audience, Dr. Uri Hasson, a neuroscientist and associate professor of Psychology at Princeton, has helped us to understand what happens in the brain when we tell stories. During the story, the speaker, and the listeners’ brains meld or “align” with each other and light up in the same areas; mirroring each other. Interestingly, Dr. Hasson’s research further shows that when a person hears stories, the higher order sectors such as the frontal lobe begin to align as well; the brain gets turned on in more areas than it would if the listener hears only information or facts. The story could be about yourself, someone else or even a product’s success.
A story opens up a listener’s heart to help them hear what you have to say. Being a good communicator and a confident speaker is important whether you have an audience of 1 or 500. Stories lead to richer relationships both personally and professionally. Whether it’s favor in a meeting, increased sales in your business or presenting on a stage:
Tell a story + connect with others = success!
About Terri: Teaching busy professionals, entrepreneurs, and people with a message how to be less anxious and more confident while speaking and communicating. LearnToSpeakWithConfidence.com.
Her eyes suddenly lit up with a radiant sparkle and her worrisome brows turned into an expression of amazement as she screeched, “Oh wow, it doesn’t sound like garbage!” She held up her hand-written music next to her very excited, shaking body, and looked me square in the eye with a huge smile! She had just composed and heard for the first time her original piece of music as I played it for her on the piano. What a gold medal statement she delivered! I often hear statements of satisfaction and see facial expressions transformed as I challenge my students to stretch their minds, and they go beyond what is assumed to be unthinkable or impossible. As a teacher, the reward for me is always the “ah-ha“ reaction when a light bulb moment happens. It’s what drives me to teach, to plant seeds of creativity and then cultivate them. Ah-ha moments are for all ages, and I’ve never seen a quiet one! It’s that sudden moment of realization, inspiration or instant comprehension. Then, one is pleased and delighted with oneself for trying. The mind opens and is freed, producing positive and productive problem-solving and critical thinking, all of which increase activity in the right cerebral hemisphere (the creative side of the brain). You may be one of the many in the world who thinks that they are not “creative.” But this is not true, for we all have an inner need or desire to create, and we have been made in the image of God, the great creator. Having a creative spirit is a part of being related to God! Can you think of something you do that is just like your parents or a close relative? You can’t help it; it’s knitted into the design of your very being! God gave us the desire to create for His purposes, and we are created in His image. “God is an artist and He is beautiful. He has woven His image into the fabric of our lives, which explains our drive to create things which are beyond us and which we don’t always understand.” – Michael Card Creativity is not bound by what we consider as being talented or gifted in the arts. There are gazillions of definitions for creativity, but simply put, I believe that creativity is a response generated by a need. That need is either internal satisfying an emotional desire, or external solving concrete problems. Creativity is the platform for bringing imagination and innovation into reality. In keeping creativity alive within us, whether young or old, we must banish these statements from our thoughts: “I’m not creative,” “There’s no hope,” “I’m not good enough.” All of these statements have one thing in common: they’re false! You arecreative! “Some people spend years, even decades, perfecting the art of stuffing down any and all creative impulses, convincing themselves of their lack of talent and ideas,” says Christine Kane in “7 Tried and True Ways to Stifle Creativity.” This is how they do it:
They check email first thing in the morning, letting the agendas of other people rule the day – that is a great way to kill creativity!
They worry about the results before beginning.
They try to be perfect right from the start.
They require a self guarantee — “This had better be really good!”
They wait until inspiration hits — They are probably still waiting!
Fortunately, there is a way out! Tap into your creative gene by considering these habits:
Be curious: The principles of curiosity are play, suspend judgment and to be open to all stimuli (notice every sound, smell, sight, thought, and even your response to things you touch).
Connect the unconnected: Read articles or books that you wouldn’t normally read, talk to people in different fields, try something different, step sideways (see things from a different perspective).
Cultivate your ideas: Like seedlings, they need care, protection from enemies and to be kept out of the harsh light for a while. Give it time! Creative thinking doesn’t always happen immediately. Ideas may need to develop in their own time – to simmer on the back burner for a while before they are “cooked” enough to offer to other people.
Challenge yourself: Step outside of your comfort zone and have a bit of courage! Take risks and accept failures. Finally, trust — believe and notice when God gives you ideas, and then trust that He can deliver them.
When was the last time you were deliberate about creating and got excited about it? Keep creativity alive within you, and trust God to grow your ideas into reality! Be bold in taking the first steps! Creativity is endless … God created … and He continues to create and re-create in us and through us each day. Live Creatively! About Sherry:Sherry Barron is the Founder and CEO for The Academy for Cultivating Creative Arts, LLC. As an arts advocate, Sherry directs and provides creative experiences through Talent Spectacular!, The Baton Rouge Homeschool Choirs and private music lessons. She teaches music in West Feliciana Parish and is also Co-Founder of Restore Ministries, Inc. Originating and teaching multi-faceted visual and performing arts that lead others closer to the heart of God is Sherry’s passion! For more information about her work or ministry, visit www.cultivatingcreativearts.comor www.restore-ministries.net.
Overlooking the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains in Black Mountain, N.C., campers and counselors alike are reminded of God’s handiwork while attending the YMCA’s Christian Values Conference. For one week each summer, students and counselors are welcomed into a diverse atmosphere, while learning Christian leadership and service in faith. The conference’s mission is inspired by John 17:21, “that they may all be one.” Teens spend five days exploring their personal values, sharing in spiritual fellowship and developing new friendships, all while having non-stop fun.
Days begin and end the same way, with a devotion attended by the entire camp that is led by talented singers. Throughout the week, “families” get together numerous times to hold discussions with an adult facilitator on issues such as relationships with family, friends and God. By providing a safe, positive, Christian environment, the conference strives to exemplify sound moral beliefs and emphasizes the importance of being an example to peers.
Three-time conference attendee Taylor Davis said, “My experience on the mountain attending the Christian Values Conference was without a doubt a huge part of what made me who I am today.” Davis enjoyed the conference so much that he talked his best friend, Brandon Lott, into attending the conference with him. Lott said, “The conference is absolutely life changing; it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It has given me the opportunity to meet and become friends with so many new people from all over the country. The bonds you create there are like no other.”
Each summer, the camp chooses a theme that is inspired by a meaningful and relevant Christian song. This summer’s theme was based on the song, “Voice of Truth” by Casting Crowns. Many fun events take place throughout the week, including Monday Night Madness, where campers dress up according to a predetermined theme. During this year’s Monday night celebration students were encouraged to dress based on the theme “Down by the Sea.”
While much of the week is spent in family groups, teens also get to spend time hanging out and making new friends during social time. Campers can go hiking, swimming, do arts and crafts, or just relax and enjoy the beautiful view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Several special events are also on the schedule, including a talent show, Family Feud, and of course, an occasional dance party.
“The Christian Values Conference is one of the greatest things anyone could be a part of. It makes you and everyone else around better people, draws you closer to God, builds your personal strength so you can have more confidence in life to achieve your goals, and builds life-long friendships with people around the country!” Davis said.
At the end of the week, the conference hosts a banquet and closing program, which brings everyone together to enjoy one last meal, and also recognizes the student leaders and adults. The Fire of Friendship closes out the week as everyone gathers around a bonfire to reflect on the time they have had together.
Regarding his third year attending the CVC, Davis said, “Instead of going into the conference confused and to be helped, I woke saying every day is the greatest day of my life and I smile everywhere I go and speak to as many people as I can. I discovered I had a unique ability with my words when it came to helping people, so after my second year on the mountain I knew that the reason I wanted to go back was to help people the way that I was helped. Since then, that passion I found has grown stronger and is the inspiration for the career I hope to build.”
For those who might be considering attending the CVC in 2017, Lott said, “If one fiber of your being feels interested in coming, you need to sign up and come. You’ll never regret it.”
If you are interested in attending next year’s conference, please contact Billie Babin at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (225) 767-9622.
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.”
In the early morning, students pour into Woodlake Elementary School in Mandeville – a kaleidoscope of cultures, worldviews and life experiences. Moving to a common cadence, they begin to focus and embrace the day. Gathering the students for music in the morning is key: it creates community, wakes up the mind and fosters positive attitudes, according to Louisiana Teacher of the Year Kelly Stomps who said, “There’s something about the music.”
As Teacher of the Year, Stomps has traveled and played a role in structuring policy to promote music education, a passion that was nurtured through her early involvement in the church choir. “The music always calls you. Even as a young kid, you don’t understand all the words, but you feel the emotion of the music,” she said.
The lessons poured into her at an early age now resonate as character-building tools with a new, diverse generation, not only through the notes but through her passion for their well-being. Through their involvement with music, Stomps and her sisters learned important life lessons: the ability to see value in each person and the art of patient encouragement.
“I felt the music, and my parents encouraged me to be a part of the choir. We were always there on Sunday, so I was singing,” said Stomps, now a member of Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Mandeville. At her childhood church in Fairhope, Ala., she was given the opportunity to be the cantor – once. “I got so nervous, I was sitting there shaking. It was bad,” she laughed. “I wasn’t ready for that step, but they still kept encouraging me.”
“Actually, I was the kid you would not expect to be a music educator. I had a lot of problems with my hearing when I was younger with ear infections that affected my speech and singing. But, I was drawn to music,” she said. “I wasn’t a kid who naturally sang on pitch; it was something that had to be developed. So in church choir, they built that matching-pitch ability and singing really helped me.”
“I see myself in my students a lot and it reminds me constantly – don’t just take what is. This is where the kid is now, but if they have that passion, they can go so much further. It’s just my job to help them find that passion in themselves,” Stomps said.
As Teacher of the Year, Stomps had the opportunity to take that message to Washington, D.C. through national policymaking meetings. She advised the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and compared notes with Louisiana first lady Donna Edwards, a former music educator. She sees a renewed emphasis on music in schools under the “Every Student Succeeds Act” signed into law by President Obama in December 2015, which includes new accountability for schools regarding music programs.
“It’s opening up grant funding so we can develop these music programs; there are a lot more options,” she said. [U.S.] Secretary of Education John King has talked about the benefits of music, so I see the tide turning. It’s been exciting to be a part of that.”
“You really need music in the early ages because it involves language development as much as the music. I really, truly believe that every kid should have music in their schools, especially at the young ages, just as they have P.E.,” she said. “We have Special Ed, so I teach all of them. We think it’s something that every kid, no matter their background, can come in and feel successful doing. They need to feel successful at something.”
“I teach in the public schools, so you don’t openly talk about your faith, but it’s a part of me. It’s who I am and what I do, and I think the lessons from church definitely spill over to teaching things like forgive and forget,” Stomps said. “That’s so important as a teacher. Kids are going to make mistakes and they come in and think you’re angry. But I can say, ‘Let’s move on.’”
“As a music teacher, I teach students of every religion, and I do have students that cannot partake in certain holiday songs or patriotic songs. But no matter what I do there’s always development of respect for everybody with diverse backgrounds,” Stomps said. “I have the ultimate opportunity to be that role model and teach kids how to respect people.”
Stomps believes parents can also build confidence in kids through music. “Music was a part of my home life. And my parents say they’re not musical, but my mom would sing little ditties and things around the house. I was drawn to music.” After her positive experience with her own elementary music teacher, Cheryl Walls, in Birmingham, Ala., Stomps saw the value of music as a life tool.
“I want the kids to see how music is connected to everything. I love that, as a music teacher, I can be a bridge to the community,” she said. “I take these students out to the community to do performances for things like Relay for Life. We performed in the past for Veterans Day programs and a 9/11 program, so the kids see that they can serve through music. That’s one of my favorite things.”
Woodlake Elementary is located near the Dew Drop Jazz & Social Hall, which was originally established as a community aid organization, and is arguably the oldest jazz hall in the country. “Louis Armstrong played there. It’s really cool because on field trips the kids can sit and have the jazz musicians talk to them,” Stomps said. “I think it’s great for their community outreach.”
“I knew by the time I went to college I wanted to share music with others,” Stomps said. With three kids in college at the same time, she needed a scholarship. Her skill as a percussionist earned her a spot at LSU, her top choice. “I came to LSU for the music programs, and I stayed,” she said. Her career has included teaching violin and literature. “I love Louisiana. I love the fact that music is everywhere.”
She finds inspiration from Mother Teresa who said, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”
“Nobody gets to see that Super Bowl – throwing the touchdown in your classroom – although you feel it all the time,” Stomps said. “You’re doing all these small things. But as Teacher of the Year, I had the opportunity to do great things with great love. I was sharing my passion and what I believe all students need.”
“They’re not all going to be professional musicians. They’re not all going to join bands or choirs, but if they’re in the congregation singing along, they’re making music – showing their faith through the music.”
Many millennials tend to be islands unto themselves. Our generation is one of the world’s most capable, but we are often self-restricting. Fear of failure sometimes drives us away from opportunity, and insecurity often forces us to repress our enthusiasm.
Each of us has experiences worth sharing, and we all possess the ability to positively influence our fellow man. You do not have to be perfect or highly skilled to make an impact. All you need is confidence.
Courtney Stein is a shy girl with a keen perspective, and she is a powerful example of how pushing past uncertainty and wading into something new can make a remarkable impression on other people’s lives.
She lives in the boggy lowlands of Ascension Parish on the edge of Gonzales. She is a writer, scholar and – from August to April – a volunteer catechism teacher at St. Theresa of Avila Catholic Church.
Twenty-five-year-old Stein works full-time as a receiving manager at a Baton Rouge bookstore. She has a keen interest in young adult and children’s literature, and has translated her obsession with reading into a passionate pursuit of learning.
She graduated valedictorian from East Ascension High in 2009, got an English degree from LSU in 2013, and received her MFA in creative writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts one year ago. Studious, hardworking and determined, she is an ideal student, and after years of practice has become a first-rate teacher.
Stein’s official role at St. Theresa is teacher’s aide. “I take the kids, one and one, and help them learn their prayers and process their catechism lessons,” she said.
For anyone unfamiliar with the concept of catechism, Stein explained it as, “a nine-month, in-church class held so kids can learn more about their faith before making the official decision to become a full member of the Catholic Church.”
Catechism provides young Catholics with information about the Church’s tenets, and educates them on how specific rituals function inside and outside of mass. Each church has its own parish school of religion (PSR) where classes are taught. Because it concerns spiritual development, catechism is never taken lightly.
Nearly a decade ago, the director of the St. Theresa PSR asked Stein if she would be interested in helping. St. Theresa, like many churches, is always in need of volunteers, and the director felt Stein would be a good fit for working with the parish’s children. Nevertheless, the thought of teaching was intimidating, and Stein felt there were other people better qualified for the job.
“My immediate reaction was to say no. It scared me,” she said. Stein’s lack of self-assurance was overwhelming. She had only ever been a student, never a teacher. She thought, “Who am I to instruct kids? I don’t know enough. Honestly, who gives me the authority to be the voice of faith to these children? What if I say the wrong thing?”
She spent two days considering the consequences of accepting the position. Stein prayed about it, faced her anxieties head on and ultimately felt comfortable enough to say, “yes.” It has been six years since she first started volunteering, and it is something she has never regretted.
Teaching at the PSR requires serious sacrifices of Stein’s private life. It is a job that affords her no financial compensation, but takes up a great deal of personal time. Its only reward comes from the enjoyment of passing on wisdom to a fresh generation of Catholics.
Fortunately, that satisfaction is enough for Stein. Every August, she returns and starts working with a new group of kids. Her fear of teaching has vanished. “I now know teaching is just sharing knowledge with another person, and a big part of it is being open to other people’s experiences. We’re all capable of that,” Stein said.
Like a parent, Stein appreciates each student’s special point of view. “Every kid I teach brings a different life experience to the table. Their uniqueness causes them to process information differently and sometimes ask tough questions. I learn from them as much as they learn from me,” she said.
And that, Stein said, is why she is motivated to teach — so she can keep learning. The students force her to approach even basic material from new angles. No information can be taken for granted. “We’ve had kids come to our class who’ve asked, ‘who’s Jesus?’ or ‘what’s the Holy Spirit,’ and that’s hard to hear,” she explained. “As Christians, we occasionally forget about the people – especially children – out there who don’t know the fundamentals. Luckily, in catechism, they get the chance to learn about the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.”
All of her students – regardless of their familiarity with Christianity – are curious. When a child asks “why,” Stein always says, “Everything can and should be traced back to the Bible. If you have any questions about your faith, that’s where you need to start.” And Stein is frequently compelled to turn to the Word herself when students pose difficult questions.
Part of being an effective teacher is admitting when you do not know the answer. “You won’t always have the correct response, and you’ve got to be prepared to admit that. You also have to be ready to do everything you can to figure the right answer out. Not just for the kids, but for yourself,” Stein said.
Searching for the “right answer” is the driving force in Stein’s life. She is a member of a large Acadian family that practices centuries-old religious and cultural customs. Growing up, there was little separation between her spiritual and social upbringings.
However, the rituals and traditions in which Stein was raised come with a few limitations. Occasionally, her opinions shift from both the official doctrine of the Catholic Church and her family’s conventional worldview. But, she knows neither her faith nor her perspective is mutually exclusive. They each work together, in their own particular ways to make her a productive person.
For Stein, faith is not defined by stiff regulations. It is about embracing your imperfections and exercising the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.
Her practical approach to faith makes Stein an ideal candidate for ministering to children. She also brings a great deal of life experience to the classroom. As a teenager, she came up against some fairly steep psychological obstacles.
Ten years ago, Stein suffered a heavy emotional setback after ending a friendship. “I went through a very tough time my sophomore year of high school. I was deeply depressed. I had some really bad thoughts,” she explained.
Fortunately, she reached out to her family, friends and a therapist for support. Her healing also came, in part, through prayer. “I prayed a lot! Even when I didn’t want to – and to be honest, I mostly didn’t feel like praying – I did it anyway, and it helped,” she said.
Stein, like many of us, still has moments of doubt and self-condemnation, and she occasionally feels her closeness to the Lord “come and go.” But, she said, “It’s normal to question and feel insecure in your faith once in awhile. You just have to work through it – don’t settle – in order to strengthen your bond with God.”
No two of us are the same. Whether it is through teaching, creating or competing, each of us has something extraordinary to contribute to the greater good. Self-assurance does not always come easily. Sometimes we have to step out in faith before we can develop authentic personal strength.
Life is a bottomless and uncharted sea of opportunity. Waves of uncertainty often push us away from our potential and blur our point of view. Like Stein, we must take a deep breath, wrap ourselves in confidence and dive into the murky tide of the unknown. The ripples we create have the potential to impact someone else’s life in a big way.
Teaching is extremely important because it gives you the ability to inform, educate and instruct someone on a subject that could change his or her life for the better. I believe we are seeing the results of a lack of teaching and application of the Bible in society today, and it has had a profoundly negative impact. If people really knew Jesus on a personal level, they would not seek an escape in the form of drugs, alcohol, etc.
Jesus preached that the kingdom of God was here (on earth). For example, the man bound was delivered from the enemy and Jesus said, ‘The kingdom of God has come near you.’ This is a real place where supernatural things took place, and still do take place. God made you to have fellowship with Him, and that means nothing else will satisfy man except a personal relationship with Jesus. People would not be confused about their identity if they were taught and understood who they are in Christ.
Rachel Joyce Boster
Recently, I went through a hard time in my life. To be honest, I felt like I lost my fire for the Lord. It wasn’t easy when I would see people in church having encounters with God, yet I was continuing to serve in church despite how I felt. I scrambled within my mind trying to figure out why I was in a dry place in my walk with God. Desperate for answers, I talked to my mom who explained that the answer was quite simple.
She said to me, “The reason I haven’t lost my fire for God is because I have disciples. They stir up the fire and gifts that are within me. I have to dig deep to pour out into them. There is always someone who needs my attention and that’s what keeps my fire burning because I am constantly having to rely on the Holy Spirit.”
Suddenly, it clicked in my mind! Jesus said to go into the world and make disciples — teach! “This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you,” 2 Timothy 1:6 NLT. Disciples will stir and poke the coals of our fire. When I started teaching young teens how to worship God, it caused me to get my mind off of my own problems. My fire for God came back stronger because they fanned the flames of all the gifts inside of me. Teaching keeps us full of fresh fire for Jesus.
I think that effective teaching is just ensuring people that you don’t have to be perfect. It’s important because it can point out the various ways people learn and adapt. Not all people learn the same way, and I believe it’s important for teachers to make that clear. It’s especially important in dealing with children. You have to instill in them that it’s ok to mess up, just make sure you do better the next time.
Teaching is important because someone’s destination is being steered by the instruction you provide. First, you have to know exactly what you’re trying to teach. Teaching is im
portant because what you’re saying can ultimately change or transform the direction of someone’s life, so I suggest that you be well-versed in the subject matter, and allow God to lead you.
Every Wednesday at noon, people gather at Baker First United Methodist Church for a 15-minute worship service followed by a free community lunch. We started the worship service and lunch a few weeks after hurricane Katrina so that people could gather together and share their stories. Our intent was to do it for 6-8 weeks, but it just never stopped. As the event grew, we started adding different ministry opportunities for people to be involved in. One of those ministries is a Bible study class that starts at 1 p.m. following the lunch.
Currently, we are studying the Gospel of Matthew. There are no requirements to come to the class, no homework assigned, no outside readings necessary, attendance is not taken or mandatory and most of all, we encourage and value everyone’s opinion. Therefore, Bible commentaries (because they are someone’s written opinion) are not read aloud.
Everyone attending the study is considered to be a Bible scholar because their perspective of the Scripture matters. We know that Scripture is God’s word and that it meets us where we are. Therefore, what we have been conditioned by and experienced in life makes our perspective uniquely valuable.
For example, it is one thing to read about the poor in scripture and quite another to have Brenda at the Bible study give her opinion while currently living on the street. Let me just say that the first day she joined the group, and before she spoke, everyone gave nice benign voices to their relatively tame comments about the homeless. Brenda then said, “No one should really ever have to live this way. It is a misery beyond your comprehension. If you have never been homeless you have no understanding of what it is like. Do you think that being homeless is a choice? Do you think anybody wants to be homeless?”
It was in that moment that compassion started to pour over the conversation. It was then that moment people saw Jesus come alive in Brenda, and they now had a deeper understanding of the gospel. You see, most of the time we want to preach the gospel to others. We want to tell people about the good news. But the truth is, if we are willing to experience the word of God with the poor instead of talking about it to the poor, we will see a whole new world open up.
What about demons? Demons are in the Bible. People sometimes make fun of the language, and others don’t understand what the stories mean. How is the Bible relevant for us today? It has been through the Bible study that I have come to understand the power of addiction as being demonic – destroying lives and wrecking families. Alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex and food are just a few examples of addictions that can control and destroy one’s life.
Bob is, by his admission, a binge alcoholic. He could go for periods of time without drinking, but once he started, he couldn’t quit. He was in and out of the Bible study for a couple of years. He described his life as, “Out of control. It was like every morning I would get up and there would be this presence calling and urging me to have a drink. For a long time I had no problem beating the demon back. But slowly over time I got more and more weary and the demon seemed to be harder and harder to beat. It was like I was in a boxing match and that’s how I started every day. Finally one day the demon knocked me down. I got a DUI. I went to AA and made it six months keeping the demon back, but it finally wore me out. I couldn’t fight the demon anymore. I gave up and took the 10 count and asked God to remove this demon and show me what to do.”
Bob has been a regular attendee for several years. His journey through AA and the Bible has helped it all finally click for him.
Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name I am there among them,” Matthew 18:20.
I believe that when Bible study is done in small groups that are diverse and open, it becomes dynamic. Bible study is not about memorizing scripture or quoting propositions about Jesus. Bible study is not about us trying to change our life, it is about believing that God can change our life.
About Gene: Gene is a native of Baton Rouge and an Ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. He received a calling to ministry in 1995, after 20 years owning and operating his own businesses. Gene is currently serving Baker United Methodist and Bethel United Methodist churches. Gene can be reached via email at: email@example.com.
If you’re reading this then you’re currently riding this thrill-seeking, terrifying ride filled with joy, laughter, heartache, stress and pain, called life …
It is said that believers undergo a change when they become children of God. As new creatures in Christ, they draw near to God much in the same way mosquitoes draw near to a light. God is the light, and born again believers prefer the light of the gospel to the darkness of the world (Ephesians 5:8-14).We can also affirm our born again status by watching all of the old, sinful behaviors pass away one by one.
With that being said, have you ever been in a situation where you felt like God wasn’t answering you? You’ve prayed, you’ve cried, you’ve sown seeds into others, but nothing tangible has happened as of yet. You feel like your faith is wearing as thin as water, and you really start to examine your faith.
I like to say that you need a ‘faith recharge,’ because while you never really stop believing for your dreams, you may put them on hold. But, the Bible says that faith the size of mustard seed is all God needs to see in your heart, and He will do the rest. We’ve all been in those situations where you are experiencing trial by fire. So what do you do when this happens? Pray, cry, scream and pray some more … As believers, we must learn to stop starting and stopping our faith!
You’ve asked God for something, but because it hasn’t happened yet, you get discouraged and stop exercising your faith, and then you begin to move outside of the will of God on your own accord. When we move outside of the will of God, our steps aren’t ordained or ordered by Him, and it becomes a bigger struggle than necessary. Have you ever been there?
In our faith journey, we must learn to pray and have faith about everything no matter how big or small. So, although God may not have answered you yet, that doesn’t mean He’s not working on it. In certain areas of our lives, God has to work out the particulars behind the scenes before He can do the big reveal for us. Blessings are tailored made for believers, and it takes time and patience for the manifestation to come to fruition.
The bottom line is to never lose faith in God, because He will never move in your time, but He will always be on time according to His watch.
Here are 4 things to do whenexamining/recharging your faith:
Have a faith plan. (Pray about the situation.)
Follow the voice of Jesus. (Read and meditate on a scripture daily.)
Dance like David. ( Praise God and dance like you’ve lost your mind.)
Stand. (Patiently wait for the supernatural to happen.)
Mauree Harris and Steven Brooksher saw something special in each other when they first met … an inner glow of sorts. It turned out to be a strong faith, something they had in common, something that grew along with their relationship. Both were active in their church, St. Aloysius, and after less than a year of dating, they became engaged. Mauree and Steven are now the parents of three children and recently celebrated their seventhwedding anniversary. They talk about how faith brought them together and keeps them committed to the family they are raising, the love they share, and the life they are building.
Q: What qualities drew you to each other when you first met?
M: I was drawn to Steven the first time I was introduced to him. Aside from his beautiful smile, I was drawn to his confidence, his genuineness and faith. His faith was the most important thing to him, so I knew he was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
S: I was drawn to Mauree’s simple beauty. Her faith was very important to her, and she was also passionate about serving those in need. She was very close with the Missionaries of Charity here in Baton Rouge, and I found that really neat. She had a strong sense of her values and beliefs, and I respected that deeply.
Q: Was there a moment that confirmed you had found the right partner/soulmate?
M: After our first date, I went home and told my roommate, ‘If I don’t marry this boy, I don’t know what I’ll do.’ I just knew! He supported my faith, and I never felt ashamed to share my faith with him.
S: I spent a lot of time praying about our relationship as we got more serious. I asked God for a sign that she was or wasn’t the one for me. We traveled on a mission trip to Honduras together, and that was a big confirmation — seeing her servant heart and the love she had for God’s people. After much prayer, I woke up one morning and knew she was the one. Once I knew, there was no need to wait any longer!
Q: What is the most rewarding thing about your marriage?
M: Knowing that I’m never alone. It’s such a blessing to know that around 6 p.m., he will walk through the door and I will no longer be mothering three babies alone. It’s a blessing to be able to go out to dinner with my best friend whenever I need it, to celebrate the joys of life together, to tread through the valleys of life together. I can ALWAYS count on him to find the positive in every situation. I often take this for granted, but Steven is always there for our family.
S: The deep companionship that we share. We are very different in the way we feel and think about situations, but we always are committed to communicating through any challenges, and that helps us grow stronger. Also, I think the opportunity for two to become one is powerful. It can be very challenging to accomplish that, but it is a real blessing.
Q: What is the most challenging aspect of marriage?
M: Agreeing to disagree sometimes. We have pretty opposite personalities and ways of doing things. At times it’s a beautiful blend, but other times, it can be difficult.
S: The “dying to self” part. Everyone at some point thinks they’re entitled to take a break, enjoy themselves, do what they want to do. But to be a truly good husband and father, I know that I have to be willing to serve my wife and children, not expecting anything in return. I have to make sacrifices. I have to let go of parts of my personality, parts of myself, so the two (husband and wife) can become one.
Q: You both have careers. How do you keep your life balanced?
M: We hold each other accountable. There are times when one of us has to encourage the other to step away, put work aside, and focus on our marriage and family. It’s not easy, but we know if we put our faith and family first, we will be more fruitful in our workplaces.
S: We have to constantly keep things in perspective. If we place God first, our relationship second, our kids third, and our lives fourth, we can keep that balance.
Q: How do you keep your marriage strong/happy?
M: We take time to be together — just the two of us. We schedule date nights and trips away. These times are good for our souls and for our marriage. We are blessed with parents and good babysitters!
S: Healthy communication, sacrifice and prayer.
Q: What part does your faith play in your marriage?
M: It is our everything. Marriage and parenthood brings us to our knees at times. We are so thankful for the gift our faith. We know where to turn the minute our feet hit the floor and our heads hit our pillows. Our faith is the bond that holds our marriage and family together. It allows us to experience the joy of one another, to forgive one another when we fall short, and to offer encouragement to one another.
S: Faith is the center of our lives. Everything we strive to do comes from our relationship with Christ. We strive to make sure He is at the center of our family.
Q: As parents and Christians, what are your hopes/dreams for your children?
M: I pray that their faith directs their paths, and that they live a fruitful and prudent life. I pray that they are able to experience the joys of life daily, that they are always optimistic and positive leaders among others — that their lights will always shine. I hope they are blessed with dear friends and amazing opportunities throughout their precious lives.
S: I hope they will grow up knowing how wonderful and special they are. That they will come to know Christ in a personal way, and that our love and care for them will help them to feel that.
Q: What advice do you have for couples who may be struggling?
M: Make your faith your first priority. Listen to what the Lord says in prayer, not what the world says.
S: I would say, “Be willing to fight for your family and your marriage.” Place it in God’s hands and remember what Scripture says. The church is the bride of Christ and look what Christ was willing to do. He was willing to die. Couples who are struggling should be willing to fight for the gift of marriage.
Spring and summer are busy times for Alex Byo. Just about every week, he is greeting a new group of high school and college students from across the country. They are here to participate in Revive225, a ministry that transforms hearts as well as homes.
The home repair ministry, sponsored by First United Methodist Church, got its start when a pastor asked the congregation … how can we be better neighbors?
It was clear that the church could be more engaged … after all, it draws mostly white members from the city’s suburbs to a predominantly African-American community downtown. After some soul searching and a few steering committee discussions, FUMC realized that it could do God’s work by helping to improve the properties of homeowners within a three-mile radius of the church.
Byo, who had grown up at FUMC, was a recent graduate of Tulane University, and after two years playing major league baseball, had been released by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was at a crossroads in his life. Leaders in the church approached him about getting the new ministry off the ground, and Revive225 was born.
An anonymous donor made a $1 million gift to help launch the program. A year later, Byo was working full-time as director and building relationships with homeowners in Spanish Town, Mid City, the Garden District and other nearby neighborhoods. For about 10 weeks each year, his young crews are building ramps, painting walls, doing landscaping, and repairing roofs, windows and doors for residents who wouldn’t be able to afford such improvements on their own.
The physical labor is one aspect of the ministry. Connecting with their community, however, is the heart and soul of it.
“The spiritual benefits are incredible,” Byo says. “We’re spreading the love of Jesus in these communities. The people we help are so grateful and the young people who do the work are growing in their faith.”
Molly Ann Walke, associate director, agrees. “This has been one of the best experiences of my life,” she said. “Building relationships with our homeowners fills my heart with immense joy —hearing their stories, spending time with their families and sharing meals together are experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
Revive225 targets youth groups affiliated with universities and churches in other states. New groups arrive on Sundays and undergo orientation followed by dinner and evening worship. The group also visits the job site where they will be working. Monday mornings mark the beginning of the work week. Students normally have breakfast about 7 a.m. and arrive at the work site by 8 a.m. Work ends about 4 p.m.
In the evenings, the group enjoys dinner together and fun events focused on Louisiana culture — crawfish boils, visits to the old and new State Capitols, the LSU campus, Tunica Hills, Bluebonnet Swamp, and other field trips. If time allows, some groups take a day off during the week and plan a trip to New Orleans.
It’s an unforgettable experience for the young people who volunteer their time and talents.
“Before I participated in Revive225, my faith was failing,” said Brandy Cooper, a sophomore at Tennessee Tech University. “It restored my faith in Christ by allowing me to love on a community in ways I never imagined I could. I am so grateful for the lasting friendships I made through Revive225.”
High school senior Chris Lewis agrees with Cooper. A member of FUMC in Gainesville, Georgia, Lewis has visited Baton Rouge twice to participate in the program. “Revive225 totally rocked my faith,” he said. “My group helped move a lady back into her house after two years and it was a wonderful experience. It showed me what I wanted to do with my life. The staff opened my life up to mission work and mentored me to be prepared to serve others in the future.”
As a Revive225 leader, Walke is encouraged to see the spirit of service fill the hearts of the young volunteers. It strengthens her own faith, she says.
“God’s faithfulness is revealed to me daily through the love that seeps from our out-of-town volunteers, our church members and members of the Baton Rouge community who give their time and energy to help this ministry exist,” she said. “Revive225 is a life-changing experience for everyone involved, and I am so thankful to have been part of it since the start.”
For details about Revive225 and other ministries at First United Methodist Church, call (225) 800-5855, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rhonda Altazin’s job is rewarding, but far from easy.
Her life is dedicated to helping anyone in need, but she focuses on homeless women and children. Every single day, she says, she must turn away at least one person who seeks her help. The need for resources is great and the list is long with the names of women who are down on their luck and trying desperately to change the direction of their lives.
Altazin is the founder of Travail 6:33, a homeless outreach ministry that offers peace, rest, safety and unconditional love for those who have been wounded or abused. After years of providing services to the homeless, Travail was able to rent its own facility, a “home” more than a shelter, in 2014. A second smaller home was opened about 4 months ago.
“The women who come to us are broken,” she said. “Many of them come from abusive or violent relationships. They have addictions to drugs or alcohol, eating disorders, criminal pasts … some have been victims of sex trafficking. They have emotional issues to deal with and they need to heal.”
Many of these women have been living on the streets, in vacant buildings, or even in their cars. Some have young children, and others are practically children themselves, like the 17-year-old girl who was kicked out of her house by an abusive father just a few weeks ago. A clean bed, a hot meal and a feeling of safety is a godsend for many of them.
Some women are in transition and just need a place to stay for a few days. Travail can help them get back on their feet with short-term aid. Those who need a little more help can take advantage of job training workshops, parenting classes, and finance management. Ongoing counseling and mentoring is available as well, and is based on each individual’s need.
As part of the program, residents must agree to certain conditions, such as curfews, house rules and job requirements. And since the program is faith-based, residents attend church and Bible studies. “We can help others, but we can’t ‘fix’ them,” said Altazin. “Only a relationship with Christ can do that. I believe that God has put these people in our path and we are commanded to help them. We have been blessed to touch so many lives.”
Travail 6:33 relies heavily on donations from the community. That includes household items, furniture, towels, bath products, hygiene products, clothing, children’s items, gift cards, gas cards, etc. And volunteers are needed for a variety of tasks, including communications, administrative work, and transportation.
The name Travail means “work” or “labor,” that bears fruit. In Scripture, it is often associated with women like Sarah, Ruth, and Rebekah, who were barren, but eventually brought forth children. It also refers to an intercession in which individuals or groups “labor” with God to create a “new life.” The 6:33 refers to a verse in the book of Matthew — “But first seek his kingdom and his righteousness, and all things will be given to you.”
Both definitions apply to Travail 6:33, whose staff and volunteers have literally saved lives and transformed darkness to light, sin to forgiveness, and despair to hope. Many women have credited Travail with turning their lives around.
From Stephanie:“Travail House saved my life, taught me about Jesus and how to forgive others. It allowed me to be a mom again. I have been reunited with my 8-year-old daughter, and by the grace of God, she loves me unconditionally. My life was completely hopeless and now I have unbelievable joy.”
From Jacqueline:“I had been in and out of jail for the past 10 years. I was battling drug addiction, loneliness and prostitution. After I was accepted into the Travail program, I came to have a personal relationship with Christ and I now see myself as a beautiful, strong woman. I fall asleep speaking to Jesus and I wake up to Him each morning.”
Erika Anaya of Venezuela is a living, breathing example of Travail’s power to transform people. Without going into detail, she says her past was a spiritual darkness and that she suffered with ongoing sickness and despair. She is now a valued member of the Travail staff, counseling women and concentrating on a career in graphic design and communications.
“I am beyond thankful to my American ‘family’ and to Travail for providing a place where I can minister to others and grow closer to Christ,” she said. “I’ve learned patience and self-sacrifice. I feel the spirit of God upon me and I’m helping to bring people from spiritual bondage into a life of freedom and deliverance.”
Erika has seen many women like herself trying to overcome desperate situations. “I remind them that nothing is impossible with God,” she said. “Our most desperate moments are the platforms upon which God does his best work.”
If you would like to help this important ministry, donations are accepted on the website at Travail633.com, by check (through the mail), or with cash (in person). All gifts are tax-deductible.
For more information, call Altazin at (225) 933-9465.