Bobbie Blanchard and her small but loyal crew of helpers, which included several ConnecTeens volunteers, prepared the old Carver school gymnasium for a huge feast on June 30, a task they’ve been repeating every Tuesday in June.
It’s called Beau Porto Special Tuesday, and it’s special for everyone involved, said Blanchard, who has been planning the event for the past 21 years, through many difficult turns in her life.
Each Tuesday in June, Blanchard planned an afternoon of fun and food for people of all ages with special needs, and those needs can range widely.
“It’s for people with Down syndrome, it’s for children with diabetes, it’s for people with all kinds of physical challenges to overcome,” Blanchard said. “We want to give them a day of entertainment, where they can relax and have fun, and be with other people who understand a little of what they are going through. It’s a place they can come and not have to worry about judgment.”
Everyone is invited, she said, and there are several children and adults with special needs who come from outside Ascension Parish, though the majority are from the area.
“It’s a wonderful experience for them,” she said, adding that she plans physical activities, art projects and other crafts, in addition to food, to give the participants plenty of mental and creative stimulation.
Her granddaughter, Brookelyn LeBlanc, has been helping Blanchard put on the event each year for as long as she can recall.
“I’ve been coming forever, but I didn’t start really helping out until I was probably 8 years old,” LeBlanc said. “Before that, I was just playing. They’re friends, and I love getting to see the same people year after year.”
She has developed close bonds with the participants, LeBlanc said, and has been able to guide the new teen volunteers from ConnecTeens about how best to give the participants a fun, exciting experience.
“We’re here for them, so we try to focus on them,” she said.
Blanchard was inspired to begin the program all those years ago because of another grandchild, Beau Porto, who had a rare disorder that made proteins toxic to him.
While doctors predicted he wouldn’t survive more than a few years, Blanchard said, he was able to defy those odds and came to many Special Tuesdays over the years.
He died of his illness at the age of 14, she said.
“He’s the reason I started this, but the people who come here are the reason I keep doing it,” she said.
She kept the program going after her house burned to the ground; after she was declared legally dead and had to prove to the U.S. government she was, in fact, alive and well; through a surgery for kidney cancer last year; and through the theft and destruction of all of the camp’s equipment, including video games and televisions, earlier this year. Still, Special Tuesdays have continued.
It’s not something she plans to stop anytime soon, she said.
This year, cooks Lindsey and Brandon Delbosque and Kurtis Brown took over the grill, preparing 160 hamburgers and nearly 100 hot dogs for the participants.
“They just came in and started helping,” she said. “Before, I was getting here at 6:30 in the morning and cooking on a tiny little grill all morning until 11:30. It took forever,” she said. “They saw it and brought out their big grills. They probably get it done in under an hour. It’s been a blessing.”