DONALDSONVILLE — Wearing a shirt that read “Product of Donaldsonville,” Answering the Call organizer Tamiko Grancis Garrison said her small but growing group has set its goal of making the city a better and safer place to live, work, play and worship.
Garrison said the community group originated because residents wanted to publicly praise and worship God in the city.
Answering The Call held a public brainstorming session Sept. 2 at city hall on gathering ideas as to how it can effect change in a community that has seen an increase in violence and crime in recent years.
“We felt that if we prayed and worshiped in the streets, that we could change Donaldsonville and that if we continued to do it throughout the city, we could make a difference,” she said.
Through the group’s initial meetings, its mission morphed into more of a community improvement goal, Garrison said.
Garrison said the group’s name comes from those who agreed to assist her.
“When I picked up the phone, they literally answered the call,” she said.
Along with Garrison, the steering committee includes Mayor Leroy Sullivan Sr.; City Councilman Reginald Francis Sr. and his wife, Linda; Donaldsonville High School Assistant Principal Daryl Comery; Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer and Donaldsonville Chamber of Commerce Vice President Allison Hudson; and residents Wanda August, Leslie Southall Julien, Andrea Johnson and Angela Johnson Cantrell.
Numerous volunteers and interested residents also attended the meeting, ranging from local educators, pastors, government officials and business leaders to parents and those with medical and social work expertise.
Garrison said Comery has played a vital role in the group’s community outreach mission.
“There were 25 kids at his school that are struggling to graduate this year,” she said. “He wanted us to think of ways to adopt those kids and make sure they fulfill the graduation requirements. From that conversation grew this brainstorming session.”
There are already numerous events taking place around the city aimed at helping its youth, Garrison said. However, she said, a lack of communication exists to promote these events.
“We use fliers, area newspapers, but the people we’re trying to reach don’t necessarily see those outlets,” she said.
One of the items discussed was a publicly accessible online community calendar, which would feature listings for numerous local events. The calendar would be linked to the city’s new website and promoted through social media.
When asked for ideas to help change the social climate of the city, many said the target goal should be helping children and their parents.
Mildred Dorsey, a longtime Donaldsonville resident, voiced her concern that the city’s youth lack direction.
“To reach the kids, you have to change the mindset,” she said. “God said that without vision, the people perish.”
The Rev. Shannon Comery, pastor of Pillars of Purpose community church, said he found census data showing 68 percent of city households are single-parent households. He suggested a mentoring group to support single-parent families.
“We need something for these single mothers trying to raise kids,” he said. “It’s hard for them to show that love as a mother and then put on that hat as a father.”
Garrison said she believes the adage of “it takes a village to raise a child,” adding that parental involvement at all levels is vital for improving the community.
“There were so many people that contributed to my life,” she said. “But, it seems that our generation slipped a bit and now that we’re parents, we have to pick it up and be the ones to volunteer.”
Jackie Cook Henderson said showing people by example that they can prevail through difficult personal situations can make an impact.
“A lot of these kids deal with things we didn’t have to deal with growing up,” Henderson said. “Children go by what they see and hear. They have to know that they don’t have to stay stuck in a situation. If I can do it, you can do it.”
Other suggestions include working to better instill respect in local youth, taking ownership of neighborhoods and promoting the value of an education.
Thomas “Moose” Pearce, a lifelong Donaldsonville resident who represents the city on the Ascension Parish School Board, said he has spoken to fellow board members about bringing more educational resources to the city.
“If you attack an area all at once with an enormous amount of resources, we can bring the standard back up in Donaldsonville,” Pearce said.
Staff Sgt. Joey Meyers, of the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, said his agency is working to re-establish the Junior Deputy Program, which helps to instill understanding and respect for law enforcement in youth.
“Meetings like this are what it will take to keep this community moving forward,” Meyers said. “Let’s not just sit around and talk about it. I see a group that will make something happen.”
Meyers stressed that Donaldsonville residents not be discouraged when told about a lack of support from “the other side of the river,” meaning the parish’s east bank of the Mississippi River.
“The only difference between us and the other side of the river is that river,” he said. “We still live in Ascension Parish.”
At the end of the session, Garrison said the committee members would evaluate the suggestions offered and return with a future meeting to develop a plan to institute change.