The roof continued to leak in the old gymnasium while the air conditioner fought a losing battle with the damp Louisiana heat at the former G.W. Carver Primary School in Gonzales.
The walls shook from the sound of the nearby train tracks, there were barely enough chairs that weren’t broken for everyone to sit and the snack table was quickly running out of food.
But no one seemed to notice, much less care. They were all too busy having fun.
For 20 years, Bobbie Blanchard has hosted the Beau Porto Special Tuesday summer camp for those with mental or physical disabilities. Her hope is to provide a place to socialize and be active for anyone and everyone who needs it.
Special Tuesday is designed as a safe haven for those who may be forgotten or looked down upon because they aren’t like everyone else.
“They just come to be with others like them,” Blanchard said. “They aren’t made fun of down here. Everybody is in the same boat. Everybody gets along. It’s a place where they can feel comfortable and at ease where no one is going to make fun of them.”
Blanchard tries to provide activities for the near 400 campers Special Tuesday sees for six weeks out of the summer.
Dwindling funds provided by the Ascension Parish Council have forced Blanchard to fill her budget gap with donations and contributions from others in the community. She said it costs nearly $10,000 to operate the program. The Parish Council provided the nonprofit that runs the camp with a $5,000 grant this summer, she said.
The Ascension Parish School Board agreed to let the program use the gym, which hasn’t been open since the school closed last year.
The program has moved several locations over the years due to budgetary and spacing issues with its last host site being the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, she said.
Blanchard covers what she can out of her own pocket, but said there’s only so much she can do when many of the participants can’t spend too much time out in the summer heat. She tries to keep up with things everyone can enjoy like bingo and video games — anything to get them moving and interacting with others.
Volunteers run the games and help keep things going.
For Blanchard, the program fills a promise she made years ago.
When the program was in its infancy she promised her grandson, Beau Porto, — the foundation’s namesake — that she would continue on with Special Tuesday.
Porto suffered from a life-long battle with a rare disorder that left him disabled, she said.
“Doctors didn’t expect him to make it past the age of five,” she said. “Well Beau made it to five with the care of my daughter and my son-in-law, and then he made it to seven and they were stunned.”
Blanchard started the program as a way for Porto and his special-needs friends to socialize. The program grew over the next few years before he passed away at 14.
“His eyes would just light up when he saw the other kids,” Blanchard said. “He would be very happy (where the program is now).”
Blanchard kept moving forward with the project even after the death of her grandson because she knew it’s what he would’ve wanted and there was still more work left to be done.
Special Tuesday board member Sherrie Jenkins said it didn’t take long for her to realize how much the program means to its participants after seeing the drastic improvement in the way her son Braylan Jenkins interacts with the other campers.
The 16-year-old St. Amant High School student suffers from a two-year developmental delay and has been attending Special Tuesdays for the past four summers.
“I wish more people would get involved and I wish there were more people who would realize that these are people who deserve a chance just like anybody,” Sherrie Jenkins said. “If more people would get involved and just see how critical something like this is, it would give them a chance to see that, ‘Oh yeah, people do care about us.’ ”
Special Tuesday caters primarily to special needs children, but there is no age limit or minimum set for participants.
Blanchard cited several campers who have been with the group for more than 15 years and are now into their late thirties.
“I just find it amazing that some of them come in and at first they’re very quiet, but by that next Tuesday they come running through the door,” Blanchard said. “They’ve met friends and they feel comfortable here.”