As 2016 ends, we should reflect upon the blessings we have received during the year. I am grateful that my wife, who has lived 45 years with the effects of muscular dystrophy, has survived another year, thanks to help from dedicated health care professionals, friends, family and God.
Louisianans should feel thankful for help they got during several big challenges across the state this year. A devastating ordeal unfolded in August when the Baton Rouge area, like north Louisiana months earlier, was engulfed by flooding. The March flooding, which mainly touched the northwest corner of the state in and around Monroe, fortunately did not damage a large number of structures and byways, so first responders could act swiftly.
But, the August storm in the Capital region quickly inundated tens of thousands of structures, overwhelming the capacity of government to manage the crisis. Enter the “Cajun Navy.” Citizen volunteers by the hundreds dropped everything, some coming from several parishes away, to use their own boats and gasoline rescuing people. They assisted thousands and probably kept the death toll down.
This came after the July 5 shooting death of Baton Rouge resident Alton Sterling during a struggle with police. A federal probe of the incident is still pending. On July 17, a disturbed Missouri gunman apparently bent on revenge killed three Baton Rouge law enforcement officers and injured another three. Violence might have escalated from either incident, but aggrieved citizens wisely put aside their frustrations and took a longer-term approach, focusing on prospective reforms that could improve relations between the community and police.
About this time, some families in the state’s major metropolitan areas received good news. Despite having promised that educational voucher recipients would not have this aid taken from them, Gov. John Bel Edwards, facing a very tight budget, prodded the Legislature to cut funding that would have dropped some families already accepted into the program.
However, Superintendent of Education John White negotiated with private school providers in these cases to defer most of the state’s payment until next year, but without any guarantee that the state would pay the balance. Recognize that almost all of these schools operate as charities affiliated with religious organizations. Although facing a potential considerable hit to their finances, they agreed to educate children who otherwise would have attended poorly performing public schools. As a result of this generosity, by year’s end nearly all who sought it had found placement with these institutions.
A similar problem, again due to a tough budget environment, cropped up with recipients of Taylor Opportunity Program for Students awards. Lawmakers changed the program so that for next year, students would have less than half of the typical amount, potentially costing them thousands of dollars more for college classes taken in the first half of 2017.
Fortunately, by 2016’s end, several higher education institutions found ways to make up some or all of the difference for many students. At my own institution, Louisiana State University Shreveport, the Noel Foundation – a major university benefactor that also created the James Smith Noel Collection, containing many rare manuscripts housed at LSUS – and the LSUS Foundation teamed up to provide compensatory funding to graduating seniors with demonstrated financial need for the spring.
It’s the season for giving and forgiving, but some Louisiana citizens practiced this ideal all through the year. As we appreciate the sacrifice and civic-mindedness displayed in such instances, we can find inspiration for the year ahead. It might be fashionable to lament the state’s shortcomings. But when it comes to the generosity displayed by so many residents, that kind of cynicism clearly does not apply.