GRETNA — Dennis Dillon, executive director of Boys Town Louisiana, is a step closer to his vision for a 2-acre lot, which was donated to the organization a few years ago, now that Boys Town has been awarded a $100,000 grant.
At first, Dillon envisioned turning the space behind the organization’s Gretna facility into a park. But with health care and fitness as part of the Boys Town mission, Dillon will now work with the at-risk youth served by the center to design a fitness trail. Inside the track, Dillon has plans for a working garden.
To win the sixth annual Humana Communities Benefit-New Orleans grant, Boys Town competed with 50 other local organizations. The Bridge House/Grace House and the Daughters of Charity also received smaller grants.
“They are a very deserving organization,” said Rhonda Bagby, commercial market president of Humana Louisiana. “And we’re eager to see how the program they’ve proposed benefits the children and families of Greater New Orleans.”
At the Berhman Highway diagnostic and assessment services site, Boys Town provides immediate help to youth and families in dangerous situations and provides housing for up to 16 young people. The organization also operates three family homes for adolescents and works to reunite children facing struggles with their parents, or if that is not an option, helps to place youth in foster care.
Boys Town has worked at length healing the mind and spirit, Dillon said.
“Now it’s time to get the body part right,” he said.
Dillon said he also will use some of the grant money to fund and sustain a one- to two-week summer day camp that will include social skills, fitness and nutritional courses.
For the young people who come to Boys Town, often with emotional problems, Dillon is excited about creating a peaceful setting where volunteers can walk and talk to the kids.
“Some young people we serve never have the opportunity to take a walk in a public park,” Dillon said.
In the garden, Dillon wants to see youth learning the “seed to table” process. Through a partnership with an organization that delivers healthy meals to people wanting to lose weight, the food grown in the garden will be harvested and sold. The garden will be part of the curriculum, teaching lessons about the life cycle as well as the business aspect of selling the product. A community service element will also be included with the donation of food to elderly residents in the community.
Dillon said the organization will continue fundraising for the project and the required follow-up maintenance, which he hopes will also include an exercise station. Currently meeting with the youth to work on the plans for the trail, Dillon said he hopes to have the design finalized by the end of the year, as well the grounds prepared and the selection of a construction company.
“With the obesity epidemic being a continuous problem in the U.S., especially among children, we’re eager to develop this program and educate families about proper nutrition, fitness and health skills,” Dillon said.