Let’s Hear It for the Folks!

Volunteering for America

At 7:05 p.m. on a recent Tuesday night in The National WWII Museum, Jim LeBlanc ascended the stage and addressed the crowd with “Welcome,” and an acknowledgment of the dozens of states represented by attendees. He continued saying that the WWII Museum  “is a place for people to understand and feel America’s values,” segueing into the mission of the hosting organization: Volunteers of America. Founded in 1896, VOA is one of the nation’s largest and oldest human services charities, helping almost 1.3 million people, many of them America’s most vulnerable, in more than 400 communities.

In addition to LeBlanc, president and CEO, Volunteers of America Southeast Louisiana, the next dignitary was Mike King, national president. Joining them were spouses Sheryl LeBlanc and Nancy King, who mingled in a gathering of 500 Volunteers of America employees, board members and guests at the Awards Dinner. Approximately 700 VOA leaders and care providers from across the United States traveled to New Orleans for the organization’s 2018 National Conference.

Names to note were national board Chairman Richard Cavanagh from Harvard University’s Kennedy School; VOA’s 2018 Ballington and Maud Booth Award recipient Mark V. Ingram II, Saints running back and founder of the Mark Ingram Foundation; Oscar J. Tolmas Charitable Trust President and Trustee Vince Giardina (with Donna), who represented the trust, the Outstanding Community Service Award recipient; Lisa Romano (with husband Dart and son and daughter-in-law Mike and Angelle Romano), who answers to vice president and trustee of the Tolmas trust; and Outstanding Community Service awardee David Fennelly, chairman, Associated Terminals and Turn Services.

John Georges (with Dathel and son Nike), owner of The Advocate and chairman of Georges Enterprises, was hailed for the Empathy Award, and journalist David Wood, the Soul Repair Award.

In addition to the four awardees, there were Elicia Broussard Sheridan (the Saints), VOA national board Chairwoman-elect Ruby E. Noble, and from VOASL, board Chairman Geoff Artigues, Chairwoman-elect Christy Howley Connois, board Treasurer Tod Smith (with Kenya), board member Fred Myers (with Sue) and executive Vice President-Programs Voris Vigee. All dined on fine cuisine from The American Sector of a salad wedge, steak and a pre-set small pecan pie and pralines, while admiring the centerpieces of red roses in silver mint julep cups that were placed on black table linens.

Each award recipient delivered a fine message of gratitude with David Fennelly saying, “To give is so rewarding, but to receive we have a responsibility.” The VOA’s highest recognition, the above Booth Award, went to the Ingram, whose foundation helps children who have parents in jail. “I wanted to do something different,” he said about his foundation. It’s a deeply personal cause for him because when Ingram was 10, his own father was in jail off and on for the next 15 years. “In my eyes,” he continued, “he was not a criminal. He was my father.”

Women of Substance

Bridge House/Grace House, whose motto is “Rebuilding lives for men and women with dignity, honor and respect,” presented the 23rd annual Women of Substance Luncheon titled “Women Helping Women.” James P. Raymond Jr. Foundation was the Leadership Sponsor. Proceeds will further the BHGH mission of providing substance treatment service.

Laureled as the 2018 honorees were Meaghan Ryan Bonavita, Dress for Success board president; Kelly  Commander of Command Construction and BHGH board treasurer; and Dr. Mignonne Mary, The Remedy Room. Juanita Marino received the Richard “Buzzy” Gaiennie Award, and, respectively, Dr. William Robinson and Katherine Madere were hailed as Volunteer and Alumna of the Year. Susan Tyler is the BHGH board president.

After the doors of the Audubon Tea Room opened, guests began eyeing the four auction boards, where more than 150 items (dinners, limousine service, sports events and jewelry) were offered. Later, the live auction enticed with a week’s stay in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

When the assembly was seated, Susan Rodriguez opened with a prayer, followed by Mike Morris’s rendering of “Amazing Grace.” Lunch followed, pleasing with a spinach salad, grilled chicken piccata, and vanilla cheesecake with fresh fruit. Headliners included BHGH CEO Else Pedersen, Executive Director of Clinical Services Michelle Gaiennie Hamrick, 2018 Women of Substance Committee Chairwoman and BHGH board Secretary Walton Goldring and husband Jeff, and master of ceremonies Mark Romig. Also, Derek Commander, Raymond Foundation President Anne Raymond, Dr. Charles Mary Jr., Susan Glennon, Felicia Kleinpeter and Christopher O’Shea, Lisa Romano, Ken Hamrick, Suzanne Rusovich, BHGH Vice President Gregory and Angele Romig and Executive Director of Development Kevin Gardere.

Once Upon a Party

Communities in Schools of Greater New Orleans held a family-friendly fundraiser, “Once Upon a Party,” on a late Saturday afternoon at Central City BBQ. Enhancing the premises and adding a lively “lift” were multicolored balloon bouquets. A slide show featuring CIS staff and the students they serve riveted attention. The organization’s mission is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.

Features were many, including yummy chomps such as a whole hog, barbecued chicken and sweet corn spoon bread; music by WTUL’s Liz Elliot, radio host of the Kid’s Show on Saturday morning; a 50/50 raffle with the winner donating the funds back to CIS; and the parade of prizes. Dan Wright copped a flat screen TV; Cate Ferguson (with Kevin) got a Louisiana Children’s Museum membership; and Danielle Boveland, a 504 Craft Beer Reserve tasting for four.

Making “Party” rounds were CIS board Chairman David Perlis, President Amanda Schroeder, Sally Saunders Cockerham, Brian and Tanya Kirn, Margaret Wall and daughter Ann, John and Vanessa Cottee, Kate and Errol Barron, Jeanne Foster, Missy and Cory Sparks, John and Pam Schroeder, Allen Smith and Dan and Aden Wright.

Literacy’s Future

Presented by 826 New Orleans, “Word’oeuvres” rallied hosts to the brand new 826 New Orleans Youth Writing Center on St. Bernard Avenue for an evening with famous author Walter Isaacson and the Link Stryjewski Foundation “for a delicious sneak preview of the future of literacy in New Orleans.” Wayne Amedee, Walter and Cathy Isaacson, Elizabeth Monaghan and Staci Rosenberg formed the host committee.

In addition, the ranks included Bill Fagaly, Doug Heller and Heather Mintzer, Kent Davis, Gail and John Bertuzzi, Pamela Steeg, R. Erich Caulfield, Deborah Elam, Miggy Monroe, Alison Hartman, Britton and Ann Trice, cellist Jenna Vagts, and 826’s Kortney Morrow.

Upon arrival, guests walked through The New Orleans Haunting Supply Company to get to the main event. Stocking the latter area were ghostly trinkets (in keeping with the entrance location) and the latest student publications, the centerpieces of each high-boy. Prior to the evening and in collaboration with the above foundation and chef Stephen Stryjewski, 826 New Orleans (formerly Big Class) conducted a special workshop at Phillis Wheatley Community School, where 5th-grade students ate and reviewed the exact dishes (all creative) to be served the night of event. Their reviews were printed on the program, walls and coasters.