Bulletin boards dotted with photographs of children hang just outside Mark Firmin’s office.
“These are our kids,” said Firmin, stopping to look at some of the pictures. “We have a big responsibility, and we are here for all of them and their families to help in whatever way we can.”
In August, Firmin was named chief executive officer of Angels’ Place, a local nonprofit organized in 1984 that provides respite care along with special events and programs for families and their seriously and terminally ill children.
Firmin took over as CEO in August after Anita Gilford, founder of Angels’ Place, retired.
In his office, Firmin sits amid boxes filled with memories from his 22 years at Archbishop Rummel High School, where he taught math and served as the school’s service director. While at Rummel, Firmin founded the school’s Operation HeadStart program, a community service organization for the students that helps at-risk children.
“It was through Rummel and Operation HeadStart that I first got involved with Angels’ Place,” Firmin said. “The students helped with various events for Angels’ Place, including the annual Halloween and Christmas parties. So over the years, I got to know the staff here and the work that was being done to help sick children and their families. And now, as CEO, I am finding that in this job, you have to wear a lot of different hats.”
Himself a 1984 Rummel graduate, Firmin said leaving his alma mater was “bittersweet.”
“It wasn’t an easy decision to make,” said Firmin, 48. “My connection to Rummel and my feelings about the school run deep. It was my home away from home, so my leaving was really bittersweet. And I still miss the students and staff. But things happen for a reason, and everything just sort of fell into place when this opportunity came up at Angels’ Place. I am excited about this new beginning, and I truly believe that God put me here for a reason.”
Firmin has a bachelor’s degree in math from the University of New Orleans. He also holds two master’s degrees from UNO: one in math and the other in curriculum and instruction.
In his new role, the first tasks Firmin is tackling are writing grant proposals, planning fundraisers and meeting with local residents and community leaders. He’s also organizing both a board and an advisory board.
“I served on the board here (Angels’ Place) for about five years, so I’ve gotten to know many people in the community,” Firmin said. “And I know many people through my years at Rummel. Right now, I am trying to make as many connections — both new and old — in order to get the word out about the work we do here at Angels’ Place.”
Referrals come to Angels’ Place from Children’s Hospital, with plans to expand with Ochsner and Tulane Medical Center. Firmin said the organization currently is trying to help 67 children with life-threatening illnesses.
“When you add the parents of these children and their siblings, the total number of people we are working with is more than 260,” Firmin said. “We are reaching out to other agencies to help us help these families as well.”
Firmin added that donors and volunteers always are needed.
“We need volunteers to help the caregivers so that those individuals can take a break or attend to other needs,” he said. “Many of the parents of our children who are ill have other children at home, which means the parents are juggling a lot at one time and could need some extra help.
“And of course, donations help with the costs of the special programs and events Angels’ Place sponsors such as our upcoming Halloween and Christmas parties. Donations also help families having difficulties with additional medical bills. Gift cards to local grocery and retail stores are also a big help to these families.”
Looking to 2016, Firmin said his goal is to finance more projects and find more funding “in order to expand our services to help critically ill children and their families.”
“It’s hard for me to even begin to imagine how a parent must feel when they get a devastating medical diagnosis that their child has a life-threatening illness,” Firmin said. “I always keep in mind that Angels’ Place is here to help families in any way possible so they can care for their child who is ill.”
For information about Angels’ Place, go to www.angelsplacenola.org. To make a donation or volunteer, call (504) 455-2620.