Ponchatoula, LA, May 16, 2018 – Thanks to a grant from the Bishop Stanley Joseph Ott Works Of Mercy Trust Fund, the Diocese of Baton Rouge, and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, Evergreen Life Services will have help in recreatingits volunteer program, Family and Friends. When Evergreen and the Louisiana State Center at North Lake entered intoa cooperative endeavor agreement in 2012, the volunteer group, which was associated with the state facility, was not reestablished. With increasing cuts to local, state and national budgets, Evergreen saw an urgent need to be proactive and to develop additional support resources, beginning with recreating Family and Friends.

In early summer, a task force of up to 25 members will form to design a viable program to benefit the 240 people Evergreen’s Southeast Louisiana Division proudly serves. Because training and opportunities for those who wish to offer time to help individuals with disabilities are difficult to find, the Works Of Mercy Grant will underwrite membership in the online volunteer training and management program, Everyone Ready. The grant will also provide a small stipend to a task force member, who is a qualified special education teacher or a person who has extensive special needs experience. The recipient will assist the Southeast Louisiana Division’s (SELA) project managers and take the lead in developing the program.

Because Evergreen started in 1959 as a Presbyterian ministry to provide community-based services to local people with disabilities in Northwest Louisiana, lead members of the task force will include congregants from churches in Louisiana’s South Presbytery. With a long history of collaboration between the Presbyterian and Catholic churches in Baton Rouge, program leadership will also include parishioners of churches in the Diocese of Baton Rouge, as well as the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Additional task force members to be invited will include volunteers from other faith-based communities, nonprofit and civic organizations, and businesses with philanthropic outreach. Connie Anderson, SELA’s Director for Donor Relations, and Randall Waguespack, SELA’s executive director, will be the project managers. Key SELA staff members will act as advisers.

Volunteer opportunities to be designed will include help for residents who live in the SELA’s 20 community homes, as well as in supported living arrangements, in Albany, Baker, Baton Rouge, Hammond, Independence, Mandeville and Ponchatoula. Activities will range from individual assistance with daily chores to families preparing meals for communal sharing. Additional opportunities, which initially will include roles as classroom aides, will be available to encourage approximately 150 individuals at SELA’s day program, which takes place from 8:00 am 3:00 pm, Monday through Friday at its office in Ponchatoula, LA.

The new volunteer program will also include an educational enrichment component, featuring expert speakers and informational resources, which will help members to learn more about disabilities, how to care better for their loved ones, and how to assist staff more effectively in their work.

Task force activities will culminate with a one-day workshop, which will be opened to the community-at-large. The workshop, which will promote the newly recreated Family and Friends volunteer group, is tentatively set for Saturday, November 3.

The time-frame for the grant project is June 1 to December 31, 2018. On-site activities will take place at SELA’s office at 40052 N. Hoover Road, Ponchatoula, LA. Remote online activities will take place in the most convenient location for the volunteer(s), which may include a home, an office, or a church parish hall.

The Louisiana Department Of Health asserts, “people with disabilities face unique challenges, overcoming environmental, social, and emotional barriers to maintain their health and a healthy lifestyle. They are dependent upon community commitment to identify and change those barriers.” Through collaboration with regional churches, faith-based, nonprofit and civic organizations, and the online volunteer training program, Everyone Ready, SELA’s newly reformed Family And Friends group will have the potential to become a viable, self- sustaining, self-managing model, which can be adapted for use, not only by Evergreen divisions in other states, but also by churches, organizations and businesses both inside and outside the Southeast Louisiana boundaries.

For more information about Evergreen Life Services’ Family and Friends volunteer group or to join Evergreen’s Task Force, please contact Connie Anderson, M.Ed., Director for Donor Relations Evergreen Life Services, SE Louisiana, (225) 337-3460, [email protected]