I’m constantly amazed at how often in my nearly 60 years people have shown themselves capable of quiet, unheralded, rich generosity. Sometimes you have to look very closely to see it, but it’s always restorative.
My Dad and I hunted and fished a lot in the years before I went away to college. We loved to eat only certain kinds of fish, and we often caught the kind we weren’t going to eat. Same with game hunting; sometimes we came home and the game would just vanish before it turned up in the pot on Mom’s stove. I always wondered what happened to it, but didn’t really figure it out until one day on the basketball court.
There was an elementary school right behind the house I grew up in, and the administrators in those days encouraged kids from many different neighborhoods and socio-economic backgrounds to come and play after school. I was there every single day playing basketball from about age 10 through age 17, learning the game from people who played it very hard and very seriously. I made some lifelong friends on those courts, including my best buddy in ninth grade, Palmer Cox IV.
Palmer’s dad worked where my dad worked, and once he figured out who I was, he suddenly became very nice to me, even inviting me to his house for supper “because the neighborhood cook was doing a serious duck gumbo that night.” I eagerly went with him and got to meet the cook, who had made gumbo for the entire neighborhood! In fact, I already knew the cook, Mr. Early, because he was my grandmother’s yard man. When he saw me, he smiled, came over and brought me the biggest bowl of gumbo! He said “Mr. Mike, when you get home, you be sure to tell your daddy thank you!”
A bit confused, I asked him why, and he said “Every single time you and your daddy go hunting or fishing, he comes to my house with a big bag of fish or ducks or squirrels or rabbits or whatever you caught or killed, and I turn it into a good meal for all our neighborhood! He’s been bringing us food since you were a little boy! And because you guys hunt and fish so much, we eat really good around here!” His smile just melted my heart. And about 50 people showed up with bowls and started digging in and thanking ME! I asked Mr. Early if Dad ever came by to eat. “Sometimes, but I don’t think he likes the attention.” It’s like my Dad was a food angel.
My Dad was a big, tough, man who held all of us to impossibly high standards, but there was this other side of him that he would never talk about. He knew there was a whole neighborhood just a few blocks over from ours where people were poor and being treated unfairly and needed some help. They needed someone to acknowledge their existence and support them. He helped them and never told a soul.
“Look for the helpers” – Mr. Rogers
I’d bet good money you already know somebody just like my Dad was, someone who helped and helped and never asked for a thing and never said a word about it. It’s something to aspire to.
This fall, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation will present the Angel Award® to nine everyday people who are doing extraordinary good to improve the lives of our fellow Louisianans, specifically our young people. We found out about these Angels and their good work because we received a record-breaking number of nominations earlier this year, from all over the state. People wanted to tell us about the folks they know who have made selfless investments of their time to show compassion for our children.
Nine people out of all those nominated have been selected as winners of this award, and we are proud to recognize them and present each of them with a grant to the nonprofit organization of their choice.
My good friend Michael Tipton, who runs our Foundation, said it best about these 2021 Angel Awards being given in the time of the pandemic:
“I think that when our world suddenly felt much smaller and challenging, more people took greater notice of who was standing up and helping. Much of the work our Angels do is difficult — it takes a lot of strength, perseverance and willingness to see kids through some really tough times.”
Celebrate our 2021 Angels
This year, the Angel Award® will return to Louisiana Public Broadcasting (LPB) in a one-hour special on Nov. 15 at 8 p.m. The special will air on LPB–HD statewide and will also livestream at www.lpb.org/livetv, through the LPB App, or on both the Foundation’s Facebook page and the LPB Facebook page.
I hope you will all join me in celebrating these incredibly special people. They are:
- Miguel A. Alonso of New Orleans, a case manager for the New Orleans Children’s Health Project (NOCHP), where he has helped thousands of children and families who have immigrated to New Orleans access life-saving healthcare services.
- Marc Behar of New Orleans, a longtime advocate, supporter, fundraiser, volunteer and community leader. Behar is the founder of Pride Prom NOLA, a celebration for LGBTQIA+ high school-aged youth. He also serves with a number of other organizations focused on young people, particularly those who have been rejected by their families, leaving them vulnerable to significantly worse outcomes than their peers.
- Ken Brown of Lake Charles, an educator at Washington-Marion Magnet High who has created and implemented a number of model programs in suicide prevention for teenagers, and has advocated for changes in state laws that have made mental health services more readily available to young people — saving the lives of many teenagers considering suicide.
- Rylie Duos of Benton, a 13-year-old student and the founder of the CRD No Limits Foundation, a nonprofit that raises funds to purchase medical equipment and cover medical expenses for children with physical and cognitive disabilities.
- Stephanie Antley Herrmann of Farmerville, the director of the Union Parish Library, which she has transformed into an open, responsive community resource that supports all children and provided essential support after natural disasters and COVID-19 impacts.
- James “Big Brown” Joseph of Baton Rouge, a former Harlem Globetrotter, current UPS driver and founder of the Big Brown Reaching Back Foundation. The foundation helps communities however needed, including meals, air conditioners, school supplies and, in response to COVID-19, hand sanitizer to every school district in Louisiana.
- Lucas Spielfogel of Baton Rouge, the executive director of the Baton Rouge Youth Coalition, which reaches children in elementary, middle and high schools across Baton Rouge to provide college counseling and preparation. Spielfogel is known for going above and beyond for the hundreds of students reached by BRYC, providing rides, personal mentoring and much more.
- Erin R. Wheeler of New Orleans, the executive director of College Beyond, which helps students enroll and succeed in college, regardless of socioeconomic background. She dedicates almost all of her waking time to supporting students – permanently altering the trajectory of the lives of hundreds of children in southeast Louisiana, particularly first-generation college students.
Each year, the Foundation also honors a “Blue Angel,” an employee of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana who has shown extraordinary commitment to children. This year, the Foundation has selected Kellie DeRouen Duhon of Crowley. Duhon is a long-time volunteer and board member serving The Life of a Single Mom (TLSM), which improves the lives of children by providing education, counseling and support to single mothers. In Louisiana, more than half of children are born to single mothers, according to the CDC. TLSM will receive a $10,000 grant in Duhon’s name.
The Straight Talk is, Louisiana is just FULL of Angels. Every now and then, we’d like to call them out and let everybody know how special they are. It’s a great example for all of us.