Visionary Speech at the 2024 CTC Breakfast

written and shared by Carolyn Hammond

Good morning!  I would like to join Ben in thanking everyone for taking time out of your busy schedules to be here.

And I extend my special welcome to our donors in the room – including our Cherish the Children and Evergreen Society members – who generously support our ministry of service. Your investments allow us to say yes to over 8,000 men, women, and children who walk through our doors.

Since February of 2022 I have had the honor and privilege of serving as President and CEO of this incredible, faith-based organization.  Beginning in 1935, Volunteers of America North Louisiana began our mission to reach and uplift thousands of children, families, veterans, senior adults and people with disabilities.  We continue this today.

Our dedicated staff comprised of 375 full-time and part-time employees operate close to 40 programs and remain committed to show up every day for the people who rely on us.

Whether it is a single mom living in the Choice Neighborhood, a middle schooler struggling with their self-confidence, or a young veteran drowning in the depths of addiction – we are here.

We are here to wrap-around every person who finds their way to us, young or old, with the services they need and the love they deserve.

I’d like to share the stories of three individuals and illustrate how your generosity is transforming lives.

Our Communities In Schools site coordinator, Jassery, met Brittany on a rainy day.

Brittany, a student at Woodlawn High School, needed new uniform pants. Hers were soaking wet from walking to school that morning.

While Brittany changed pants, Jassery looked her up in the school database – noting her attendance record, how many suspensions she had if any, and her grades.

Jassery realized Brittany needed more than just dry clothes. Brittany was a grade level behind.

After a few weeks of meeting and building their relationship, Brittany left the CIS room with a plan of action to improve her attendance in school and her grades in the classroom.

Every day, Brittany would stop by to let Jassery know if she was on time or late. She also enrolled in the school’s after-school tutoring program.

Today, Brittany is on-grade level, thriving, and set to graduate next year!

It’s amazing to think how the basic need for new uniform pants has completely changed the trajectory of Brittany’s life.

That’s the power of Communities In Schools –  when you connect students like Brittany to caring adults and community resources, that child is able to see and overcome the barriers that stand between them and a brighter future.

I’m proud to say Volunteers of America is in our tenth year operating Communities In Schools on 14 Caddo Parish school campuses – with 7 of those sites also having the LightHouse, our high-quality afterschool and summer program. Together, we are touching the lives of over 6,000 students and counting.

Those of you who attended this breakfast last year heard me talk about the importance of providing care and access to mental health services.

You also heard JaShunna stand up here and share her inspiring story.

It brings me joy to share some good news with you – JaShunna is one of our newest employees!

As a peer-support specialist, she works in our behavioral health program, the EpiCenter, which is the first and only center in northwest Louisiana that aims to bring awareness and support to those experiencing their first psychotic episode.  A person’s first episode of psychosis is frightening.

That person may see or hear things that aren’t real. They may be overly suspicious of others or have trouble thinking clearly.  It’s very scary to both the person experiencing it and their loved ones.

And the scariest part – it can happen to anyone. Research shows that 3 in 100 people experience psychosis at least once in their lifetime and more than 100,000 adolescents in the U.S. experience it each year.

Gloria works at Visions of Hope, our day center, for individuals with chronic mental illness.

Back in 1985, Gloria was raising her 4 children – 3 sons and a daughter – and she was going to college when she had her first psychotic episode.

She said, “It hit me so quick that I didn’t know what happened.” Gloria’s life took a turn for the worse. There were numerous nights over the years when she was homeless and couch surfing with family and friends. Thankfully, Gloria found her way to our McAdoo facility. Because of you, Gloria, who is now 69 years old, has a healthy life full of hope and healing.

But I can’t help but wonder what if

What if the EpiCenter existed forty years ago? What if an early intervention would have kept Gloria off the streets and with her kids?

To me, Gloria along with the youth and adults struggling with their mental health are why our behavioral health programs are crucial to this community – but as taxpayers we should consider the cost to society of hospitalizing adults with a mental illness.

In Louisiana, the average rate for in-patient psychiatric treatment is nearly $900 a day.

At Volunteers of America, we are able to serve that same individual for a fraction of the cost, while keeping them safe in their communities and out of the hospital.  Since last July, we’ve served over 100 adults in our behavioral health programs – 99% remained out of the hospital.

In a few minutes you will be introduced through our video to Gary, a formerly homeless veteran who turned to us at his lowest point in life.

When it comes to providing our continuum of programs for veterans, we are reminded daily that war is not just what takes place on a distant battlefield.  When veterans like Gary return to our communities after war, we owe it to them and to ourselves to do our very best to support their recovery.

Brittany, Gloria, Gary are why we do what we do.

They are why I stand before you today and why our work is never done.

This is a team effort and it takes all of us – our dedicated and passionate staff, community partners like the young adults in Visionaries, caring volunteers, and you – our most loyal donors.

Our annual operating budget is $19.5 million dollars and every year, we have a funding gap which is the difference between what the government pays for and the true cost to provide our quality services to those in need. This year, the funding gap is $2.5 million.

The reality is this doesn’t allow us to expand services. It doesn’t take people off the waiting lists and it doesn’t guarantee we will always be able to say yes.

Our fiscal year ends on June 30th. I am grateful that I know I can count on the people in the room to help us close this funding gap once again.

To those who may be new to Volunteers of America, I hope my words resonate with you as you hear a special invitation later this morning to invest in our beloved ministry of service.

To every person in this room, thank you for partnering with us to build a stronger future.

Your presence here this morning means so much to me, our leadership, and especially to those we serve.

Now, I invite you to sit back and see how when you change a life, you make our whole community better.

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