Awareness and Prevention
Saved A Life
10, 15, 20 years ago, I never imagined that John Bel would be Governor and I the First Lady of Louisiana. And 10, 15, 20 years ago, I had never heard about Human Sex Trafficking (HST). I lived in “the bubble,” where it was safe, and we collectively ignored HST issues because they happened in foreign places.
In 2016, I learned about the crime of HST through the Hospitaler Sisters of Mercy and Father Jeff Bayhi. A short time later, it also happened in our community’s backyard of Tangipahoa Parish, where authorities discovered a young girl in a cage. Her own family was trafficking her for money to buy drugs. So it was no longer a foreign issue but now a crime I became aware of – so I started my education and awareness journey.
On Sunday, April 3, 2022, the newly formed National Coalition for the Prevention of Human Sex Trafficking (NCPHST) hosted several first ladies and governors at an awareness event in New Orleans. We had close to 500 in attendance there to learn. We learned from those working to rescue and support people trapped in HST and heard from survivors about the horrors of this crime.
Several first spouses who have joined the advisory board of the NCPHST were there to support the awareness event. First Lady of Kentucky, Britainy Beshear; First Lady of Arkansas, Susan Hutchinson; First Lady of Tennessee, Maria Lee; and First Lady of Mississippi, Elee Reeves, were in attendance. Others on our Advisory Board but unable to attend are the First Lady of Texas, Cecilia Abbott; First Lady of Delaware, Tracy Carney, and First Lady of Georgia Marty Kemp, who have also had an active role in this work.
We also had several governors there to support their spouses. Governor of Kentucky, Andy Beshear, Governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, Governor of Tennessee, Bill Lee, and my husband, Governor John Bel Edwards, all attended the event. Their attendance in support of their wives and this issue is greatly valued.
In addition to the evening event, we had a presentation by K.C. Kilpatrick of Geaux 4 Kids, who hosted our service project by having us fill bags of necessities for persons rescued from trafficking. You can learn more about K.C. and her foundation in our blog issue from November 2018.
Also, in attendance for this very informative and impactful evening were professionals working in the following areas: judicial system, law enforcement, medical field, CACs, those working on the healing side of HST, representatives from banks, businesses, the faith-based community, and civic organizations. In addition, we had representatives from the entertainment, hotel, and hospitality industries, along with many others, there to learn about HST for the first time. We are so grateful they gave up their time to be with us.
Having people from varied walks of life in attendance is essential to our team. Why? Because when we bring everyone to the table, we can all join and learn together through education and awareness so that together we can, and will, prevent and stop HST.
I often speak about leveraging my leadership role as a first lady. Truthfully, we can all use our voices to support the voiceless and educate the public through prevention and awareness opportunities. This inaugural event was a collaboration between the Louisiana First Foundation and the National Coalition for the Prevention of Human Sex Trafficking. In addition to the information provided, the event serves as the official kick-off of the state of Louisiana’s first statewide human trafficking awareness campaign, Stop Trafficking Louisiana: Human Trafficking is R.E.A.L. The R.E.A.L. stands for R-recognizing the signs, E-educating others, A-acting immediately, and L-listening and supporting victims. Education and awareness are crucial to preventing human trafficking, but it is also imperative we take proactive steps to identify victims.
As people from all over the country and cities gather for large sporting events and other events that bring large numbers of people into a city, we know that traffickers may also be trying to capitalize on the sale of innocent victims. That is why hosting this event was vital. We hoped to raise awareness and educate the public on how to identify victims and assist in their recovery.
We chose to elevate this anti-trafficking message during the NCAA tournament to leverage the exposure of our awareness campaign. We are excited to have received a statement of support from the National Association of Basketball Coaches:
“The National Association of Basketball Coaches is thrilled to be in New Orleans for the 2022 NABC Convention and NCAA Men’s Final Four. However, we recognize that large-scale events often attract those who wish to commit acts of human trafficking. The NABC firmly stands against all forms of human trafficking and the victimization of the vulnerable, and we commend the efforts of First Lady Donna Edwards and Stop Trafficking Louisiana in their fight to raise awareness and ultimately put an end to this abhorrent behavior.”
So, what can you do to help? I am so glad you asked!
As we lift our voices to educate others, we can begin to end this terrible crime. We can start with those around us – educating our family members, those in our home, and especially our children. Our children need to know the dangers of social media and the grooming process traffickers use.
As I travel the state, I share a few simple things everyone can do to make a difference:
- We can all pray. Prayer is Powerful.
- Talk, post, and share about this issue on your social media platforms
- Volunteer OR donate to a local agency supporting victims and survivors. You can find agencies to help on the website humantrafficking.la.gov At the top of the page, you can click on “Find Resources“. It will bring you to a clickable map to locate agencies and organizations near you to support.
- Pay attention to people and children, and if you “See something, say something.” Long gone is the idea that its none of my business. It is always our business when a life is in danger.
- Call 911 or contact your local law enforcement agency if you see anything that may look suspicious.
You, I, we- together can ALL help save a life by sharing this awareness. So today, I ask each of you to choose a “path of prevention.” A path to help, heal, and save the lives of one of these brothers, sisters, and children.
Proverbs 16:3 Entrust your works to the LORD, and your plans will succeed.
FEATURE Be a Wetland Friend and Take the Pledge
By Johnette Downing
The Louisiana wetlands are fragile ecosystems where flora, fauna, and humans depend upon one another for survival, each playing a vital role in creating a harmonious, healthy, and balanced habitat or home. It takes a community to make a home, with each person doing their small part for the greater good.
In my picture book Petit Pierre and the Floating Marsh, the young pelican, Petit Pierre, is looking for a home in the beautiful Louisiana wetland. In the story, each animal friend gives Petit Pierre a special gift to build his home: water, mud, a reed, a lotus, a cypress seedling, sun, grass, and wisdom. Working alone or together with your friends and family, you too can help Petit Pierre keep Louisiana beautiful and thriving for all.
One person can make a difference!
I, _____________________________, take the Louisiana pledge!
Beginning today, I promise to protect Louisiana and its wetlands by doing two or more of the following actions:
- Practice the three “R’s” – Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle! Reduce means to minimize the amount of waste we create. Reuse means to use items more than once. Finally, recycling means using old products in new ways.
- Participate in programs that help protect and restore wetlands, like a beach clean-up or wetland planting project.
- Pick up litter to keep trash out of the wetlands, waterways, byways, and neighborhoods.
- Plant native species such as live oak, cypress, tupelo, red maple, green ash, hackberry, spartina (cordgrass or wiregrass), Roseau cane, American lotus, and three-cornered grass to preserve the ecological balance of local wetlands.
- Use unbleached paper and recycled products whenever you can. Bleached paper contains toxic chemicals that can contaminate water.
- Share Petit Pierre and the Floating Marsh with friends and family. Check it out—literally! A copy of the book was donated to every library in the State. Proceeds from the sale of each book fund wetlands education programs in partnership with the New Orleans Pelicans and Audubon Nature Institute. You can download a free Petit Pierre and the Floating Marsh book activity packet. We hope you enjoy the book trailer!
Now, friends, let’s get out there and Love the Boot!
To get a copy of Petite Pierre visit:
Activity packet: https://www.johnettedowning.com/activities
— Recipient of the 2017 Louisiana Writer Award, Johnette Downing, is a musician, author, illustrator, and poet. Dedicated to sharing her Louisiana songs and stories with children, Johnette has performed on five continents, has received dozens of awards, and has thirty books and eleven recordings. Petit Pierre and the Floating Marsh represented the State of Louisiana at the 2016 National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit her website at johnettedowning.com
LOUISIANA FIRST FOUNDATION
RE-CAP ON THE LOUISIANA
ARTS SUMMIT CONFERENCE
The Teach MAM Ambassadors recently presented on Arts Integration at the Louisiana Arts Summit produced by the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge and the Louisiana Division of the Arts. The presentation focused on teaching the Arts, Music, Visual Arts, and Movement through integration with core subjects such as English, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies. So precisely, what is arts integration?
Connect1Child, formerly known as Connect 1:27, is the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home’s statewide foster care and adoption ministry. The Connect1Child team works to connect children with the hope of the Gospel, the love of a family, and support from a church through the foster care journey and beyond.
In addition to recruiting and supporting foster families, the Connect1Child team works with churches across the state to develop and support foster care and adoption ministries. Additionally, the Connect1Child team works closely with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and other community partners to help communicate urgent and ongoing foster care needs and encourage efforts where help is needed.
ANTI HUMAN TRAFFICKING
RE-CAP OF NCPHST
Wow! There are simply no words to describe what we experienced this weekend at the National Coalition for the Prevention of Human Sex Trafficking’s (NCPHST) inaugural event. On April 3, 2022, First Lady Donna Edwards along with 7 other First Spouses who are also members of the NCPHST hosted an event in the city of New Orleans during the NCAA Final Four to raise awareness on the issue of human sex trafficking. In addition to the First Spouses, Governor Edwards and several other Governors provided support to their wives at this packed event which drew over 500 guests from across the country and globe.
GOVERNOR'S MANSION EASTER EGG HUNT
After a two-year hiatus, Governor John Bel Edwards and First Lady Donna Edwards proudly hosted their annual Easter Egg Hunt at the Governor’s Mansion. Laughter filled every corner as children and their families participated in the Easter egg hunt, hopscotch, coloring activities, and more. A special guest even visited to welcome the kids – the Easter Bunny!
This year’s wooden egg highlights the Rose Long Rose Garden, one of the most tranquil places on the Mansion grounds. This egg, designed by the First Family, is a proud tradition spanning multiple administrations.
WOMEN'S HEALTH The Gift of Life: A Personal Testimony
Patrice James Serino
January 2015, I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit, unlike ever before. A few months earlier in 2014, my dad tried to reach me, to no avail. Eventually, we connected; I sensed that he was concerned about me. He shared his concerns and wanted to know if I had been taking care of myself. Of course, at the time, I assured him that I was. He didn’t elaborate but wanted me to know that he didn’t know what he would do if something happened to me. Hmmm, I thought! After a slight pause, I continued with my routine, living life.
Now let me get back to 2015, the start of a new journey. During the wee hours of the morning, a heavy feeling in my chest awakened me. I tossed and turned, trying to find a comfortable position; I knew something wasn’t right. It was a strange feeling, but I continued to lie there in bed. It wasn’t until I heard my son in his room coughing that I decided to get up from bed to check on his well-being. His coughing was so harsh that I asked him several times if he needed to go to the hospital for emergency care, but he declined the offer. Despite the feeling, I returned to my bedroom and made one more attempt to lie down. I could no longer ignore the heaviness in my chest. It was becoming very hard to breathe. Then, in silence, I heard the Holy Spirit speak to me so clearly. The voice said, “you better get up, take a shower, and get to the hospital.” The voice repeated very firmly, one that I couldn’t ignore. At that time, I felt the need to alert my husband and son; I told them that I needed medical attention and that it was urgent. Recalling my conversation with my father several weeks before that night, I felt an intense urgency to take action immediately.
Within the next several hours, I was seen by a doctor in an acute care facility and told that I needed to get to a hospital emergency room STAT! My blood pressure reading was 278/170; needless to say, I was admitted to the hospital immediately. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I began to show signs of distress when an Orderly sensed my emotional state and advised me not to worry. The Orderly said to me, “you’re going to be alright. God’s got you. You made it to the hospital.” I was under observation and treated by a team of doctors. I recall hearing the doctors state that they had never seen anyone with a blood pressure reading so high that they had not stroked out or died.
I then knew, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8
I was diagnosed with hypertension, congestive heart failure, and chronic kidney disease. Little did I know that hypertension and diabetes are the leading causes of chronic kidney disease. I needed dialysis to sustain my life until I could receive a kidney transplant. I received information that in Louisiana, with an O+ blood type, it could take anywhere from 6 to 8 years to receive a kidney transplant. That proved accurate, and my first call was on July 5, 2021, year 6. The calls started to come more frequently between July 5, 2021, and February 2022. Unfortunately, none of the calls lead to a match for me. However, I received “the call,” “the one,” on February 26, 2022, which ultimately led to me becoming the recipient of a kidney transplant on February 27, 2022. My life has been renewed in year 7, the year of completeness.
I did my part in the “DASH” between 2015 and 2022. I trained and survived COVID-19 complicated with double pneumonia in 2020 and two years of dialysis from 2020 to 2022. My new kidney is my gift of life. Organ donation has been the ultimate gift. I am thankful. To learn more about organ donation, visit https://www.lopa.org
Trusting and believing in God, knowing that he had gone before me, I knew that the VICTORY was mine.
PEOPLE OF LOUISIANA 1. Community
Court Improvement Program (CIP)
The Court Improvement Program (CIP) of the Louisiana Supreme Court and Pelican Center for Children and Families hosts monthly virtual CIP Cafes on the third Thursday of every month, from 12:00 pm-1:00 pm, to discuss relevant child welfare topics. Past CIP Café topics have included: Introduction to Act 6, Parent Engagement, Support, and Advocacy, LEAF Makes History: A Summary of the Foster Youth Bill of Rights in Louisiana, The New Louisiana Law on Permanent Placement of Children in Foster Care, Human Trafficking of Youth in Louisiana, and Care Settings Available for Children in Foster Care.
CIP Cafés are open to anyone interested in child welfare, including but not limited to attorneys, judges,
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Department of Children and Family Services employees, other government agencies, social workers, foster caregivers, school faculty and teachers, emergency responders, community members, etc. CIP Cafes are free to attend and participants can earn 1.0 of CLE and CEU credits.
We are thrilled to announce that First Lady Donna Edwards will speak at the next virtual CIP Café on Thursday, April 21st, as we highlight National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Participants will have the opportunity to hear about the endeavors the First Lady is spearheading to improve outcomes for Louisiana children and families and create equitable opportunities for all, including the Louisiana Fosters, Louisiana First Foundation, and Anti Human Trafficking. In addition, The First Lady will share insights on Louisiana’s child welfare system and challenge stakeholder priorities for 2022 and beyond. Finally, participants will be able to ask questions as well as learn about helpful resources, and how to access more information.
For more information on the April 21st CIP Cafe, check out the CIP Café flyer below.
To register, go to: https://www.teamdynamicsweb.com/event-4610699.
We hope you will join us on April 21st for this inspiring and conversational Café with the First Lady.
PEOPLE OF LOUISIANA 2. Schools
Opening New Doors through Cross-Curricular Experiences
by Jay Weisman
In my first year of teaching, the chair of the social studies department, who I had not yet met, stopped me in the hall and introduced himself. After some small pleasantries, he asked what I taught, and then shock came over his face. After hearing that I was a Math teacher, he quipped, “I swear, every time I walk past your classroom, it sounds like a history class.”
While some might assume that this was because my classes were always going off on tangents, the reality, as I explained to him, was that I was trained as a social studies teacher. I got my degrees in Political Science and History from LSU and completed my student teaching with an AP US history class.
Once the puzzle pieces came together, everything made sense to him. He smiled and chuckled, saying, “Ah, that makes sense. Well, it sounds like your students are getting a full educational experience then.”
And he wasn’t wrong.
There is no doubt that I am a better teacher because of my diversified training background.
By studying vocabulary strategies to help with historical reading and writing, I’ve been better able to assist my students in making connections to mathematical terminology. Discussing how teachers should approach culturally unique experiences with their students gave me insight into how different students might see various approaches to solving the same geometry problem. And figuring out ways to create engaging and interactive lessons on topics some might find dry, like the inner workings of the federal government, showed me that having fun while learning is always possible, especially if you are willing to get a little silly with your students.
But the biggest lesson that I took away from the humanities is to ask, “why?” And this simple question has helped open the doors to deeper mathematical understanding not only for my students but also for me. So many times in the hard sciences, we focus on processes and outcomes. We practice and memorize our times tables until they are down pat and master the quadratic formula by putting it to the tune of Pop Goes the Weasel. However, we forget to start with where these tools come from and why they work. Without my time spent in social studies, I would never have learned how critical grounding in the “why” is to eventual mastery.
And while there’s no doubt that I’m advocating for more educators to find opportunities to experience realms outside of their niche, what I think is more important to highlight is how accessible this can be.
Cross-curricular teaching is often presented as a narrow, one-time project or abroad, all-encompassing idea that no teacher has time to invest in. But it doesn’t need to be that black and white. Instead, it’s incredibly helpful to look for smaller, regular opportunities to broaden your pedagogy.
Next time you are scrolling Instagram and are about to follow yet another Algebra teacher, maybe look for a language specialist instead. The instructional strategies they employ and post about may or may not be directly applicable to your classroom, but they might show you where some of your students are coming from or how you could adapt your teaching.
Next time you get a newsletter with “10 Free Strategies To Try”, don’t scroll so quickly past the ones for subjects that you don’t teach. Instead, you might discover a new style of guided notes or a handout easily adaptable from the original Spanish classroom to your Biology one.
Next time a conference session seems to be about electives, attend anyway. Your students will appreciate whatever you bring back to them to bolster their whole educational experience.
My hope is to keep finding these cross-curricular experiences, wherever they may be. Even small ones can have massive impacts. I’ve set a goal to observe off-subject classes at least once a month and meet and have lunch with members of every other department of the school before the year ends. In this way, I hope to continue pushing myself and my students to get better. I hope that whoever walks by my classroom still asks themselves, “I wonder what he teaches.”
Benjamin Franklin High School
9th and 10th Grade Teacher
Geometry and Algebra I
2021-22 Milken Educator Award recipient
PEOPLE OF LOUISIANA 3. Military
VA Mobile App
for Health and Benefits
The Veteran community wanted a mobile app with a personalized experience to make it easier to connect with VA and access benefits.
Since its launch on July 13, 2021, more than 300,000 Veterans have used the VA mobile app for health and benefits. The app’s success, in part, is due to the development approach, which kept Veterans at the heart of the design process.
VA’s Veterans Experience Office (VEO) and Office of Information and Technology joined forces to create an app Veterans would find useful and usable. To do this, they used human centered design techniques to engage the Veteran community and better understand their needs and preferences in mobile app capabilities.
This direct Veteran feedback, combined with development efforts to achieve high-value app functionalities – security, usability, and personalization – resulted in a mobile app Veterans can use to securely access personal VA records and easily manage their VA experience. The app is free and can be quickly downloaded to Apple and Android devices.
“Easy to use, intuitive and smooth, the app offers great access to the things Veterans need.” – VA mobile app user
Built-in phone security features, such as thumbprint and face recognition, provide protected access to the VA mobile app for health and benefits, which delivers convenient access to a broad range of services. Veterans can use the mobile app to:
- Complete health care and benefits transactions;
- Update VA.gov profile account information;
- Check on claims and appeals status, and upload documents;
- Download VA documents, such as the Benefit Summary and Service Verification Letter, and VA vaccine records;
- View and cancel health care appointments and add them to the phone’s calendar;
- Securely message their health care team.
VA is working to make more features available on the mobile app soon, such as the ability to view pending (and request new) health care appointments as well as manage disability compensation, education and pension payments. Later this year, Veterans will be able to request prescription refills right from their mobile phones.
The VA mobile app currently has a 4.8 rating on Apple and a 4.6 rating on Google Play, and user feedback will be used to continuously improve the app.
Download the VA mobile app for health and benefits today, and manage your VA experience wherever you are, whenever you want.
*Kiran Dhillon is a communications specialist for VA’s Veterans Experience Office
*Published On: March 28th, 2022
FEATURED RECIPE Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs
MEMORABLE VERSE April 2022
THE FIRST DOGS The First Dogs wish you a Happy Easter!
MEET OUR EDITORS Delery Rice & Katie McElveen
A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, Delery has lived there all of her life except during undergraduate school and a brief stint in Seattle, WA. She is a mother to four boys, ranging in ages from 21 to 16, and they are the heart and soul of her life.
Delery earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and Master’s Degree from Louisiana State University. She completed a fellowship at Loyola University, New Orleans Institute of Politics, and currently attends Harvard Kennedy School of Public Policy. Her volunteer work has mostly evolved from issues that have affected her personally. Actively engaged in disability rights advocacy, Delery has testified numerous times in the Louisiana Legislature regarding issues that affect persons with developmental disabilities. She served as the chair of the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council, worked for seven years directing regional advocacy efforts and is a graduate of Louisiana’s Partners In Policymaking.
A native Kentwood, Louisiana, Katie is a wife of over 10 years and mother to 3 children ages 8, 6 , 2, whom she homeschools. Katie McElveen earned her BA in Organizational Communication from Southeastern Louisiana University in 2010, and her M.Ed. in Mental Health from Southeastern in 2013. She was a school counselor for five years where she earned her licensure as a Licensed Professional Counselor. She became trained in trust-based relational interventions (TBRI) as a practitioner in 2016. She joined Louisiana First Foundation as the Louisiana Fosters Director in 2019 and in 2022 became the Program Director.