Meet Our 2020 Angels
Children's Museum of Acadiana
Even at 98, Ben Bowie’s extraordinary enthusiasm and energy outpaces many younger volunteers. He has a lifetime of experience as a veteran, school principal and entrepreneur. For the last thirteen years, he has volunteered weekly at the Children’s Museum of Acadiana, where he has spent time with thousands of children who come to play and learn.
You can set your watch by Ben’s commitment: he shows up early, always with a tin of home-baked brownies or cookies, greets all of his staff and fellow colleagues, and gets to work. Ben is engaged and active, guiding the museum’s young visitors through the model grocery store, the café, bubble pit, TV studio and more. Through this play, the children learn healthy eating, math, science, problem solving, social skills and so much more.
Over the years, staff and volunteers at the museum come and go — but Ben is a vital constant. He leads by example, with humility and experience. Each person he interacts with feels valued and honored for their contributions. Thousands of children have fond memories of Mr. Ben and the museum, and given that he shows no signs of slowing down, thousands more will make those same memories with him.
Early in her career as an educator, Sarah Broome realized that many students needed more attention and support than they could get either at school or in complicated home environments. She got to work creating a safe place where students could come and spend all of their time focused on learning, comradery, and just being children.
It took years of exceedingly hard work and determination, but her efforts have culminated in Thrive Academy, a residential school in Baton Rouge that takes students from across the state. During the day, they learn in a state-of-the-art facility with trauma-informed educators and support staff. After school, they retire to the 180-bed dormitory to focus on study and play.
Thrive serves children from backgrounds which often include homelessness, gang violence, domestic violence, and other types of trauma. However, through thoughtful construction of an educational program that provides structure, high-expectations, emotional counselling, athletics, food security, dignified shelter, and much more, the school is able to instill or restore hope for a brighter future.
In 2019, after years of Sarah’s determined leadership, Thrive reached one its most significant milestones to date: its first commencement ceremony for a class of bright, enthusiastic students with unlimited promise.
Dr. Marybeth Lima
LSU Community Playground Project
As a professor of biological and agricultural engineering, Dr. Marybeth Lima needed a way to give her students a hands-on experience in designing for human wellbeing. So, she picked something almost everyone has experience with: playgrounds. That project quickly grew into the LSU Community Playground Project — a service organization that gives children of all social and economic backgrounds equal access to extraordinary places to play and develop.
In 23 years, Dr. Lima and the LSU Community Playground Project have engaged children, families and educators in designing and building over 40 playgrounds and spaces in and around Baton Rouge. Dr. Lima leads the planning, design and construction and goes far beyond to overcome obstacles — often personally leading fundraising efforts to lessen that burden on schools and neighborhoods.
Safe, engaging play is essential to healthy development and growth. The playground is where we learn many of our first lessons of what it means to be among other humans. Dr. Lima’s mission is overcome the obstacles of inequity and disinvestment to make sure each and every child has access to the facilities and playgrounds that they deserve.
Dr. Calvin Mackie
Dr. Calvin Mackie has four degrees in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). So it was quite a surprise when one of his sons confessed a disinterest in STEM — his teacher taught to the board, and he didn’t see how STEM worked in the real world.
Dr. Mackie started conducting hands-on experiments in his garage with his sons. Before he knew it, the entire neighborhood was lined up to build a boat and learn about density, play instruments to learn about the physics of sound or play with models of the human heart.
STEM NOLA grew out of Dr. Mackie’s garage into a regional powerhouse of experiential learning for students across disciplines. Through STEM Saturdays, STEM NOLA@Home and tens of thousands of students learning and playing along, Dr. Mackie has grown a movement of young people following their curiosity and exploring the world around them, piquing interest in careers as builders and makers.
As Dr. Mackie says, our children can take something, break something or make something — STEM NOLA teaches the skills needed to make something and build a brighter future together.
Volunteers for Youth Justice
Lucinda Miles is a crisis program coordinator at Volunteers for Youth Justice. With a deep commitment to children, she has established herself as an advocate, teacher and mentor.
Lucinda is a regional leader in Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI®), where she equips foster families, biological families and support systems such as schools, counselors and more with the knowledge and skills of how to look beyond the “bad” behavior and support children who have endured trauma. At home, her devotion and passion have sparked a movement that is creating trauma-informed systems that more effectively help kids coming from hard places.
Each year, about 700 children enter the Caddo parish foster care system as a result of abuse or neglect. The actions that lead families to this place are traumatic for these children. To further compound on this trauma, they are forced to attend court hearings to determine their fate. Court can be a scary place – and Lucinda has piloted ways to mitigate that experience. She designed and raised all of the funds for The Calming Studio, a state-of-the-art sensory rich room which aids in regulating the emotions of those who have experienced the effects of complex trauma.
Lucinda has been relentless in making sure that her vision of creating a trauma focused experience for all children in the foster care system has come to fruition. She won’t stop until each child gets the support and focus that he or she deserves to survive and thrive in spite of traumatic experiences.
Johnny Robinson's Boys Home
Johnny Robinson is well known for his work on the field as a Louisiana State University great and Super
Bowl IV star for the Kansas City Chiefs. But quietly, and more importantly, he has acted as a mentor and father figure for thousands of young men who have interacted with the juvenile justice system and established a safe, supportive family environment for them – the Johnny Robinson’s Boys Home.
What started as an effort to care for one young man who had been abused while in custody has grown into a community-based facility that houses up to 30 young men at a time, all of whom have been adjudicated and are in care of the State of Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice. While at the home for 6-12 months at a time, each young man attends public school, receives intensive counseling and support services, tutoring and training in soft skills.
The young men at the Boys Home know Johnny Robinson as “Dad,” with Johnny having become the primary father figure to many over the years. He is at the office every day, and his family helps run the facility. Together with the staff, they have helped hundreds of young men find opportunity, reach their potential and become who they were meant to be.
Fathers On a Mission
Levar Robison believes that every child needs and deserves a father figure as a role model. Levar's father was totally absent from birth; he and his sister were raised by a single mom in tough circumstances. His mother, a strong, faith-filled woman, discouraged Levar from living the narrative of the neighborhood; he went on to the serve in the Navy and currently works with ExxonMobil as a process operator.
When it came time to have his own children, Levar was and is determined to be the father to them that he never had. He recognized a real absence of support for dads – places where they could connect to talk through challenges, learn best practices and lift each other up. So, he started Fathers on a Mission, a nonprofit organization that trains and offers safe spaces to fathers. Fathers On a Mission also connects with young people from single-parent households to teach positive skills like self-worth, conflict resolution, decision-making, soft skills and much more.
Hundreds of dads have been a part of community-based trainings and discussions, and are now part of that mission to create a better experience of fatherhood for their families. Hundreds more students have been mentored by Levar or one of the other fathers. Fathers On a Mission is growing rapidly, partnering with other nonprofits to provide support and wrap-around services, to make sure that no child struggles because of an absent father.
After 10 years of incarceration, Syrita Steib founded Operation Restoration to support currently and formerly incarcerated women and girls. In just two years, she has grown her organization from just two staff members to more than 20 contractors (most of them formerly incarcerated), who provide any and all support needed by women and girls leaving prison and finding their path.
In the last year, Operation Restoration has provided direct services to more than three-hundred formerly incarcerated women and their children. Among them, 88% identified as Black and 80% identified as single mothers with custody of minor children. Formerly incarcerated women often face insurmountable obstacles after release — including barriers to employment, housing, healthcare, education, and family reunification.
These challenges are immensely complicated and intersect – which is why Operation Restoration provides wrap-around support across case management, housing, education, and job placement. They help women access food and shelter, clothe them, provide transportation, train them in soft skills and help them find jobs.
Syrita is on-call 24/7 as a supporter, friend and mountain-mover. She has been recognized nationally as an expert on the importance of supporting currently and formerly incarcerated women and policy solutions to end women's incarceration. She was also appointed to co-chair the healthy families committee on Mayor Latoya Cantrell's transition team and appointed by Governor John Bel Edwards to sit on the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Oversight Committee and the Louisiana Incarcerated Women's Taskforce.
David "V-Eight" Longstreet
Bikers Against Child Abuse
Each year, the Foundation selects a Blue Angel — an employee of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana who is going above and beyond for kids. This year’s Blue Angel is David “V-Eight” Longstreet, a senior software engineer who has been a biker for many years. His neighbor introduced him to Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA), a national organization of riders who support children that have been victims of abuse by showing up as friends, mentors and guardian angels. David, who resonated with the difficult experience of children who have endured abuse, signed up and started down the path of BACA’s 18-month training program almost immediately.
BACA riders use their tough image to give courage to children facing dire circumstances. Each child is paired with two riders who provide emotional support. Children can call day or night. At a moment’s notice, David and others may be called upon to ride to the aid of a child across the country who must go to court to testify against their abuser. The riders show up by the dozens to let the child know they are not alone, physically blocking their child having to see or interact with the person who hurt them.
David is a calming presence for the children he works with — children who are at first shy or closed down open up to David and feel at ease around him. He wins their trust and becomes a confidante and protector. Over the years, he has worked with dozens of children and held many positions with his BACA chapter. He credits his time with BACA for getting him to open up to co-workers and friends. Even now, he is always ready to ride.