Bringing Hope To The Children - "No Use For Abuse"
By Anne B. Minvielle
Photos by Fusion Photography
It may be the “dog days of summer” here in Acadiana, but it’s also time for bells, binders, and book bags. Schools have been cleaned, the hall floors are polished, and teachers are ready for new faces. Hopefully, those faces are smiling and show eagerness to accomplish goals and to become involved in the school year’s projects and activities.
At Early College Academy in the Lafayette Parish School System, Elijah Evans will probably be at the head of the class when his teacher asks about goals and projects of interest. At 14 years of age, Elijah has had more experience in planning activities and establishing objectives than many who are twice his age. Life has been a compelling teacher, and the lessons he has learned bear the enlightenment of some of the worlds wisest.
The Road To Helping Others
Elijah was a healthy baby but became a victim of child abuse at an early age. Looking at the handsome, smiling young man that he has become, one might find it hard to believe that he has distinct memories of horror. He was placed in extremely hot water when he was 3 years old, receiving third degree burns, severe enough to require multiple surgeries. Hospital personnel noted bruises from past abuses, and reports were filed.
Child Protective Services placed him in the foster care system under extreme circumstances because he required daily medical care to deal with extensive burns. Private duty nurses cared for him,and in February 2001, an angel of mercy in the person of Lynore Harding began as the LPN assigned to his case.
According to Lynore, “It was love at first sight. Elijah was 4 when I met him and I just loved his big eyes and his smile. I spent a lot of time with him, and then decided that I wanted to adopt him. I realized that he would always face problems because of the burns. He had severe burns on his legs. He had lost his toes on his right foot and his toes on his left foot were webbed together, but I just knew that he would be a blessing in my life. I filled out the paperwork, and the adoption went through.”
Through the years, Lynore has nursed Elijah through numerous medical procedures including surgery for skin grafts. In the seventh-grade he was only able to attend classes for about two months. He had homebound teachers and finished much of the seventh-grade assignments on his own. Lynore says, “He really wanted to play football and went to all the practices. Just before the season began, he started to have issues with his feet and had to quit. He had to undergo a series of five surgeries.”
Instead of looking at the scenario of his last year at Youngsville Middle School with a defeatist attitude, he decided to plan a project that had been germinating from a seed planted long ago. As a foster child, Elijah knew that Christmas could be a lonely time for a child in foster care and a time of disappointment when a foster child sees others receive gifts. Elijah had long dreamed of being able to give a party for children in foster care, and of gifting them with presents from a wish list that they had made.
Some might say, “An impossible dream for someone so young.” Not for this young hero. Perhaps Elijah was reading the late theologian Henri Nouen who wrote, “I always try to turn my personal struggles into something helpful for others” for that is precisely what he did.
Elijah belonged to an organization at school known as Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America, which encourages members to develop projects to foster leadership within the community. With the assistance of the club sponsor, Teacher Dawn Gary, he assembled a list of 72 children in the foster care system. His goal was to plan a Christmas party for them and present each with $50 of presents from a wish list each would create.
Elijah determined that he would need $5,000 to have the party and make the children’s dreams come true, and he approached the task of raising it with his usual tenacity. He seized all opportunities to speak about the cause of ministering to children in foster care as well as preventing child abuse. Elijah appeared on early morning talk shows to promote his cause, and word began to spread of a young man with a big plan.
Always by his side was his mother,with ideas, support, and encouragement. With her help, he was able to gain the support of Angela’s Hair Studio in Broussard, and the salon sponsored “Cuts against Abuse” to help raise funds for Elijah’s project. As at all South Louisiana events, food was sold to add money to the pot. Someone offered to gather motorcycle enthusiasts to have a poker run to benefit the cause, and steadily, the project account grew.
Campaign To Stop Child Abuse
Elijah began planning the project in August 2011, and his dreams of a Christmas party came true, as did those of 72 foster children who were assured that someone very much like them can overcome adversity and even help others in need.
Elijah calls his campaign against child abuse “No Use for Abuse,” and he has written a rap song to tell his story and designed a T-shirt to promote his message that child abuse breaks hearts and causes tears and pain for everyone.
In July 2012, Elijah was a representative at FCCLA’s National Conference in Orlando where he entered his project “No Use for Abuse” in national competition and received a bronze award.
He received a 2012 Louisiana Young Heroes Award, presented by Louisiana Public Broadcasting and the Baton Rouge Rotary Club. Now in its 17th year, this program honors students in grades 4-12 for academic achievement, service to the community, overcoming adversity, and serving as an inspiration to others. This year the award was presented to eight students who were selected from 127 nominations from around the state.
In April of the past school year, Evans was nominated by his school for one of the Cox Inspirations Hero Awards sponsored by Cox Communications. His mother says the award is given to a student who has overcome personal adversity and has risen to the challenge by leading a meaningful and productive life and inspiring others.
Prevent Child Abuse Louisiana is a state-wide, non-profit organization dedicated to preventing abuse and neglect in the children of Louisiana. Lynore began attending meetings of the local group and learned the organization promotes the values of strengthening families, engaging communities, and valuing children. She says seeing how well that fit in with Elijah’s “No Use for Abuse” project, she persuaded him to attend meetings with her.
Lynore learned that PCAL would have a state “Kids Are Worth It” Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect in Baton Rouge and that the “Champion for Children” award would be given for raising awareness for child abuse prevention in the community. She made plans for her and Elijah to attend and, without telling him, nominated Elijah for the award.
Says Elijah, “I thought it was strange when I walked in for the banquet, and saw all kinds of people I knew there. My mom had found out I won and invited people to be there! I was so surprised. I didn’t know anything about the award.”
Lynore speaks with pride about her son and is also emphatic about the role that God has played in his overcoming adversity. “When I first adopted Elijah, I knew that God was going to use him for great things,” she says. Elijah is always humble when he speaks of what he has accomplished and always gives credit to his mother. “I could not have done it without her,” as he nods to his mom and smiles.
Prevent Abuse Before It Happens
Elijah has a message, and it comes from a heart that is as big as he wishes the impact of that message could be. “I try to get across in my rap song that abuse causes nothing but pain. God intends for us to love. I also want people to know that the number one kind of abuse is neglect. Parents need help to do their job. They need somewhere to turn. We need to prevent abuse before it happens,” he explains.
Another of Elijah’s dreams has come true. He has long wanted to have a foundation devoted to preventing child abuse. Recently, with his mother’s help, the foundation was established, and already, donations have been made.
Elijah is ready to start the new school year and continue his work on his “No Use for Abuse” project. Who knows what Elijah may dream next? It may take motorcycles, haircuts, and candy sales, but with his heart and soul, he is sure to make it come true.
No Use For Abuse Foundation may be contacted in writing at 122A Olive Branch Drive, Youngsville, LA 70592 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org