Pick Your Purpose
01/10/2017 06:00AM ● Published by Christy Quebedeaux
Gallery: Your Community [6 Images] Click any image to expand.
A Better Community – A Better You
By Hailey Fleming / Submitted Photos
As January 1 approaches, it seems as though we are all trying to answer that age-old question: What will I do differently in the New Year? If you ask around, typical answers will consist of getting in shape, eating healthier, stopping a bad habit or watching less television. Although these are all worthwhile resolutions, I’d encourage you to think outside of the box and consider a resolution that would be beneficial not only to you, but also to those around you. This year, consider making it your goal to make an impact in Acadiana through community involvement.
We all know Louisiana is a place where you can “pick your passion.” With so many diverse industries and cultural influences, anyone can find a place to fit in. In the same manner, Acadiana and its community organizations are equally as diverse. Whether you enjoy the arts, social networking, local history or hands-on work, opportunities abound to plug in to. So, from the budding young artist to the social butterfly, there is an avenue for everyone who wants to get involved and to use their skills and abilities to make a difference right here at home. All you have to do is “pick your purpose.”
Envision da Berry
In this culturally rich environment, one of those passions may be the arts. In recent years, Iberia Parish has witnessed a creative revival largely due to the efforts of several local organizations. One such organization is Envision da Berry, cofounded by New Iberia native and local designer, Phanat Xanamane. The organization uses art to plug in and connect with the surrounding community. “Our main goal is really to bring people together and to use art to create new relationships and partnerships to advance Iberia Parish as a community,” says Phanat.
Envision da Berry’s primary purpose is to revitalize and meet the needs of the West End neighborhood of New Iberia through art installations, community gardens and an up-and-coming fresh market and job-training program. In addition, they host the Show Tunes Sing Along, a live music event, as well as Tarts and Arts, a public art show hosted by NILA gallery in which local artists are welcome to participate.
For those who enjoy working in flowerbeds or are artistically inclined, Envision da Berry provides ample volunteer opportunities, such as their weekly volunteer day at the Iberia Community Garden. “We’re looking for artists, young creative entrepreneurs and people that just want to see their community get better,” Phanat adds.
Art lovers are welcome, but you don’t have to be a creative visionary to fit in around here. Anyone who enjoys a good social gathering can appreciate ON TAP, an organization with the tag line “a social group with a community conscience.” Wess Robison, spokesman for ON TAP, explained the organization came from realizing a need to be active in the community and to make sure there are always things going on. “We have great families, a great community and plenty to work with,” he says.
This organization certainly lives up to its mission by coordinating networking events for its members, like quarterly member mixers and an annual pub-crawl in downtown New Iberia. They also organize several community events while raising money for community enhancement projects. Some of these events include Movies in the Park, the Roux Run 5K and the ever-popular Acadiana Dragon Boat Races. These events provide public entertainment, enhancing community life by drawing in thousands of spectators and hundreds of participants, and a large portion of proceeds is donated to worthy causes. In 2016 alone, ON TAP contributions totaled to approximately $8,500. Some of the programs that have received contributions are the Iberia Parks and Playground Enhancement Committee, the George Rodrigue Memorial Park, St. Francis Diner, IPAL, United Way, the Coastal Conservation Association and the establishment of the Firestarter Junior Leadership Program.
Robison adds, “ We are completely volunteer based and we love what we do, we love our community and we love our members. ON TAP would not exist without everyone on board.” ON TAP welcomes anyone interested in joining this social, community-minded organization through membership or volunteerism.
History & Culture
Those who truly appreciate the cultural and agricultural heritage of Acadiana may particularly enjoy getting plugged in to some of the organizations that exemplify those aspects. Programs like the Bayou Teche Museum contribute greatly to the community through its efforts to preserve and exhibit the unique blend of cultures and people of South Louisiana. Larry Hensgens, the Museum President and 2009 Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Civic Service Award recipient agrees, “It’s a great organization that does a lot for the community and shows a lot about where we’ve been and the talents we have here.”
The museum is a self-funded operation and relies heavily on volunteers to host school tours, greet tourists and coordinate an annual Gala, which helps to fund the year’s operational costs. When asked about the need for volunteers Hensgens laughs, “We’ll accept anyone with a heart beat!” This year’s Gala will be held on Thursday, January 26 and the museum welcomes anyone who wishes to attend or volunteer.
Getting involved with your favorite local festival or event is another great way to do your part in preserving our cultural heritage. The World Championship Gumbo Cookoff and the 75-year-old Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival unite locals as well as visitors to celebrate Cajun cuisine, music and Iberia’s primary agricultural commodity – sugar. In addition, they boost the local economy and the tourism industry as people from around the country flock to Acadiana, one of the most historically significant areas in Louisiana.
As annual fixtures the public has come to enjoy and expect, several spectators are unaware of the immense manpower and funding these events actually require. The Sugarcane Festival costs approximately $250,000 to put on every year and requires hundreds of volunteers to coordinate and host events like the Queen’s Parade, Children’s Parade, the Farm Fest and the Stars of Style, the festival’s premier fundraiser. The sale of individual memberships also contributes to the festival’s operating costs while providing benefits, like event tickets, to the purchaser.
Likewise, the Gumbo Cookoff, an event coordinated by the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce, is run completely by volunteers. Any individuals or businesses that want to assist with planning, work the cookoff, or put together a cooking team is encouraged to participate.
Lisa Lourd, Co-Chair of Stars of Style, thinks it is a great idea for people in the general public to get involved for the community’s immediate and future benefit. “The more vested you are in something the more you want it to succeed,” she says. “Increasing community engagement could help ensure the future success of the event as well.”
For The Girls
Local women also have an avenue through which to get involved that is all their own. Whether looking for a social outing or to aid in a philanthropic effort, there is a way to get plugged in. One of these programs is Spark Iberia, a women’s group that began as an extension of Inspire, an event put on by the Chamber of Commerce. They hold quarterly meetings that provide an opportunity for women of all ages and backgrounds to meet, collaborate and make quick connections. Not only does each event provide a community-building, social outlet for the participant, but it also contributes to the business community by spotlighting each locally owned business that serves as a host.
Another women’s association is the Berry Queens of New Iberia. With their outrageous costumes and robust personality, they leave their mark wherever they go – and they seem to be everywhere. Jerri Borland, the founder of the non-profit, explains, “We consider ourselves to be a group of women that spread ‘world peace’ in our community. Any cause that helps better New Iberia, we are available for.”
The group was founded as a by-product of Iberia Habitat for Humanity, an organization for which they raise more than $40,000 each year, but they also contribute to and host several other local events. Some of these include the Sugarcane Festival Candy Toss Parade, the Berry Queen’s Ball, Hats and Hallelujah gospel brunch, Beneath the Balconies, the Acadiana Symphony and Shadows Along the Teche events.
These women aren’t all business, however, as they also enjoy the networking aspect of their efforts. “It has given me a way to meet several different women that I may never have met otherwise,” states Borland. “Women need the support of other women. We’re able to give the community a hand up, but also able to give each other a hand up when we need it.”
As noted, giving the community “a hand up” can come in many forms and fashions when you are blessed to call Acadiana “Home.” People of all interests; philanthropists, artistic talents, cultural enthusiasts and social visionaries can play their part in making a difference around them. Your involvement in community affairs can not only further your interests and social endeavors, but also contribute to several charities and worthy causes.
“Get active in something you’re passionate about and then get active in something you know nothing about to broaden your horizons a bit,” encourages Larry Hensgens. “We have a great community here and if people step up it will just make it that much better.” He continues to explain that volunteering always functions as a two way street, “If you’re involved in doing something for the right reasons it can’t help but change your life as much as it changes other people’s lives.”
This year, when considering what your New Year’s resolution will be, consider resolving to turn your sights outward and make an impact in whatever way you can. Pick your purpose and get invested. You may be surprised at how much you learn about your community as well as yourself along the way.