Women Making A Difference
06/01/2018 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey
Photos by Fusion Photography
By their very nature women have the innate ability to incite change – to impact the lives of their
families, friends, neighbors and even strangers. Women Making A Difference is dedicated to
all of the women across Acadiana who work daily to make a difference, in ways big and small.
This is the 15th anniversary of Acadiana LifeStyle’s Women Making A Difference feature. That’s 15 years of community members excitedly nominating throngs of ladies who they believe are shaping the community for the better. The nominations have only grown and never dwindled. For 15 years we have been inspired by their stories and honored to share them. It gives us great pleasure to continue this longstanding tradition by introducing you to this year’s honorees: Missy Babineaux Andrade, Lisa Lourd, Neely Moore, Janet Faulk-Gonzales, Sherry Guidry and Girley Olivier.
Missy Bienvenu AndradeNonprofit
Missy Bienvenu Andrade was born and raised in Lafayette. After graduating from UL, she put her extensive dance background to work for a company that coordinates dance camps for junior high, high school and college dance teams. This work took her around the world, including frequent trips to Central and South America. Eventually, her deep Lafayette roots pulled her home permanently. She unpacked her bags for good and started thinking of ways she could help the community she loved so dearly.
“I decided I wanted to do something more community focused,” she recalls. “What could I do that ultimately made Lafayette a better place? I found a listing for the Membership Director of the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. About five years ago, they made the transition from a one-Parish chamber to a nine-Parish economic development organization known as One Acadiana, and I was part of the team that helped rebuild it.”
Andrade became enamored with the work that was based on the notion of people working together for the betterment of Acadiana. Earlier this year, she stepped into a position that would allow her to continue this mission in a whole new way – she was named the CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Acadiana.
“When I was approached about the opportunity with the Boys & Girls Club, I knew that I had the chance to be a part of an organization that had strong leadership and was invested in both being and doing more,” she explains. “With any transition, there’s so much room for opportunity and advancement to an already great organization, and that’s what really excited me.”
Another aspect that excited Andrade was the opportunity to invest in the Club Directors through the Boys & Girls Club of Acadiana’s four Parishes: Lafayette, Iberia, Vermilion and St. Landry. She explains that often times, the children the clubs serve are the ones who need extra support. Investing in the club directors so that they can create a multipronged approach that works best for their children and their Parish is a win for Acadiana.
“We’re focusing specifically on the youth in our area ages 6-18,” Andrade states. “In many cases these are the kids who need that extra support, be it academically or emotionally to give them the confidence to be a good citizen. We want to give them all of the tools they need to be successful.”
As a mother, (at time of press Andrade was anxiously awaiting the arrival of her third child) she believes fervently in the necessity of the programs the clubs offer the attendees, like arts, dance and athletic opportunities, nutrition, academic and many more valuable life lessons they acquire through daily mentorships. In her new role, Andrade looks forward to showing others all that can be accomplished through the Boys & Girls Club of Acadiana.
“The door is always open to talk about the organization and learn more. In many cases, the kids we serve may not represent your upbringing or you children’s upbringing, but these are the kids who will grow up and become the citizens and leaders in your own community. Investing in them and investing in their opportunity to be great is important for all of us. We’re just scratching the surface of what we can accomplish.”
In 1998, Lisa Lourd left her hometown of New Iberia and eventually began to call South Carolina home. She returned to New Iberia for her 20-year high school reunion in 2001 and realized that her classmates had remained connected. They were neighbors, coworkers and friends, while Lourd scarcely knew her neighbors. The desire to have the type of relationships her childhood friends had maintained continued to nag at her. In January of 2014, after 26 years, the pull toward home was finally too great, and Lourd returned…with a mission.
“I knew that when I came home I wanted to make a difference,” she recalls. “I didn’t know what that would look like, but I knew I was going to try my hardest. I would get so upset when I would hear people talking negatively about New Iberia. We have such a unique culture and there are so many people working to showcase our assets. It really created a passion in me to promote what’s positive.”
Lourd took her first leap into community involvement by joining The Berry Queens of New Iberia, a local women’s organization that serves as the fundraising arm for Iberia Habitat for Humanity. They are also, thanks to Lourd, the Official Goodwill Ambassadors of the City of New Iberia. This year, Lourd received the group’s highest honor when she was named Her Royal Hi-Ness.
“The Berry Queens is over 100 women strong with a huge voice in the community,” she states proudly. “These are the ladies who show up and put the work in. I really want to be part of taking it to the next level and sharing our mission with others. Her Royal Hi-Ness is a fairly recognizable platform in New Iberia and it gives you the opportunity to get out there and accomplish change.”
Her involvement in The Berry Queens led Lourd to become dedicated to the promotion and preservation of The Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival. She is a festival board member as well as one of the Co-chairs of the Stars of Style Gala, the premiere fundraising event for the festival. Growing up in a sugar cane farming family, she explains what the Sugar Cane Festival meant to her.
“It was around my birthday every year, so as a child, it felt like it was for me,” she laughs. “It’s truly small town magic – the cold snap, cotton candy, candied apples, marching in the parade, the whole town dressed like farmers and decorated with sugar cane. I want to do everything that I can do to always keep that magic alive.”
Lourd is also on the board of the Parich Foundation and is part of the team who started Teche Classic Movies with IPAL. She truly views her hometown as one brimming with potential, and she isn’t waiting on anyone else to bring that potential to light. She’s doing the work in every way she can, and encourages others to do the same every step of the way.
“We have so many people who want to make this town a better place. There is so much going on behind the scenes – people working so hard for business and development. We have to all be champions for the positive. Find what’s positive and important to you and promote it. Sometimes you just have to get out there and do it…don’t wait for someone else to do it for you.”
Being an educator was always the plan for New Iberia native Neely Moore. After graduating from UL in 2001, she was hired at Westgate High School. By 2012 she was taking the reigns as Principal of the school. Moore’s passion for education isn’t contained within the walls of Westgate – it is present in every aspect of her life. By joining her love for Iberia Parish with her talent for showing young people their natural leadership abilities, she’s inciting the next generation with a community conscience and a desire to be the leaders that are needed in their own backyard. For Moore, this journey all started at the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce.
“I was a member of Leadership Iberia Class XII,” she explains. “It was such an amazing experience. I have lived in New Iberia my entire life and I learned things about this community that I didn’t know. I saw things in this community that I didn’t know existed. I kept thinking that our high school kids also needed to have this experience. Leadership Iberia is what propelled me into being a member of On Tap and being on the Chamber Board.”
Moore wasn’t the only one who felt this way. A group of Class XII graduates got together to figure out a way to keep the positive momentum going, and from this came the now household name of On Tap. On Tap began as a young professionals networking organization, but the goal was always to give back to the community. Now, they’re behind some of the most popular events in New Iberia, like Movies in the Park and Dragon Boat Races.
“On Tap really became a social organization, and that’s when we started making community efforts like Movies in the Park and Dragon Boat Races,” Moore recalls. “We are providing opportunities for people to have fun things to do with their families while raising money to give back to the community. We try to get at the pulse of what’s happening in New Iberia and provide that monetary support.”
As On Tap grew and provided support to the area’s various organizations and projects, Moore never forgot that she wanted to be able to provide this same experience to the high school aged members of the community. She began talking about what she wanted to accomplish and learned that others had the exact same vision that she did, so they pulled their efforts to start Class I of The Fire Starter Project.
Fire Starter chooses two nominated students from every high school in New Iberia, public and private. They begin in January of their junior year and graduate from the program in December of their senior year. The program is modeled after Leadership Iberia, teaching students how to be leaders and showing them the assets Iberia Parish has to offer. With the excitement from Class I still building and Class II beginning, Moore is determined to continue the mission – one she feels she was called to.
“Even when I was in the classroom, I always had a bigger plan. I’d like for them to know where the commas go, but I’m here to teach them something much bigger than that. My philosophy has always been that I want to teach children about life and what the world is going to be like. This is God’s plan for me. I don’t have my own children, but I have 1,100 kids who make me feel like a proud momma.”
Janet Faulk-GonzalesChamber of Commerce
You likely know Janet Faulk-Gonzales as the President and CEO of the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce. But you might not know her as the girl from Alabama who found herself working in the nonprofit sector through a happy accident. Faulk-Gonzales fell in love with doing work that created opportunities for others. She’s been doing just that at the helm of the GICC for 10 years. The mission of bettering New Iberia is one that is dear to her, and she’s helping accomplish it every day through the GICC’s many branches, programs and events, like the World Championship Gumbo Cookoff, which serves as the GICC’s largest fundraiser.
“I reached another level of appreciation when I began meeting people at the Gumbo Cookoff and realizing that some of them planned family reunions around it,” she explains. “It’s important to the Chamber, but it’s also important to the community. One year we surveyed the crowd, and there were people from 31 different states and five different countries. The impact is huge – 600 volunteers work that weekend and there’s a $2 million impact into the community.”
Faulk-Gonzales explains that she believes Leadership Iberia, now in its 20th year, to be one of the more critical programs offered by the GICC. The Leadership Development opportunity is an eye opening experience that shows participants the numerous assets Iberia Parish has to offer. Graduates of Leadership Iberia leave with a renewed enthusiasm to help New Iberia grow. Faulk-Gonzales’ approach to leadership development is a personal one.
“I have a life coaching certification, and what I really wanted to accomplish with that was a community development approach that was founded in leadership development,” she states. “This really allows the community to come together and discuss the best options for the problems we face. It creates an environment where people can come and be civil but have some really tough discussions. Our Chamber is a good representation of that model – we want to hear from everyone.”
The work Faulk-Gonzales does through the GICC has the ability to touch everyone in New Iberia. The annual Chamber banquet puts a much-deserved spotlight on thriving local businesses. It’s also, as she puts it, the unofficial pep rally for the year, bringing together businesses and government officials to cheer one another on. Another event that encourages community members to get together and support each other is Inspire, the annual women’s leadership event. What started as women’s networking has turned into a place where local women can get together to discuss business, lift each other up and be vulnerable with one another.
All of these programs represents assets Faulk-Gonzales did not have growing up in rural Alabama, and that’s why she’s so passionate about making sure New Iberia has all of these opportunities and so much more.
“The mystery of life,” she muses. “We’re here to help each other. I started my nonprofit work with children, a group that doesn’t always have voice of their own. I wanted to provide them with chances I didn’t have as a child. I want to create better opportunities for others – I find that inspiring. I love people and I’m fortunate to get to help others through my work.”
If the statistics are to be believed, Sherry Guidry had a one in five chance of becoming homeless after the age of 18, and she had less than a 3 percent chance of earning a college degree. That is just a glimpse into the grim statistical outlook for children in foster care, which is where Guidry spent her formative years. In a world where failing grades were celebrated, she kept her nose in her schoolbooks, maintained straight As and promised herself she would not be a statistic. Today, as the councilwoman for New Iberia’s District 5, she’s striving to make positive changes within the community and in the lives of its residents.
“Every morning my husband and I would sip our coffee and read the news and complain about all of the terrible things that were going on,” she recalls. “Then I prayed and asked God what I could do to make a difference. He answered very clearly and told me to run for the city council seat. I said ‘God, that’s not part of my plan.’ I told my husband I was being called to run for office and he said ‘absolutely not.’ I kept praying and God never changed his message. Finally, two years later my husband looked at me and said ‘Go. You’re needed.’”
Guidry hit the campaign trail with her family in tow, her husband of 27 years and her four children, and was received with open arms and a vote into the council. Since then, Guidry has had a multitude of projects, missions and collaborations that reflect what she was called to do. She is the District 5 Neighborhood Watch Captain. She was recently asked to sit on the Board of Commissioners for the Hopkins Street Development District. Her dedication to serving the youth of New Iberia is evident in her mentorships to young girls, her partnerships with the Iberia Parish School Board and with the Project Crusade Ambassadors to produce the City Wide Youth Explosion. The Tight and Right Clean Up Initiative was one that showcased Guidry’s dedication for improving her district while creating unity.
“It wasn’t just about picking up trash,” Guidry professes. “It was about neighbors helping neighbors. District 5 is a very diverse group, and that day they all came together to help clean up the place they call home. There were neighbors who hadn’t crossed the street to speak to one another in many years because they had been fearful of crime. It was beautiful to see that gap bridged. We were also able to pick up a trailer full of trash that would have otherwise gone into our drainage system.”
As Guidry explains, she stepped into office on double platform – she’s a minister first and a councilwoman second. Guidry’s long-term dream for her community is to see the youth have a safe place to be motivated, mentored and inspired. As she works towards a unified and safe community, she continues to serve in any way she is called – big or small.
“I’m humbled to be able to serve, because it’s not about me having the seat, it’s about taking time to serve the people. People ask how I can be a politician and a minister. I politely explain to them that I am not; I’m a minister who just happens to be in politics.”
Girley OlivierChurch Volunteer
Girley Olivier grew up in the country village of Bayou Portage, five miles outside of Arnaudville. She was the youngest of 12 siblings. Before she started school, Olivier’s mother asked her if she would like to consider joining the convent. Because her first family spoke only French, she wasn’t exactly sure what she was being asked, so she declined. As luck would have it, she ended up devoting her life to the church in another way.
“In 1995, I was working for the priest here at St. John Francis Regis Catholic Church and he said ‘We need to have a rummage sale,’” Olivier recalls. “We got everyone to come together and donate and we had our first sale in July of 1995. From there, we had a lot of leftover items and we decided we needed to have somewhere to recreate the sale on a monthly or weekly basis. That’s when we came here.”
The “here” Olivier is referring to is the St. Therese Center – Thrift & Consignment Store, where she has served as the manager for the past 22 years. While she will continue to volunteer, this year, Olivier is stepping down as manager as Huey Wyble will step in to fill her shoes. St. Therese Center wouldn’t be what it is without the more than two decades of work she put in to it.
“When we first started, we had to do a lot of work to clean this area up,” she says. “We had our first sale and made $36, and the next time we made $45. Finally, we started doing it on a week-to-week basis on Wednesday and Saturday. As the families grew and changed, we had to grow and change also.”
The work through St. Therese has not gone unnoticed – Olivier remembers that she once had customers fill out comment cards on their experience and she’s still touched by the outpouring of appreciation from the community. Another great benefit to the community at large that is very important to Olivier is the reduction of waste.
“I’m a big recycling person,” she states. “It’s very important to me to reuse as much as possible. It’s the way I was raised; when you grow up without much, you use what you have. At the center we make our price tags out of scraps and cardboard. Donating is a great way to reuse items while helping out others in the community.”
The center isn’t the only aspect that has made Olivier’s life blessed and full. She is a mother to eight children, a grandmother to 17 and a great-grandmother to one. She also volunteers at NUNU in Arnaudville when she has time. She participates in French Tables throughout Acadiana, as it is her wish that the language she grew up speaking doesn’t die out. The work she has done through St. Therese Center has been trifold – it has served the church, the community and Olivier.
“This work is therapeutic for me. I love being here, imagining what could be next and just serving the people. You meet so many people; it’s exciting when a new customer comes in. All of the proceeds go to the church. If someone in the community has a hardship, we give them clothes and whatever else we can supply for them.”