Rotary hears about risk factors
By: TONY MARKS
The Ville Platte Rotary Club in back-to-back meetings heard from representatives of different organizations that deal with factors affecting people, especially the youth, in our community.
At the club’s last meeting of May, President Peter Strawitz presented Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) representatives from the St. Landry-Evangeline office. According to Executive Director Madelyn Rosette, CASA is a “non-profit organization that works with foster care kids from St. Landry and Evangeline Parishes.”
The program is dependant on volunteers who work with these children who enter foster care through no fault of their own. “We recruit volunteers who are 21-years-old or older to mentor these younger kids,” Rosette said. “These volunteers give up their time for free. They drive to these locations, they train with us for 30-hours, and then they also sit in court observation for two hours to give the judge a non-biased report of how the children are doing.”
“We still need volunteers,” she added. “We need your support to help us advocate for even more volunteers. If you have some time in your schedule that you want to give to a child, please help us out.”
Jeremy Richard, lead advocate supervisor, gave the Rotary Club some alarming statistics regarding children that are impacted nationwide as well as at the parish level. “Here in Evangeline Parish, we have nine volunteers who service 24 children,” he said. “In Evangeline Parish there are over 70 children who are in foster care.”
Board President of CASA St. Landry-Evangeline Craig LeBouef told the club about how the program is funded. “Eighty percent of the funding comes from the Louisiana Supreme Court that is passed through money that comes down from the feds for our children who are in need of services.” He added that this money is earmarked for CASA. He further added that the remaining 20-percent of the funding comes from indirect and direct support such as the United Way, fund raising efforts, individuals, and corporations.
Gloria Nye, who is a board member, shared what her Sunrise Rotary Club of Opelousas does to recruit foster parents. “Once a year through DCFS, we give out an Outstanding Foster Parent Service Above Self Award for being an outstanding foster parent,” she said. “When that hits the paper, somebody goes ‘I could probably be a foster parent.’ That’s something this Rotary Club could do to make people aware of the critical need for foster parents here in Evangeline Parish.”
Rotarian Maggie Ortego at the club’s first June meeting presented Deacon Barney Lejeune as her guest. He is executive director of the Jacob Crouch Suicide Prevention Services. The organization, according to him, “spreads awareness and prevention of suicide.”
Like Jeremy Richard at the meeting before, Lejeune gave the club some alarming statistics in the area. “Louisiana is above the national average at 15.5 rate per 100,000,” he said. “In 2015, 722 people died from suicide. Evangeline Parish leads the state in the rate of suicides at 29 per 100,000. The next highest is Avoyelles Parish at 24.”
Lejeune shared with the club some findings on the causes of suicide that are a sense of belongingness, a sense of being burdensome, and the capability of suicide. He further shared a story about the lead singer of Nirvana Kurt Cobain that illustrated the capability of suicide.
“When he was a young child, he hated firearms,” said Lejeune. “If somebody had a firearm, he wouldn’t go around them. When he got to be a teenager, his friends would go to shooting ranges, and he’d never go with them. They kept after him, and finally he went with them but stayed in the car. So eventually he got out of the car and eventually shot a gun.”
“At the time of his death at 27, he had a house full of guns, and he took his life with a firearm,” continued Lejeune. “What had happened was he had gotten over that fear of death. He had gotten over that fear of dying.”
Lejeune then gave some warning signs of suicide such as coded messages, getting rid of prized possessions, getting their life in order, low self esteem, no hope for the future, recent loss, fear of losing control, and any kind of changes.
He ended his Power Point presentation with steps to prevent suicide. “Ask the tough question ‘Are you thinking of suicide,’” he said. “What happens is that it releases their stress to the point they’re gonna talk to you. Then listen with an open heart for their reasons for wanting to die. Then ask why they might want to live. They want somebody to listen to them.”
The last step to prevent suicide, according to Lejeune, is to get help. “Get professional help immediately,” he said. “Contact a mental health professional, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 911, or get them to the nearest emergency room.”