David Kahle, LSS Senior Vice President for Agency Advancement, recently visited the BeREAL (Ready, Educated, Accomplished Leaders) program in New Orleans. He was touched and impressed by the young participants and stories of their resilience and drive as they work with the program’s leaders and mentors to improve their own lives. Below is David’s recap of his visit.
Recently I had the opportunity to meet with the leaders of LSS’s BeREAL program in New Orleans. BeREAL works with 20 foster children between the ages of 14 and 22, helps pair them with mentors, and provides them with opportunities and assistance to reach their true potential—to graduate high school, attend/graduate college and become successful business men and women.
Christie Kieschnick, BeREAL’s executive director, and her program manager Michael Patrick, proudly told me that two of the program’s young people are now in college and achieving high grades. They said that the other 18 girls and boys in the program are in middle and high school, learning interview/work skills through the program, and excitedly looking forward to their futures.
When I asked what “needs” the program had, Christie said that $25 gift cards are a constant need. Michael shared two stories about how they use them. Seventeen-year-old Sean [not his real name] was excited to get an interview at a nice New Orleans restaurant … but didn’t own the black slacks, sports shirt, and shoes he needed for the interview. Michael took Sean to a Target and used two gift cards to outfit him in the clothes he needed. SEAN GOT THE JOB! Michael added that this young man’s self-esteem has never been higher, his grades are up, and he’s looking forward to college next year. He’s a model for the other participants.
A 16-year-old in the program I’ll call “Sharie,” called Michael one evening, asking if there might be any food available at the office? “Anything would be nice,” she said, because “my younger brother and I haven’t eaten in two days.” Michael left his home, picked Sharie up, and used a $25 gift card to get ramen noodles, vegetables, and fruit that would last for a few days.
Christie and Michael have dozens and dozens of stories like this, as all of BeREAL’s youth are a part of the state’s under-funded foster care system. The exciting thing is that the BeREAL children will, with God’s grace and partners in ministry, grow up to be successful, productive citizens.
When I asked Christie, “What would be something really nice someone could do for the BeREAL children and the program?” she said they have started a reading program for 15 of the kids. Books and materials will cost $20 per child ($300 a semester, twice a year). They will spend one evening a week reading and discussing a book together after school. This will progress into a creative writing project, and Christie hopes to find someone to publish and sponsor these young student’s creations next year.
Christie and Patrick told me the BeREAL youth all enjoy roller skating, and that it would be wonderful to have a $750 sponsor step forward. This would allow them to reserve a skating rink, provide chicken and fried rice, so the BeREAL children, along with 50 other Louisiana foster children, could enjoy a fun Christmas party in December.
As I walked to my car, a BeREAL teenager smiled and said “Hi!” When I asked what he thought of the program, he said “Miss Christie, Mr. Patrick, and my mentor are my heroes! I’m now getting straight A’s!”
After experiencing BeREAL and the work being accomplished there, my wife Kim and I have decided to designate additional gifts to help make the lives of these Louisiana children better this fall. Would you be able to join us … and consider being a “hero” with your time, talents, and/or resources in the BeREAL children’s eyes? You can support this important program with an online donation, or by volunteering your time if you live in the New Orleans area.