Brave Heart of Louisiana is a nonprofit organization founded by Dee Robinson and sprung from the dinner table. The organization is on a mission to provide comfort items and much-needed resources to foster care youth as they enter and exit the system.
Wendi LeMoine, the Executive Director of Brave Heart, had her first encounter with the organization in 2005 as a caseworker with the Livingston Parish Department of Children and Family Services. Her job was to investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect, and if the situation warranted it, the children would be removed from the home and placed in foster care. This was where Brave Heart stepped in, providing foster children with a new backpack filled with hygiene items, school supplies, and comfort items like blankets, stuffed animals, books, and more.
“When I would give these backpacks to the children shortly after their removal from their homes, it was so rewarding to see how it lifted their spirits and gave them a sense of ownership and pride in those seemingly simple items. It brought comfort and served as a distraction from the trauma they were experiencing during this uncertain time,” reminisces LeMoine.
As the years passed, Wendi would get the chance to join Brave Heart officially when they were searching for an Executive Director for their Board of Directors. From there, history was made.
Today, their partners at Children and Family Services (DCFS) work closely with them to identify children and youth in need and also work to distribute the items provided to those children. However, this isn’t all they do. The Life Book program allows Brave Heart to provide a binder with pages inside that serve as a scrapbook or journal.
“These therapeutic pages are a place to color, write about their feelings, and attach pictures of their biological family and foster family to chronicle their time in foster care. Our DCFS caseworkers and foster parents assist the child in completing the book and maintaining it,” explains LeMoine.
Of course, Brave Heart is growing exponentially in order to better serve youth in need. Their newest, ever-expanding program is the Youth Transition Program, designed to support and encourage those aging out of foster care at 18 or participating in Extended Foster Care.
This program currently allows these youth, upon their 18th birthday, to choose from a list of items that Brave Heart provides–up to a $200 limit. This can include linens, towels, dishes, small appliances, cleaning supplies, hygiene items, a bicycle and helmet to provide transportation to school or work, and even a laptop for furthering their education or seeking employment.
“The idea is to give these youth a head start on an independent lifestyle. This past June, we also offered these youth a 2-day Virtual Career Fair in which professionals from various careers spoke to youths about career choices, educational requirements for these careers, tips for job seeking, and proper interviewing etiquette,” shares LeMoine. “We had over 50 youth from all over the state join us for this exciting event.”
In the future, they hope to expand this program to be able to help more foster care youth and be able to offer more money for the transitional items on top of continuing to offer job fairs and provide financial literacy classes to teach good money practices. If possible, they would love to provide youth with a stipend to open their first checking or savings account as well.
Currently, to make Christmas an even jollier time for all, Brave Heart collaborated with WAFB in July to collect Christmas gifts for foster children and youths ages 1-21. Baton Rouge businesses and churches also partnered with the organization to place donation bins in their lobbies and break rooms. They will be collecting gifts through November. Amazingly, each year they provide approximately 1,500 gifts to children across the state.
If you would like to help out as well, items can be purchased through their Amazon wishlist and sent directly to them, or items can be shipped to the donor to be dropped off at one of their bins or brought to their warehouse. Other options to get involved with Brave Heart include making monetary donations on Paypal and donations of backpacks with supplies. As for volunteering, working in their warehouse to assemble backpacks or wrap Christmas gifts are great ways to get involved.