Katrina Rivers Labouliere doesn’t feel like her life is particularly exceptional despite her years of advocacy work with the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community.
“I just feel like I am a catalyst for creating programs and making things happen and pulling together a team,” she says. “Team Blue, my team, they deserve the credit. They work tirelessly and trust every idea I come up with. I have an amazing team of passionate people.”
Labouliere’s team is expanding in the Baton Rouge area with the creation of Blue Bridge Academy, a language immersion daycare and preschool for American Sign Language (ASL) and English that is scheduled to open later this year.
The idea for the school was planted long ago. The oldest child of two Deaf parents, Labouliere’s first language is ASL, and she studied communication disorders in college.
“Early on in my career, working in education I saw the disparities of children with disabilities, but my main focus was children with hearing loss,” Labouliere says. “It is always something that’s been near and dear to my heart.”
Labouliere is mom to five daughters, ages 14 to 23. As a preschooler, her oldest was one of two hearing children in her class. “Her understanding soared being in a bilingual environment all day, every day. That was 18 years ago, and that sort of planted a seed early in my career.”
That career took her to Washington, DC, and back home to Louisiana in 2013. While maintaining her job as executive vice president of DC-based Birnbaum Interpreting Services, Labouliere founded Communications Consulting Group LLC, providing interpreting services, including ASL nationwide, document translation, captioning services and more.
“Communication in and of itself is a fundamental human right,” Labouliere says. “When I see anyone deprived of communication, it really lights a fire in a way that I can’t just sit idly by and watch this happen.”
The success of the CC Group led to a partnership with a local nonprofit, which was restructured as the CC Group Foundation, a community empowerment organization focused on filling gaps within the state for Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing, Deaf-Blind and the visually impaired community’s access to services and resources
Labouliere calls Blue Bridge Academy her “heart and soul,” and it took some time to become a reality. Labouliere teaches an ASL class at Walker High School, and through that work met the mom of a Deaf child who wanted to learn ASL and about Deaf culture. That meeting reignited the spark to open such a school. Labouliere hired that mom as director of parent relations and brought in more experts to lead. “It’s not structured like a regular daycare center because this is such a unique thing and we want to make sure all children’s needs are served.”
Solely owned by Labouliere, the independent academy will be located on O’Hara Court in a building that was part of the former Woman’s Hospital campus. A Type III childcare facility, it will accommodate more than 100 children.
“This project has just been another labor of love with a whole team of phenomenal people,” Labouliere says. “We want to continue to work with our community partners, work with our children and be able to provide the kids what they need.” ■