Giving Back: St. John community unites to help

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, November 18, 2014

By Stephen Hemelt

LAPLACE — Helping children read through a steady supply of free books, providing options for the parish’s geriatric population and helping disperse rebuilding funds following Hurricane Isaac’s destruction are reminders of St. John United Way’s daily impact.

The organization raises money year-round to provide resources to St. John the Baptist Parish programs targeting education, income and health.

John Olynick, St. John United Way community impact manager, said the fundraising campaign starts annually on May 1 and closes on April 30.

“However, 75 percent of our support is raised between Sept. 15 and Dec. 15,” he said. “The primary source of revenue comes from employee workplace campaigns and corporate gifts. Employees throughout St. John Parish are giving back through payroll deductions and direct cash gifts to ensure St. John is a great place to live, work and raise a family.”


In 2012, St. John United Way brought the Imagination Library to St. John Parish to support early childhood education. The program provides a free book to any child in the parish, from birth to 5 years old, every month until the child turns 5.

“This program is proven effective in increasing the frequency that parents read to children and the child’s enthusiasm for reading,” Olynick said.

Since 2012, 1,457 St. John children have been served and over 18,000 books have been delivered directly to the children’s homes.

This early childhood literacy program is open to any parent of a child residing in St. John Parish. They may register for the free books by going to

Tanyia Tregre, campaign committee chairwoman, said she is still amazed at United Way’s impact despite being in her second term on the organization’s board of directors.

A professional home health physical therapist, Tregre said she feels placed by God in certain work situations that allow her to directly link those in need with programs supported by St. John United Way.

“Due to health issues, I’m sent randomly into people’s homes to assist them with their physical disability and help rehabilitate them,” she said. “I might come across an elderly lady who is caring for her husband, who is wheelchair bound.”

Tregre said the United Way helps fund Arc of St. Charles, which provides a caregiver one day a week to someone in a situation like the one she described.

“It does my heart good to know St. John United Way funds an organization like that, and I’m the one, every once in a while, who gets to identify somebody and actually make the connection.

“Sometimes when you make those things happen, people think it’s like magic because you allowed them to go to the doctor or grocery store without having to worry about a spouse they left in bed or in the wheelchair.”


Money raised in St. John Parish, Olynick said, goes to programs delivering services in the parish and does so with administrative costs of around 8 percent. Many small businesses and large corporations contribute each year to United Way, with those participating finding it is a calling.

Marathon Petroleum Company LP Community Relations Coordinator Aspen Steib said employee participation drives the company’s role as St. John United Way’s leading workplace campaign participant.

With approximately 900 employees locally, Marathon boasts 80 percent of employees donate to United Way through their paychecks and 50 percent volunteer in the community during company-sponsored events.

“That is huge because they all do their own thing on their own,” Steib said. “We have a huge responsibility to give back. It’s a privilege for us to work here, and we want to do as much as we can.”

Another corporate sponsor is Dupont, where Senior Contract Administrator Barry Griffin said the company’s core values of safety, environment, respect for people and ethics are echoed at United Way.

Griffin, who serves as St. John United Way Board of Directors president, said Dupont employees live and raise their families in St. John Parish or spend a significant amount of time and money locally. He attributes that commitment to a common goal and the dedicated efforts of everyone involved with United Way for making the program a success.

“(United Way board meetings are) the most organized, efficient and well-run board meetings I have been a part of,” Griffin said. “It’s very efficient, and there is a respect for the time commitment involved. That accountability helps in other areas when it comes to being a good steward of community funds. It’s a significant responsibility.”


St. John United Way was most involved, local officials said, in the efforts to rebuild following Hurricane Isaac. In 2012, St. John United Way was called on by parish government, Olynick said, to help manage the volunteer recovery and rebuilding.

United Way led the development of the St. John the Baptist Parish Long Term Recovery Group and provided the principal donation of $125,000 to start the group’s work, Olynick said.

St. John United Way served as the organization’s fiscal agent to oversee the funds used to rebuild over 1,257 homes in St. John Parish, provided staff to serve as treasurer and secretary to recovery group meetings and oversaw all allocations of funding.

The allocations committee reviewed every request for support and made recommendations to the Board of Directors for approval.

“St. John United Way also provided additional funds to assist in other areas of the recovery in addition to the LTRG, having invested a total of $295,000 to Hurricane Isaac recovery and relief,” Olynick said.

For more information about St. John United Way, call 985-651-9118.