Donations collected for young mothers & newborns

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, January 11, 2023

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LAPLACE — Local educator Keanna Theriot has seen people celebrate their birthdays by giving back to the community. When she graduated from UNO with her masters of executive education in tourism management and leadership in December, she decided to commemorate the occasion with a donation drive to support young mothers and newborns.

Theriot, a tourism and hospitality instructor at East St. John High School, said one of the most important aspects of hospitality is ensuring people experience warmth and kindness.

Growing up as the daughter of two ministers, the importance of giving back was instilled within her from a young age. She has always strived to be a public servant, whether through assisting with New Wine’s hurricane relief drive, offering after school tutoring, volunteering for The Right Choice Project, or paying for hair, makeup and a dress for a student in need when prom season rolls around each year.

Theriot selected Covenant House in New Orleans as the recipient of her graduation give back initiative after former classmate Ebonee Craighead-Adams told her about services the organization provides to unhoused youth ages 16 to 22, including pregnant and parenting youth.

“I wanted to do something nice for other people, and young women and babies take precedence in my heart,” Theriot said. “I love children; I’ve been an educator for 15 years. When I shared this idea with my students and the community of people I know, I was amazed and overwhelmed with the love and support that I got back.”

This week, roughly 10 cases of diapers and 11 boxes of baby items, clothing, deodorant, breast bumps, baby bottles, toiletries and other supplies will be delivered to Covenant House’s shelter at 611 N. Rampart Street in New Orleans.

According to Theriot, the success of the drive was a direct result of the generosity of community contributors including but not limited to Ranata Coxie, Samuel Mamou, Tremond Alvis, Stasha James and Elgin Pierre. Each of these individuals contributed baby supplies and toiletries totaling well over $100 and asked their friends and family to support the effort as well.

When Coxie first heard about Theriot’s vision, she immediately thought about how much of a blessing it would be to help. The more she thought about young mothers faced with the challenge of raising a newborn, the more she saw a reflection of herself, and she knew providing much-needed help and supplies could make all the difference.

“I thought about myself being a young single mother of three kids, my daughter and my set of twins, and how my parents stepped in and helped me tremendously. It’s a little personal for me because I have been there and know how sometimes a little can go a very long way,” Coxie said.

Theriot initially spoke about filling a box with supplies. Coxie encouraged her to think bigger. She made a post on social media, knowing the Wildcat family and the community at large is always ready to answer the call to help someone in need.

“I also contacted our newly elected School Board member Samuel Mamou, who is a member of New Wine Christian Fellowship along with myself. He along with Pastor Neil Bernard were able to make a sizable donation,” Coxie said.

Melissa Tyler, director of development and communications for Covenant House, said the donations will help the nonprofit organization provide the highest level of care to young, expectant mothers and their babies. As a niche population of homeless youth who are often overlooked, all young mothers who come to Covenant House are unique and have varying levels of individual needs.

“The stressors of being unhoused, no matter which stage of pregnancy, leads to increased risk for poor outcomes, primarily low birth rate or preterm labor. People say stress is not good for the baby, but when a young mother is thrust into homelessness, stress is not a heavy enough word to describe the kind of turmoil that it creates in a young parent’s life,” Tyler said. “This helps them feel seen. These gifts help reduce stress and re-enforce that there is community-level support for them. It lets them know that they are not alone and that people are thinking of them.”

Covenant House operates a 24/7 intake shelter and offers comprehensive services for maternal health, in addition to several residential programs supported by case management for unhoused youth ages 16 to 22. According to Tyler, services seek to address the causes and trauma homelessness with an approach centered on mental and behavioral health, physical health and wellness, education and workforce development. A two-generational approach focuses on the needs of parents and children.

Young people can stay with Covenant House as long as needed and can return at any time.

“What I ask is that people remember our youth — think about them, speak about them, raise awareness about them,” Tyler said.

For more information about Covenant House or the Young Families program, contact Tyler at 504-584-1141.