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Good Samaritans of SWLA
11/1/2019 11:00:00 AM
Good Samaritans

In any community, there are those humble souls who take the notion of the Good Samaritan to a higher level. With extraordinary love and care for those in need, they give of themselves quietly, tirelessly, and expect nothing in return. In this season of gratitude, Thrive magazine honors four individuals in Calcasieu Parish who exemplify these commendable character traits, in hopes their stories will encourage and inspire our readers to find their own ways to serve and show kindness to others.

Emily Ashworth

Registered Nurse and Community Activist

Emily Ashworth earned AS (2000) and BS (2010) degrees from McNeese State University and her Master’s in Nursing Education (2019) from Walden University, then explored various areas of nursing over the years. In 2015, she joined the City of Lake Charles as the Wellness Nurse Coordinator and earlier this year, Emily accepted the position of Director of Nursing with SWLA Center for Health Services. She leads the nursing and medical assistant staff for sites in Lake Charles, Crowley, Oberlin, and Lafayette. "In this role I have the ability to affect change to the care delivered to the patients of SWLA and continue to work in the community.” Last year, she organized a massive community-wide health event called Remote Area Medical: Operation Healing and Restoration, where over 500 residents received free medical, dental, and vision care. 

Emily volunteers extensively through her church, Mount Calvary Baptist. "Spreading the Word of God and helping to build a biblical foundation is my primary work,” she says. She serves as a Deaconess, Sunday school teacher, assistant director of the youth department (lead by her husband), vacation bible school teacher, nurse educator for the Health Awareness Team, and Director of Health and Wellness for the youth division for Louisiana Home and Foreign Mission. 

Serving the community as a member of the National Association of University Women, Region 5 STD/HIV Task Force, and Healthier Southwest Louisiana Executive Board gives her an opportunity to work with like-minded people helping to bring attention and change to the inequalities in the underserved and impoverished areas of our community. She also volunteers on boards like Big Brother’s Big Sister and Family and Youth Counseling Agency, among many others. Her husband and two children often join her in her volunteer efforts. "These opportunities allow me to contribute to the building of programs, share valuable insight, and be an integral part of the growth of our great city and state.” 

Emily says that possessing a love for people is the most important element of volunteering. "I really believe that is my energy, the force that wakes me up early on Saturday mornings when I want to sleep in, and pushes me to continue to serve my people and my community. I encourage everyone to volunteer in some capacity. It can be as small as helping a neighbor, but that small task can mean so much to the person you are helping.”

DeWanna Tarver

DeWanna’s Closet

DeWanna Tarver and her husband Phillip grew up in community-minded homes. They learned about altruism and have passed those values on to their sons and grandkids. She opened DeWanna’s Closet in 2016 after she became aware that local teachers often buy school supplies, clothing, shoes, coats, even underwear for their students in need. "For so long these educators were meeting these needs themselves; not because we were an uncaring community but because we didn't know the need was there,” says DeWanna. "Now, when a teacher in our public school system sees a child in need of such items, they just send us an email and we deliver the items to the school, new and free of charge. Now there is no reason for any student in our public schools to attend school with pants that don't fit, holes in their shirts, or shoes that are too small. We want to remove the distraction of looking different from a student’s school life.”

DeWanna is involved in many philanthropic efforts in the community through her family’s business, Lake Charles Toyota, but children have her heart. Since its inception, she has dedicated her energy into making DeWanna's Closet functional.  "When Phillip and I decided we wanted to start a program like this in our area we researched throughout the United States for one to pattern ours after. How do they fund it, fill orders, make deliveries, etc. After much searching we realized there was nothing out there like what we wanted to do. The others used secondhand clothes, were open to the public, or open only for a specific school. We wanted to serve over 30,000 students with all new inventory!” DeWanna adds that she couldn’t make it happen without her team of volunteers. 

In just the first ten weeks of this school year, DeWanna’s Closet provided 4,617 articles of clothing and shoes. They shop for bargains, but even at $5 per item, that adds up to $23,000 "It takes a lot of money to do what we are doing!” DeWanna says. She welcomes contributions from the community. Financial donations can be made on their website, www.dewannascloset.com. New items can be dropped off at 4428 Ihles Rd. or Lake Charles Toyota, 3905 Gerstner Memorial Dr., Lake Charles, La. 

Last month, DeWanna won the Women’s Commission of SWLA Jack V. Doland Award for her service. She says we all can serve in some capacity. "Find yours. Don't let it go to waste.”

Cyndi Mereo

Guiding Light Ministries

After her youngest child went to college, Cyndi Mereo wanted to serve the Sulphur area in a positive way. "I felt a strong desire, and a very clear nudge from God, to "make a difference” in our community,” she says. "Not knowing what that would look like, I spent a lot of time in prayer and researched what was lacking in our area regarding teens or young moms. With the support of my church family at Maplewood First Baptist Church, SC3 (Sulphur Christian Community Coalition), and several other community resources, Guiding Light Ministries was born. Guiding Light teams up young moms (ages 24 and under) with women of faith who volunteer their time to mentor, walk through trials, and celebrate victories of pregnancy/motherhood with them. We just celebrated our first college grad two weeks ago!”

Guiding Light offers a wide array of activities and classes: parenting, cooking, crafts, infant water safety and toddler swimming lessons, car maintenance, and Bible study. At their meetings, volunteers speak on topics such as safe sleep for babies, postpartum depression, signs of abusive relationships, etc. The girls in the program earn points for each class/activity they attend and use them to purchase items from the Guiding Light Baby Boutique. They also receive a pack of diapers or wipes each time they attend. Childcare is provided during the events and there is no cost to the girls for any activities.  

In addition, Cyndi and other local ministry leaders have joined to form Lake Area Women’s Ministries Coalition to share resources and determine how best to serve area women who need support. This coalition includes ABC Pregnancy Resource Center, Almost Home Ministries, Guiding Light Ministries, Pink Life, and SC3.

Cyndi is also the GED teacher at Sulphur High School. "Between teaching full time, being a grandma, and coordinating Guiding Light, my plate is pretty full! Yet serving the community is a priority for me because I believe it’s what God calls us to do. We may serve Him in different ways as we go through various seasons of our lives, but the call is always the same – love Him and love others. His purpose for my life in this season is to love young moms and help them grow to be even better.”

Want to help? You can volunteer as a mentor or speaker with Guiding Light. They also appreciate monetary donations, baby items, and gift cards. 337-263-0348, www.guidinglightministries.org. 

Jean Kamla

Registered nurse and community activist

Jean Kamla grew learning the importance of community service. When her children were young, she was involved in the PTO, serving as president for many years. When her brother, Ben Mount, a non-smoker, learned he had lung cancer, Jean determined she would do everything she could to help him. This led her to become a lung cancer advocate in the community. She initiated the Free to Breathe 5K in Lake Charles in 2008. "That first event raised over $150,000. We had set a goal to raise one million dollars for lung cancer research. It took us eight years to achieve our goal.”

During this time, Jean was asked to serve on the National Lung Cancer Board which allowed her to stay abreast of the latest clinical trials and treatments, and to sit on the scientific board that reviewed grants from both a nurse’s and caregiver’s perspective. "I have helped many people in the area when faced with a cancer diagnosis—just to navigate the process. It’s always an honor and humbling experience to help someone.”

Once the lung cancer research goal was achieved, Jean felt the nudge to serve in a different way but was unsure of the details. "I prayed for God to lead me in the right direction and for me to hear that direction.” As a result, she and other members of her church, First United Methodist, partnered with Combre Fondell Elementary School. Initially, they commited to sponsor school supplies through DeWanna’s Closet. But the project has grown exponentially. Now in their second year, they eat lunch with students twice a month; provide lunch for the teachers several times throughout the year; assist teachers in the classroom, read with students, and sponsor holiday parties. Jean also takes the youth of her church on the road to feed the homeless one a month. She serves on the SWLA Committee to Address Homelessness Steering Committee. "It is my hope that one day our city will have a comprehensive center for the homeless, a place where they can receive mail, wash clothes, apply for jobs, and receive other services.”

Jean is the clinic coordinator for the Calcasieu Community Clinic, a part-time position that further allows her to help the disadvantaged. "We serve people who work but cannot afford health insurance.” She encourages everyone to find ways to give back that bring them personal satisfaction. "You always receive way more than you give!”

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