‘Everybody would be successful’: Boudreaux’s vision for Lafayette’s community.
Community is everything to Gerald Boudreaux, he’s worked to support all the people of Lafayette, Louisiana for over 30 years. From year-round services for the disabled and activities for seniors to etiquette lessons and after-school tutors, the Democratic State Senator’s vision for Lafayette’s Parks and Recreation Department is much more than just sports.
Senator Gerald Boudreaux has had a life in public service, and from his start in parks and recreation when he was 15 to today, he has worked to help the Lafayette community. Despite small budgets, Boudreaux has helped many people stay engaged in local activities. Driving his actions is a firm belief “that I have been blessed and must give back.” He takes his cue from Pope Francis’s call for “Christians to serve each other.”
If Senator Gerald Boudreaux had three wishes, they’d all be spent trying to make things better for the Lafayette community he serves. While the Parks and Recreation Department he heads up hasn’t seen much growth in its budgets over the years, it still manages to deliver services to the community, keeping young and old engaged and active.
Among Boudreaux’s wishes would be that “as a community, we would come together and not have winners and losers, and that everyone would be successful.… Not look at race, not look at religion, not look at culture, but look at what we want for all of our people in this community.”
Although he was originally born in Houston in 1960, the Democratic State Senator has spent his life in Lafayette, the parish he represents. It was here he went to high school and university, and here where he started working in the Parks and Recreation Department.
At the same time, he has also enjoyed a long service as a college basketball referee, which saw him selected to work the Final Four on five occasions. From there he went on to become supervisor of referees, training and organising officials for much of the South.
This commitment to fair play and involvement in activity has been apparent in all his work, from the recreation department’s growth to his position in the Louisiana State Senate. Indeed, he is deeply committed to “connectivity” at all levels, and feels that this is a two way street. Just as he has endeavoured to make himself fully available to the residents of his diverse constituency of District 24, by the same token he feels that they should be actively engaged in the running of their community, attending local council meetings when they can. “Getting everyone on board” regardless of skin colour and income bracket is a key priority especially given the parish’s distinct challenges including high levels of unemployment, and a persistent problem of drug abuse among the young. In order to overcome these hurdles, Boudreaux has endeavoured to be at all times “visible” in his community.
Education and recreation
Starting work in the department’s summer programmes when he was in high school, he moved up through the athletics programmes it offered. When he graduated from college, he had to decide between pursuing a career in education or continuing in the recreations department.
There was an opening in recreation and so I took the opening,” Boudreaux said. “I moved up really quickly and became the director, and the director, of course, is directed by the mayor. [The] last five mayors have selected me to work in the same capacity, so I think my decision was a good decision.
Of course, Boudreaux sees a connection between the two options. “I knew I wanted to be up to service and we can either do that through teaching and education or through recreation,’ Boudreaux said. “In recreation we educate and we recreate and we train and we work with youth, we work with adults and most importantly for us, we work with those with disabilities.” True to his mandate for promoting inclusivity, he regrets the way that education has become unaffordable for many, who struggle to put their children through college. This is why he has been instrumental in connecting residents with those who can assist where necessary.
Recreation for all
Boudreaux’s recreation department has a year-round programme for those with disabilities, something he is particularly proud of. They have ensured the programme is fully accessible, going to area nursing homes and even bringing the nursing home clients to them. From swimming to wheelchair basketball, the programme keeps the community active.
As well as working in coordination with area nursing homes, the department also works with Lafayette’s schools. “We have different activities on a monthly basis for those with disabilities where we bring them to one of our recreation centres for specialised programmes or activities,” Boudreaux explained. “That goes the entire year – we do holiday camps, we do a prom, we do balls, we do all kind of social events so that we can empower those people. Even though they have some form of disability, they can still participate and enjoy life.”
The department’s eight-week summer enrichment camp for disabled young people, called ‘Camp We Can Do’, is a key part of this community outreach and involvement. Available to those ages eight and up, this camp offers a wide variety of activities to those involved.
“We do arts and crafts, we take them on trips, we bring them bowling, we bring them swimming,” Boudreaux said. “What we try to do is keep those youngsters with disabilities engaged in different activities and programmes. We provide a supervision, they pay a registration fee for the eight weeks, and from there we just take them to different venues where they get an opportunity to also enjoy their quality of life.”
More than just sports
Quality of life is an important aspect of the department’s work, and while they do offer traditional sports programmes – including football, baseball and basketball – Boudreaux has made sure that they also look after the education of local young people. Working with the school system, the recreation department offers tutorial programmes, reading programmes and other after-school education, including safety education.
Partnering with local police and fire departments, they give young people the opportunity to interact with public safety officials. By taking the fire department’s smokehouse to different locations, they teach young people what to do if they’re ever involved in a fire.
If we look at our youth we look at our athletic side, but then we also look at the educational and the cultural side,” Boudreaux said. ‘We also work with groups to teach them etiquette – how to set a table, what utensils do you use and we reward those kids with field trips and things along those lines.
Through this community involvement, they also work with civil groups and the community development department to help get people engaged in activities that support Creole culture. Boudreaux feels that this relationship helps build both the recreation activities as well as cultural activities.
The department also works with contractors to offer even more varied activities, including dance, gymnastics, trampoline and swimming. “All of that is available for our youth as well as our adults,” Boudreaux added.
The participants are no small number, with an estimated 25,000 youth involved in the recreation department’s activities along with around 12,500 adults.
Serving the community
This level of involvement hasn’t come overnight. Boudreaux and his team have been working in the Lafayette community for over 30 years. In this time, Boudreaux has established himself as a champion for the community and its needs.
He also sees the importance of keeping young people engaged in community activities. “One of our major objectives is to provide opportunities, especially for our youth, because we know there is the statistical data that if they are not involved or engaged in something so awesome then they will then go and commit crimes, so we feel like we are meeting that need in our community. By keeping our youth engaged and involved in so many activities and programmes, it cuts down on the crime rate for that age group.” Boudreaux said. “But while we are doing that for the youth we also want to have activities and programmes for our adults who pay the bills. They are taxpayers and they’re in their senior years and they are looking for activities.”
Boudreaux said that when it comes to young people, the most important thing is finding them. The department works on sponsorships to ensure that nobody is left out for financial reasons. “That’s where the community comes in, where the businesses, where other civil groups and organisation comes up so that none of those kids fall through the cracks,” Boudreaux said. “We try to keep them on the centre stage and reward them for good behaviour and good performance, so it’s an on-going challenge.”
However, he recognises that this challenge is necessary for the community. “It’s something that we cannot take for granted, because at some point they may decide we’re not interested in this anymore, but it is one of our focal points in recreation.”
Another area of special concern for Boudreaux is the provision of healthcare for residents. As he puts it: “We have to do better in this country when it comes to providing healthcare. That’s why we open doors when the need is there.” After all, he asserts, what would happen if a Third World style epidemic were to break out? The health of the whole community would become imperilled! “I was proud to support the governor,” he said, “and now 450,000 working people have medical coverage in this state.”
Boudreaux’s boundless, unstoppable zeal to serve others has led him to a number of extremely worthy causes with unparalleled results! These include working to increase state funding for education.
He has been highly critical of the No Child Left Behind Act stating that: “We’ve left them behind, at home and in the street.”
Boudreaux feels the Act discriminates against students who struggle to take tests and who may perform well using another method of learning such as project-based learning. Furthermore, he is of the opinion that basing performance on one test inaccurately measures student success overall.
In the midst of campaigning for greater educational access, Boudreaux has seen his recreational programmes produce notable successes including having launched the career of professional Tennis Ace, Chanda Rubin. Winning seven WTA Tour singles titles, she reached her highest ranking of world No. 6 in 1996.
As Boudreaux puts it: “Chanda is a local young lady…. She played in the Wimbledon tennis tournament. Her mother is a formal school teacher, her father is a district judge, but she started off playing tennis in our programme and she made it to that level where she played at Wimbledon and was very successful as a professional tennis player.” It would be a crashing understatement to assert that his greatest satisfaction comes from empowering others. True to this mission Boudreaux has recruited an army of volunteers whose roles encompass mentoring and coaching the young people who benefit from his recreational schemes.
Neither has he forgotten those who, having fallen into a dark place, urgently require an even greater level of uplifting.
“Louisiana,” he says “ is ranked in the top 20 states to see a significant increase in opioid drug overdoses and we must reverse this alarming trend.” He is focused and dedicated to promoting a drug-free Louisiana and is relentless about taking a stand to protect its citizens. His initiatives have pulled no punches in getting assistance to those who need it the most, and while there is still plenty of work to be done few state senators have achieved what Boudreaux has in terms of shining a bright healing light into this terrible scourge. Countless souls have been lifted by his kindness, and thanks to his Herculean efforts countless more will follow.
In an age where ethics are often forgotten in politics, Boudreaux’s faith is very much the motor of his actions. That’s why he has taken an active role in encouraging all elected officials, candidates and other Christians involved in the political process to participate in initiatives such as The Government By God’s Design Bible Study group. A project of Concerned Women for America of Louisiana, it encourages attendees through Biblical teaching, videos, and activities to “honor God in Government.”
Another important initiative that Boudreaux has championed is Rebuilding Together Acadiana, a non-profit organization supported entirely by contributions of time, labor, material and money. The organization is dedicated to repairing homes of those who, due to financial hardship, age, and/or disability, cannot do the work themselves. Skilled and unskilled volunteers along with able-bodied members of the recipient’s family and friends complete the repairs, with the homeowner contributing 5% of overall materials cost.
In order to grasp just how much Boudreaux is appreciated by his community, we have no further to glance than his own website, home to an avalanche of positive testimonials. One supporter, Joseph Cotton writes: “I support Gerald Boudreaux because he is a people’s person who understands the issues. He understands what’s going on in the trenches, and he understands the people. I’ve seen him uplift so many people that’s down and out. I’ve seen him uplift so many people that needed the help. I’ve seen the results of his work.”
Innovations and challenges
When asked about the biggest challenges he faces, Boudreaux is clear. “Funding, without a doubt,” he says is the biggest hurdle.
The age of the department’s facilities is also a challenge, he says, “and that goes back to funding, you know – the wear and tear of the facilities because of use, and every year they get older and we need to put more money into them.”
With 35 parks, 10 recreation centres, three golf courses, five swimming pools, tennis facilities, soccer fields, football fields, outdoor basketball courts, a campground and a park for RV trailers, as well as additional athletic facilities, there is no small amount of upkeep required. Boudreaux is committed to ensuring that all of this and more is kept available for the community to use.
Funding also makes it difficult to achieve all of Boudreaux’s goals for developing the department’s work. “We see new and innovated programmes that we want to bring back, we want to bring those here and the challenge sometimes is how do we fit this into an already tight budget,” he said.
Yet he is thankful for the support of both community members and local government. “Along with government-run programmes, it takes our entire community,” Boudreaux said. “Their engagement has allowed us to do more with less. They have brought more people to the table so that we can expand, so that we can be visible and that we can be an opportunity for so many in our community, and so we want to express our appreciation for that.
“The other thing that we want to do is that we want to preserve for the future. There is going to need to be more growth and there is going to need to be more development, so the challenge comes in as how do we do even more in the future?” Boudreaux continued. “And that is going to take additional dollars. Together we are going to have to come up with the plan, so the future of recreation in Lafayette continues to be something that is positive, something that is wanted, and something that’s successful.”
Given his incredible persistence, vision and resourcefulness we predict that it will not be long before Boudreaux turns his dream into a beautiful glowing reality.