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Showing posts from 2021

BR Parents: One Amazing Kid - Mindy Jones

First published in the September 2021 issue of Baton Rouge Parents magazine and on its website. When a friend asked Mindy Jones if she would help her raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as part of the Baton Rouge Bees, Mindy agreed. That “yes” turned into a leadership opportunity for Mindy, as the next year she led the Bees’ fundraising efforts, raising more than $41,000. “As the campaign went on and I learned more about it, I realized how much this society does and how much they do for our community,” Mindy, 17, says. “My grandfather actually passed away from leukemia three years ago, so it’s a very personal journey for me.” Now a senior at St. Michael the Archangel High School, Mindy received the 2021 Ochsner Citizenship Award for Mission Integration, honoring her for “spreading the word about this campaign and LLS in general throughout the community,” she says. Her fundraising included other schools and companies to make a bigger impact.  “We did thing

BR Parents - Thrive: Supporting the Gardere Community with Service and Outreach

  First published in Baton Rouge Parents magazine's September 2021 issue and on its website . Through feeding, encouraging participation in school, providing financial support and much more, a local organization has been helping families in the Gardere community thrive for 20 years.  Opening Doors, a Louisiana nonprofit corporation, was launched in March 2001 by members of St. John’s United Methodist Church. The board includes a resident of the Gardere area as well as a member of the mayor’s staff. The nonprofit relies on volunteers to operate. Don Fuller was the organization’s first president, and Sandra Kuykendall is the current chairperson of the board.  “Members of the church wanted to expand their outreach and thought it would be best to do that through a nonprofit,” Kuykendall says.  Its nonprofit status allows Opening Doors to apply for grants to fund its work, and this year, the group received $15,000 from the Capital Area United Way as part of its ALICE Gra

BR Parents - September 2021

As my final issue as education and community sections editor, I wrote pages 14-21 and page 26 of the September 2021 issue of Baton Rouge Parents magazine. Read the magazine on their website .

BR Parents Blog: Goodbye Preschool, Hello Kindergarten

First published on Baton Rouge Parents magazine's blog. I’ve done this before, and I survived. I will do it again and survive, probably even thrive. But I’m still feeling lots of feelings about upcoming changes in our family’s life, mostly about sending our second daughter to elementary school for the very first time. Four years ago, I dropped my older daughter off for her first day of Kindergarten, and this August, it’s finally her little sister’s turn. I was all up in my feels with that first drop off, a million questions and concerns. I remember being hyper-fixated on cartwheel shorts–what are they and why didn’t we have any?! Although I have a rising fourth grader and elementary school feels a little old hat, I’m still feeling quite emotional about sending my baby to Kindergarten, launching her “real” academic career in a way. Our little one is ready to join her big sister, there’s no doubt about that. We are very grateful that both sisters will be at the same el

BR Parents - One Amazing Kid: Jorden Wingerter

  First published in the August 2021 issue of Baton Rouge Parents magazine and on its website. After picking up bowling less than two years before, Jordan Wingerter quickly advanced in the sport to finish second in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association State bowling singles tournament as a freshman and bowled her new high score of 255. “My dad is the one who really made me realize I have such a passion for this sport,” Jordan, 15, says. Although no one else in her family bowls, her parents, David Wingerter and Susan David, and older brother Logan recognize and support Jordan’s natural talent. Now a tenth grader at St. Joseph’s Academy, Jordan’s school coach Shelly O’Dowd has also been a driver of Jordan’s success. “I never knew that she was going to have such high expectations for me or that I could perform so well,” Jordan says.  Jordan also works with a personal coach, Page Dew. “He’s also one of the main reasons I perform so well and has helped me learn many

BR Parents - Thrive: Dancing Through Life, Including a Triathlon

  First published in the August 2021 issue of Baton Rouge Parents magazine and on its website. With the Special Olympics canceled for another year to help slow the spread of COVID-19, the options for athletes with intellectual disabilities were even more limited. But for 25-year-old Christopher Ballard of Denham Springs, a new athletic challenge presented itself: completing a triathlon.  Christopher has Down syndrome, so the Freedom Fest Triathlon in New Roads modified the cycling part of the race to accommodate his speed. Christopher finished the 400-meter swim, five-mile bike ride (instead of the 10 miles other competitors rode) and two-mile run/walk. “If they hadn’t had to close the road down early, he could have completed the whole thing,” says Mary Ballard, Christopher’s mother. “He had the endurance, they just didn’t have the time for him to do it.” The triathlon was a family affair, and Mary participated and finished as well. Their times were both a little over t

BR Parents: August 2021

As education and community sections editor, I wrote pages 14-21 and page 26 for Baton Rouge Parents magazine's August 2021 issue. Read the magazine on their website.

BR Parents - Thrive: Suiting Up Students to Honor Her Husband’s Legacy

First published on the Baton Rouge Parents Magazine website and in the July 2021 issue. Thriving after losing a spouse can almost feel impossible in the immediate aftermath. However, two years after her husband’s death caught their family by surprise, Denise J. Brown and her adult children have come together and launched a nonprofit organization to honor his memory. Eugene M. Brown Sr. was a master tailor who, with Denise, founded Brown & Brown Custom Clothiers in 1973, a business now run by their sons. Denise is a former educator and was a director of a Mentoring for Success program at Capitol High School. Launched in December 2020, Suiting 101 beautifully blends the talents and interests of Denise and her late husband. The nonprofit’s mission is to mentor and train at-risk, underprivileged students with life skills, focusing on the importance of appearance and presentation. “(Eugene) had a love for people, and he loved dressing his clients for success,” Denise says. “He loved ou

BR Parents: One Amazing Kid - Ivory Gipson

First published on Baton Rouge Parents Magazine's website and in the July 2021 issue. In high school, Ivory Gipson maintained a near-perfect GPA and was a three-sport varsity athlete, band member, fellow in the Baton Rouge Youth Coalition (BRYC), vice president of the Goal Society, and held down a part-time job. “I did every sport and every club that was there in my time at Northeast,” he says. The recent graduate was named one of six 2021 Louisiana Young Heroes by Louisiana Public Broadcasting. The program celebrates achievements of inspiring students who make their communities better places. Ivory found out he was named a Young Hero while on a college visit with Lucas Spielfogel, Ivory’s mentor in BRYC and the organization’s executive director, who nominated him. Ivory, 18, credits his mom, Latasha Gipson, for his success. “My mom is my superhero without a cape,” he says. “She’ll take her last $20 out of her wallet so I can do something.” Latasha also taught Iv

BR Parents: July 2021

As Education and Community sections editor, I wrote pages 14-24 and page 26 of the July 2021 issue of Baton Rouge Parents magazine . (I did not write the briefs about Summer Olympics on page 14 or about author Julie Sternberg on page 17.)

BR Parents Blog: Embracing the Cheugy - Yeah, I’m Basic!

First published on the Baton Rouge Parents magazine website. Gen Z is at it again–creating a new word to make fun of older people and the things we enjoy. First it was basic, but now it’s cheugy, which arguably seems meaner since it’s a made-up word with such hard consonant sounds? Also “basic” was popularized on the TV shows Parks & Rec and The Good Place , basic entertainment in themselves that somehow softens the blow. We’ll see how the “cheugy” term unfolds, but it’s definitely made the rounds in my corners of the internet. It was even in The New York Times : "cheugy can be used, broadly, to describe someone who is out of date or trying too hard." That last part is a little ouchy, as I am loath to want to seem to be trying too hard or at all…I know that trying is forever uncool! But honestly, I’ve always been out of date? I turned 40 last year, which makes me either a very young Gen X (my preference) or an elder millennial. I grew up in the middle of no

BR Parents: June 2021

As Education and Community sections editor, I wrote pages pages 14-21  and page 26 of the June 2021 issue of Baton Rouge Parents magazine. See the web layout on the magazine's website.

BR Parents - One Amazing Kid: Caroline Simpson

Originally published on the Baton Rouge Parents magazine website. Last summer during the height of stay-at-home orders, Caroline Simpson began her unique internship with the Baton Rouge Coroner’s Office, working for Dr. Beau Clark. A recent graduate of St. Michael the Archangel High School, Caroline’s focus on forensics began with reading. “In sixth grade, I read a book series that really got me interested in murder mysteries and crime,” I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga. “She’s really interested in stuff that not many people are,” says Natalie Simpson, Caroline’s mom. In ninth grade, Caroline was able to view her first autopsy when her dad, Bill Simpson, won a “Spend a Day with the Coroner” at an auction. “I was so worried–am I gonna throw up and pass out on the ground?” Caroline remembers. “But luckily, I went in and  I was so fascinated. I could do this every day.” Now 18, Caroline was a leader in her school’s youth ministry and a soccer team captain her senior year.

BR Parents - Thrive: Going Viral: Teen Connects Through Poetry and TikTok Videos

Originally posted on the Baton Rouge Parents magazine website. Although he didn’t speak until he was five, Cohen Swain is finding his voice. The 15-year-old is on the autism spectrum and has written a poem, Hold On, I’m Trying , that has gone viral.  Originally an assignment for a resilience project in Catherine Lucas’s freshman English class last fall, Cohen’s poem has been copyrighted. A video of Cohen reading it was published by Ascension Parish Schools as part of Disabilities Awareness Month in March and has been shared more than 100 times from its Facebook page and viewed more than 50 times on its YouTube channel. The poem shares Cohen’s memories and struggles, each stanza ending with “Hold on, I’m trying,” something he says often.  “When I read it, I see everything separate; I can separate all of those memories,” says Krystal Swain, Cohen’s mom. “It was emotional for us and everyone that knows Cohen that’s read it.” A particularly poignant memory comes when Cohen

BR Parents Blog - Doing Hard Things: Zipline Edition

First published on the Baton Rouge Parents magazine website. I can do hard things, and you can too, to borrow a phrase   from Glennon Doyle . From getting ready to send my baby to Kindergarten to juggling anxiety about resuming in-person life after   being vaccinated against COVID-19 , hard things are all around me and I am leaning in and doing them. I recently got the chance to do a less serious hard thing with my older daughter and her Girl Scout troop. We traveled to  Magnolia Ridge Adventure Park  in Ethel for a morning of ziplining. There are 15 girls in the troop, and rarely can our schedules all align, but something about this activity called to each girl and we had the full cadre of Brownies. Most moms were also on hand, and in our text thread leading up to the day, it sounded like every mom was going to do the ziplining as if it were no big deal. (!!!) With a limited scope of imagination, I couldn’t be sure if I would feel comfortable being left behind while everyone else par

BR Parents May 2021

As Education and Community sections editor, I wrote pages pages 14-21  and page 26 of the May 2021 issue of Baton Rouge Parents magazine. See the web layout on the magazine's website.

BR Parents - One Amazing Kid: Preston Horton

Originally published in the May 2021 issue of Baton Rouge Parents magazine and on its website. An idea that came about to help a grieving grandfather has expanded to help many more senior citizens. Eleven-year-old Preston Horton formed “Joyful Melodies” with his younger siblings in 2018 to bring music to older people in need of company. When COVID-19 restrictions forced Preston to revamp that work, he moved performances outdoors and performed for smaller, socially distanced audiences.  For his exemplary volunteer work, the sixth grader at Copper Mill Elementary School in Zachary has been named Louisiana’s top middle-level youth volunteer by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, an honor that includes a $2,500 scholarship and a silver medallion.  Preston is no stranger to volunteering, which he started doing at his school and a local food pantry. This Easter, he provided 70 baskets for residents at a local nursing home and created a virtual concert for them to enjoy

BR Parents - Thrive: The Girl Who Doesn’t Give Up

Originally posted on the Baton Rouge Parents magazine website . A nine-year-old second grader, Piper Walters loves Frozen , her dog Amelia, and riding her bike. Despite the challenges that come with living with cerebral palsy, Piper makes the most of her life. “She likes to dance, she actually takes ballet and tap,” says Tessa Walters, Piper’s mom. “She likes to ride her bike.” Piper’s bike is a giant tricycle with harnesses and straps to help keep her safe while she rides, and she received it in 2018 from the McLindon Family Foundation.  “Piper’s (bike) is so important to us, and not only allows her to have fun, but it’s good exercise and coordination. And those bikes are very expensive,” says Tessa. Giving back is important to the Walters family, which includes Tessa, Piper and her dad George. They often participate in fundraisers to support other children who live with disabilities. Before the pandemic, the family worked with Louisiana Hogs on Hogs, now called Sout

BR Parents Blog: The Comeback Kid: Celebrating the Return of Birthday Parties

 Originally published on the Baton Rouge Parents magazine website . My poor five year old, with her spring birthday, has now had two COVID-style celebrations. However, this year we made the festivities incrementally bigger. Instead of a family-only celebration and the half-hearted drive-by party of 2020 when she turned four (which we piggybacked off an older church friend who has her same birthday), this year we invited one (1) friend to come play. Basically we hosted a playdate party like her 3rd birthday , but much, much smaller. In the year of COVID, a playdate became her heart’s desire, and it was so sweet to be able to fulfill that request that used to be so minor and has come to feel so risky. This year, when her age became a whole hand, we rented a bouncy house for the backyard to make things feel more special and a little different than just a playdate, although having a friend at our house was a novelty in itself. Now that we know COVID is less likely to spread

BR Parents: April 2021

  As Education and Community sections editor, I wrote pages pages 14-21 (except for Parkview and East Iberville briefs) and page 26 of the April 2021 issue of Baton Rouge Parents magazine. See the web layout on the magazine's website.

BR Parents - Thrive: Life with Down Syndrome: Shouting His Worth

Originally published in the April 2021 issue of Baton Rouge Parents magazine and on its website . When he was born seven weeks before his due date, prematurity seemed to be the biggest obstacle facing Gideon Schroeder. His parents, Marianne and Greg, were completely surprised when Gideon was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. “We had the option to do (prenatal) testing, and we discussed it, and we said, you know, ‘It is what it is,’” Greg says. Heart tests came out perfect, and the facial characteristics associated with Down Syndrome typically seen on ultrasound didn’t show up.  “It was unexpected,” says Marianne, now a stay-at-home mom with a background in education. “It was tough at first. It changes your whole perspective on what you thought was going to happen.” The Schroeders didn’t have much experience with Down Syndrome, although Greg had a cousin who lived with the condition.  Gideon spent his first three months in the hospital, unrelated to Down Syndrome or his pre

BR Parents - One Amazing Kid: Annie Engholm

  Originally published in the Baton Rouge Parents magazine's April 2021 issue and on its website . While most kids took advantage of additional screen time when quarantining in 2020, Annie Engholm used her extra time at home to craft. She turned her hobby into a lucrative Etsy shop and has given away all her profits. “I wanted to get rid of COVID, and I was feeling like everyone else wanted to do that as well,” says Annie, a 10-year-old fourth grader at Episcopal School of Baton Rouge. “I thought of the store to raise the money to do it.”  She launched Annie’s Ever After Etsy shop ( in March 2020, and has since raised more than $500, which she has donated to Baton Rouge General. “My goal is to give a thousand bucks to them,” she says. Annie sells jewelry, keychains and an original creation called click clack clams, “two clams that are painted and decorated by pretty tape and googly eyes and you can click them together.”  Her pare

BR Parents Blog - We Are All Irreplaceable: Deciding to Get My COVID Vaccine

First published on the Baton Rouge Parents magazine website . I am someone who loves science, at least as a bystander and beneficiary. I even wrote about the benefits of animal research in my high school English class for our persuasive essay assignment, convinced science was critical to my survival of jaundice as an infant. Right now, I am in awe of science and particularly amazed at the work that’s gone into so quickly creating successful vaccines against this pandemic-causing novel coronavirus. When my turn to get a vaccine for COVID-19 came up, I did not hesitate. I had already been looking to get vaccinated via waste lists at local pharmacies–several moms I know in my circles had success that way. A waste list is filled with people who are willing to come at a moment’s notice to get a vaccine should there be one that’s otherwise going to be wasted or expired. But when Governor Edwards expanded eligibility to include people 16-54 with certain health conditions that m

BR Parents: March 2021

As Education and Community sections editor, I wrote pages pages 14-21 and page 26 of the March 2021 issue of Baton Rouge Parents magazine. See the web layout on the magazine's website.

BR Parents: One Amazing Kid - Dev Iyer

First published in the March 2021 issue of Baton Rouge Parents magazine and on its website . Amazing kids run in the Iyer family. Recently named the East Baton Rouge Parish Public School System’s elementary student of the year, Dev, a fifth grader at Buchanan Elementary, is following in the footsteps of his brother, Jay, now a high school senior who was also honored as a fifth grader. Dev excels academically. “I’m particularly proud of getting principal’s list in all my years in elementary school,” he says. He’s already planning a bright future. “I want to become an architectural engineer when I grow up,” he says. The career, which would follow in the engineering footsteps of his dad and grandfather, combines Dev’s love of math, science and art. A multisport athlete, Dev participates in swimming, taekwondo, basketball, baseball and soccer. He’s also an accomplished pianist and artist. Dev’s artwork was chosen as the EBR school system’s annual holiday card three years i

BR Parents: Thrive - Filling Hearts with Kindness, Starting with Her Own

First published in the March 2021 issue of Baton Rouge Parents magazine and its website . Kindness is the keyword for eight-year-old Tiva Thyssen, and she’s involved in several efforts to spread it. Specifically, since losing her older brother Traeh to suicide in 2019, Tiva works to bring awareness to and prevent bullying and suicide Rosalynn Thyssen, mother of Tiva, Traeh, and their siblings Theodore, Trinitee, and Chloe, started the Traeh Thyssen Have A hearT Foundation, which provides information, resources, and support to combat bullying and prevent youth suicide. Tiva plays an active role in the foundation and bringing its message to more people in the hopes of saving other children who are hurting like Traeh. The foundation’s marketing efforts include a focus on hearts and the number 13. Traeh is heart spelled backward, and he was 13 when he died. “The foundation just tells people that you should always have a heart,” Tiva says.  For Random Acts of Kindness Week

BR Parents Blog: Let the Good Times Stroll: Saying Goodbye to The Last of Our Baby Gear

 First published on Baton Rouge Parents magazine's website. Our family is almost ready to say goodbye to our stroller, and looking back, it might be my most beloved piece of baby gear (after my DSLR camera perhaps). Our orange BabyJogger CityMini has served us well, hauling two girls around the neighborhood and around the world. In the last year, it hasn’t seen much use, of course. Mostly because of the pandemic and not really going anywhere. If we walked around the neighborhood together as a family, the girls could motor on their own legs or ride their bikes or scooters. Having a nine-year-old and almost five-year-old negates the need for a stroller, pandemic or not. I can feel sentimental about most anything, especially things relating to my girls. Folding onesies into a box for donating or passing down, dropping off the giant, loud, plastic toys and other accoutrements of toddler life, and sorting through board books all make me feel my feelings. How I feel about

BR Parents: Thrive - Young Writer Inspires Others to Overcome Bullying

First published in the February 2021 issue of Baton Rouge Parents magazine and on the magazine's website. After she experienced bullying, Holli A. Holland wanted to help other children navigate through the experience. The slower pace during the pandemic provided time for the eight year old from Baker to write and publish her first book, You Are Enough! She also created an accompanying workbook, You Are Enough: You are Beautiful, For You are Fearfully and Wonderfully Made . In a few short months, she’s already sold more than 250 copies. Holli wrote to inspire others. “You don’t have to change your ways. You can be yourself, and you can accomplish things by being yourself,” she says. In the book, Holli shares her story of being bullied about her shoes. “I took it and I turned it into something positive,” Holli explains. Holli learned a life lesson early when the child who picked on her would not apologize to her even when the principal told him to.  “At an early age,

BR Parents: One Amazing Kid - Zaila Avant-Garde

First published in the February 2021 issue of Baton Rouge Parents magazine and on the magazine's website . A Guinness World Record holder for her basketball skills, Zaila Avant-Garde is also a successful speller, winning the first-ever Kaplan Online Spelling Bee. Zaila, 14, won $10,000 and free Kaplan pre-college test prep courses. The Kaplan Bee was developed after the 2020 Scripps National Spelling Bee was canceled due to COVID-19. “I have always been interested in reading, so spelling was more or less a natural progression,” Zaila says. She spends a lot of time studying spelling words and she was also the 2019 New Orleans regional spelling champion.  An eighth grade homeschooler from Harvey, Zaila’s opportunities to compete have diminished. “Most spelling bees you can’t participate after your eighth grade year.” Zaila’s interest in achieving a world record began when she received a Guinness Book for her eighth birthday and she put her plan into action when she t

BR Parents: February 2021

As Education and Community sections editor, I wrote pages pages 14-21 and page 26 of the February 2021 issue of Baton Rouge Parents magazine. See the web layout on the magazine's website.

BR Parents Blog: Have We Become a Gaming Family?

First published on Baton Rouge Parents magazine's website . Christmas 2020 looked super different for our family , and as parents, my husband and I did something that we probably wouldn’t have done otherwise. We fulfilled our nine-year-old’s request for a gaming system, specifically a Nintendo Switch. She had been asking for it throughout the pandemic saying everyone she knew had one, but it felt too expensive and one more screen to fight over.  And of course, earlier in the year, the Switches were pretty hard to come by. I’m a great deal shopper, even online–scoring Clorox wipes when they were scarce and Lysol for my friend who had COVID in July. But I didn’t want to activate my shopping powers for something we weren’t sure we could handle as a family or to pay too much just because it was hard to find in stock. But a good deal that was available for pickup and our daughter’s persistence led us to make the purchase in early December. It was SO HARD to not tell her

BR Parents: Thrive - Powering Through While Beating Rare Bone Cancer

Originally published in the January 2021 issue of Baton Rouge Parents Magazine and on its website . Although 2020 was a hard year for everyone, the White family’s experience was extra challenging.  Their eight-year-old, Hayden, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. His victory over the rare bone cancer was complete when he finished chemo on December 11, one of the first in-patients to do so at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital.  “Hayden started having leg pain probably in February,” says his dad, Corey. An X-ray in March led to consultations with orthopedists and soon thereafter an orthopedic oncologist, and chemo began in April. “It happened really fast,” Corey says. Hayden’s mom, Karen, says, “From the time we saw the pediatrician to the time we started chemo, it was about three weeks.”  COVID-19 complicated everything, with only one parent being allowed with him during some of Hayden’s procedures. Karen and Corey were even told separately about their son’s diagnos

BR Parents: One Amazing Kid - Matteo Runge

Originally published in the January 2021 issue of Baton Rouge Parents magazine and on its website . When so many things shut down last year, Matteo Runge was lucky to find a silver lining. The sixth grader at Baton Rouge International School became a 2020 Louisiana state chess champion and credits his success to extra practice time. “Since coronavirus happened, I improved on chess,” Matteo says. “I wouldn’t have gotten second in the state if it weren’t for coronavirus because I was online and practicing every day for that state championship.” Now 11, Matteo has played chess for several years and is a member of his school’s chess club. “I thought he was too young to learn the game of chess when he was in Kindergarten,” says Donald, Matteo’s dad. “I didn’t learn myself until I was about in seventh grade. But he kept insisting on learning how the pictures moved.” Matteo’s mom, Isabella, first taught him the basics. Virtual tournaments have allowed chess competitions to c

BR Parents: January 2021

As Education and Community sections editor, I wrote pages pages 14-21 and page 26 of the January 2021 issue of Baton Rouge Parents magazine. See the web layout on the magazine's website .