BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - In life there are those who watch things happen. Then there are those who make things happen. And then there are those who wonder what the heck happened!
There are two particular ladies who are making things happen in Baton Rouge, specifically in the Gardere area. And specifically with young girls.
Jane Chandler is a native of Baton Rouge. She moved to France several years ago to teach college and ended up staying there 22 years!
"And most of my students were women," Jane tells the story. "And they found themselves in an environment that was pretty dangerous for them because they didn't always know the language; they didn't understand the culture. And so I started understanding how important it was for me to work on an individual basis to help young women empower themselves and take control over their lives and make good choices."
In those 22 years, Jane created a curriculum she calls The Paths for Empowerment.
"My college girls were resilient. They had resources, and when they got back down, they could pretty much come back; they could bounce back," Jane explains about her girls in France. "But when I came back to the United States, to Louisiana, I saw my community had evolved in ways that were upsetting for me."
While her college age young ladies could bounce back, she observed the young girls in Baton Rouge could not.
"They didn't go to college for financial, academic, or social reasons, so they didn't have the tools, they didn't have the resources, and they weren't resilient. And they were ending up in poverty. And I thought, how far back do you have to go in a girl's life to keep her from falling into poverty?"
Jane recalled her most formative days growing up and realized it was just before becoming a teenager. It was a time when all of her social cues and clues were off. "And so I thought, that's where I need to work. I need to work with girls before they get to that really vulnerable age."
But how could she make a difference? Where to start? What about funding? So many questions, but God intervened.
"I had the chassis, but I didn't have the fuel. I had no idea how I was going to do this program," Jane admits.
Then one day, Jane was attending a meeting of the Gardere Initiative, the brain child of Dr. Murelle Harrison. Dr. Harrison took Jane under her wing and mentored her. Dr. Harrison eventually introduced Jane to Karen Lee, who had a similar passion to help young girls. Karen is the president of the South Burbank Crime Prevention and Development District.
"And Karen said, 'How much money do you need?' And I thought, what? Can it be this easy?" Jane said. "So Karen showed me how to get the money, how to write my presentation, and the next thing I knew, I had my money! And so I knew this was a God thing 'cause this was just going too perfectly. I met the right women who had the same passion, and they had the money too."
Others came on board too and Camp United was born. It's a three week summer camp for young girls, mainly from the Gardere area. During camp, the girls are introduced to other women who are community leaders in Baton Rouge, women like Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and Representative Pat Smith. They also get a week of swimming lessons from Crawfish Aquatics. And for the second year in a row, the camp attendees will Skype with girls their own age in Kenya!
Another community leader, Barbar Jans, saw the positive impact Camp United was having on young girls in the Gardere area and nominated Jane and Karen for WAFB's Hand It On recognition. We tagged along with Barbara as she interrupted a group discussion Jane and Karen were having with the participants of Camp United.
"I want to share something with you folks," Barbara began, addressing Karen and Jane. "We're so proud of the work you've done in establishing and growing Camp United by reaching out to these young girls and inspiring them to be the best young women they can be, but this is a lot more than just publicity. This is Hand It On with Johnny Ahysen. And on behalf of Hand It On, I want to hand you $300 to help you continue to grow Camp United for the girls of Gardere!"
Jane and Karen were excited and immediately told their camp girls they will get some of this money at the end of the camp session, but the catch was they would have to earn it!
Leading by example. Thank you Jane Chandler and Karen Lee.
To nominate someone for Hand It On, send an e-mail to HandItOn@wafb.com. Make sure to include your contact information, especially your phone number.