Blue Cross Foundation Just another WordPress site Fri, 26 Aug 2016 15:52:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Louisiana Flooding – How Can I help? Wed, 17 Aug 2016 16:39:25 +0000 Right now Louisiana is showing it’s best self – the power of everyday people doing extraordinary good for their friends, families, neighbors and strangers in need (or, as we like to call them, friends you just haven’t met yet).

Along with tens of thousands of others, as many as a fourth of Blue Cross’ employees have lost their homes to flooding, including some on the Foundation’s team. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone going through this. But as sad as we are, we are twice as proud of the thousands of men and women who, even in the face of their own indescribable and utterly overwhelming loss, have reached out a helping hand.

Today, you’ll find Louisiana hard at work shoveling mud and gutting drywall – fathers, mothers and kids together. And some others are waiting still to get back to their homes from a shelter and get to work. And many, many more are volunteering and donating to ease the suffering of others while they care for their own families. And the Cajun Navy is still pulling people from the water.

This is a long road, but we will support each other in the weeks to come. We’re #TogetherStrong.

If you’re looking for a way to help, here’s how:


— Michael Tipton, BCBSLA Foundation President

Recap of our 2016 Grants Webinar Wed, 08 Jun 2016 17:03:25 +0000 Update

On June 8, the we hosted a webinar with over 150 participants from around Louisiana about our new grantmaking strategy.

  • Download the presentation deck here.
  • Stream the full webinar online here.
  • Apply for the first round of New Horizons grants here.



By the end of 2016, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation plans to roll out three new grant programs. In total, the Foundation will invest $5 million in Louisiana nonprofits working to improve the health and wellbeing of the state’s residents.

As of the today, the Foundation is accepting applications for its New Horizons grant fund, which will fund new and innovative ideas on a small/pilot scale. New Horizons grants are awards of up to $10,000 for projects lasting less than a year.

“Through this program, we want to help grow the next wave of nonprofit startups and big ideas in philanthropy that might otherwise get overlooked,” says Michael Tipton, president of the Blue Cross Foundation. “We believe that starting with small investments is a prudent way to encourage innovation and a scientific investment approach.”

All of the Foundation’s grants are made to Louisiana-based 501(c)(3) nonprofits agencies for projects that improve the health and wellbeing of Louisiananians. If you are interested in applying for a New Horizons grant, the Foundation asks that you read the full guidelines and submit a Letter of Intent online at

Later this year, the Foundation will seek applications for a Special Projects grant fund – larger awards that support established programs and nonprofit partners. The Foundation will also seek applicants for the Collective Impact fund, multi-year grants for community coalitions who work together to solve major issues in community health.

“Our full slate of grant opportunities represents the three biggest needs we see in improving Louisiana’s health: the need for new ideas, the need to sustain organizations already doing good work and the need to bring communities together to tackle big problems,” adds Tipton.

If you want more information on the Foundation’s grant programs or need help submitting a letter of inquiry, you may also reach Foundation staff at 1-888-219-BLUE (1-888-219-2583) or by emailing

LRPA Honors Lydia Martin with Citation at Annual Conference Wed, 04 May 2016 19:37:07 +0000 Pictured Above: (From left to right) Carl Stages, LRPA past president; Lydia Martin, BCBSLA Foundation initiatives manager; Randy Albarez. LRPA immediate past president; and Frank Wittenberg, LRPA president.

Pictured Above: (From left to right) Carl Stages, LRPA past president; Lydia Martin, BCBSLA Foundation initiatives manager; Randy Albarez. LRPA immediate past president; and Frank Wittenberg, LRPA president.


On Wednesday, April 27, the Louisiana Recreation and Parks Association (LRPA) honored Lydia Martin, foundation initiatives manager for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation, with a citation at its annual conference.

According to LRPA president Carl Stages, the award was given in recognition of Martin’s dedication to the betterment of Louisiana’s parks over the last five years.

“Through the years, I’ve come to know Lydia as someone who is passionate and compassionate in the work she does. She has truly made a difference in communities that are part of the Blue cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation’s programs. She has helped to create a path forward to a better Louisiana – and we are honored to present this award to her,” said Stages.

In her role at the Foundation, Martin has supported a dozen projects involving park systems around the state. These projects were part of the Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant program, which brought together hundreds of community partners in a grassroots movement to get Louisianians eating right and moving more.

For example, one Baton Rouge challenge grant project included the Recreation and Park Commission for the Parish of East Baton Rouge (BREC) partnering with the Mayor’s Healthy City Initiative and others to create mobile play units. In places where the children of hardworking families may not have access to safe play nearby, the mobile play unit provides a healthy outlet for physical activity. The partnership also made fresh fruits and vegetables available in local food deserts.

“It’s been a privilege to work with the folks at LRPA and with organizations all across the state,” said Martin, who recently announced that she was relocating to Medford, Oregon with her family. “I’m glad to have been a part of their great work in improving the health and wellbeing of Louisianians, though I think they did most of the heavy lifting!”

Foundation president Michael Tipton added his praise for Martin’s work: “Lydia was the lynchpin in our three-year Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana program. She was at the middle of everything, and I’m not sure we would have achieved the same kinds of results without her. She is a bright and inspiring force and we will miss her dearly.”

Martin joined the Foundation in 2011 after having served as the human resources manager for the Alliance Safety Council. She has over 20 years of experience in nonprofit management and leadership, including a long tenure with Girl Scouts throughout the United States. Her background includes compliance, meeting accreditation standards and evaluating programs.

Ms. Martin is a graduate of Tarleton State University, holds PHR Certification and SHRM-CP certification, serves on the Board of Directors for Playmakers BR, and is an avid backyard gardener.

Blue Cross Foundation: “Help Us Find the Angels Around You” Thu, 04 Feb 2016 22:15:47 +0000 Click here to nominate an Angel online.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation is seeking nominations for the 2016 Angel Awards through Friday, April 8, 2016. Now in its twenty-first year, The Angel Award® program recognizes Louisiana volunteers who perform extraordinary work for children in need. The Foundation will also make a $20,000 grant to the Louisiana-based charity represented by each honoree.

According to Foundation President Michael Tipton, The Angel Awards have recognized more than 160 Angels in almost every imaginable walk of life since 1995. “If you know someone doing good work, it doesn’t matter whether they have a big title or a long legacy. Our experience has taught us that Angels are all around us, making progress in changing the lives of children,” he said.

Indeed, previous Angel Award honorees represent all vocations and include retirees, students and everything in between. Each was chosen for one reason: their impact on the lives of Louisiana’s kids through countless hours of devotion.

“We know without a doubt that there are many everyday people going above and beyond to enhance the physical, emotional, creative or spiritual lives of children – but we need their friends, families and neighbors to let us know who they are,” Tipton added.

If you know an Angel, you can find more information – including rules and guidelines –and a nomination form using the link above.

Nomination packets are also available by calling toll-free 1-888-219-BLUE (1-888-219-2583) or by emailing Nominators are encouraged to send supplemental information in support of the nomination, including testimonial letters, brochures, news articles, photos and videos. (Please note: These materials cannot be returned.)


Profile of an Angel

©Jason Cohen Photography

©Jason Cohen Photography

In 2015, several Baton Rouge-area volunteers were recognized as Angels, including Dustin LaFont of Baton Rouge, LA. Dustin LaFont founded Front Yard Bikes in Baton Rouge in 2010. Front Yard Bikes is a program that teaches young children to earn a bike through hard work and dedication. If kids repair or restore a bike in the Front Yard Bikes shop, they are working to earn it.

LaFont uses his experience as a teac

her to educate children on mathematics, physics and mechanics while repairing bikes. As a bonus, the kids experience inclusivity, mentorship, recreation and academic achievement. Front Yard Bikes provides ways for youth in the community to participate in weekly group rides, extracurricular activities and in building reliable transportation in a safe environment.

You can find videos and profiles on all past Angel Award winners online at

Guest Blogger — Ouachita Well’s Pam Barton explains the impact our 52:10 wellness initiative has had on school kids! Wed, 11 Nov 2015 14:54:48 +0000  

In the days to come, we’ll post a new blog highlighting the impact some of our Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana Challenge Grant programs have had on children across the state. But for now, we thought it might be nice to hear directly from one our Challenge Grant partners. So we invited Ouachita Well Project Director Pamela Barton to be our latest guest blogger. Below, she talks about how much school kids in her region have changed for the better since the introduction and promotion of Ouachita Well’s signature education program, 52:10 (5 servings of fruits and vegetables everyday; 2 hours or less of screen timeScreen Shot 2015-11-09 at 4.06.33 PM daily; 1 hour of physical activity each day; no sugar sweetened drinks)!

By Pam Barton

Ouachita Well Project Director

52:10 is the signature education program used by Ouachita Well to encourage physical activity and proper nutrition. Sixth, seventh and eighth grade students in teacher Marybeth McCoy’s science class completed all activities available through this unique program.


Ouachita Well Project Director Pamela Barton teaches students how to read product labels.

Among the educational tactics employed:

–Fun trivia games, asking fruit-and-veggie based questions like, “What is the most profitable fruit in the U.S.?” (Grape, by the way!)

–A debate to address issues associated with obesity, discussing the pros and cons of such issues such as, “Should sugar be taxed?”


Students must rank the beverages based on sugar content.

–An essay contest, asking students to explain how their habits have changed since the beginning of the project. The feedback was so moving. One of Mrs. McCoy’s students said she used what she learned to influence her mom, and they began spending more time together, bonding over a joint weight-loss program. Another student talked about a family member with diabetes and how she so feared the same fate for herself that she used the 52:10 method to drop 20 pounds — and then began sharing the program with her mom, too!


Students in Mrs. McCoy’s class work on their 52:10 essay.

“My students have greatly benefited from all of the Ouachita Well activities,” McCoy said. “They were engaging, entertaining, and age-appropriate. It was so rewarding to see the student respond to the 52:10 message. And now I see the continued positive impact in their decision-making every day. “

The school’s principal, Mr. Chris Cox, was also supportive of our 52:10 initiatives and used every opportunity to encourage students to consume healthier snacks.

“Ouachita Well has been the driving force behind the continued focus to improve the health of Sterlington Middle School students,” Cox said. “And we are grateful to have a community organization like Ouachita Well that has the resources and expertise to help us reach our wellness goals.”


Mrs. Marybeth McCoy delivers a healthy powerpoint presentation.

To drive these messages home even further, a diverse committee made up of students, staff, community members, and administrators made regular policy recommendations to promote a healthier lifestyle (based on the school’s Wellness Policy). Some things that came about because of this committee?  A school-wide health fair, for one. And the student concession stand was upgraded to include healthier options. No more Cokes! Gone are chips and candies, too! All replaced with more nutritional, lower calorie foods, like yogurt, 100 calorie snacks, water and apple juice.

“Oh, they whined about the changes at first,” McCoy said. “But now, the kids are actually just fine with it. We’re even looking for more funding to put in another refrigerated machine so we can offer more things like smoothies and fruit.”


Principal Chris Cox serving healthy snacks.

We used peer pressure to make the difference, too. That kind of thing can be very powerful at this age. And now, they are influencing each other to eat less sugar and exercise more. That became the norm for these kids. They may not realize it yet, but this will change their future. It will change the way they eat every day, how they behave, and I really believe it will have a lasting effect on their health. And that’s impressive.


Challenge Grant by the Numbers Mon, 09 Nov 2015 18:51:15 +0000 DSCN2228[1]By Tina Dirmann

BCBSLA Foundation Staff Writer

Earlier this week, we posted a blog highlighting the close of our audacious Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant program. Challenge Grant, launched three years ago, was our attempt to kick-start a wellness movement across the state. The goal? In short, improve healthy eating habits and increase physical activity. And in the process, perhaps we’d see a slide in our region’s high obesity rates, high blood pressure, high cholesterol. Maybe even diminish diabetes. Indeed, we believed we could change the mindset of entire communities, helping them find ways to reject lethargy and embrace healthier living. We backed up our bravado with a $10.2 million investment, launching 12 new wellness projects touching parishes throughout Louisiana (and challenging our non-profit project partners to match our investment in dollars or services – a move that ultimately raised $27 million in this crusade for better health).DSCN1798

And now that our seed money has been planted, it’s time to assess our work and ask the ultimate question – did we do it? Did we live up to our own expectations?

In short, did we make a difference?

It’s easy to believe so. Our regular blog reports chronicled the birth and growth of numerous healthy living initiatives, using a mix of innovative approaches (more on those in our upcoming blog series) and traditional tactics.  We used a multi-pronged approach to touch as many lives as possible, but particularly those residing in underserved neighborhoods. And while not all of our programs were instant successes, most were embraced by our target communities.

Like the free health fairs created to offer health screenings and flu shots. Recall Jena Band of Choctaw Indian Chief Cheryl Smith as she proudly watched 90 of her 294-member tribe crowd into the band’s administrative center back in 2013 for shots and screening tests (an important milestone, she said, because her fellow Choctaws typically shun doctors and clinics, despite some startling health statistics: 40% of the community fights a chronic illness, 22.6% grapples with type 2 diabetes).


Tribal member Janie Fisher receives a flu vaccination. Photo Credit: The Jena Times

“They may not go to a doctor,” Smith told us at the time of the Live Lively LaSalle sponsored event, “but they’ll come here because it’s easy and convenient. And also because it’s a happy get-together for everyone.”

And months later, during one Dare to be Healthy “Know You Numbers” screening in Lake Charles, an estimated 300 people turned out for blood pressure and cholesterol readings. We remember Arlene, 53, who showed up at the urging of her more health conscious 82-year-old father. And sure enough, father knows best – her numbers came back much higher than she expected.

“This really needs to go down,” a hospital staffer told her. “Really down.”Salvage-Garden-1024x768 Guerrilla-Garden-painting-300x232

Arlene didn’t argue.

“I’ll be at the doctor on Monday,” she told us back then. “I didn’t want to hear that, but I needed to. It’s why I came.”

But anecdotes aside, nothing tells the tale of change better than hard numbers. And in this case, our numbers speak for themselves. The prestigious Pennington Biomedical Research Center assembled the data below. And make no mistake, we’ve had an impact.


Challenge Grant by the Numbers:

Nutrition on Wheels truck complete! Rolling through Central LA soon.

Nutrition on Wheels, now rolling through Central La.


Pounds of fresh produce distributed: 577,464

Physical activity/exercise classes scheduled: 3,760

Community meetings & events organized (including action policy councils formed, training classes, coalition partner gatherings, park clean-ups and wellness festivals: 1,678

Action policy councils formed: 15

Cooking & nutrition classes: 928

Community gardens planted (home, school and neighborhood access): 107

School wellness programs launched: 138

I got veggie stir-fry --  how about you?

I got veggie stir-fry — how about you?

Parks, schools & other community gathering points improved: 49

Paved biking/walking/running paths added or improved: 124,608 feet

New farmers, mobile markets & healthy food distribution points created: 78

Incentive programs developed (to encourage farmers market shopping): 8

Partner organizations involved in all projects: over 350 Growing Local NOLA

Funds raised to expand/sustain Challenge Grant programs: $4,869,823

Let’s pause for a moment to linger over that last number — an additional $4,869,823. Wow. That’s profoundly significant because it means much of the work we helped begin will live on, beyond our funding period. And nothing underscores the success of a project like new money to keep it going, to keep it growing. That’s our statewide impact in action.

Final Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana Annual Grantee Meeting Confirms: We Can Improve Health in Louisiana Tue, 03 Nov 2015 15:32:26 +0000
DSCN2093By Tina Dirmann

BCBSLA Foundation Staff Writer

As we make our way into these early days of November 2015, there’s a mix of pride and nostalgia in the air as we let go of one of our most ambitious wellness projects to date — Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana. 

Last week, we gathered with the leaders of our 12 Challenge Grant DSCN2064funded programs to celebrate and assess everything accomplished in the name of good health in the past three years. We talked about new community gardens built, famers markets launched, fitness equipment installed, healthy food access increased, free exercise and nutrition classes developed…

But of all the wonderful health and fitness goals fulfilled, perhaps the biggest accomplishment of all has been tilting attitudes in our state, parish by parish, neighborhood by neighborhood, about wellness. About getting healthy.

“This is nowhere near the end for us,” said Cynthia Cockerham, project DSCN2087leader for Live Lively LaSalle (with accomplishments including paved trails, a splash park, new farmers markets and a bevy of free health screenings). “It is just the beginning. We will shift the cultural norm in LaSalle Parish.”

To recap, it was 2011 when 12 non-profit teams across the state accepted our challenge — to pair up with neighboring city leaders and non-profits with a single goal in mind: develop healthier communities. We invested $10.2 million in grant DSCN2095funding, which was matched, then exceeded, by those working with us. In all, over $27 million was raised in the name of good health. Our goal? Create a movement in this state that would leave behind our reputation for overindulgence (leading us to the bottom of so many “worst of” national health lists). And forge a new way of thinking and living that celebrates the best of Louisiana, from a healthier point of view.

“People think they are born into obesity and that they just have to accept it,” said Pam Barton, project director for Ouachita Well. “But we just said, ‘Let’s see how we can change this. Let’s show them this doesn’t have to be their norm.’ ”

Our partners in this endeavor, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, hosted the third and final Challenge For a Healthier Louisiana Annual Meeting at its facility in Baton Rouge last week. As we have done in past yearsDSCN2065, we gathered for a dinner the night before, taking a moment to honor those doing the heavy lifting to make these projects possible.

And as the night progressed, we couldn’t help but notice the feeling of community that’s developed over the years, resulting in a network of “do-ers” who will continue the momentum we launched a scant three years ago.

DSCN2072Noted Michael Tipton, president of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation, “I’m most proud not only of the innovative ideas, but of the coalitions built. Those coalitions will help things continue and will be incredibly powerful, especially in the world we live in today.”

“I still get to go out and encounter these programs,” added Andy Allen with Fresh Beginnings (another Challenge Grant funded program) and HealthyBR. “Now that the grant portion is over, I’m most proud that I get to see these programs continue post-grant.”

The dinner was followed by a day of panel discussions and general talks, DSCN2108designed to share the success and setbacks that come with helming community change.

And there were great triumphs — like the grass roots Eat Local community groups now flourishing in Central Louisiana, the vegetable co-ops exploding across Iberia Parish, the Keep It Simple Sister community fitness groups embraced by women in Calcasieu Parish, the farmer training programs in New Orleans and other pockets in the state, and the mobile playground and mobile kitchens that reached those so often unreachable. (More on these success stories in a series of blogs we’ll be running soon.)

DSCN2097But there were struggles, too. It’s not always true that, as the saying goes, “if we build it, they will come,” our Challenge Granters noted. It takes work pushing a community to embrace the new facilities now within their grasp. Farmers markets, for example.

“Some people in our communities see farmers markets and they are intimidated by price, intimidated by the environment,  intimidated by a lot of factors,” said Stephanie Hansen, garden coordinator for Shreveport Green (a Healthy Green and Into the Outdoors partner), during a Marketing the Farmers panel discussion. “It was up to us to help them overcome those obstacles and misconceptions.”

Even our farmers weren’t always open to the training methods we suggested — like writing a business plan or embracing marketing techniques. And, as John Dean with the Central Louisiana Local Foods Initiative said during our Growing the Growers panel talks, “Just because we put healthy foods in front of people doesn’t mean they always want to eat those healthy foods.”

But there were more successes than defeats. Change takes time. And the most important lesson of this final Challenge Grant annual meeting was increasingly obvious as the hours wore on. Our goal three years ago was to launch a series of programs that would “move the needle” when it comes to our state’s dismal health stats.

DSCN2082“So, did we do it,” asked Marti Harrell of West End Health and Wellness project in Iberia Parish. “Did we move the needle?”

Well, we’ve united roughly 350 groups in the name of good health. We’ve attracted another $4.8 million in outside grants and local government funds to continue the work we’ve started. And we’ve impacted local policies, infrastructure and the personal habits of families all over the state.

In the words of Pennington’s Stephanie Broyles (whose team analyzed data collected throughout the Challenge Grant program): we can improve health for Louisianians.DSCN2086

“We have a story to tell here that is strong enough to be told,” she said. “It is a robust story, it is valid… It was a large investment of money. But we did it. We can, we did, improve overall health… We are headed in the right direction.”

For more details on Pennington’s findings and the impact our 12 Challenge Grant projects have had on our state, check back here for additional blog reports in the coming weeks.








Angel Award ceremony honored the everyday angels serving children across our state Wed, 21 Oct 2015 21:36:34 +0000 Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation 2015 Angel Award winner.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation 2015 Angel Award winner.


Elijah Benjamin Evans, No Use for Abuse founder, is gripped in a family hug by his mom and little sister.

Elijah Benjamin Evans, No Use for Abuse founder, is gripped in a family hug by his mom and little sister.

By Tina Dirmann

BCBSLA Foundation Staff Writer

If one ever needed proof that angels walk among us, Monday night’s Angels Awards banquet was nothing short of exhibit A.

No Use for Abuse honoree Elijah Benjamin Evans, for example, began earning his wings long before he even owned a driver’s license. He was just two when his biological mother dumped scalding hot water all over his tiny body, burning 43% of his tender flesh. That tragic event would have been enough to darken the heart of any sane person. But Elijah? He healed, was adopted into a loving home, and by the time he was a teenager, founded   an   anti-child   abuse   support   program   for   kids.

In fact, it was after a bountiful Christmas with his adoptive mom, Lynore

Harding, that true inspiration struck.

“Mom,” he said. “I want to give a Christmas gift to all the foster kids who don’t get to have a Christmas like this. I want them all to have at least one gift they truly want.”

And so, he raised $5,000 from his community and began hosting Christmas of Hope parties, doling out 72 presents his first year. He was 14.

DSCN2042You see? Angel walking among us.

As he accepted his award, including our $20,000 grant, which he’ll use to start a scholarship fund, he thanked many people — in particular, his mom, whom he called, “the true angel tonight.”

“Be the change you want to see in the world,” Evans, now 17 and a Youngsville resident, reminded the audience.

But the 2015 Angel Awards banquet was special not just because of the nine honorees and their work. The night marked the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation’s twenty-first year hosting the grant program, awarding over the years more than $1.9 million to further work benefiting children across our state.

The BCBSLA Foundation team: Dr. Richard Atkins, board chairman, Michael Tipton, president, and Lydia Martin, strategic initiatives manager.

The BCBSLA Foundation team: Dr. Richard Atkins, board chairman, Michael Tipton, president, and Lydia Martin, strategic initiatives manager.

“It never fails to humble me,” Dr. Richard Atkins, foundation board of directors chairman, told a crowd of Angel honorees and their supporters, “that the people we honor do this because it’s their passion. It’s the good in them… That’s what we’re honoring tonight.”

Dustin Lafont of Baton Rouge is the embodiment of that passion, born out of a simple desire to help one bike-less kid scrape together enough parts to build his own cycle. In that moment, Lafont said, “We never thought we’d be on stage, we never thought we’d be accepting an award. We just thought we were helping one kid.”

In fact, in 2010, he launched Front Yard Bikes, which helps low-income kids earn a bike by rebuilding them (and along the way, they learn lessons about mathematics, physics and mechanics). Group bike rides and mentorships are also part of the package.

“I’m not helping underprivileged kids,” said Lafont. “I’m helping underprivileged cities help their kids.”

DSCN2019 (1)Kristen Maddox of Denham Springs founded A Door of Hope in Denham Springs, which lends a helping hand to survivors of domestic abuse or struggling with addictions and other self-destructive behaviors. Maddox helps young women who feel beaten and broken down because, she says, she was one of them – addicted to drugs (after her mom introduced her to them), pregnant at 14, and living on the streets by 26. She spent time in jail, turned her life around through her faith, and now counsels as many as 50 girls a month. She dedicated the award to her son, Ryan, who passed away not too many months ago.

Son of a Saint founder Bivian “Sonny” Lee III opened the doors to his New Orleans non-profit in 2011 to honor his mother and late father, former Saints cornerback Bivian Lee Jr. Sonny was just 3 year old when his dad died. So, as he tells it, he never learned how to do those time honored “guy stuff” things, like changing a tire and knowing your way around a Home Depot. Acutely aware of the pain that comes with growing up without a father, Sonny launched his own mentoring program, pairing up to 40 boys with influential father figures.

L.J. “Joe” Rachal is a tireless volunteer for Centennial Cultural Center (an arts program for kids in this rural region of Louisiana, with an emphasis on aiding special needs children) in Olla. He began many years ago, when his wife dragged him to the center to pitch in with a few repairs. Today, he is a board member. Speaking of his special needs kids, Rachal said, “Their will to live and their struggle to exist… That’s an inspiration to everyone one of us.” And then, holding back tears, he told his fellow award winners, “You’re not just a BCBS Angel. You are a

DSCN2037heavenly angel, too. I can guarantee it.”


In 2009, Elisha Wilson-Thomas opened Tallulah’s T.I.A.R.A. Girlz, a social club for girls aged 3 to 7. T.I.A.R.A. (Teaching Independence, Autonomy, Respect and Allegiance) is on a mission – to reduce the region’s rate of teen pregnancy and drug abuse, while boosting graduation rates and setting these girls on a path out of poverty. The group provides cultural opportunities, community service time and stresses leadership skills through interactions with “highly competent women,” Wilson-Thomas says. “Tallulah is a city where there’s a lot of pride, but not a lot of hope,” she said. “We’re here to instill in (these girls) a chance. A sense of hope.”

From her home base in Bossier City, Kassi Robinson is driven to make dreams come true. Pay it Forward Networking began in 2013, dedicated to granting wishes of kids with disabilities or life-threatening illnesses. In just two years, she’s already spearheaded wish granting for 92 children, calling on a member base of 14,000 to help out. “Many of these kids want some of the simplest things,” she said. A day with a firefighter. A new football. Letters of love from strangers. She added, “It doesn’t take all the money in the world to make a child smile.”

Paula Taylor founded the Sulphur Christian Community Coalition in

Martin congratulates Paula Taylor on her honor.

Martin congratulates Paula Taylor on her honor.

2010. The group embraces kids from her region’s toughest neighborhoods, offering them tutoring, summer camps and enrichment activities. And, most importantly, a safe place to just be. Her mantra? “I want my life to make a difference.” As she accepted her award, that difference was uppermost in her mind. “For weeks, I have just been whispering, ‘$20,000! $20,000!’ Do you know what a difference this will make (for the kids in our program)? Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Blue Angel winner Tanja Foil stands next to son, Andy, husband, Franklin, and their teenage daughter.

Blue Angel winner Tanja Foil stands next to son, Andy, husband, Franklin, and their teenage daughter.

With all this goodness in one room, it’s hard to believe that the voice from one gentle boy, Andy Foil, pretty much stole the show.

“Thank you Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana,” he proudly announced from the stage, earning a hearty applause.

Andy, 16, has autism. And when a doctor first told his mother, Tanja

DSCN2047Foil, the news, she remembers feeling lost and overwhelmed. Where can I turn for help, she wondered? What’s next? Astoundingly, the doctor had no answers. Thankfully, she stumbled upon Families Helping Families of Greater Baton Rouge – a non-profit providing support for children with disabilities and their families. Tanja dove into the group and, today, is an active volunteer. “They helped my family when we needed it the most,” she said.

Tanja is also a BCBSLA staffer – making her the night’s Blue Angel Award winner. Families Helping Families will be awarded a $5,000 check on her behalf.

To close out this special evening, BCBSLA Foundation President Michael Tipton took to the stage to offer a few words of praise for our Angel winners.

“Please let tonight’s award and the investment in your organization be a powerful example to others,” he said. “We are inspired by you, we are incredibly thankful for you and we look forward to partnering with you in the years to come.”

As our winners made their way home for the evening, Lydia Martin, DSCN2056strategic initiatives manager for the foundation, summed up the moment this way: “You know, Louisiana is so often highlighted in the news for so many bad things. But here we are tonight, surrounded by all these spotlights of hope.”

Well said. We’re already looking forward to honoring the Angels of tomorrow.


Angel Award banquet to honor nine selfless advocates for children Mon, 19 Oct 2015 20:56:20 +0000 UnknownBy Tina Dirmann

BCBSLA Foundation Staff Writer

We’re simply bursting with excitement as we count down the hours to tonight’s banquet in Baton Rouge, honoring our nine selfless Angel Award winners, whose inspiring work has decidedly improved the lives of so many children across our state. Among the winners will be our own Blue Angel, Tanja Foil, a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana employee who volunteers for Families Helping Families of Greater Baton Rouge (a non-profit program lending support to children with disabilities and their families). Foil’s organization will receive a $5,000 grant, while the remaining winners will accept $20,000 in grant dollars to further the work of their individual non-profit organizations. Collectively, this group has provided children with new bikes, helped those suffering from abuse, depression and poverty as well as provided tutoring, summer camp and mentoring opportunities.

Check back here later this week for more details on our winners and tonight’s banquet.

For now, read more about our winners, highlighted in this great feature from News Radio 710 KEEL:

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Hello, Ouachita: BCBSLA Foundation President reaches out to the parish, part of his “listening and learning” tour Wed, 19 Aug 2015 02:32:19 +0000  

Tipton, Ouachita Well Project Director Pamela Barton and Ouachita Parish Police Juror Pat Moore walk a new walking trail behind Shady Grove Elementary School. The trail was made possible through Challenge Grant funding.

Tipton, Ouachita Well Project Director Pamela Barton and Ouachita Parish Police Juror Pat Moore walk a new walking trail behind Shady Grove Elementary School. The trail was made possible through Challenge Grant funding.

By Tina Dirmann

BCBSLA Foundation Staff Writer

Walking along a crushed gravel pathway among five acres of trees and brush behind Monroe’s Shady Grove Elementary School, Ouachita Parish Police Juror Pat Moore chatted excitedly about this new recreation space in her community.

DSCN1995“This used to be just a dumping ground,” said Moore, referring to the formerly unused patch of land that belonged to the school district. “A place where people dumped their garbage. But we changed all that. Now, it’s a place where kids and their families can come out for a walk. And the 200 houses in the area, this is open to them, too. They’re going to come out and claim it and use it and own it. It’s very exciting for everyone who lives around here.”

Listening carefully and nodding his approval was Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation President Michael Tipton. The stop was part of Tipton’s newly launched “listening and learning tour,” where he promised, as the new head of the foundation, to cross the state in an effort to meet community leaders, government officials and everyday residents. The goal? Put simply — to find out how the Foundation can best use our resources to help neighbors in every corner of the state.


Tipton under Kiroli Park’s new community pavilion, made possible by Challenge Grant funding.

As Tipton explained to us earlier, when first announcing plans for the tour, “The best way to start is to get out in the community and get to know our partners. I want to hear about their experiences, their concerns and their hopes for a better, stronger Louisiana. It’s an important step in understanding how this Foundation can have the maximum impact on the lives of people in our state.”

Tipton’s tour began in July, with stops so far including New Orleans, Alexandria and Houma.


Visiting the Pilots for Patients office.

And late last week, he spent two days meeting with a variety of faces in and around the cities of Monroe and West Monroe, including leaders of the Pilots for Patients Program (a volunteer program connecting local pilots with patients who need help flying to distant medical treatment facilities) and representatives from the YMCA, the Ouachita Parish School Board, Ouachita

Tipton exchanges a few words with West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris.

Tipton exchanges a few words with West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris.

Parish Police Jury, and government officials, including West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris.


Newly installed playground equipment at Lidabenton Park. The site was formerly a dilapidated elementary school, which was torn down to make way for a new neighborhood fitness park.


Tipton and Barton tour Smiles Park at Kiroli, where Challenge Grant funding helped build a new community pavilion, bbq station and restrooms. A handicap accessible playground is also in the works.

Much of his time was also spent touring a bevy of community enhancements, made possible through the Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant sponsored wellness initiative, Ouachita Well. Over the past three years, the initiative has created miles of new sidewalks, paved walking trails at five elementary schools, park improvements (including covered picnic areas, a community pavilion and playground equipment), a new farmers market and a mobile playground/fitness unit.

Throughout the visit, Titpon heard from those grateful for the partnership the Foundation has provided — and from those hopeful to do even more.

Moore, for example, would love to double the size of that walking path behind Shady Grove Elementary. And maybe add fitness equipment and resting benches along the path, too. 

Added Rod Washington, public relations coordinator for the Monroe mayor’s office, “Already, I’ve seen that path heavily  used. That’s an area where I used to find broken bottles and litter. But not any more. It just shows me, you never know what type of catalyst can change the mindset of a community.”

Ellis Lewis, president of the YMCA of Northeast Louisiana, talked about their desperate need for a facility, since his program currently has no home base. But as a start, the creation of the Challenge Grant sponsored mobile fitness unit has allowed the Monroe Y to reach more kids than ever. They even reach some elderly folks now, too, using the mobile unit (packed with everything from active toys to weights) to visit homebound seniors at the Monroe Housing Authority and hold fitness classes for them.

“And let me tell you,” Ellis said, “those older people just love working out!”

Tipton tours a revitalized farmers market with Ouachita Well Project Director Pamela Barton.

Tipton tours a revitalized farmers market with Barton.

Ouachita Well Project Director Pamela Barton led a late afternoon meeting of the Ouachita Well Advisory Council, made up of community leaders working together to improve the region’s quality of life. During the meeting, Barton took a moment to tell Tipton what his visit and the Foundation’s help have meant to their community.

“We truly appreciate you being here,” Barton said. “And we are grateful for our partnership with the (BCBSLA) Foundation. We’ve done our best to use every cent that’s come our way to benefit our community.”

DSCN2009“And we appreciate all the work you are doing,” Tipton told the Ouachita Well coalition members gathered around a large conference table in a West Monroe City Hall. “You did the DSCN1998work that needed to be done in your community and we are proud to be partners with you in that work.”

Tipton then added a nod of praise to the coalition: “Coalitions like this one — that’s a powerful thing that Louisiana needs to see more of. I’m happy to say Ouachita got it right.”

Of course, for as much good work already accomplished, there is more to be done. Louisiana still ranks at the bottom, nationally, when it comes to too many bad things — obesity rates, hypertension, diabetes, to name a few. And to that end, Tipton noted before concluding his visit that change is possible, if we work together.

“We really do care about Louisiana and its people,” he said. “And we want toDSCN2012 be a partner to you all in any way we can.”