As a child, Angeline Labbé-Auzenne, who runs her own preschool and non-profit organization, watched as her mother and grandmother gave everything they had to those in need, in service of their almighty Lord. It became not only a family tradition, but a family mission that Labbé-Auzenne hopes to pass to the next generation.
“I am coming up on 53 and I can absolutely remember my grandmother sitting in her rocking chair reading her Bible,” Labbé-Auzenne said. “This was a daily, natural occurrence in our lives.”
Not only did her grandmother, Odelia LaVergne-DeCloutte, spend hours poring over the pages of the Word of God, but she also spent hours serving and worshipping at her church, making sure to always cover her head when entering the sanctuary.
“She had this lace wrap that she’d wear on her head,” Labbé-Auzenne said. “Even though she was well-respected in the church—she was the leader of the women’s group—in God’s house she showed humility. She taught us who you became when you walked into the sanctuary. You’re not much in relation to God.”
Lavergne-DeCloutte also taught her children and six granddaughters about giving what they had to help those around them. She lived near the railroad tracks, and as homeless men and women would come into the town on the train, she would offer them hot meals right off of her front porch. This tradition was passed down to her daughter, Rosa DeCloutte- Labbé, who served hundreds of people through her screen door.
“My mother cooked very well, and people knew they could just stop by,” she said. “But, my dad said one day she was going to get hurt. So, she locked the front door up tight and would just go out the back door. She thought that was the better way to do it.”
Labbé-Auzenne’s mother also bought blankets in bulk when they were on sale and wrapped them in Saran Wrap. She’d then take her oldest children downtown to the poorest parts of the city and hand out the blankets to the poor and homeless.
“We’d open up the windows just big enough to throw the blankets out,” she said. “Then the people would come get them. And if we’d saved our change, we’d throw the money out, too.”
But the Labbé family not only lifted the spirits of the homeless, they also brought joy to the elderly and those in the hospital.
“My mom sewed beautiful, purple-gray, taffeta dresses for us with aprons and headpieces. We’d put them on and visit elderly homes and do performances,” Labbé-Auzenne said. “Then when we turned 12, we became candy stripers and worked every summer helping in the hospital.”
While Labbé-Auzenne and her family racked up countless hours of volunteer work, they never thought of their time helping others as anything out-of-the-ordinary.
“It was just who we were,” she said. “We never called it anything. We didn’t say we were doing philanthropy. Nothing like that was ever said.”
It was this attitude that led Labbé-Auzenne to start her own non-profit organization, the Bayou Belles Charity Service Organization.
“For myself, the larger non-profits could be intimidating,” she said. “So, I started a non-profit where regular people learn how to serve on a board and how to give without expecting anything in return. No one makes a salary. Everything that comes in goes right back out.”
The organization focuses their fundraising efforts on programs and organizations who help children.
“The money we give goes where the pain is,” she said. “Some of our donations have gone to abused children and art programs.”
But, Labbé-Auzenne didn’t stop there. She also started the Centerra Ranch Montessori School, where philanthropy was written into the curriculum.
“The children participate in one, sometimes two fundraisers a year,” she said. “They know what they’re raising money for. They take responsibility even though they’re three, four and five. They know what their totals are and that the school will match it.”
The Head of School has been so impressed with the children’s enthusiasm for helping others that she hopes other preschools in the area pick up on the idea and begin to include a philanthropic element to their curriculums.
“I hope other schools catch on to that idea because you can be brilliant and not be kind,” she said. “If you don’t deliberately teach children that there are children wanting for everything, then they won’t learn it.”
Labbé-Auzenne has used this principle in the raising of her own children, 30-year-old Sarah and 13-year-old Ethan. Her son, has already logged more than 550 volunteer hours since the age of seven.
“He works right alongside of me—every project, every gala,” she said. “It’s not presented to my son that it’s philanthropic. It’s just who we should be. We should be the same people that are family was in 1914. We’re no longer feeding people off of the porch, but our hearts and minds have stayed exactly the same.”
She hopes that future generations will take up the torch and continue the faith-based work that was started by her grandmother, who is still going strong at 101-years-old. Labbé-Auzenne and the other matriarchs of the family have already begun instilling these ideas into the youngest member of the family, seven-month-old Remmi Grace– Labbé-Auzenne’s granddaughter.
“If we all funnel into her what we’ve learned, then there’s no doubt that she’s going to do something life-changing,” she said.
Even though Labbé-Auzenne has had great examples, she believes that anyone can use what they have to help others.
“Everybody has something to give, even it if it’s 30 minutes and one dollar,” she said. “Regular people can do amazing things.”