Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser and Louisiana Volunteers is proud to announce nine 2023 Service Champions. The annual Champions of Service award recognizes outstanding volunteers from seven geographic areas across the state, plus outstanding members of AmeriCorps and group volunteer programs.

“Volunteering demonstrates the strength of Louisiana’s character and the resilience of our spirits,” said Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser. “I am proud to help honor the achievements of our service champions while encouraging others to become active volunteers in their communities. This volunteer champion is the best example of what I mean when I tell people that in Louisiana, we treat you like family.”

The 2023 Champions of Service award winners are:

Hope Bazer – Northwest Champion: Hope Bazer has been a dedicated volunteer at The Arc Caddo-Bossier’s HOT Program in Keithville for 18 years. The HEBAT program offers equine assistance services to children and adults with disabilities through therapeutic horseback riding, horse assisted learning, and summer camp programs. Hope helps with all aspects of the program, including horse care, lead or side walks during lessons, special projects, workshops, daily operations, and summer camp. Hope is the definition of a team player who is mission driven, compassionate, and demonstrates integrity and accountability. She is known as a source of knowledge and an entertaining presence for student participants, volunteers, and program staff.

Christopher LeGuin – Champion of the Northeast: Chris serves as a Veteran Commander of the 1809 Foreign War Post in Monroe. He dedicates his evenings and weekends to developing the organization, maintaining the facilities, and hosting veterans’ events for the community. Chris is known for convening his board of officers to raise funds for the VFW Post Relief Fund to meet the needs of local veterans. Whether it’s helping veterans affected by natural disasters, organizing toy drives for families in need, or coordinating volunteers to visit the Northeast Louisiana War Veterans Home each week, Chris is always there to lend a hand and is proud to have the opportunity to serve others.

Willie Mae Kennedy – Central Champion: Councilman Willie Mae Kennedy’s leadership and altruism mentality is present throughout the city of Leesville. He is known for offering his time, energy, wisdom and resources to his hometown and surrounding communities. His volunteer service spans too many organizations and endeavors to mention. Examples include putting together school supplies for students in Vernon Parish, supporting Jubilee Park and the city’s beautification efforts, keeping alumni connected to historic Vernon High School, visiting seniors in nursing homes or patients at Byrd Regional Hospital, and more. In times of joy, times of routine, times of remembrance, times of sorrow, and times of danger, his compassion and love for his community was ever present through his service to others.

Lisa Namikas – Greater Capital Area Champion: Lisa serves through Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, where she is known for her arduous, lifelong commitment to helping people fleeing persecution and torture around the world. Since 2017, Lisa has helped hundreds of refugee families arrive safely. After the United States withdrew from Afghanistan, Catholic Charities staff scattered across the state supporting hurricane recovery efforts amid new conditions imposed by COVID-19 restrictions. Lisa entered with fresh energy and exhilarating enthusiasm to facilitate the safe arrival of 47 Afghan refugees. He raised funds to house them in furnished apartments and coordinated a team of volunteers to welcome them to the airport. He continued to support them to become established in Louisiana.

Amy Sins – Greater New Orleans Champion: Chef Amy Sins is determined to pay it back after losing everything when the levee failed following Hurricane Katrina. Recognizing the need for better coordination during the first 14 days after a disaster, she formed a non-profit organization, “Fill the Needs”, to provide assistance to those affected by natural or man-made disasters. He brings a unique approach to humanity using his Southern charm and expertise in food and hospitality. Her work as a community leader in disaster relief has helped thousands of people and sent millions to victims of tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and wars.

Audry Spencer – Southwest Champion: Audry Spencer is a retired educator serving the Empowering the Community for Excellence (ETCFE) in Crowley. Having spent 38 years in the Acadia Parish School System, Audry has a vision of supporting students who are at risk of not moving on to the next grade. Using his retirement funds, he opened an education center in his grandmother’s two-bedroom house that served 20 students in his first year. Over time, Audry’s dedication to volunteerism and commitment to helping children in her community led to the expansion of ETCFE locations and programs. Currently, the organization runs a free four-day-a-week after-school program partnering with paid certified teachers with 100 low-income and underachieving students in a small-class environment.

Rose Westphal – Southeastern Champion: Rose served her community for the past 15 years through Good Samaritan Ministries in Slidell. The all-volunteer organization runs eleven programs that help with everything from providing basic necessities like diapers, formula, and emergency food to interviewing clients for financial assistance to keeping utilities connected, evictions prevented, and more. Rose comes in daily to provide structure, key personnel support, and in-depth knowledge to our community clients and network of over 125 volunteers. Wherever there’s a need, Rose is there to provide innovative solutions, loving care and a personal connection.

Dimitri Celis – AmeriCorps Champion: Dimitri is a member of Serve LA AmeriCorps at Recirculating Farms, a non-profit collaboration of farmers, educators, and activists committed to building a fair food system in New Orleans. He believes urban farming, in all its different forms, is a great way to reconnect people with their environment, healthy food, and community. Thanks to his care and ability to think outside the box, Recirculating Farms pioneers an active food collection and redistribution program. Organizations now collect unsold or irregular fresh food from markets, farmers and restaurants. Then put it in the public refrigerator or make it a product that is distributed to people who have low access to healthy food.

Rebuilding Terrebonne, Lafourche and Grand Isle Volunteer Teams – Volunteer Group Champion: Throughout 2022, volunteers working with the Bayou Community Foundation’s housing restoration program in Terrebonne Parish, Lafourche Parish and Grand Isle contributed more than 50,000 hours of service to provide repairs and construction a new home for a south Louisiana family who lost everything during Hurricane Ida. More than 350 families have now returned to their homes thanks to the tireless efforts and dedication of these volunteers, many of whom were personally affected by the storm themselves. Together, they provide the hearts and hands that are helping Louisiana bring our bayou community back to life.

“These well-deserved champions are an inspiration to all of us, and a reminder of the power of individuals to affect positive change in Louisiana,” said Judd Jeansonne, Louisiana Volunteers Executive Director.

Louisiana Volunteers, along with Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser and the Louisiana Volunteer Foundation, will honor the award winners through an awards ceremony on April 18, 2023. Those interested in learning more about the 2023 Champions of Service, should follow the Louisiana Volunteers Facebook page.

Louisiana Volunteers, located in Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser’s Office, manages 17 AmeriCorps State programs, promotes volunteerism, and coordinates unaffiliated volunteers in times of disaster. It is supported by a grant from the federal agency, AmeriCorps. To learn more about the AmeriCorps State program or for more information about Volunteer Louisiana, visit www.VolunteerLouisiana.gov.

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