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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

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Life-saving program goes on even without local government help

Life-saving program goes on even without local government help

Peggy Bagala, (in the pink blouse), and Kirk Kilgen, (pictured in the yellow shirt), speak to the kids before going into the water during Monday’s session of the “Gift for Live” program. Despite receiving very little financial assi

Despite losing its plea for financial help from the Lafourche Parish Council and other government entities, Les Reflections du Bayou (LRdB) is still sponsoring the program “Gift for Life” to teach underprivileged kids to swim.

The group’s quest to bring awareness of the dangers of the waters which surround us, especially for young underprivileged people who do not know how to swim, began in earnest Monday when LRdB gathered some 25-30 children and teenagers at the Cut Off Youth Center pool for five days of water survival instruction.

“Our goal is to teach you to be unafraid of the water, to be able to swim,” said Peggy Bagala, a Les Reflections founding member, as she introduced herself and her group of volunteers on Monday.

Bagala had thought that her five-day program, costing around $5000, would be funded by the generosity of parish government and other agencies. But a recent District Attorney opinion, explaining the state Attorney General’s new insights into the criteria for using public money for non-profit sponsored programs, caused traditional sponsors like the Council and the local levee district to rethink giving money.

The fact that a non-profit organization like LRdB serves the community, or the needy, is not enough to justify spending public funds (even to help kids learn how to swim), says the interpretation of the 2006 ruling known as the “Cabela’s Case”.

As a result of the case, the court established a new standard of review for the expenditure of public funds—the three-prong test:  funds given must be for a public purpose, a non-gratuitous purpose, and have equivalent value to the giver of the funds.

Subsequently, all non-profit groups are to be held to the same standard.

Bagala feels that lumping LRdB with other bigger organizations like the LA1 Coalition, which seeks to build an elevated highway from Golden Meadow to Fourchon, or Restore or Retreat, an advocate of major coastal restoration projects, is wrong.

“We are not a multi-million dollar group.  We are just a small community group trying to help the community.  What better way is there to use community tax money?” she asks.

She questions the Central Market in Raceland, a government-sponsored market where anybody (even merchants from Terrebonne) can sell their wares for profit.  She wonders why the parish can sponsor individuals for profit, but reject non-profit groups. 

“How can Lafourche Parish sponsor the market where people are making money, and not us, when we don’t get a penny out of what we do?” she asks.

In spite of the loss of government support, LRdB has gotten some help from the community. 

After advertising their water survival program, they received a $1000 donation from the Fourchon Oilman’s Association, and another $1000 from the Grand Isle United Methodist Church.

Even so, after hours spent in front of the public places like Wal-Mart and the Galliano Public Library begging for donations, LRdB has had to foot nearly half of the cost of the program.

For the five-day endeavor, which runs from 9 a.m. to 12 noon all this week, pool rental cost is $800.  Feeding everyone involved will cost $1400.  T-shirts and other mementos for the kids cost around $400. 

If anyone wishes to see the good that LRdB is trying to do for the community, or to donate time or talent to the program, one has only to go the Cut Off Youth Center this week during those hours. 

You will see mothers sitting patiently by the pool as their kids learn how to hold their breath under water and kick their feet, along other basics of swimming.

You will see volunteers like Kirk and Susan Kilgen, and their daughter Krista, teaching various strokes. 

You will see enlistees like Betty Galliano and Janet Rhodus organizing groups for various activities.

You will see Peggy and her daughter Dawn Bagala, LRdB president, making sure all is running smoothly.

All are volunteering their help in raising awareness of the danger that surrounds us all—water.

“People drown every day.  Why is it not important to the parish, the school board, the tourism board, the recreation boards of this area?” asks Bagala.

Despite her questions and consternation, Bagala is upbeat and hopeful. 

“I am excited.  This is a pilot program.  Our hope is that it will grow into something bigger by next summer.  You know, the Lord does provide,” she says.

With the help of the community and maybe some divine intervention (but probably not from local government), she and her organization may get their wish.