The Sister Anne Catherine
Louisiana is a state of great richness mixed with great
poverty. We all know how Louisiana historically ranks at the top of lists
that chronicle the undesirable and at the bottom of lists that tout the
qualities sought after in our communities.
Bizalion Endowment Fund
We, like you, want to reverse that trend.
In the mid-1950's, a little rural Dominican nun came from the French Alps to begin work to end poverty in Louisiana. Sitting beside students in the elementary schools and living with South Louisiana families, Sister Anne Bizalion learned English but held on to her enchanting accent. After graduating as the first Catholic nun with a Masters of Social Work from Tulane University, Sister Anne learned just about every nook and cranny in rural Louisiana. As the first professional social worker at the TB Annex of the Lafayette Charity Hospital, Sister Anne visited the sick and destitute across a dozen parishes.
When President Lyndon Johnson declared a "War on Poverty," Sister Anne was ready.
She started and was director of the first Headstart Program in Vermilion Parish where poverty touched half the population. Having worked previously with the Red Cross after Hurricane Hilda, Sister Anne knew the difference between the need for emergency help to get back on your feet and the need to change systems and create lasting opportunities for change.
In 1969, Sister Anne co-founded the Southern Mutual Help Association (SMHA). Though Sister Anne died in 1997, it is within SMHA that one finds her abiding spirit of working to bring out the best in Louisiana and its people. Co-founders Lorna Bourg and Sister Anne were joined in 1980 by Sister Helen Vinton, a Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Sister of Providence. The four plus decades of their work focused on exposing systems that didn't work and creating new ones that would.
SMHA trained thousands in new skills and started the first health clinic for farm workers serving 10,000 patients in the first year. The Teche Action Clinic exists today as does the PEPI adult education program. SMHA built hundreds of homes for families as well as rental units for the elderly. SMHA developed the self-help philosophy of believing that we should do nothing for folks that they can do for themselves.
SMHA started a movement to sustain and support agriculture, co-founding the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group involving thousands of family farm folk over thirteen states. SMHA helped create the Rural Home Loan Partnership between the non-profit sector, banking institutions, and Rural Housing Service. This multi-million dollar initiative, financing homeownership for thousands of low-wealth families, spread to over 300 sites in America. At the turn of the new century, SMHA created Louisiana's first rural community development bank.
Louisiana and folks who care about this jewel of our nation have a serious stake in the longevity of SMHA. You can build on that precious investment made by many over the three decades and together we will continue to rebuild rural Louisiana.
The Sister Anne Catherine Bizalion Endowment gives us the opportunity to ensure that SMHA's innovative solutions and institutions continue to tackle Louisiana's persistent challenges.
The goal is to raise three million dollars in a permanent endowment. The interest earned will give SMHA the financial resources to train new generations of leadership in the spirit of Sister Anne, to take risks, and to be flexible to create systems that work far into the future.
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