Mary LeBlanc is a full-time ninth grade English teacher in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her motto is “Service is the rent you pay for living on God’s earth.” She has, in deed, been paying her rent by volunteering with numerous needy causes. LeBlanc uses the vast majority of her time and talent to help Louisiana children in both the Ascension and East Baton Rouge parishes. She was elected Woodlawn High School’s 1998 Teacher of the Year as a result of her outstanding performance as an educator. She spends hours of her days and nights with the less fortunate children in Baton Rouge.
LeBlanc was contacted in 1996 by Francis Asbury Methodist Church to assist a family in need. During the Chirstmas season, the family was faced with the challenges of not having food, clothing and toys for their children. The head of the family was a battered mother with severe injuries, and the only possessions she and her children had were the clothes on their backs. LeBlanc contributed more than $700 worth of toys, clothes, food, toys and cash to the family.
What started as a personal effort three years ago to help a family in need at Christmastime has evolved into a program that pairs academically successful high school students with 40 children who are facing tremendous challenges in their young lives. LeBlanc started a mentoring program as a project for the National Honor Society Members to serve in their community. She single-handedly directs the program in addition to her paid duties as an educator. The program includes 80 high school students that travel out of the parish weekly to tutor and spend time with the children. The older students come with a smile on their face as well as a treat, a snack that the children would otherwise not have. In addition to that, field trips to the zoo, McDonald’s and the movie theatre have been an enjoyable pasttime for the pairs.
In 1997 LeBlanc and her students raised donations of toys, food and clothing for children in dire need. That year during the Christmas season, 30 children, had food, clothing, and a toy for Christmas. The need to develop a permanent partnership with the needy children weighed heavily on LeBlanc, so she continued directing the mentoring program and also extended the drives to Easter and Thanksgiving as well as Christmas. In the donated hall of a local church, mentors take turns bringing food each Wednesday and preparing a small nutritious meal for the children. In addition to tutoring and mentoring the adoptive children, the program plans special events like Valentines and Easter parties. The adoptive children were once called lost souls because they face terrible hardships, but Mary LeBlanc knows they are true angels.
The school formally adopted the National Honor Society Mentoring Program for Needy Children in 1998. There was a kickoff party launching the same, and LeBlanc tied a pink or blue balloon to the wrist of each mentor with the name of their adopted child as a reminder of the importance of their commitments. The children selected for the program are in critical need – most are behind in school and development by two to three years, their homes lack running water, and they usually only eat the meals served at school. They work hard to just exist and survive. The most important thing they need from their mentor is positive individual attention and an outlet from the challenges they face daily.