Growing up, Eugene Campbell used to watch his grandmother shower the kids in his community with love and support, making sure no child went without. Now, Eugene is stepping up to be that support system in his St. Bernard Parish, La. community through the Irene Campbell Foundation, a community outreach program he started in his grandmother’s name.
Since Eugene founded it five years ago, the Irene Campbell Foundation’s variety of programs have focused on supporting youth, such as its Backpack Program which provides 250 kids with lunches to eat over the weekend for when they’re not in school. Each holiday season, the foundation provides approximately 600 kids with Christmas gifts. And last August, Eugene partnered with Nunez Community College to further expand the foundation’s Reach One Teach One Program, which introduces kids to trade school opportunities.
“They always used to tell me, it takes a village to raise a child,” Eugene said. “So you know what, I’m going to be that village.”
Describe your volunteer role with Irene Campbell Foundation.
I live by ‘reach one, teach one,’ so no child is left behind. I give out school supplies and I do a Christmas [gift program]. I coach rec ball too, so I’m able to see who is really in need. My sister is a substitute teacher. They had a child who every Monday was cutting up. Come to find out, the child wasn’t eating during the weekend. We started packing little lunches for him. Now we have a Backpack Program. We service about 250 kids in the Violet, St. Bernard Perish area. For recreation, if someone couldn’t afford to play sports, I would pay for them to keep them out of trouble. I have a ‘Reach One, Teach One’ trade class I do. When you’re 18, you graduate. I even do summer programs. I take them to see what they want to be and what they want to do, from body shop work, so painting, body and fender, and I take them to see some of my friends who weld, who fish. It’s youth development. Basically, I reach the community and let the kids in the community know they’re not left behind.
What inspired you to start this?
What inspired me to do it was I had been giving back and helping since I was in school. … Growing up, my family basically helped each other. My aunties didn’t have kids at the time, so they made sure my mother and us kids were able to help each other. My auntie would buy all our shoes. My uncle would buy all our backpacks. It was a village within the community, not us by ourselves. That’s what I tend to try to do now.
Why did you want to name your foundation after your grandmother?
She was that person in our community. She never let anyone feel they were left behind, no matter where she was at. She would go service all over the world with the pastor, but also in our community. She was the one who would feed you, bathe you. You needed somewhere to live, she would give you somewhere to live. Give you something to drink. She was that focal point. She made sure no one was left behind. It takes a village. When I was growing up, she was that village within our community.
Can you talk about your recent partnership with Nunez Community College?
The partnership is to help the kids with trades like welding. I’m informing them of all the trades and other opportunities you can have while still going to college. Not everybody is going to be a doctor or lawyer, but most don’t understand there’s other options within trade school or even community college. I’m going to let them know. … Most of us are hands on, so I’m able to put a child in a position to see what they really love to do. They might want to be a welder. They might want to drive a fork lift. They might want to be a truck driver. With the partnership with Nunez, they’re going to help me do what I’m already doing, but help with a bigger facility.
Is there any program that is particularly special for you?
I like to do my Christmas giveaway. My sister being a sub and me coaching rec, I normally hear the kids talking. The night before Christmas Eve, my sister and I wrap all the presents, and I drop it off at their building with a note. I do that for kids who I know really need it and would cherish it. I guess you could say it’s like a secret Santa.
What kind of change do you see in the kids who you work with?
You see a change because they feel more comfortable speaking to me, or they open up, or they give me a high five. I ask how they’re doing and they tell me they had a good day at school. They tell me before I even ask them. You see the excitement and them breaking out of their shell. They want more. They understand that you care about them.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
Actually feeling and seeing the progress of change. Even changing things you thought you couldn’t change. You can’t save everybody. Some come and some won’t, but seeing a change in the ones you probably felt you couldn’t break, that’s the most important. Even seeing the ones who are older than me and encouraging them, like, ‘Man, I see you doing your thing, keep it up, you motivated me the whole time I was growing up.’ It’s crazy, but seeing people’s progress. If I can see them making change and trying, I’m going to help.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
Everyone has a purpose. It’s up to you to find it. Reach one, teach one. No matter what, we’re all one. You see someone down who you can help — you never know what they may be going through. Even with me, I might be going through something, but a smile a day takes the pain away. Me smiling at someone else and making them smile makes me feel better.
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