By Julia Arenstam
The Bayou Community Foundation’s coordinator may not be a native of the Houma-Thibodaux area, but her passion for the bayou region has helped raise over $1 million for local organizations.
Jennifer Armand began working for the foundation shortly after it was founded in 2012. Armand and her husband Matthew moved to the Houma area in 1997, shortly after the birth of her daughter.
“I started getting involved at the Chamber of Commerce. That helped me fall in love and get connected to this community,” Armand said.
She later served as chairwoman of the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce board in 2013 and also works as the executive director of the Bayou Industrial Group.
“I was fortunate to get involved in many different ways,” Armand said.
Since moving to south Louisiana, Armand said she has gotten to know the loyal people of the area.
“It’s the love of life and love for our region. We’re very loyal people. We love where we live and want to make this community the best it can be for our children,” she said.
Even as natural disasters and other man-made events have devastated the community, each time “our bayou region picks itself up by the bootstraps,” Armand said.
The tenacity of the people in this area is also what fuels the efforts of the Bayou Community Foundation.
With a mission to strengthen the Terrebonne, Lafourche and Grand Isle communities, Armand works with private donors looking to make a local impact.
“It’s been eye opening and tremendously beneficial,” Armand said. “I never imagined, even with limited amount of work I had in the community … not until I started at the Bayou Community Foundation did it really open our eyes to the tremendous work that so many different nonprofits are doing in our community.”
Armand works to coordinate the annual grants ceremony, where the foundation most recently distributed $230,000 in grants to local nonprofits.
“It brings tears to my eyes and chills to my skin to hear the stories and hear the passion in all of these voices,” she said.
When the organization first started, it was supported with large support from the Gheens Foundation. With its $500,000 donation, the Gheens Foundation challenged the founding members to raise $1 million in five years.
“We met that match in May 2015 … two years early,” Armand said.
Since then, the Gheens Foundation has continued to be a substantial donor, she said.
“I don’t think any of us imagined what kind of impacts we would be seeing with those grants,” Armand said.
Despite the successes of local government and private industries, they can’t fill every need in the community. That’s were these organizations come in, Armand said.
“We want to grow our capacity, so we can do even more and make an even greater impact,” she said. “We want to give people, all people, an opportunity to invest in our region with gifts of any size.”
In the last six years, support and recognition of the foundation’s efforts have grown, reaching out to the Greater New Orleans Foundation and launching the annual Give Bayou Day each May.
“That really shows that we’re getting there,” Armand said.
As the organization continues to grow, Armand said she’d like to see its work help fill some needs.
If the foundation’s work can be so successful that some of those nonprofits’ needs are no longer needs, then they’ll be even more successful, she said.
Working with the Bayou Community Foundation has allowed Armand to “feel even more connected to this wonderful community.”
“We’re doing something really important by connecting donors to issues that they care about,” she said.