This LGBTQ Gym in the South Is About So Much More Than Fitness

“As soon as you walk in [to a regular gym], someone is redirecting you, saying, ‘You’re in the wrong locker room. You’re in the wrong restroom,’” says Dillon King, a transgender man based in Louisiana. “You’re not there to make anybody else uncomfortable. But … it makes you realize, [you are] in fact making somebody uncomfortable just by being here.”
King is not alone in feeling this way. For all the good they can do for our health, gyms tend to be spaces that create rigid boundaries around expectations based on gender. And in the face of harassment and discrimination, many gender nonconforming people choose to simply stay home.
After years of uncomfortable experiences at the gym, King decided to create one where people like him could feel free to pursue healthy lifestyles — without judgment. And so he and his wife founded Flambeaux CrossFit in 2016 in Metairie, Louisiana, just a few miles outside of New Orleans.
Flambeaux doesn’t use gender categories to differentiate its equipment or restrooms, and emphasizes that all fitness levels, backgrounds and gender expressions are welcome.
The gym has become a center of fitness and community for queer people and their allies. “It seemed [before] that most of our get-togethers were at clubs, nightclubs, going out, staying up late, drinking always,” King told the SunHerald. With Flambeaux, the Kings have created a welcoming space for the LGBTQ community that also connects with their passion for fitness and healthy living.
“It’s more than a gym, it’s like a family,” says Flambeaux member James Husband.
Watch the video above to meet King and the team, and to learn more about Flambeaux.
More: This Nonprofit Offers a Lifeline to Transgender People — Just as They Need It Most

Being HIV Positive Might Land You in Jail. But That Is Changing

Whenever Robert Suttle thinks about his time in jail, his eyes go soft, he lets out a long breath and his lips purse a bit. It’s noticeable that he — after almost a decade — still gets emotional about what put him behind bars.
In 2008, while working as an assistant clerk for the Louisiana Court of Appeals, Suttle went through a bitter breakup that resulted in a tit-for-tat trial, ending in Suttle being sentenced to six months in jail and registering as a sex offender for intentionally exposing a sexual partner to HIV. But there was no transmission of the virus.
And even though Suttle says he disclosed his status to his partner and that the sex was consensual, it didn’t matter much under Louisiana’s HIV exposure law, which states that anyone with HIV or AIDS who has unprotected sex can be tried and charged with a nonviolent felony. Offenders can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and must register as a sex offender in some cases.
But Louisiana’s intentional HIV exposure statute, enacted in 1987, revised in 1993 and again in 2011, is out of date and not backed by science. For example, spitting and biting are considered grounds to be charged for criminal exposure to AIDS, even though it’s impossible to transfer the virus through spit and exceedingly rare for HIV to be passed on through biting (and the risk is nonexistent if the skin isn’t broken).  
What’s more, Suttle, who was diagnosed with HIV in 2002, couldn’t pass the virus on anyway. Antiretroviral treatment had made his viral load undetectable, which means the level of HIV in his blood was so low that it would’ve been impossible to transmit.
“I didn’t quite understand how it could come to this,” Suttle says. “It was being gay and HIV positive that led me to … being criminally liable.”
As more people become aware of possible criminal charges — thanks in part to local reporting on alleged offenders — some of those most at-risk are unwilling to get tested. Criminalizing one’s status has created a stigma, advocates say, which in turn can endanger whole communities.

Robert Suttle speaks at the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam, July 2018

“[People know] that if they test positive, they can get charged or arrested,” says Gina Brown, an HIV and AIDS activist in New Orleans who is HIV positive. “The laws need to change, and people in charge need to get educated.”
Across the nation, HIV transmissions have been steadily declining since the beginning of the decade. At the same time, the demographics of the disease have changed. No longer does HIV primarily affect gay men; today, those who are most at risk also include injection drug users and poor people of color, particularly in the South. Despite that shift, regulations and laws that criminalize one’s HIV status still abound, and they have roots in outdated science that has largely been debunked.
There are currently 26 states with HIV-specific criminalization laws, some of which penalize behavior regardless of whether the virus was actually transmitted. That number was higher in the 1980s and ’90s, when fear of HIV — and myths around how it spread — was rampant. Lawmakers claimed at the time that the statutes were meant to protect the general public. Instead, they have had the opposite effect: Since you can’t be prosecuted if you don’t know your status, there’s an incentive to not getting tested. Studies have also shown that HIV criminalization has little to no effect on deterring people from spreading the virus willingly, and in fact, such laws have only worsened its spread.
Nearly all of the states with the highest rates of new HIV diagnoses — in 2017, Louisiana ranked third — have HIV-specific exposure laws still on the books.
“People don’t know the collateral consequences,” says Suttle, who now works as an assistant director at Sero Project, a nonprofit that fights stigma and discrimination by focusing on HIV criminalization. “These laws hinder people from getting care.”
HIV not a crime
Sero at the HIV is Not A Crime Training Academy, June 2018

Suttle says the biggest obstacle is education, especially among people who still view HIV and AIDS as a death sentence.
“Education of the masses cannot be stressed enough. You can talk to anybody, and people honestly think that [people charged under HIV exposure laws] should be fully prosecuted and locked up,” Suttle says, adding that Sero Project has tried to humanize people living with HIV through anti-criminalization campaigns, lobbying and public outreach.
Sero Project is one of only a handful of national organizations — the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and the Center for HIV Law and Policy are two others — that have been on the front lines of fighting against HIV criminalization.
This year, Sero Project, in partnership with the Positive Women’s Network, launched a training academy to teach advocates how to organize and repeal state HIV criminalization laws. In South Carolina, Sero Project’s training helped establish a coalition of 50 lawmakers, advocates and nonprofits to try and change the state’s HIV criminalization laws.
HIV not a crime
Robert Suttle, July 2018

“They gave us the tools to do our own work here within our community, and educate people. Now we have more and more people who are interested, because every time we get out and share with the community, we’re getting more people asking about the laws,” says Stacy Jennings, chair of the Positive Women’s Network regional chapter in South Carolina. “It’s sad that [people living with HIV] don’t know [about the laws] because they should know. Every chance we get we’re teaching them.”
As a result of Sero Project’s efforts to get communities educated on local laws, Suttle has seen a sea change in the number of people coming forward to fight the stigma around being HIV positive.
And that’s been helpful in places like Louisiana, where advocates say the need for educating and empowering people to get tested and stay healthy is dire.
“We actually have been able to get into the offices of legislators and tell them why this law is outdated and plain wrong,” says Brown, the AIDS activist. “We have some of the highest rates of HIV transmission in the country, and that won’t get better so long as there are laws that actively make people fearful of getting tested.”

This is the third installment in NationSwell’s multimedia series “Positive in the South,” which explores the HIV crisis in the Southern U.S., and profiles the people and organizations working to alleviate it.

In the South, Preventing HIV Among Black Women Starts at the Salon

At the Wize Guy barber shop and beauty salon in New Orleans’ Mid-City neighborhood, three barbers are at work edging up their male customers. On the other side of the salon, a hairstylist works on a female client’s weave while three other women wait their turn.
It’s these women who Catrina Coleman, a health educator for the local nonprofit CrescentCare, is trying to convince to get on PrEP, a category of preventative drugs designed to stop the spread of HIV. Wize Guy is one of a dozen or so salons around New Orleans that Coleman visits in her outreach to women and their stylists about HIV and how to avoid it.
On this day she also turns her attention to one of the men in the shop, who’s taken his young son in for a trim. He tells her he doesn’t need to be on PrEP. Why not, she asks. His response: “Because I’m not gay.”
It’s an answer she’s heard before. For years — decades, really — sex education around these parts has been mostly limited to lectures on abstinence as the only way to prevent STDs, pregnancy and AIDS. And with that has come a myriad of misconceptions around how HIV is transmitted and who is most at risk.
“I can’t tell you how many times people come up to me and say that they’re not a certain type of person, so they don’t need to be on PrEP,” Coleman tells NationSwell. “It’s that level of education we’re dealing with.”
Her outreach efforts are sorely needed, especially in Louisiana, where the state’s two largest cities — New Orleans and Baton Rouge — have ranked in the top five of U.S. metro areas for new HIV transmissions for 10 years running. Some of the infection rates rival those in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization. Though Southern black men who have sex with other men continue to be the most vulnerable population, women make up a quarter of all HIV diagnoses in New Orleans. What’s more, black women living with the virus in the city outnumber their white female counterparts by nine to one.
As a result, CrescentCare and Coleman have turned their attention to the city’s beauty salons, where a lot of black women go to discuss everything from politics to their health issues and family life. The shops operate as de facto community health centers.
“In the black community, women go to their hairstylists for advice, and that’s where they’re also getting their education on health,” she says.

A health care center in New Orleans is making it easier for black women to get on the HIV preventative drug known as PrEP by meeting them where they often gather: at the beauty shop.

So multiple times a month, Coleman goes to a dozen different salons and sets up a table with fans, pins, condoms and lube, and talks to the barbers, stylists and their clients about the importance of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, known in the U.S. by the brand name Truvada.
She has her work cut out for her.
“We’ve had PrEP since 2012, and in certain populations, we’ve seen pretty good reductions, but nationally we are basically status quo. It’s as if PrEP didn’t exist,” says James Krellenstein, co-founder of the activist campaign PrEP4All. “This is a situation where a public health response will work. But there needs to be push to do it — just like we did with polio.


Truvada, available by prescription, has the ability to reduce the risk of HIV infections in at-risk people by more than 90 percent for those who take it daily. It’s been hailed as a miracle drug, but actually getting the pills can be prohibitive for many. Truvada is expensive; a year’s supply costs close to $20,000 without health insurance.
HIV already disproportionately affects poor communities across the South, and the price of the drug is keeping it out of reach of those who need it most. Consider that just 30 percent of PrEP users are Southerners despite the fact that the region makes up more than half of all HIV diagnoses in the U.S. And that’s a hard pill to swallow, especially in light of a recent study that confirmed HIV diagnoses are declining in states with the highest use of Truvada; the inverse is happening in states with the lowest use.
Though it was originally developed to treat people who already had HIV, Truvada is also incredibly effective at preventing the disease. A combination of the antiretroviral drugs emtricitabine and tenofovir, the pill works by forming a barrier around the cells targeted by HIV, which then stops the virus from replicating inside those cells. The medicine doesn’t stay in a person’s system for long, so taking it daily is crucial to its success. Since the drug was approved for preventative use, there have been only two known cases of HIV transmission in Truvada users.

                 “Now that HIV has moved south, your

                 risk is really about place. Simply living

                 in New Orleans, you’re at risk.” 

Initially, only a few thousand people took the drug, which is manufactured and sold by Gilead Sciences. That rate soon spiked, with a 523 percent increase in Truvada users between 2012 and 2015. The overwhelming majority of Truvada takers are male; women make up an estimated 7 percent of all users. As the pill’s popularity skyrocketed, so has its sticker price, jumping by 45 percent since it was introduced. That translates to nearly $2,000 for a 30-day supply (Gilead does offer coupons and waives up to $7,200 of copay costs per year).
The CDC has determined that those living below the nation’s poverty level, currently set at $25,100 for a family of four, have the same risk of contracting HIV as people in Ethiopia and Haiti. The issue is even more acute in New Orleans, where more than a quarter of residents live in poverty.
“If there is any example of the dysfunction in the American pharmaceutical system, it is this case,” Krellenstein told NPR in June. “We have the most effective tool for ending the HIV epidemic, and one reason we’re unable to scale up is because it costs so [much] unnecessarily.”
PrEP4All, the activist group Krellenstein co-founded, has been targeting Gilead’s pricing structure through its #BreakThePatent campaign to open up the U.S. market to generic pills. By its estimation, the company has inflated the cost of Truvada by a whopping 25,000 percent.


“HIV used to be a virus where your sexual tendencies or lifestyle was a determining factor of risk, but that’s just not the case anymore,” says says Julia Siren, a nurse practitioner at CrescentCare, which focuses on HIV care, particularly for New Orleans’ poor communities. “Now that HIV has moved south, your risk is really about place. Simply living in New Orleans, you’re at risk.”
And it’s not just geography and poverty that black residents are up against. Funding for marketing PrEP to women has lagged behind that of campaigns for men. The CDC’s grants for AIDS organizations limits funding to address only the most at-risk populations: black men, intravenous drug users and men who have sex with other men. In addition, primary care providers such as OB-GYNs often don’t even know about the drug.
Women here believe that PrEP is designed solely for men, because that’s what the majority of the marketing says. Radio ads and TV spots and billboards on buses — nearly all show “pictures of males using PrEP,” says Veronica McGee, director of Brotherhood Inc., an AIDS nonprofit that focuses on getting members of New Orleans’ black communities tested and aware of their status. “All of our funding streams are male-specific. There are no funding streams for major PrEP programs or interventions geared toward women.”
“We have so many people who think they just can’t get HIV,” Coleman says from her office at CrescentCare, which is just up the block from the Wize Guy salon. “People still think that the only people getting the virus are gay men. They just don’t see it as an issue to be educated on.”
There is one bright spot in CrescentCare’s mission to inform women of their HIV risks. The organization uses geofencing when marketing PrEP to Facebook users who are clients of the same salons Coleman visits. They’ve found that women, especially, are clicking on ads more often and visiting CrescentCare for services. In the first 10 months of 2018, CrescentCare’s social media advertising has translated into more than 3,000 people seeking out their services in the real world.
“Even if we get one person on PrEP, it makes a huge difference,” says Coleman. “That’s one more person protected, and that’s one more dead end for this epidemic.”

This is the first installment in NationSwell’s multimedia series “Positive in the South,” which explores the HIV crisis in the Southern U.S., and profiles the people and organizations working to alleviate it.

The Surprising Way That States Are Getting Residents to Pay Their Taxes

They say there’s two things that are certain in this life: death and taxes. Only this year, that’s not true in 13 states. No, a quarter of America hasn’t discovered the secret to immortality. Rather, this group has offered (or is considering) amnesty for delinquent taxpayers to file their unpaid back taxes.
It may seem contradictory, but these states are demonstrating that the best way to collect taxes is to sometimes forgive those who don’t pay. Tax amnesty sacrifices some of the penalties and interest that an evader technically owes, in exchange for receipt of the outstanding balance. While state governments do forgo some funds, they gain an injection of cash that can help close budget gaps and get citizens back in the system.
“I think it’s just kind of an easy way of plugging a budget hole. You get some revenue out of it, and if you don’t do it too often, it’s pretty effective,” Mandy Rafool, a tax expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures, tells The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline blog. “It doesn’t generate much money,” but “it’s pretty painless,” she adds.
Louisiana decided to offer a break to scofflaws when the state’s revenue wasn’t keeping up with expenditures. If the Bayou State didn’t pull in $100 million, cuts would have been made to healthcare and education. Luckily, it collected more than half a billion dollars — $551 million — most of which came from a handful of big evaders. In 2013, two participants coughed up $175 million to the state, and another 34 late-filers each forked over more than $1 million. “This is an opportunity to come clean,” says Jarrod Coniglio, deputy secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Revenue, which opened a one-month window each of the past two years to catch up on payments. A third and final phase will roll out later this year, though it’ll be far less generous than in preceding years.
Experts caution, however, that tax amnesty programs can’t become too routine. “If you do one every 20 years, you can clean up some accounts,” John Kennedy, former Louisiana Revenue Director who’s now the state treasurer, tells Governing. “But we’re doing it too often. It seems like they do one every Thursday now. It’s a disincentive to people paying their taxes.”
Amnesty supporters agree the programs should seem to be announced at random; otherwise, some will expect to be let off the hook in the future. That’s why Indiana, which estimates it will haul up to $159 million in back taxes, has prohibited those who took advantage of amnesty in 2005 from participating in this year’s event.
Most people who skip paying taxes aren’t out to game the system, argues Michael Fried, a tax lawyer in Bethesda, Md. “They do it because of real reasons — the economy, their job status, the cost of raising a family,” he tells Stateline. “People just fall behind and a solution pops up.”

Rebuilding New Orleans’s Lower 9th Ward, One Bag of Groceries at a Time

New Orleans native Burnell Cotlon has spent the last five years on a mission. He’s turning a two-story building that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (along with most of his Lower 9th Ward neighborhood), into a shopping plaza. Already, he’s opened a barber shop and a convenience store, and as of last November, is providing the neighborhood — identified as a food desert — with its first full-service grocery store in almost a decade.

The Lower Ninth Ward, which experienced catastrophic flooding during Hurricane Katrina, has had a much slower recovery than most New Orleans neighborhoods. Before Katrina, the area had a population of around 14,000 and boasted of the highest percentage of black homeownership in the country. According to the last census, however, only around 3,000 people live in the neighborhood. Many of its roads are still torn up, it lacks basic resources and the closest full-service grocery store is nearly 3 miles away in the neighboring city of Chalmette.

Burnell’s merchandise is still mostly limited to non-perishables and fresh produce, but he hopes to add poultry, bread and dairy this year.


The Plan to Save Louisiana’s Wetlands

Southeastern Louisiana is vanishing.
Two thousand square miles of wetlands have already been submerged in the Gulf of Mexico, and the state’s shoreline is receding quicker than anywhere else on Earth. A chunk of marshland as big as a football field washes away every hour — meaning that 16 square miles are erased from the map every year. Much depends on the Bayou State’s changing contours not only for the 1.2 million residents of greater New Orleans, threatened by violent storm surges, but for the entire country: half of the nation’s oil refineries, the mainland’s largest commercial fishery and the Western Hemisphere’s largest port all hinge on the region’s viability.
In response, Louisiana is implementing a $50 billion plan to save its coastline over the next half-century. Some call it ambitious; the rest say it’s a “moon shot.” But it’s the state’s only chance to reverse a manmade environmental catastrophe before it’s too late, says a twopart series by ProPublica and The Lens.
“What we had here was a paradise — a natural paradise,” Lloyd Sergine remembers. He’s describing the swamp village of fishermen, trappers and farmers where he grew up, just a couple dozen miles south of the Big Easy. “But when I try to tell the young people about this, they just stare at me like I’m crazy. They just can’t imagine what was here such a short time ago. And now it’s gone. Just gone.” When Sergine looks out onto the fields of his childhood, he sees only saltwater drowning the landscape. Derelict boats and ice chests float in on a high tide that soon washes over concrete foundations and wooden pilings where his neighborhood once thrived. “Everything we had was based on the wetlands,” he says. “When the wetlands started going, we were done for.”
At the heart of Louisiana’s Master Plan for the Coast is the restoration of the Mississippi Rivers’s natural process of depositing sand and mud along the delta, sediment that built up extensive wetlands over several thousand years. The mighty river once picked up 400 million metric tons of sediment before spitting the brown water into an ecosystem that depended on silt to avoid sinking into the ocean.
But after engineers attempted to limit the river’s devastating floods by constructing a network of dams, levees and dikes, annual sediment deposit dropped by 60 percent. Around the same time, in the 1930s, oil drilling and dredging of canals cut into the swamps. Deterioration accelerated as saltwater intrusion choked freshwater plants that had held the ground together and powerful hurricanes battered the vulnerable clumps of land.
Louisiana’s short-term fix is pumping sediment back into the crumbling marshes. Pipelines collect sand and mud from the riverbed and from offshore to add to flooded basins and to create new barrier islands. So far, at a cost of $105 million, two projects have restored 1,600 acres. But those gains are small compared to rapid loss: the same amount is being swept away every two months.
A long-term solution will require mimicking the Mississippi’s historical flow by diverting water in controlled surges. In an unprecedented experiment, the plan suggests building a system of gates that will open when the river runs high, flooding the area and restoring much-needed silt. “The one advantage this delta has over the many others that are in trouble is that we still have a river delivering the material to help get us out of trouble,” Denise Reed, chief scientist at the Water Institute of the Gulf, explains. “As long as that river is bringing the sediments to us, we have a chance.”
There’s still many unanswered questions for the project’s researchers and engineers. “Their solutions must fit within constraints imposed by how much sediment the river can deliver and must anticipate future sea-level rise and land subsidence. Somehow, they must balance the need for restoration with the needs of the shipping, energy and fishing industries,” Bob Marshall, of The Lens, writes.
Replicating North America’s largest drainage system will be no easy task, but the state thinks they can catch up by 2042.

The Big Easy Has a Bright Idea to Curb Violence

In a seemingly miraculous feat, New Orleans has managed to drop its notorious murder rate by 20 percent this year — to 155 deaths — the lowest number the city has seen in almost 30 years. Interestingly, however, it wasn’t because police got tougher on the streets, but because city officials got organized.
Under Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s NOLA for Life program, launched in 2012 to rethink the city’s murder reduction strategy, New Orleans’ Innovation Delivery Team led the charge in finding new approaches to curb violence.
New Orleans was one of five cities selected for the pilot program, which was funded with a $4.2 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies in 2011. The team was comprised of eight people using the nonprofit’s innovation delivery method, which helps mayors create and implement big solutions to local problems. The team serves as an in-house consultant firm for City Hall while tapping into global resources and experts provided through Bloomberg Philanthropies.
The team worked with the New Orleans’ police department to analyze data relating to murders, while also looking to strategies from other cities such as Memphis, Chicago and New York. It also met with academics to help comb through the data more deeply while hosting focus groups with at-risk young men, providing a new path for a better murder reduction strategy, according to Fast Company.

“The biggest thing that went against common belief is that a lot of our violence was related to groups and gangs,” says Charles West, who lead the innovation delivery team. “We were always told that we didn’t have a gang problem. But we had gangs of significant size, and people just weren’t talking about it. More than anything, there wasn’t a specific form of policing strategy for groups and gangs.”

The team came up with 130 different initiatives to approach the violence problem according to West. NOLA for Life now operates a multi-agency gang unit which has helped the city ramp up prosecution of gangs.

Other initiatives involved agencies such as the Department of Sanitation, which can train and hire ex-prisoners to receive a commercial driver’s license in an effort to prevent recidivism and find a job.

“Everyone has found a place in it … and everyone is accountable,” West says.

But what made it work was the amount of coordination and organized approach in which city officials tackled the problem. If the city continues on this track for reducing its murder rate, it would be the first four years in a row that murders have dropped.

The Big Easy is currently making room so it can continue to fund the program with tax dollars, which will include more initiatives to step up economic opportunities for African-American men. Meanwhile, Bloomberg Philanthropies is expanding the program with $45 million and has called for more than 80 American cities to apply for funding.

MORE: Can $45 Million Worth of Data and Technology Improve U.S. Cities?

Why Is This Kitchen Trash Being Dumped onto Louisiana’s Coast?

Whether you have a taste for them or not, the oyster is one of nature’s most amazing creatures.
These humble pearl-makers are not just a briny delicacy, they also keep our oceans clean as all-natural filters: an acre of oysters can filter 140 million gallons of water an hour, removing 3,000 pounds of nitrogen a year.
And after they’re shucked and slurped by the dozen, their empty shells also have a remarkable use. According to the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP), they are the best material to use when raising new oysters and restoring oyster reefs. As ORP executive director Stephan Abel says in the video below, “Each shell can be home to 10 new oysters when recycled and replanted.”
At the moment, the number of oysters being removed from the Louisiana coast is greater than what is being returned. To make up for this deficit, several restaurants in New Orleans are cutting down on their waste by returning the ones that patrons toss to the Gulf Coast, Good News Network reports.
“The main reason we want to be involved in recycling oyster shells is because we’re such a large user of the resource,” said Paul Rotner, chief operating officer of Acme Oyster House in New Orleans. “It’s in our best interest. We need the shells in order to enrich the life span of our current oyster beds and to build new reefs.”
MORE: Kelp: The Sea Weed That Could Save Mankind
Thanks to a $1 million donation from Shell Oil Company, the state has kicked off its first formal oyster shell recycling program for New Orleans restaurants, according to a press release from The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL).
Considering the amount of oysters that seafood restaurants go through in a day, that’s a lot of shells being diverted from landfills. In a single weekend, the coalition collected more than 19,000 pounds of shells from Acme Oyster House, the Bourbon House, Redfish Grill, Peche Seafood Grill, Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar and Lüke.
Hilary Collis, the restoration program director of CRCL told that the organization plans on returning about 1,500 tons of oyster shell to Louisiana’s coast each year. These shells will help strengthen existing reefs and build new ones, all while protecting the coast and provide habitats for a number of other ocean creatures, such as fish and crabs.
So the next time you find yourself down on the Gulf Coast, slurp away!
DON’T MISS: Why You Should Add ‘Trash Fish’ to Your Diet

A Selfless Teen Treats Former Service Members to a Home-cooked Meal on Father’s Day

On Father’s Day this year, Kayla Waller, a high school senior in Shreveport Louisiana, decided to do more than simply celebrate her own father. In what an only be described as a heart-warming act, Waller showed the veterans staying at Woody’s Home for Veterans, a local Volunteers of America-run transitional home, that she considers them honorary fathers by cooking them a meal on the holiday.
“They are fathers because they are protecting us, like a father,” Waller told Craig Sims of KTBS. Waller had participated in community service projects at Woody’s Home before, and this year was inspired to come up with her own. Spending about $250 that she earned from her very first paycheck on food, Waller worked for 10 hours cooking 60 meals, which she served the veterans herself.
Charles Myrick, a veteran who stays at Woody’s Home, told Sasha Jones of KSLA that Waller’s efforts helped him “to see there are still people out there who appreciate veterans.”
Waller thinks it’s essential for young people to help others. “Think of a track race,” she told Sims, “You’re sticking the baton. You’re giving the baton to someone else. My generation is the next generation that’s coming up that’s going to be in charge.”
It sounds like Kayla Waller is doing a great job running her leg of the relay.
MORE: Minnesota Looks to a Historic Structure to Help End Veteran Homelessness