Terrebonne Foundation for Academic Excellence (TFAE) celebrates 30 years of advocating and supporting education and achievement in Terrebonne Parish. The mission of the non-profit has been to establish a perpetual source of funding to provide additional resources to foster academic excellence in public education. The organization partners with many local businesses, donors, teachers, and community partners to continue the mission.
The foundation began in 1991 as local leaders recognized a need for additional support to Terrebonne Parish public schools. It was created to assist in improving education for future generations because they believe that the future is in the hands of local students. TFAE has a threefold purpose: to create partnerships of responsibility between educators, parents, businesses, and community organizations, to stimulate learning so they can become responsible adults and citizens, and to provide educators with resources that encourage creativity within the classroom.
Since its inception, TFAE has awarded more than $1.5 million in grant monies to Terrebonne Parish public school teachers over the past decades. They created many programs to better Terrebonne Parish’s education resources, including recognizing a need for child literacy. The Dolly Parton Imagination Library program was implemented for Terrebonne Parish in 2012 and has funded more than 300,000 books to local children since its inception. Yolanda Trahan was TFAE’s first Executive Director and went on to hold the position for 15 years. She recalled a colleague Janet Price proposing the program in a conversation. It was decided to be put on hold until a further time until it was later suggested by someone else. Trahan said a board member returned from a trip from Tennessee and shared the program’s success. Around the same time, a teacher at a local school requested a grant for an in-class library. Curiosity struck Trahan so she asked the teacher why she felt she needed a library in the classroom when the school had a sufficient library. That’s when the kindergarten teacher shared that on the first day of school, she left a book on the students’ desks for them to keep. She then instructed the students to write their names on the inside of the cover, and to her surprise, some students didn’t know what to do with the book. “That’s when it hit me,” Trahan said. She knew then that the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program had to be implemented in Terrebonne Parish. The program distributes a free book a month to children from birth up to five years old.
Other initiatives that have propelled local education forward include creating a Lending Library book exchange program which now has 13 locations throughout the parish that allows children to embrace literacy with a “leave one and take one” concept. The foundation also has many other programs that provide various opportunities for students to learn and grow that includes partnering with local businesses to fund specific technology and supply many needs in classrooms across the parish with grants.
One aspect the organization did not see coming, like many, was the COVID-19 global pandemic. During the peak of the pandemic Executive Director Katie Portier, who held the position from 2018-2020, said it was an unprecedented time that the gracious support of the Board of Directors made it a little easier to deal with. The organization was planning the TFAE 5K Run for Excellence when Louisiana went on lockdown. She said planning and running the organization was challenging and they had to pivot in many different ways when it came to events. “It was challenging, but we continued to just roll with the punches as they came. Again, we could not have done it without the unwavering support and confidence of our board.” TFAE hit many milestones during Katie’s time with the organization including creating a partnership with Chevron that facilitated nearly $200,000 in direct donations to the projects in Terrebonne Parish schools, including the creation of a Girls Who Codes summer camp and the Girls Who Codes clubs throughout local schools.
Both Trahan and Portier gave an immense amount of gratitude to the board of directors, donors, volunteers, and local businesses who continue to contribute to the betterment of a brighter future. The organization recently welcomed Executive Director Ashlee Barahona who took the reins during a time of transition. The excitement was evident in her voice as she talked about her passion for education and helping create better opportunities for local students. She believes that, like any good thing, there is still room for growth moving forward. She hopes to expand recognition programs for local scholars and teachers and a possibility to expand upon the Girls Who Code summer program. Just as the organization began with motivation to better student opportunities, it continues to move forth to grow.