50 New Years Ago – Under the Scope January 2024January 3, 2024
Exercise Is Good For EveryoneJanuary 3, 2024
Living throughout Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary and other surrounding parishes is a dedicated collective of women serving the community. By the name of THRIVE, these exceptional women are passionate about creating effective, positive change in their communities and have a laser-focus to get the job done.
Founded in 2018 by their president Tonya Harris, the nonprofit organization originally launched under the name Community Action Network. However, as they moved along in their efforts to transform and serve the community, a few of the members decided it was time to rebrand. After reconstructing their membership and hyperfocusing on the work that they saw needed to be done in the community, THRIVE was born.
When thinking about how she was able to put her vision into action, Tonya said, “It was networking. We networked. A lot of us do community service in other organizations so we knew we had leverage in strength to get the job done, and so we began to network and call upon each other. From that, we were able to build our membership.”
“It’s service and it’s friendship as well. We look for people we can build friendships with. We have a laser-focus on ‘What are the particular needs in our community?” Tonya said on behalf of THRIVE.
THRIVE’s membership is on an invitation basis. According to member Quateka Bolden, “We pay attention to ladies in the community and we kind of look for women that are making a big difference. It’s an honor to be in a group of influential women that are making a difference in the communities.”
THRIVE is an acronym which stands for transform, heal, revitalize, innovate, volunteer, and empower. It encapsulates every aspect of the organization and the passion these women have for helping each other and others throughout the community.
Tonya said, “We want to revitalize. We want to make sure our communities are vital and that we are targeting those marginalized, disenfranchised communities. Along with innovate—if THRIVE is doing it, it’s going to be innovative so we want to make sure we remain innovative and creative, and we volunteer services. This is outside of our regular lives and our families and jobs, and empower—basically if we can do anything else, we want to make sure that we empower others to be at their very best.”
Along with this acronym, THRIVE is consistently working toward five particular areas through which they try to best serve the public.
The first outreach program includes general community needs. These efforts correlate directly to what their local communities need including the ones that come up on an ongoing basis. Dr. Elena Mann, THRIVE’s vice president, explained, “There’s not a set of initiatives for that particular outreach, but we look to see what’s happening and try to coordinate our efforts in conjunction with things that are happening so we can be more impactful to things that are affecting our actual, local communities.”
They also look at building community and keeping community seniors involved. As Roxanne Reed, another vital member of THRIVE, explained, they hold a cyber security workshop for senior citizens. “We did Part A, we’re about to do Part B, to keep our seniors involved,” shared Roxanne.
THRIVE also partnered with a church in Thibodaux to feed a hundred and sixty plus seniors right before Thanksgiving. The program has been going on for over 30 years, but THRIVE joined in and provided all the gift items for the seniors so that everybody left with a gift—some of significant value.
Their next focus is directed to embracing the arts. According to Dr. Elena, this means “focusing on making sure we bring awareness to various arts whether that’s visual arts or printed art or music-oriented art; making sure that we bring a highlight to the various artistic venues, to make sure we highlight artists and their accomplishments and to try to get the spotlight on some of our local artists.”
During Black History Month, THRIVE held what they refer to as “candid talks” where they interviewed leaders in the community across different areas and genres. Their interviewees included poet Altina Sims; Dr. Valerie Francis, the head of the music department at Nicholls State University; and the owners of Rhodes & Rhodes Production: Lauren Rhodes and her brother DJ.
THRIVE’s secretary Monique Clark shared, “We did that during Black History Month to showcase the different talent we have in the area as it related to the arts and those that were really impacting the arts in a positive way.”
In January of 2024, THRIVE will be showing their support for Rhodes & Rhodes Production by attending their play “Memphis” at Nicholls State University.
Later on in the year, around September 2024, the organization will host their second annual Open Mic With Purpose. Monique said, “We did that for the first time in September of 2022 and that’s a great evening of poetry, dance, and song. We have vendors of all varieties, food, and selling their various things.”
A creative workshop is also on the horizon for THRIVE where they will be partnering with Lauren Rhodes to encourage a love of writing and literature. Lauren works on her own nonprofit called Black Girls Read which encourages literacy and creative writing within the community.
Their third outreach program involves health equity and promotion. Dr. Elena said this initiative is dedicated specifically to “ensuring equitable health needs of particularly our minority populations and ensuring that various health disparities—that the gaps in those are bridged—and making sure we bring awareness to various health needs within our communities.”
As of now, THRIVE is planning to partner with Thibodaux Regional to hold a Heartbeat Soiree to encourage the importance of heart health among women as well as the African-American community as a whole.
Another area of focus for THRIVE is fostering the youth. Dr. Elena commented that sometimes their initiatives overlap, particularly between the youth and the arts. She said, “We pay particular attention to making sure our youth, from babies and toddlers up to elementary and middle school aged children to high schoolers, are reached in terms of our youth outreach.”
According to Tonya, “We’ve got some work to do along with fostering our youth. Roxanne is an excellent retired educator that still tutors our youth so she knows exactly where the needs are in our community whether it’s giving out books, reading them to the kids, or pushing literacy.”
Roxanne enthused about the programs the group has in place to address the youth when it comes to reading and literacy. She said, “We were just a part of a national campaign. We focused on the value of family reading. If you go to our page, you’ll see some pictures from people within the community who participated there with their children and grandchildren. We are also collecting and purchasing books to give out to those kids in the Head Start programs throughout Terrebonne and Lafourche. Our focus here is community needs and we try to address all of those needs in that way.”
In terms of community, Roxanne also sees the need for more STEM programming for the youth to get them more involved, especially the girls. “Not too many girls go into STEM, they don’t look at that as a possibility for them and we bring that program to them to make them aware,” she said.
Just as well, this past Christmas season, THRIVE was working on getting children’s books to local Head Starts as a donation to those organizations within the parishes they serve.
According to Monique, this Black History Month, THRIVE will be partnering with the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government and the Main Library to do a storywalk. “We select two children’s books that will be placed on storyboards that will line walking areas at the downtown courtyard square and also at the Main Library community garden and this is to incorporate and encourage literacy as well as exercise because families can go out and read the stories and walk as they go through each board to complete the stories with their families. Normally, we’ll select books by African-American authors to support that being a Black History Month initiative,” Monique said.
Not only does THRIVE aim to foster the youth outside of their organization, but within it as well. With their Protege Program, young ladies have the opportunity to be guided and mentored through personal and professional development.
Brittany Brown, another dedicated member of THRIVE, said “Our Protege program is a new program that we’re instating in our group. However, we are laser-focused on cultivating the next generation of Thrivers. It is important to us to basically mentor […] and create a safe space to allow them to be themselves—uniquely themselves, but also just to show them the importance of servanthood.”
President Tonya said, “When you speak of giving back, we want to create those legacies and so within that we are currently in the process of grouping our young ladies so that they can model and even perfect and do better than us, the work that we’re currently doing.”
Just like THRIVE, this Protege Program is invitation only. There is an application process although sometimes they get recommendations of young ladies within the communities who are invited to apply.
Brittany said, “It’s our desire to show them how to program with purpose and to never forget where they came from and to be able to use their gifts and talents to cultivate the next generation of servicehood.”
Lastly, THRIVE also has an initiative centered around global and foreign outreach. This initiative involves anything related to topics of an international nature or reaching out to communities of an international nature. Monique said it is “to bring forth different aspects to the community that we may not know of serving in the community.”
Likewise, Dr. Elena added, “We do like to extend our outreach beyond just our local area when and where we can. Just to make sure that we extend to state, national, and even global initiatives as well.”
Another of THRIVE’s initiatives has been to work with the international students at Nicholls State University. Because many international students are also student athletes and do not have the opportunity to travel back and forth to their home countries due to expense, they tend to stay at the university for an extended period of time. In some cases, that means years at a time.
“So one of the things we did was we provided meals for those students during the Thanksgiving holiday because normally at Thanksgiving time, the cafeteria is closed and so they don’t have access to food and because they’re international students, they may not have their own transportation or ways to get around the city of Thibodaux. We provided meals to them, and snacks and beverages, to cover them during the time that the school was closed. So that’s just an example of what we’ve done,” said Monique.
THRIVE has also been working toward bringing forth an understanding and an appreciation for different cultures. At one of their self-proclaimed “sisterly bonding events”, the group focused their attention on various countries and the food from those countries. They also brought in individuals from other countries such as a business owner from Nigeria who taught them about the importance of headwraps, how to make them and about their relevance and meaning in the culture itself.
With so much going on inside and outside the world of THRIVE, one of the key aspects to the organization is their devotion to serving others. Tonya shared, “When we got this group together, I soon realized we had pooled together some of the busiest women in Terrebonne and Lafourche parish. I was like ‘Oh my goodness, what did we get ourselves into?’But I’ll tell you it has been sheer dedication that will pull you from your busy 40-45 hour job into a meeting room planning and committee meetings and so it’s embedded within us. Servanthood is truly embedded within us, at least that’s my story, and I’m sure many could agree with me.”
Dr. Elena, who spends most of her days delivering babies, added, “I do think you just have to make it a priority and there’s so many competing priorities in our lives whether that be through work or family obligations, but we also have to try to make time to give back to our communities and to bond with each other and try to help support each other as much as we can. I think this is something that has to be made a priority so we just take the time to do it.”
Not only do these women make serving the community a priority in their lives, but they also take the time out to support one another through THRIVE. Quateka said, “We also focus on our sisterhood. We have a luncheon coming up where we socialize and we also have a retreat that Iriel is planning. We focus on uplifting each other. We support each other and we focus on our sisterhood.”
As for the future of THRIVE, Iriel Nunnery—one of the younger members— hopes to leave the community in a better place than where they found it.
“First and foremost, I’d like to just keep leaving our mark the way we have within the future of the community. One thing about us is we lead with purpose and we lead with passion, and everything we do, we keep those things in mind. So, just making sure that with everything we’re doing, we’re leaving our mark. We leave a positive influence on people,” Iriel shared.
Iriel sees the significance behind the organization and in the way they operate. “We’re not just doing it one time and ‘Okay, it’s going to be alright’, no, we want to make sure that we keep giving to our community and that we keep making sure that our community is okay. We are doing things that are very intentional, very purposeful, and very meaningful, so that moving forward our community is not the same as we see it right now.”
At the end of the day, THRIVE is an organization to look toward when thinking about the overall improvement of the bayou communities. With their passion for servanthood and creating a better world for everyone involved, the Terrebonne, Lafourche and surrounding areas have the chance to blossom into a better community for each and every one of its inhabitants.
As THRIVE president Tonya said, “There is a place of belonging. We want to make sure that if you’re a member of THRIVE that there is a place of belonging, that you always feel openness, and that we can be open with each other, as well as nurturing each other because we want to help each other grow as well.”