“Cheese!” said a man, proudly posing for a photo in front of a small group of cell phone photographers on Thursday afternoon.
As he smiled and looked on, a couple dozen people in the room clapped in applause.
As the cheers got louder, the man in front of the cameras smiled brighter, happily clinging tight to a plaque he’d just been given — an achievement both he and those around him will cherish for years to come.
When the photo session was done, he walked back to his chair, waved his hands in the air, then took a bow.
John Jambon was awarded on Thursday for 55 years of attendance at The Center, a Cut Off based facility which services and supports people with disabilities.
John is in his early 60s. He’s attended The Center just about all of his life.
He was given his award at The Center’s regularly scheduled monthly board meeting. Before and after the meeting, he spent time reminiscing with family and friends in attendance for his big day.
“He’s been a joy to have here,” said Torie Lee, Executive Director of the Center. “Every day he’s with us is a fun and exciting day.”
“It’s history in the making,” said Peter Louviere, member of The Center’s board. “What an accomplishment.”
John was born in Grand Isle. Early in life, he was diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome — a genetic condition that causes developmental problems and intellectual disabilities in those affected.
For him, the folks at The Center are an extension of his family.
He’s been going to the facility since he was 6 — dating back to the days when it operated near the South Lafourche Bridge off La. Highway 1 in Galliano. It’s now located further north on West 55th Street in Cut Off.
John had a couple of other siblings who also had Fragile X Syndrome.
So his father, Michel Jambon, bought a bus.
In the bus, the family would ride — from the island up the bayou every day to bring the children get the help they needed.
Michel Jambon would even pick up others along the way to let them off at The Center, spending countless hours on the bayou to ensure that locals got the help they needed.
“He’s been here as long as we can remember,” Lee said. “As long as anyone can remember.”
John is full of personality and he loves to be in the company of others.
At lunch before his dedication, he joked with family members while eating his fresh-cooked meal.
He got wide-eyed at the sight of his treat for the day — freshly baked chocolate cupcakes.
After the ceremony, he ate one while talking with family.
At first sight of the reporter — whom he’d never met beforehand — John rubbed his face and laughed, which family members said was his way of saying that it was time for the reporter to get a clean shave.
“He’s a character,” said niece and local attorney Jeray Jambon Jarreau. “You just never know what he’s going to say or the things he will come up with.”
But he’s keenly alert, despite his disability.
At lunch, he cautiously watched over a small child at the table, alerting his mother several times that he may have a fever because he wasn’t eating his meal.
When Jeray was a small child, she said she once choked on a piece of an apple.
And it was Uncle John who saved the day and came to the rescue.
“He picked me up, hit me on the back and saved me,” she said. “He’s very alert to what’s going on around him.”
At The Center, John’s job varies, but often times, he’s spent helping the facility recycle boxes.
“He works hard,” Lee said. “He’s diligent and does a great job for us.”
But while the day belonged to John and his amazing accomplishment, the Jambon family said they also wanted to thank The Center for their work in the community.
The Center is is multi-faceted facility that services and supports people with disabilities in all areas of life and development.
They teach skills to people with disabilities and afford them the opportunities to also spend time with others in a productive setting.
The Center is part of Special Education District No. 1 in Lafourche. It has vocational and residential services. It its mission statement, The Center says it has a goal of being all-inclusive, offering “a full range of services to people with developmental disabilities.”
“We’re just a little hidden gem,” Lee said with a smile. “Not many people know too much about us, but we’re here helping people as best we can.”