City Spotlight: Leveraging Partnerships to Support Afterschool in Donaldsonville, La.

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One woman’s vision of providing high quality afterschool and summer learning opportunities through exposure to diverse perspectives, cultures and activities has changed an entire community. Donna Gaignard has a passion for improving the lives of children and families. When she returned to her hometown of Donaldsonville (a historic south Louisiana town located on the banks of the Mississippi River) she was disappointed by the lack of opportunities for young people.

While there had been a lot of new development downtown, and the city boasts the second largest historic district in Louisiana, second only to the French Quarter in New Orleans, there were not many opportunities for afterschool and arts education for the growing population of at-risk children. Ms. Gaignard made it her mission to expose the children of Donaldsonville to the power of the arts to motivate and transform.

She founded Bright Futures Community Learning Center (CLC), an organization whose mission it is to create opportunities and experiences for young people that they would otherwise not have. Her greatest work has come from a partnership with the City of Donaldsonville to meet critical needs in afterschool programming, a collaboration that has proven very fruitful for the entire community. The program revolves around art education and is designed to cultivate children’s ability to think perceptively and innovatively.

The mayor was a strong supporter of this work and as a result, Bright Futures CLC today has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Donaldsonville that positions the organization as the administrator and the city as the fiscal agent of the program. As the fiscal agent, the city provides all of the fiduciary and facilities support for the organization.

With the city’s support, Bright Futures CLC is able to operate year-round, including a six-week summer program. The small, hardworking staff operates the afterschool programming in a community center owned by the city that includes classrooms, a gymnasium and a stage. They also provide in-school support in a number of schools thanks to the collaborative efforts and strong support of the local school district.

The Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge is another critical partner that helps to bring artists from across Louisiana to provide instruction in violin, piano, dance, guitar, fine arts and drama. The children benefit from exposure to varying art mediums while also being learning about different cultures. For example, a metal sculptor from Turkey not only taught the art of sculpting, but exposed the young people to Turkish music, cuisine and culture.

Donaldsonville has leveraged support for the arts in afterschool through strong community partnerships and support of one woman’s passionate belief that every child deserves a bright future.