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Monday, Aug. 28, 2017

Geaux Show Some Love: Young Siblings Do Their Part

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Are you ready for the North Louisiana Parents of the Year Award? It has to be Amanda and Joe Gouthiere, whose two children both already have nonprofit projects of their own that are making a significant impact on the world around them.

Ten-year-old Julianna Gouthiere started Bear Share in May of 2013 at the age of 6. Her project donates new or like new (but dry cleaned) stuffed animals to children going through difficult life situations. Elevenyear-old Joey started Geaux Green to encourage people in our community to take care of our Earth. The main thing Joey and Julianna want people to do, however, is take the pledge to do something – anything – to make the world a better place.

Case in point is Julianna’s Bear Share project. “Bear Share is basically a project where we take care of kids who have gone through difficult situations,” Julianna said, “like car accidents or fires. Kids or adults donate stuffed animals. Some people make them. Build-a-Bear Workshop donated stuffed animals that we gave to the NIC Unit.”

Julianna shared the beginning of the Gouthiere family nonprofits. “I think we were coloring and talking, and my mom told me this story about when she was 13 and she was in a car accident with her dad. On the scene, a firefighter gave her a stuffed animal. I remember thinking, ‘That’s awesome! I want to do that.’” “I remember one boy that we helped,” Julianna said, “a tornado victim. He was really young, and he had told his mother, ‘Mommy, the trees are all falling down.’ He saw them fall! I got to make him smile by giving him a stuffed animal. You might think that you can’t make somebody happy just by giving them a stuffed animal, but it’s like a little companion that you can bring around with you anywhere. It’s like a little virtual smile. You give it a little hug, and it makes you feel better.”

In the four years that Julianna and her family have been collecting stuffed animals for kids who need them, they have distributed 13,000 stuffed animals in seven states.

“And we have every donation listed on a spread sheet,” Amanda said.

Eleven-year-old Joey has his own project. “Geaux Green is my project that I started to help encourage children and adults to take care of our environment,” he said. “Every once in a while we do clean-ups or litter pick-ups. I’m also trying to help schools start to recycle because Styrofoam lasts forever, and water bottles are such a problem. They can really harm the environment.”

When asked for an example of something sad Joey had seen, he very calmly said, “Whenever I’ve gone on the news, it’s been four or five times,” he said, “people say, ‘Hey, you were so good on the news last night,’ but when we go back to the Clyde Fant Parkway, it’s all back the way it was before we picked up.”

Joey’s mother, Amanda, finds that particularly sad, too. “He told me, ‘I don’t know that it’s making any difference,’ and I had to reassure him that he is having an impact.”

“We’re doing it to actually take care of the world around us, and we do it for God,” Joey said. “The animals that eat the plastic that you throw on the ground – that’s also in our food chain. We’re eating that plastic. We watched a movie called ‘A Plastic Ocean’ about litter, and it never goes away. There was a baby seagull that was found on the bank of the ocean, and it was just dead. So a scientist cut it open, and there were a hundred and twenty-seven pieces of plastic inside.”

These kids aren’t kidding around, and they truly support each other. “I’ve always wanted to do something about this, but it was because of Julianna that I did,” Joey said. “Whenever she started Bear Share, I wanted to help, too, but I wanted mine to be based on the earth because Julianna’s got the whole people thing down. She’s got it going on. So I just wanted to balance it out and work together.”

Julianna just smiled and gently said, “Sibling power … yeah.”

For three years, the family supported the children and helped them with their projects without nonprofit status. “Then a friend suggested we start a nonprofit,” Amanda said, “so it went under the umbrella of Geaux Show Love. Joey and Julianna are the co-executive directors of Geaux Show Love, and their projects, Geaux Green and Bear Share, are a part of that.”

“Most of the time for Joey, it’s about education and volunteerism,” Amanda said. “He’s gone to the City Council when both mayors Glover and Tyler have been there, and he’s gone to school board meetings and spoken to Rotary Clubs. They all take a pledge to go green. It’s so funny how many proclamations he’s gotten at such a young age.”

“This last year I went to Baton Rouge, and they called my name in front of all the people (at the Louisiana House of Repre sentatives),” Joey said. “They all agreed that the law should be passed.”

So 11-year-old Joey Gouthiere authored his own bill? “Well, Rep. Stuart Bishop from Lafayette authored the bill,” Amanda said, laughing. “He drafted a bill that has now been signed into law that is a litter education bill that will make it mandatory for all elementary school students, so they will understand the implications of littering. Joey went down for the signing of the bill and Rep. Bishop acknowledged Joey, and he got a proclamation from the governor, who presented him with the Governor’s Pen. It passed with no opposition. It was a really big deal. Joey’s working hard to educate people.”

“I feel like it’s important for us parents to empower our children to know that they can make a difference no matter how young they are,” Amanda said. “The fireman that gave me that stuffed animal, he’s on the board now. He’s very humble, but I always tell him that one act of kindness has been paid forward over 13,000 times. So you never know, if people have a passion they should just take it a step forward and know that they’re making a difference. Even one person can make an impact.”

“And even if you’re young, you can make a difference,” Julianna added. “There is a quote from ‘The Lorax’ (Dr. Seuss) that we use a lot: ‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.’ So when people say, ‘Nothing’s going to change, it’s just the world we live in,’ well, exactly, it’s the world we live in, so why can’t we change it?”

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