Local Heroes: Nicole Bouie and the Community Commitment Education Center
Amid all the talk about student testing, education policy and what not, it’s easy to forget that at the center of the conversation are actual children. But there’s plenty of hard work going on at the ground level by individuals and organizations dedicated to the needs of our children.
They include social workers, engineers, mentors, and teachers just to name a few. Some are professionals, some are volunteers, and most have mobilized great groups of individuals and sponsors to show up for our kids.
One such local hero is Nicole Bouie, executive director of the Community Commitment Education Center, which she founded in the Evening Star Missionary Baptist Church in 2009. She’d left New Orleans for school, and after receiving her master’s in social work from Louisiana State University of Baton Rouge, she was instrumental in implementing a volunteer program there for teenagers.
Bouie, or Ms. Nicole as she’s known, came home to help rebuild after Katrina, and while she was organizing classes for seniors, she discovered the depths of need in Pensiontown (or do you say Pigeon Town?). She enlisted Realtors to offer free classes on property and home ownership, but she and her volunteers soon discovered that most of the residents attending the sessions couldn’t read. So Bouie added adult literacy classes, with reading, comprehension, and discussion components.
“We started having classes, and I started noticing the grandparents bringing their grandchildren because they were the ones watching them,” Bouie says. “I was like wait, I’m not a teacher, I’m a social worker, but then the after-school program was born. I would call in friends and family to help teach reading and explain that math, while we conducted the adult literacy program.”
Bouie also became certified in treating children with post-traumatic stress, and trained in various other programs involving behavior modification and therapy.
Eventually the Community Commitment Education Center moved into its own building. “In this neighborhood we’ve had a lot of issues as far as a community center being built, as far as who are truly community leaders. We actually thought another center was going to be developed by another entity, but it didn’t happen, so I had to decide whether I was gonna wait for them or do it myself.”
With financing from the owner, the center was able to acquire a building at 8540 Spruce, and community volunteers and donors helped transform it into a gathering place. The center offers free services to children that includes piano and vocal lessons, chess club, life skills, and tutoring. The center also offers “Taste of New Orleans” and Louisiana history summer camps, with small fees to cover transportation and other costs.
Adults in the community benefit from a selection of programs as well, including computer skills, parenting classes, yoga, and a female-empowerment group. Bouie says she hopes to establish a job-training program through its on-site cafe, Stella’s Coffee Shop.
The center brings in modest funds through the coffee shop, and a monthly poetry night, and it also has a gofundme page for donations to help pay for the building.
“My hope and prayer is that Community Commitment continues to develop programs that impact the community,” Bouie says. “And that more people in the community get involved with the center.”
Individuals like Bouie bring comfort and aid to our children and their entire families. Their work is what will bring our communities back to life.