Dozen to be recognized for volunteer efforts

Twelve dedicated volunteers are being recognized at the annual Volunteer Activists Luncheon benefiting the Baton Rouge Speech & Hearing Foundation, soon to become the Emerge Center, on Friday at the Renaissance Hotel.

Also being recognized at the luncheon are Sandi and Chip Robinson, recipients of this year’s Margaret M. Neely Award.

This year’s Volunteer Activists

Sister Martha Ann Abshire

Witnessing the care her mother received from a nurse following an automobile accident, Sister Martha Ann Abshire chose to enter the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Congregation in Baton Rouge and become a registered nurse in 1972.

During 45 years of religious life, she served in Haiti as a missionary nurse from 1988-1994, lived and worked on the Congregational Leadership Team in Paris from 1994-1999 and in 2004 became the U.S. director of the Haiti Project Inc.

Abshire is member of Quota International Baton Rouge and is on the boards of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Lafayette, Chamber of Commerce in St. Martinville, FMOL Health System, Ollie Steele Burden Manor/St. Claire Nursing Home, St. Elizabeth Hospital in Gonzales, Heart Hospital of Acadiana, Elderly Housing, OLOL Foundation and Haiti Project Inc.

Jairo Alvarez-Botero

When Jairo Alvarez-Botero arrived in the United States from his native Colombia, he had $100 and spoke no English. Today, he and wife Anita, along with their children, Carlos, Marcela and Sebastian, manage one of the largest development and residential construction companies in the area, Alvarez Construction.

For the past 15 years, with the aid of the community, the company has built the St. Jude’s Dream Home, raising more than $15 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Alvarez-Botero is also the founder of the “No Such Thing as Impossible” bike ride supporting the McMain’s Children’s Developmental Center. Last month’s fifth annual ride raised $50,000.

Alvarez-Botero also helps charitable organizations in his native country.

David J. Bondy

In 1979, David Bondy, a founder and CEO of LUBA Casualty Insurance Co., assisted with passage of legislation enabling the creation of Louisiana’s first workers’ compensation group self-insurance funds.

Bondy has volunteered with many professional organizations, including the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America and the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers Association. He was a founding member, chairman and longtime board member of the Louisiana Association of Self Insured Employers and also served on the boards of the Louisiana Organization for Judicial Excellence, Baton Rouge Area Chamber, Louisiana Art & Science Museum, Friends of Louisiana Public Broadcasting and Rotary Club of Greater Baton Rouge. In 2011, he was inducted into the E.J. Ourso College of Business Hall of Distinction. Bondy serves on the board of Teach For America South Louisiana and participates in the False River Restoration initiative.

Barbara Anne Eaton

As the daughter of Mary Frey Eaton, a 1981 Volunteer Activist, and the late L.W. “Puna” Eaton, Barbara Anne Eaton learned “you have a responsibility to the community in which you live.”

Within 24 hours of Barbara Anne Eaton’s return to Baton Rouge in 2007 after nearly 25 years in Atlanta, O’Brien House Executive Director Katherine Martin enlisted her to serve as a board member. Eaton also serves on the boards of Louisiana Old State Capital Associates, LSU Museum of Art, Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors, First United Methodist Church and the advisory board of the Baton Rouge Community College’s School of Business. She is vice chairwoman of individual giving for Woman’s Hospital Annual Campaign and co-chairwoman of the Pat’s Coats For Kids Auction.

Barbara Freiberg

Barbara Freiberg has taken knowledge gained from 28 years in the classroom, 10 years of serving as an education administrator for the State Board of Elementary & Secondary Education (BESE) and her current tenure as co-manager of a United States Department of Education Transition to Teaching grant for LSU and shared it with numerous children-focused organizations. She serves as president of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and on the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone Advisory Council, the Children’s Coalition, Better Baton Rouge’s Education Cluster, Academic Distinction Fund’s distinguished speakers advisory council, the I Care advisory council and the EBR Foundation board of directors.

Freiberg served on the National Council of Teachers of English/NRA Standards Committee and the state ELA Standards Writing Committee. She was a Louisiana representative to the Interstate New Teacher Assessment Support Consortium (INTASC) performance assessment project, a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers; and president of the Louisiana Council of Teachers of English, where she led a Louisiana literary map project.

Verni Howard

Verni Howard relocated to Baton Rouge in 2004 to become vice president/senior commercial relationship manager with Whitney Bank. While serving her clients, she uncovered a passion for serving the community. She serves on six nonprofit agency boards: Volunteers in Public Schools (VIPS), Catholic Charities, Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge, Downtown Development District, Boys & Girls Club and the Mid-City Redevelopment Authority CDE advisory board.

Howard participates in Capital Area United Way’s Speaker’s Bureau and is a member of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s 2010 Leadership Class and Council for a Better Louisiana’s 2012 Leadership Class. She serves on the ministerial team at her church, St. Alma Baptist Church, and helps with the Daisy Scout troop at her daughter’s school.

Jim McIlwain

Jim McIlwain came to Baton Rouge in 1988 as in-house counsel for Hibernia National Bank. In 1997, he was hired as an assistant general counsel at Lamar Advertising Co. and, two years later, became general counsel and board secretary. He is a member of the Louisiana, Texas and Baton Rouge bar associations; the Association of Corporate Counsel; and the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. He was inducted into the Outdoor Advertising Association of America’s Hall of Fame.

McIlwain is a member of the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge, which he served as president in 2010. McIlwain is also on boards and fundraising committees for Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, LSU’s Swine Palace Theatre and Friends of Baton Rouge. He is a member of First United Methodist Church, where he serves on its Council of Ministries and Staff Parish Relations Committee.

T.J. Moran

A native of Chicago, T.J. Moran is an entrepreneur with varied business investments including restaurants, appliance and furniture stores, auto dealerships, construction and real estate development, advertising agencies and radio stations. In the early 1970s a business opportunity brought Moran to New Orleans, where he discovered Ruth’s Chris Steak House and met Ruth Fertel. In 1975, he opened the first Ruth’s Chris franchise on the outskirts of Baton Rouge in Prairieville. In addition to his Ruth’s Chris operations, Moran developed TJ Ribs, Ninfa’s Mexican Restaurant and Ruffino’s Italian Restaurant, all in Baton Rouge.

After his own battle with cancer, Moran became a champion of Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center. He is a founding director of the Dale Brown Foundation, which promotes educational opportunities for students from underprivileged backgrounds; and served on the boards of the Pennington Family Foundation, Girls & Boys Town and Baton Rouge River Center. Moran has helped the Boy Scouts of America — Istrouma Area Council, Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes, St. Jude Research Foundation and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Bill O’Quin

When Bill O’Quin returned home to Baton Rouge 13 years ago after retiring as a Prudential Insurance manager in 1995 to start a financial Internet publishing business, he joined the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge where “Service Above Self” is the motto.

When fellow Rotarian and friend Frank McArthur asked him to solicit for Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center’s annual Giving Campaign, he agreed, since his stepdaughter had been treated there. About 6 months after volunteering, O’Quin was diagnosed with prostate cancer and treated at Mary Bird.

O’Quin also got involved with the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, serving on the board that envisioned a new facility that would provide food to the hungry in 11 parishes. As public relations co-chairman, he provided guidance to the marketing /special events committee to raise funds and bring awareness to the hunger problems in Baton Rouge and surrounding parishes.

Laura Poché

Laura Poché became a student of volunteerism and social entrepreneurism as an active member of the Junior League of Baton Rouge. When she met the leadership of Hope Ministries of Baton Rouge, she was hooked on the grass roots approach to impacting lives of residents of the 70805 zip code and drawn to Hope Ministries’ mantras of “offering a hand up and not a hand out.”

Poché is involved in the St. Aloysius Catholic Church’s social teachings ministry and social responsibility commission; City Year Baton Rouge, where she serves as board chairwoman; Catholic High School, where she serves as Mothers’ Club president; Baton Rouge Soccer Club’s Upper 90 committee; LSU Foundation’s professional advisory council; Baton Rouge General Foundation’s advisory council; Baton Rouge Area Foundation; and Capital Area United Way, among others.

Matt Saurage

Matt Saurage’s engagement with service organizations originated with the Boy Scouts of America and continued through college with Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. He is the fourth generation to operate the family business, Community Coffee Co. His mom, Donna Saurage, and older brother, Hank Saurage, are previous Volunteer Activist recipients.

Matt Saurage is the 2013 cabinet chairman for the Community Fund for the Arts campaign, which supports arts organizations in the greater Baton Rouge area, and serves on the boards of the Academic Distinction Fund, Louisiana Resource Center for Educators and Episcopal High School. Past volunteer activities include working with Volunteer! Baton Rouge, Of Moving Colors Productions, Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge and Society Bonne Anne service organization.

Leonard Sedlin

Leonard Sedlin learned about giving to others from his parents, owners of a mom-and-pop neighborhood grocery. They often gave food to a hungry person, asking that person to do some work around the store in exchange for providing assistance.

While working in Italy, Sedlin joined with other expatriates to buy equipment and construct a playground for the local Italian children. He also assisted with teaching English to some of the Italian staff. Now retired, he serves as president of SCORE Association Louisiana District 0679 and is one of 12 SCORE volunteers nationwide who serve on the SCORE Association advisory council. With his local SCORE colleagues he helped create “Success Stories” for clients who otherwise might not have been able to start a business or in some cases to enlighten clients enough for them to avoid making destructive financial decisions.

Sedlin is also a volunteer with Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, having assisted several years with its Walk to Remember. He has also assisted Trianon, the auxiliary to the ARC, with many projects including purchasing/repairing furniture and appliances for a Respite Center and consulting on a design to retrofit an office building at the Respite Center to meet parish building codes. For these efforts, he was named Trianon’s 2001 Man of the Year.

This story was updated on May 2, 2013, to correct the location of the luncheon to the Renaissance Hotel.