My niece Colleen Guste Waguespack is the Mom of three precious children. One of her children was born with autism, a growing phenomena. Impassioned by love for her child, Colleen sought resources to support his growth from local organizations providing specialized services to this vulnerable and special group of learners. Finding some resources but recognizing the need for substantially more in-depth and broad scale specialized services for children on all places on the spectrum of learning, Colleen began to work with the Speech and Hearing Foundation of Baton Rouge to develop a new learning center to address the gap in services within the greater Baton Rouge community.
Several weeks ago, my niece Colleen and her fellow Board members, philanthropic givers and supporters gathered to “cut the ribbon” at the grand opening of the Emerge Center in Baton Rouge, LA. The Center is a state of the art educational resource center for young children with special needs. As I walked around the Center with her on opening day, I marveled at the many small and, yet, apparent ways in which her Sacred Heart education was reflected in the design and artistic displays. Colleen always had both a passion and talent for design which has flowed beautifully onto the walls, ceilings and architectural design of this new Center for children.
As a Religious of The Sacred Heart, my spirit soared as I saw images of the “heart” so lovingly integrated into every aspect of the design of the Emerge Center, including its logo. It looks as though it is open heart, free and, actually, soaring. It is a perfect way to visually describe the hopes that each parent has for their children as they enter through the doors of this very special place of learning for their children. On another wall, I stopped to look with fascination at a large three dimensional piece of art hanging on the wall adjacent to a recreational resource room. This piece was of a large tree with flowers that reminded me of butterflies attached to the branches. When Colleen spied my standing in front of the tree, she explained the genesis of its inspiration: Sr. Elia Torian, RSCJ, her primary school teacher of Religion at our alma mater, the Academy of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans.
As she recalled, Sr. Torian had a large tree in the center of her classroom. She used the tree as a way to engage the young students by putting all sorts of things on the tree…a way of active engagement and of participatory learning. Usually, this was in the context of prayer or some ritual gesture when Sr. Torian, she recalled, would have planned for an event or occasion. Apparently, this made such an impression on Colleen that she designed a similar tree for the Emerge Center to reflect that spirit of learning the she experienced through this marvelous seminal educator.
One of St. Madeleine Sophie Barat’s first intuitions about education was to educate young women to having a transformational role in Society. I can with such gratitude and familial pride that Colleen is certainly an expression of this educators hope for mission–a mission and spirit still alive today!
The transformational role of responding to the needs of the times was present in Sophie’s first intuitions…” (Society of the Sacred Heart, Life Unfolding 2014)