Selecting a hero from a long list of outstanding candidates isn’t easy, say Nola4Women Heroes of New Orleans students at Lusher Middle School. After listing out thirty women who have made outstanding contributions to the city of New Orleans, students used a process of straws in cups to select their hero. The woman who received the most straws was Charin Richard, a residential counselor at Raintree House, a 10-bed group home for abused and neglected girls. Richard provides advice, structure, love and friendship to Raintree’s young residents and maintains her role as friend long after they graduate.
Heroes students were eager to learn more but quickly discovered that there was a dearth of information on Richard. In fact, much to their astonishment, students were only able to find a single article that talked about her work. Students discussed various methods of investigation and decided the best option was to conduct primary interviews of Richard and Ashley Dewey, a Richard mentee and former resident of Raintree House. Dewey, now a student at Southern University, and Richard came to the Heroes sixth grade classroom and were met with a celebratory cake from the students and a multitude of questions.
Students’ questions ranged from asking what friends shaped the lives of Richard and Dewey to what role racial inequity played. Dewey spoke of the abuse she experienced throughout her childhood. She filed for emancipation at 16 years old and was assigned to Raintree House. The moment she arrived at Raintree House and met Richard, she says, is when her childhood began. The process wasn’t easy. Dewey didn’t trust anyone, she says, and initially tried to isolate herself from the counselors and other residents. Richard was strict but loving and soon Dewey began to turn to her for guidance and support. Raintree House provided Dewey with access to resources such as an in-house library and a family style sit down dinner each night. The support and structure from Richard allowed Dewey to focus on school and her future instead of worrying about where she was going to sleep or how she was going to eat. During her remaining years of high school, she says, Dewey became student body president, homecoming queen and a member of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Today, Dewey is a senior in college and majors in accounting. She makes multiple trips each month to Raintree House to see Richard and offer support to kids similarly situated. In the end, Heroes students learned that the guidance of one hero created another.