Organizations offer Hope to many in UP

  • Mary Barrios (far right standing) speaks to a group of community members gathered for a recent Community Outreach meeting at the Union Parish Library. Gazette photo by BYRON AVERY
    Mary Barrios (far right standing) speaks to a group of community members gathered for a recent Community Outreach meeting at the Union Parish Library. Gazette photo by BYRON AVERY

Miriam Webster defines community as a group of people with common interests living in a particular area and united through social, economic, political, and governmental interests. Union Parish is just such a community.

Farmerville and all of Union Parish offer the citizens of this community a variety of programs and enriching opportunities to better themselves in sports, arts, history and other social activities. Unfortunately, as in many communities across Louisiana and the United States, those who need help the most are often overlooked. According to a Parish Health Profile published by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals in 2005, nearly 20 percent of the Union Parish population lives in poverty. That same report points out that drug abuse violations make up nearly 40 percent of adult admissions into the correctional system. Those numbers have only increased over the years and there is a need for programs to address these sobering statistics.

Meet Mary Barrios and Ashley Gilbert, two members of the Union Parish community who have decided to step up and offer programs that minister to the underprivileged and those at risk for drug and alcohol abuse.

Mary Barrios, who works with The Children’s Coalition for Northeast Louisiana, has lived in Union Parish for 12 years. When her mother passed away, Mary moved here to be closer to her father. Mary’s father was a local minister for many years and instilled in Mary a strong belief in community service and giving back to the community.

“My father said that you can’t talk to someone about Jesus if they are hungry,” Mary stated, “and my work with the community in Union Parish began with a fundraiser for our church 10 years ago.”

Mary saw the need in the community then and with her work for the Children’s Coalition for North Louisiana knew that the need in Union Parish was growing larger and larger.

The Department of Health & Hospitals-Office for Behavioral Health, awarded a Partnership Grant to the Northeast Delta Human Services Authority, a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration-Center for Substance Abuse and Prevention (SAMHSA-CSAP). This grant was meant to build coalitions in Union Parish that addressed Underage Drinking and prescription pill use.

Union Parish was selected to receive these funds because it was one of nine high-need communities in Louisiana and had one of the highest rates of underage drinking and prescription drug abuse, and the lowest levels of social and economic factors that help communities promote health, wellness and safety.

With this grant money, Barrios began putting her coalition together in 2015. She put together a group of like-minded community members who have worked extremely hard to create an action plan to address alcohol and drug abuse issues. This coalition became Union Parish Alliance for Community Transformation (U-ACT.) U-ACT focuses on reducing underage drinking and non-medical use of prescription drugs. The message of U-ACT focuses on the concept of Choose U meaning choose what is best for you, for your family and for your community. “U-ACT has meant not just telling young people not to do drugs, but giving them the facts so that they can see why it benefits them to make better choices,” says Barrios, “we want our parents to know, U can raise a drug free child, we want our community to understand, U make a difference and we want our youth to know, U count.”

Ashley Gilbert represents Brokers of Hope, a community program that connects those most in need of help to members of the community who can help meet those needs. The vision for the BOH organization was created when Glen Post of Farmerville expressed a desire to give back to the community of Union Parish. His love for the area, specifically those citizens in need of help, led him to The Center for Children and Families. Post and The Center for Children and Families collaborated to form a program that would be able to give those most in need access to a high level of care in regard to their concrete, mental health, and emotional needs.

Brokers of Hope began servicing the people of Union Parish in December of 2018. Through BOH, families with Medicaid or those without access to health insurance or health care, are given therapeutic services and family advocacy. Through those family advocacy services, concrete needs of the family are identified. Once those needs are identified, the family advocate works to connect those families with existing resources in the area or to a community group or even individual who can help meet that need.

“Union Parish is a community that has shown us all what caring for your own truly means,” says Gilbert, “we have seen citizens of this parish rally behind each other in times of need as well as celebration.” Seeing the people of Union Parish love and support one another has inspired the Brokers of Hope team to work harder and give more to the community. “The Brokers of Hope program has afforded our team an amazing opportunity to provide services for children and families that would otherwise not receive assistance,” Gilbert says, “and we have been able to work alongside citizens and professionals who offer support, encouragement and most importantly hope to these families.”

Brokers of Hope is funded by the Post Family Foundation, and The Center for Children and Families has secured various other grants and sources of revenue to help fund the project. Families with children in Union Parish can qualify for assistance from Brokers of Hope if they have Medicaid or no insurance coverage at all. To find out if you or a loved one is eligible for services through BOH, you can call 318-398-0945.

However, in order to qualify, the family must have at least one child in their custody and living in their home. Brokers of Hope is always seeking donations such as baby care items, canned goods, new school supplies and new school uniforms. Monetary donations can be made by visiting

Barrios and Gilbert realized that joining forces would allow them to help both programs and reach more needy individuals and families of Union Parish. They decided to create a round table, collaborative effort in dealing with the issues that their families were experiencing. Out of this collaboration came the Union Community Outreach.

The Union Community Outreach has a very simple goal. “We hope to build a place for providers to share information about services as well as discuss cases/families in our community that need assistance,” says Barrios, “through our collaboration we have learned that we live in a community that is open to offering its resources as needed. Not once have we called upon a partner that has been unwilling.”

Union Parish has two very wonderful and giving programs in U-ACT and Brokers of Hope. Both organizations welcome volunteers to help with their work. Barrios says that Union Community Outreach is currently working on creating work groups and a directory that will be shared with the community. If you are interested in helping, contact Mary Barrios or Ashley Gilbert and they will help plug you in with these organizations of hope.