LEAD the Coast cohort fellows bring resident wisdom, energy to FFL's coastal work


Through this program there is an opportunity to further respect, work with, and learn with individuals who participate in this training.

Foundation for Louisiana’s (FFL) LEAD the Coast program offers residents, who are community experts but may not see themselves as coastal experts, training to relate their personal experience back to Louisiana’s coastal crisis. This program is designed to grow resident awareness of historic land loss, coastal issues and opportunities, government players and their roles at multiple levels, how to facilitate tough conversations, and how to organize and advocate for efforts to address needs on the ground. Through this program there is an opportunity to further respect, work with, and learn with individuals who participate in this training. They grow their expertise and take seats at multiple tables as representatives of not only their community but as coastal experts as well.

LEAD the Coast is growing the capacity of participants to provide them space, time, and connections back to their own knowledge so that they can lead conversations around the coastal crisis. At the 2018 Louisiana Fisheries Forward Summit, which featured an educational program with workshops, vendors, and demonstrations aimed at helping the state’s commercial fishing industry adapt to change, LEAD the Coast fellows showcased their skills while hosting a table for Louisiana’s Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE). Fishermen, dealers, dock owners, processors, and others in the seafood industry attended the summit in the Pontchartrain Center on Tuesday, March 6.

Foundation for Louisiana sponsored a table at the summit in order to share the work accomplished by individuals and communities, including the work of LEAD the Coast fellows, in collaboration with LA SAFE to support southeast Louisiana over the next 50 years. Community leaders and participants of LEAD the Coast who facilitated discussions for multiple LA SAFE meetings spoke with individuals to inform summit attendees of how communities from six parishes are working on programs, policies, and projects, as land loss and flood risk continue to increase in the state.

Among those representing FFL and LA SAFE at the table were Bette Billiot of the United Houma Nation (pictured above, left), a cohort fellow with FFL’s LEAD the Coast leadership team. Billiot became involved in coastal work five years ago and said that community opinion is a game changer. She found that learning where individuals were at in digesting information about coastal changes worked best for starting conversations.

“These people that came to the LA SAFE meetings were dropping knowledge,” Billiot said. “People knew the land and could talk from experience.”

Billiot described that in her area in the east portion of Terrebonne Parish, the effects of environmental impacts have resulted in businesses closing due to the costs of flood insurance and home insurance.

“One of the things that I mention a lot is that we have a large, growing economic growth on our upper west side of Houma,” Billiot said. “Businesses … what I feel that’s going to happen, and this is a conversation that I had at several LA SAFE meetings, (is that) it’s already making it (unaffordable) live anywhere the east side of Houma because the flood insurance is much higher.”

Billiot stressed that communities must make decisions about the future of the land they live on and that she thinks people underestimate the abilities and skills they possess to help their home.

Angela Chalk, another Lead the Coast Cohort Fellow, participated in all five rounds of LA SAFE’s community meetings. As part of the process, she spoke with residents about coastal erosion, sea level rise, and how that has affected the socioeconomic conditions within communities.

Chalk said that LA SAFE approached engagement with community through transparency and showing that the community’s input is valued and will directly be considered for upcoming projects. Angela said she is not a fisherman by trade but understands the consequences the industry faces.

“It’s not just your livelihood,” Chalk said. “It’s your culture and heritage. Those things are disappearing because it’s difficult to make a living in those industries.”

In reaching out to a community, Chalk stressed that groups and organizations need to respect and listen to a location’s natives, as well as be true to their project promises: “Again, this is where people live. To play games with people about their culture their livelihood, it’s just wrong.”

Ly Chan (pictured above, right), a resident of Plaquemines Parish for three years, became involved with LA SAFE through the help of Foundation for Louisiana staff. Chan took part in leading LA SAFE meetings by translating information to Khmer to share with her Cambodian community and continued to fulfill that role by showing Louisiana Fisheries Forward Summit attendees the various projects communities proposed and are awaiting decisions on.

Chan said that she learned to how deal with a coastal crisis through becoming involved in FFL’s LEAD the Coast program.

“It’s about educating people who understand all the circumstances: storms, hurricanes, floods,” Chan said. “How can we adapt? How we can live through all this climate change?”

Chan praised Foundation for Louisiana for their work to hold meetings for residents to inform them about the current coastal communities’ crisis and going further to seek residents’ input and expertise.

“Here we have a tool,” Chan said. “LA SAFE tried to equip me with knowledge to understand, and I’m going to take that opportunity.”

LA SAFE expects to announce projects selected for funding that have been designed through the community engagement and planning process later this month.