By Paige Nash
The Children’s Center, a local childcare service and art school that served area kids for nearly 40 years, has permanently closed as of last week.
According to Founder and former Director Christine Broussard, the center was the first integrated enrichment program in the parish to offer arts to children. She founded the Children’s Center in the fall of 1986 before selling it 20 years later to a past student, Julie Vogel Odom.
In a Facebook post made this week Broussard said, “You did a beautiful job as I knew you would. You growing up in the center, volunteering to being hired to supervise and then taking ownership. You were the perfect person to carry on the job of enriching our children while showing them all what unconditional love looks and feels like.”
The beginning of the end for the Children’s Center began in June of this year when a post shared by a disgruntled individual on Facebook went viral. The post included photos of Odom dressed up in “black face” for an event that took place in 2008.
It is unclear if this individual knew Odom personally, but from the post that was circulating, they were encouraging others to call the Ochsner Medical – St. Mary location, where Odom was also employed, to recommend that she be fired.
After many comments and shares on the post, it became apparent to the original poster that Odom also owned the Children’s Center and commenters began voicing their concerns and called to have her removed as Program Director.
As of last week, Odom has been removed with petitions to have her nursing license completely revoked, as well.
“This social media attack on the character and heart of my dear friend, Julie, brought her down. I don’t want to relive those agonizing days of reading the vile and hateful comments left by people who didn’t know her and labeled her a racist,” said Broussard. “It was an attack that left her defenseless.”
Broussard has chosen to stray away from the negative and look towards the positive by focusing on the many children who were impacted by attending the Children’s Center while the doors were still open.
Courtney Lafitte was one of many who not only attended as a child under the direction of Odom, but worked there as soon as she was old enough.
“I’m still really in shock about what happened. Especially the reason it shut down. You just didn’t see color at that place. We were all one big happy family,” she said. “Julie was a supervisor when I went as a child, then she became my boss when I started working there. Honestly, the best boss I ever had. That woman was so sweet and down to earth. She loved all of us like family. It was hard to leave that place.”
Another long-time student Callie Shaw Stokes remembered a dark time in her life after the passing of her father and how both Broussard and Odom were there for her.
“It was a very open and loving environment. People from all walks of life went there and enjoyed what the Children Center had to offer,” said Stokes. “When my father passed away, I saw quite a few supervisors there at the funeral home, including Mrs. Chris and Ms. Julie. That touched me even at the young age of 12. That they cared enough to be there for me at such a dark time. I learned so much in my time there and am truly sad my daughter won’t get the chance to attend.”
Samantha Kramer reflected on the seven years she spent working at the center.
“I started working at the children’s Center when I was 16 years old and continued there for about 7 years. The only job I’ve ever cried about leaving. Julie was there for me in so many more ways than just a boss,” she said. “Some of those kiddos I helped care for have actually turned into friends now that they are older. It’s beautiful now to watch them all grow into the wonderful young adults, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, etc. that I talked and dreamt about with them during our long time together at the Children’s Center.
Kramer was disheartened by the news of the Children Center closing and saddened by the fact that her daughter would never have the opportunity to work there and share in some of her same experiences growing up. She said, “I always knew that’s exactly where she needed to start out working. It’s a terrible loss for Minden.”
Broussard is currently in the process of making a Facebook page dedicated to the Children’s Center, where past attendees, volunteers and past talents can share their memories and photos.