A sea of smiling faces, a whirlwind of excitement and sugar-a-plenty: That was the spectacle of Triscette Boloney and Family First Grieving Easter giveaway event. A mass of giddy children crowded Bouligny Plaza. What was supposed to be a drizzly, overcast day turned out to be a beautiful, sun-kissed one, allowing the children to enjoy an Easter egg hunt.
After the event's conclusion, Boloney's volunteers led an extensive cleanup effort. Busy hands worked all together towards one goal: To leave the grounds how they found it. Bouligny Plaza was spotless when they left.
Longtime friend and Family First Grieving volunteer Demetrius “Dee” Spencer reminisced fondly on her experiences with Boloney. Despite working in Buffalo, New York, since January, Spencer returned home to New Iberia to volunteer at events Boloney hosted throughout the year.
“It was the best experience ever. I'm glad that she is very motivated. When she has an idea, she runs with it and I’m very proud of her and everything that she's done to give back,” Spencer said.
Spencer knew Boloney since she was 14 years old and supported her by giving her a place to stay when Boloney’s family experienced difficult times. In that time, she proved her willingness to help others.
“She helped me raise my kids, and she stayed with me. She didn't have kids of her own, but she became a lifesaver for me,” Spencer said.
For Boloney, the volunteer experiences have helped her process utter grief. Boloney lost her mother in 2019, and her brother later, in 2021; both murdered in their hometown of New Iberia. To this day, Boloney seeks justice for her mother’s murder.
It was in the wake of these murders that Boloney said she found a new purpose in giving back to others. She established Family First Grieving in 2022, and with limited resources, she set off to provide for her community.
“I always had a dream that I saw myself inside the community. I always saw myself walking in the community and helping other people. For me, it’s always been to help the needy, not the greedy,” Boloney said.
A key aspect in establishing an organization was the draw it could have to others. By showing up and showing out, Boloney is a witness to other members of the community that good can be done, even in small amounts.
“I believe more people might want to do it because that’s what we need. You know, sometimes when you see one person doing something, it brings the next person to come on and do something, and eventually, we might all come together,” Boloney said.
Despite an overall reduction in crime rate throughout the city, Boloney said she eventually wanted to work on establishing a relationship of trust between New Iberia and those sworn to protect them in the NIPD. That trust, however, must be built upon action.
“I want it so people won’t be scared to come outside the house,” Boloney said.
In addition to working with established offices, Boloney seeks a grant for her organization to establish events that can provide for more and more people. At the moment, all funding comes from Boloney's pockets and from local donations. That hasn’t stopped her from working to serve some of the community’s most vulnerable citizens.
On Valentine’s Day this year, Boloney brought gifts to students with special needs in self-contained classrooms at multiple schools across Iberia Parish, including Park Elementary and Westgate High School.
Lechia Manuel-Banks, department head of special education at Westgate High School, said that, at their age, many of these students aren’t always shown as much love. To get a full basket with a stuffed bear was truly special for those children. For some, it was the only Valentine’s gift they'd receive.
In the 25 years she served at Westgate High School, Banks said this is the first time a member of the community has reached out unexpectedly to offer something for the kids.
“In all my time here, we’ve never had anyone reach out just because they wanted to do something. This is her way of giving back, because it was truly what she thought she had to do,” Banks said.
Students from Alex Leleux’s self-contained class at Park Elementary also received gifts from Boloney on Valentine’s Day.
“They truly enjoy the tangible revelation that, ‘Ah, someone thought about me,’ and it's special to a lot of these kids,” Leleux said.
Boloney said she wanted to reach students with special needs because she feels they might be overlooked.
“I wanted to let them know they are special, and not just in the way others make them feel and when I tell you they were so excited. They were so happy! I could see the surprise all over their faces, and it really helped me ‘cause I needed it too,” Boloney said.
Interested in donating or volunteering and want to get in touch with Triscette Boloney? Find Family First Grieving on Facebook and reach out today.
Aidan Milford is a 22 year-old ULL graduate from Slidell, LA. He is passionate about Louisiana's natural beauty and its preservation. Beyond writing, Aidan enjoys writing music and producing short films.