Housing tops new 232-HELP director’s priorities

Woman standing in front of a building
Edie Couvillon Aymond, new director of service referral helpline 232-HELP, stands in front of the organization's offices in Downtown Lafayette on June 18, 2024. Photo by Alena Maschke

Last month, Edie Couvillon Aymond took over the leadership of 232-HELP, the primary point of contact for people in need in Acadiana. As executive director of the organization, Couvillon is tasked with keeping the referral service up and running, managing the direct services offered by 232-HELP and fostering collaborations with other organizations providing housing or food assistance, as well as other services, to callers in need.

A native of Carencro, Couvillon previously served as executive director of Maddie’s Footprints, an organization that helps families who have experienced miscarriages, stillbirths or the loss of an infant.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: What are some things from your time at Maddie’s Footprints that you think you're going to take into this position? 

Couvillon: Maddie's board was very forward thinking. But at the time, they didn't have a marketing budget. They didn't spend a lot of money or effort on that. That’s one thing I pushed for and it worked. 

With nonprofits, yes, you have to be very careful with your money, but at the same time, you have to spend some, just to get the word out. Because with the awareness, more people will want your services, but also more businesses have the opportunity to support you. You really have to spend that little bit of money and share the mission. And just face to face, a lot of face to face meetings and conversations.

Where is the organization at, from a financial standpoint?

They're really solid, they have a solid base. We do a lot of referrals out to community partners. So we're referring people to either Catholic Charities for housing or Second Harvest for food banks, things like that.

But we also have small budgets for direct services. If somebody ends up going to all these different agencies, nobody can help them and they're still in need, then we have a small budget to be able to help them and be the absolute last resort.

That's one thing I'd like to actually grow and build on. Because the need is just so big right now, especially for housing. With COVID, a lot of the homeless shelters had to shut down, right, and some of them never came back, or they just haven't come back to full capacity yet. So that's why you're seeing more people that are lacking housing right now. There's a lot of need that I think we can help with.

So there are just not enough resources in the community to refer people to. How are you approaching that challenge?

I'm waiting to get some meetings with some of the different shelters and get a status on it. That's one thing I think we're lacking right now, is open communication between all the organizations to know exactly where we stand. This week, we have no space or this week, we have room for this many. So I'm trying to establish that and get that communication going.

Our people are amazing. They're so soft hearted. But sometimes they do have to tell people, ‘We have nothing for you. We can't send you anywhere,’ which is really sad. So that's just going to be an ongoing conversation with the different nonprofits. And I want to meet with some of the people that had to shut down, to see: Are there plans, in the future, to reopen? Or is there funding for these guys?

What kind of role LCG could be playing in something like this? Have you had conversations to that extent with leadership?

Not yet. I'm curious to speak to our new mayor-president, to get her feedback on that. I'm sure she knows it's as much of a tragedy as we do. She sees the bad situation out there.

And LCG does well funding different grants. I'm not sure how deep they go into housing. So that's gonna be a good conversation to have with the mayor-president.

And are there any parts of the programming that 232-HELP does that you would like to expand on, anything new you would like to add? Or maybe services that you feel like aren't the best use of your time and resources?

Right now, we have such a strong partnership with the United Way. So a lot of our programs are funded through them. So there's always opportunities to meet with the United Way leadership and actually create our own grants. So the sky's the limit right now. We're trying to figure out where the gaps are, especially for 232-HELP, having been without leadership for the past few months. We're really just trying to get some things cleaned up and kind of get back up and running.

Are the challenges mostly on the housing front? Or are there other areas where you see some gaps?

Right now, it's primarily housing. We have some in-house services, like our donated dental program. There are a few dentists in the area who've been amazing and work with us and donate their services. But that number has shrunk considerably from where it used to be.

So that’s one thing we're also working on to try to really get a few more dentists involved. Especially for the people that are elderly and disabled. And to try and build out our direct services. So if there is nowhere else for somebody to get assistance, we can help them.

More on Health from the Current

Is there anything else in the community that you feel needs big change?

Housing, housing, housing. Access to housing. We have a lot of people calling for rental assistance and there's a lot of people with legal needs, because they're trying to fight evictions. The Bar Association has a fantastic program that we can refer them to for legal help with that. But man, if I could really fix anything? Solid housing. Especially for our families. But, you know, for anyone that needs it.

Q: How would you describe your vision for 232-HELP?

Ms. Jewell [Lowe, humanitarian and 232-HELP co-founder], she was a pioneer for a lot of things. She was one of the first ones talking about mental health, back in the 60s and 70s, when people didn't talk about that.

She did programs for STDs before people talked about that. She was very much a visionary. So I want to really get into the city and find out where the biggest needs are, and what gaps we can fill. We have our big gala in October. And that's our main fundraiser, besides just individual donations, but I'd like to start, down the line, a second event that funds our direct services, so that after we've exhausted every possible opportunity, if our community partners can't fill a certain need, then we can be the last resort. And we can actually help people.