By Shari Puterman The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Shari Puterman takes a look at four women who are using their spirit and talent to truly create a community that cares.
The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.
It's easy to fall in love with life in Lafayette.
Fabulous food, music, festivals and culture are just a small part of what makes Acadiana so amazing.
But at the core of any great place lies its people.
From Alabama to Acadiana Amelie Storment, 54, was urged by her parents to attend LSU.
"I grew up in Mobile," says the mother of three. "And my parents thought that LSU would be less of a party school than Alabama, so I came (to Baton Rouge) to study marketing."
That's where she met her husband, Dr. John Storment.
In 2002, Dr. Storment branched out on his own to form Fertility Answers, the only office of its kind in Lafayette.
Two other doctors -- Susan Conway and Neil Chappell -- also serve as infertility specialists.
But the practice wouldn't be what it is without Amelie, the lady behind the scenes.
"I've morphed into the marketing director as we've grown," she explains. "I've gotten more and more involved, especially with our expansion to Baton Rouge in 2014."
Although Amelie doesn't wear a doctor's coat, watching people start families with the help of her husband and his partners is gratifying, to say the least.
"For me, it's a little different," she explains, "but I will say this -- my husband can't go anywhere in this city without seeing a patient who's so appreciative. That's the real rewarding part of it. A lot of them wouldn't have a family otherwise."
In 2006, Amelie and her husband started an IVF grant program called Gift of Hope, in which couples are selected to receive a free cycle of in vitro fertilization through Fertility Answers. Their motivation came after Hurricane Katrina, when they witnessed such an outpouring of compassion throughout Louisiana.
"A company was giving IVF grants, and we were approached," Amelie explains, "but the thing was that it could be a patient from anywhere in the country coming here just for IVF. We talked about it, and there was such a local need -- so we said, why don't we just start a program for Louisiana couples ourselves?"
The program took off -- and since its inception, 17 couples have been chosen, with eight of them conceiving babies. The combined value of donated services for one Gift of Hope treatment cycle is between $15,000 to $18,000.
Applications for this year's grant are now available at www.fertilityanswers.com.
The gift of giving back Caroline and Company has been a Lafayette staple for 22 years. Located on Johnston Street, the boutique is a one-stop shopping destination year-round. But the woman behind the operation, Charlotte Cryer, says the gift of giving back is wrapped in its own rewards.
Cryer, 47, supports various nonprofits around Acadiana. Whether it's through auction items or door prize donations, merchandise from Caroline and Company is frequently found at fundraisers.
Cryer, who expanded her brand to the gift shop at Our Lady of Lourdes, has also been a Junior League sustainer for 10 years and is very active at St. Thomas More, where two of her children attend school. Her eldest daughter, Caroline, 22, for whom the store is named, currently works the family business.
It's obvious that community has always come first for this entrepreneur. That includes philanthropy and supporting locally owned businesses.
"Lafayette is home," she says. "It's a unique place, and I think everyone wants the best for it. One thing that I would like to see from a business standpoint is for people to understand the importance of supporting each other -- retail, restaurant -- we are what support the community. Everyone is so involved and very generous in so many ways. That's what makes us special."
Family comes first Diann Connell, 47, is the community relations director for Avanti Senior Living of Lafayette, which is set to open in May.
A strong commitment to family is what drives her passion for Acadiana and its people.
"I was very close to my parents," Connell says. "My favorite part of growing up here was just how warm and loving everyone is, how they help each other. As a child, we didn't have much, but what we had we shared. My parents would have given the shirts off their backs."
Connell, who graduated from Acadiana High and UL Lafayette, spent much of her adult life in a caretaker role for her mother and father, who both passed away, and as a single mother to her daughter.
"Family has always come first," she says. "And the reason I am in my current career is because I made a promise to my dad before he died. I was in banking when he got sick, and one night, we were up very late talking. He asked, 'Can you do me a favor? Can you promise me that you'll do something from your heart with the rest of your life?' I promised, and he said, 'I know you ... don't go all crazy with it! You'll know when you know.' "
In May 2015, Connell said goodbye to her father. While attending the memorial held by the company that handled his hospice, the director asked if she would consider working there.
"I call it my God touch moment," she explains. "I applied and went through the boot camp of health care sales, and it all worked out."
After three years at the job, Connell took four months off to decide if that career path still suited her.
"There was a lot of praying and a lot of coffee," she says. "And while I was on a job-search site, Avanti came up. That's when I had another little God touch moment. I sent my resume, and within two weeks, I was at their groundbreaking, interviewing, and the next day, I was offered the job."
She was the first employee hired for the soon-to-open Lafayette location -- and ever since day one, it's been a whirlwind.
Immediately, she knew it was a perfect fit.
"It's just so unique compared to anything else I've witnessed regarding senior care," Connell explains. "Avanti is a family, and we have the opportunity to make a difference -- to change the way people see assisted living and senior care communities. The company just makes meticulous decisions and caters to the community it's serving."
One of the biggest decisions, for example, is the current search for a chef.
"Food is so important to the people who live here," Connell explains. "Food and family ... the chef is definitely going to be our hardest position to fill because we want to make sure it's the right person who understands the culture."
Because her roots to Lafayette run deep, she's excited to bring something to the community that really hits close to home.
"My biggest hope is to give families the security in knowing that their loved ones are cared for with them in mind," Connell says. "To ease that anxiety and concern that I had and experienced with my own parents, and to help these people still have their life."
'Everybody knows what the right thing is' A story about women doing great things in Lafayette wouldn't be complete without Sharon Moss, the only female entrepreneur of her kind in Acadiana. Born in Waynoka, Oklahoma, a city of less than 1,000 people, she came to Lafayette as a teenager to study at UL.
Sharon married Billy-Jack Moss, with whom she had her son, Coury, and they started Moss Honda in 1979.
Although she always had a hand in the business, it wasn't until her husband's death that she stepped into the driver's seat.