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Shreveport nonprofit grows business enterprise around mentally disabled

Kate Archer Kent

A Shreveport nonprofit that cares for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities has opened two new facets to its campus that will employ dozens of its 184 residents. Holy Angels dedicated its new horticulture center and gift shop yesterday in the name of two donors who made one-time gifts: AdvoCare, a nutrition supplement company, and the David Toms Foundation.

Adam Young, executive director of the David Toms Foundation, told the audience that many grant proposals cross his desk, but this one was business savvy.

"What stood out about this – and this is going to be the key for a lot of nonprofits moving forward – is being able to generate revenue, being able to be self-sustaining and not rely on handouts year in and year out," Young said.

The residents make jewelry and other items for the gift shop, which is now located in a refurbished fire station. In the horticulture center, residents cultivate flowers and herbs. Holy Angels now has four enterprise programs in the fields of horticulture, business services, the culinary arts and creative arts. CEO Laurie Boswell says she wants to create meaningful work that builds self-worth.

"The residents are paid for their work, and any profits that we generate through the retail sales will just be pumped back into building the programs and expanding our mission so we can serve more individuals with disabilities," Boswell said.

Holy Angels Horticulturist Chris Benoit showed off the new greenhouse where hundreds of herb baskets and Mother’s Day floral arrangements are several weeks away from going into the retail store. He says the best part of his job is working with the residents.

“It took me about a year to stop pinching myself when I came to work over here because it’s just nothing I’ve ever experienced in my life," Benoit said. "You never have a bad day. Every 30 minutes to an hour it’s something different, and it’s always fun.”

The David Toms Foundation AngelWorks Gift Shop and AdvoCare Horticulture Center are open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Boswell said they were a $300,000 investment in the Holy Angels campus.