Give Thanks by Giving Back: Start Your Legacy of Caring TodayNovember 2023
Let’s Start A MovementNovember 2023
by Taylor Trahan Henry
It’s time to shine a spotlight on our local heroes, the extraordinary individuals who epitomize the spirit of giving, compassion, and selflessness. This month, we bring you the remarkable tales of those who go above and beyond to make our community a better place.
Prepare to be inspired as we introduce you to members of our community who dedicate their time, energy, and resources to uplift others. From lending a helping hand to neighbors in need to launching initiatives that transform lives, our Good Samaritans truly embody the values that unite and strengthen our community.
Let their actions inspire you to make a positive impact in your own way. Together, we celebrate the spirit of kindness and community that makes our corner of the world such a special place to call home.
Born and raised in Sulphur, Louisiana, Eric Avery has always been deeply rooted in the region. He is a true son of Southwest Louisiana, having graduated from Sulphur High School in 1995. His academic journey then led him to earn a Bachelor’s degree in biology from McNeese State University in 1999 and a Master’s degree in biochemistry from Louisiana State University in 2001. Avery is a dedicated family man, entrepreneur, and community leader.
Currently, he wears many hats, serving as the president and managing partner of Neighborhood Mini Storage and Crying Eagle Brewing Company. He’s also a valuable member of various boards, including the SWLA Chamber of Commerce, Visit Lake Charles, and the Louisiana Brewers Guild. Beyond his professional endeavors, Avery’s most cherished role is that of a husband to his wife Jennifer and a proud father to three wonderful children: Jackson, Caroline, and Lauren.
In his precious moments of free time, he indulges in a wide range of hobbies, from traveling to gardening, snow skiing to fishing, and spending quality time with family and friends. His adventurous spirit and quest for wisdom have culminated in a list of remarkable accomplishments, including completing the Ironman triathlon, founding the successful Crying Eagle Brewing Company, establishing his family’s nonprofit, engaging in voluntary business consulting, and publishing his book, To Know Now.
Avery’s journey into community service was driven by a deep sense of purpose and the desire to give back. He acknowledges that while many people desire to make a difference, it’s often the constraints of time and resources that hold them back. His own family was no exception, but as they matured, they found that God’s grace has a way of providing opportunities to serve others. Avery and his family have experienced the blessings of both giving and receiving, which underscored the importance of being a blessing to others. “I still struggle today with just wanting to bless people privately,” he says. “But one of my wise councils, Sara Judson, told me not to hold back on letting people know. It often helps trigger others to do the same which compounds your blessings.”
A standout moment in Avery’s community work is the annual Christmas shopping tradition with his family. Together, they fill shopping carts with gifts for less fortunate children, donating them to local organizations. “What’s so beautiful about this experience is I see my children beam with pride themselves,” says Avery. “I just know Jennifer and I are making a difference in not only our children’s lives, but those less fortunate children as well.”
Despite the profound challenges faced by the community in recent years, Avery remains resolute in his commitment to living his best life and helping others do the same. “Regardless of my personal situation(s), I simply refuse to be a victim of my current circumstances,” he says. “Instead, I use difficult times as a way to propel myself to living my very best life and helping others do the same. To put myself and my family first, to invest more in my friendships and less in the next business deal. To accomplish the unthinkable and live life with zero regrets. By doing so I know my buckets will be filled and brimming over which allows me to truly make a difference in the lives of others.”
When asked about advice for those eager to make a difference, he emphasizes that even small acts of kindness have the power to create a meaningful impact. He believes that waiting for your contributions to feel “impactful” is a misconception. Every act of giving, regardless of size, makes a difference in someone’s life.
For Avery, the most rewarding aspect of giving back to the community is the profound sense of fulfillment. “I think on some level we all want to feel noticed, appreciated, and that we are making a difference,” he says. “What I can say confidently is that very little in this life is as fulfilling and difference-making as giving back.”
Hallie Marie Kleckley
Born and raised in the heart of Lake Charles, Louisiana, Hallie Marie Kleckley has dedicated her life to both the art of dance and the art of giving back. Kleckley grew up attending Our Lady Queen of Heaven School and St. Louis Catholic High School before furthering her education at McNeese State University. In 2020, at the age of only 16, she opened a local dance studio, Hallie Marie & Company, where she imparts her knowledge and passion for dance to aspiring performers of all ages. Dancing competitively from a young age, including her current role as a McNeese Cowgirl Kicker, she has always had a love for the stage.
Besides her love for dance, Kleckley has been actively involved in her community through various channels. This year, she started the dance line at Immaculate Conception Cathedral School for 7th and 8th graders, aspiring to prepare them for high school teams and encourage them to support their peers’ talents. In addition to her involvement in her church, St. Martin De Porres Catholic Church, where she has been an active member of the choir and a lead cantor since the age of 8, her parents, Jim and Rhonda Kleckley, own the local retail store, Accessory Zone, on Ryan Street, adding to her family’s community presence.
“I have always volunteered as long as I can remember,” Kleckley says. “Whether it was church for choir, at school for projects/apostolic hours or with my mom at Accessory Zone, I always enjoyed getting involved. Even now, my job as a Cowgirl Kicker is to support McNeese Athletics and the community. As Kickers, we are not just dancers but local role models. We get out into the community events outside of McNeese at least five times a semester, but it ends up being way more than that. We love to support our school, athletes, and locals.”
When it came to starting her own studio, Kleckley didn’t think twice about it. Getting involved was natural and she had a goal in mind. “I want my studio to be a place where we love dance, we love others, and we love ourselves,” she says. “Each day I get the privilege of working with dancers ages 3-19 and college girls. As a leader to youth in our community, I want to teach them respect, hard work, responsibility, accountability, and perseverance.”
Following the hurricanes in 2020, Kleckley extended her studio’s mission to dancers across the Lake Area. She opened her doors to help fellow studios and teachers displaced during a hurricane, initiated Pop Up dance classes for local dancers, and volunteered for fundraisers like Girlie Girls’ lip sync event.
Hallie Marie & Company also established the “Happy Hearts” philanthropy, where the studio’s mission is to help others, and partnered with organizations such as the American Childhood Cancer Organization and the local Kiwanis Club for their Coats for Kids Drive. Beyond dancing, Kleckley has been a familiar face in her faith community, serving as a director for numerous Teen ACTS retreats.
Reflecting on her community involvement, Kleckley emphasizes that service is not a task but an integral part of her personality, rooted in her desire to support and uplift everyone around her. Her youth has presented its share of challenges, as some may not take her seriously due to her age, but she conquers these challenges with confidence and capability, constantly proving her critics wrong. “Serving has always been a part of my life,” she says. “I don’t think about all of this as community work but more of just my personality and who I am. I want everyone to know they are supported and I want to bring the positives and happiness life has to offer.”
To those looking to make a difference in their communities, Kleckley offers simple yet powerful advice: “Use your talents and your resources; every little thing counts. Do what makes your heart happy.” For her, the most rewarding aspect of giving back to the community is knowing that she has improved others’ lives and created positive memories. Her altruism and commitment to her community have enriched her own life, providing her with a sense of purpose and fulfillment as she continues to shine her light.
In the heart of Lake Charles, there’s a dedicated community leader whose impact stretches far and wide. Dorothy McDaniel, the Owner and president of Dollar Electric, Inc., has spent her life making a difference in the lives of many. Her story is one of resilience and unwavering commitment to her community. She spent 35 wonderful years alongside her husband, John, before his passing in 2012. They have two children, Trent and wife Tiffany, Victoria and husband Dylan, and one grandson, Theo.
A parishioner at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church, her faith has been a guiding force throughout her life. But her involvement goes beyond the church walls; she actively participates in various community initiatives. Her passion for fundraising has made her a go-to for organizations across the Lake Area. “I began fundraising in 1978, but I always did have a knack for planning events since I was a young girl,” McDaniel says. “Fundraising just seemed to go hand-in-hand with that.”
McDaniel has chaired numerous auctions, benefits, and galas, leveraging her extensive network and community connections to raise funds for various causes. Her dedication has been recognized with multiple awards, including the 2015 Calcasieu Medical Society Foundation Community Service Award, 2013 National Philanthropy Day Award, and the 2018-2019 Junior League of Lake Charles Sustainer of the Year Award.
Her involvement includes service to organizations like the Junior League of Lake Charles where she has been a staple for the Mistletoe & Moss Holiday Market and the creator of the Springtime Gala, a new fundraiser for the league in 2016. She’s also a member of the Republican Women of SWLA. Her volunteer work extends to the SWLA Law Center, The Serra Club of Lake Charles, the annual Wine Down fundraiser for the Calcasieu Community Clinic, and, most notably, Whistle Stop’s Annual Mad Hot Ballroom Gala.
McDaniel says her service to Whistle Stop is one she’s very proud of, having served as the president of that organization for over 13 years. “We have a twofold mission, supervised visitation and dancing classrooms. Both are near and dear to my heart and without Mad Hot Ballroom, the Whistle Stop would not be able to keep its doors open,” says McDaniel. “I may be a little biased, but I think it is the best social event in Lake Charles!”
McDaniel also plays a pivotal role on the Board of Directors for the CHRISTUS Ochsner SWLA Foundation and the Calcasieu Community Clinic, underscoring her dedication to healthcare-related charitable causes. Another special role is her membership in the Chief Executive Organization (CEO) of Lake Charles, serving as a representative for the electrical industry.
Her extensive history of service includes involvement with the Lake Charles Symphony, Calcasieu Medical Society Foundation, Ladies of the Club, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Children’s Miracle Network, Gallery by the Lake, and local Catholic schools. Her remarkable impact was especially evident when, in 2014, she served as the opening chair for the Louisiana Heart Ball’s Open Your Heart Campaign, rallying the community to support cardiac health initiatives after her husband’s passing.
“I am proud of the work I have done to make a difference in the community,” she says. “I continue to strive to make a positive impact and to be of service to those in need. That is a true legacy I would like to leave behind.”
McDaniel embodies the spirit of a Good Samaritan by working to improve her community, one project at a time. Her remarkable journey is a testament to the power of compassion and community involvement, and Southwest Louisiana is undoubtedly a better place because of her tireless efforts.
Kyle Mestayer is a devoted husband, father of four, and a remarkable figure in the community. A graduate of Sulphur High School and McNeese State University, he has always called Southwest Louisiana his home. He’s been happily married to his wife Michelle for 12 years, and together, they have four children: Finn, Millie, Lucy, and Luke.
Mestayer’s professional path is a testament to his dedication to service. He began his career in the restaurant service industry, climbing the ladder from serving tables to restaurant management and eventually transitioning into corporate training for Texas Roadhouse. Later, he ventured into the world of Insurance and Financial Services, working for State Farm for eight years. He took on various roles, from being a team member at the Carl Vincent Agency to serving as an agency owner in DeRidder, Louisiana. Eventually, he landed in his current role as a commercial lender for JD Bank.
But what truly sets Mestayer apart is his unwavering commitment to volunteering and community service. His journey into volunteering began while living in DeRidder, a place he fondly refers to as “God’s Country” and “Louisiana’s Mayberry.” Inspired by his parents’ dedication to various organizations and their positive impact on the community, he learned the value of creating the community he wanted to be part of. “Service brings me joy, healing, patience, kindness, fortitude, love, and humility,” he says. “All of which I’m striving for each day.”
His impressive volunteer history is a testament to his passion for giving back to the communities he’s been a part of. While in Derrider, he served as a Knights of Columbus member and officer, and even took on roles as a life teen and catechism teacher for St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. Mestayer also coached soccer and baseball for the Beauregard Recreation League, and his contributions as a board member and president at the Beauregard Chamber of Commerce were invaluable. Upon his homecoming to Calcasieu Parish, he continued to serve after being elected as board member to West Calcasieu Chamber of Commerce and giving back to his High School alma mater through sports broadcasting via the Tornado Radio Network. In 2020, Mestayer’s passion for service spilled over into a new venture when he was nominated to serve as a “Real Man” for the Real Men Wear Pink Campaign of SWLA campaign and that opened the door for the campaign’s “Best. Year. Ever.”
Mestayer went on to serve as the Chair for the American Cancer Society’s Real Men Wear Pink Campaign, rallying the community around the vision of having the “Best Year Ever.” “It was my first time leading a fundraising campaign,” he says. “I decided to be the biggest cheerleader for the guys that volunteered, lean on the support from my ACS team, and give them all the support they needed to be successful. We made fun campaign videos for social media and really came together as a team for the loved ones on our hearts.” His energetic leadership and teamwork resulted in raising an impressive $238,000 to support the fight against breast cancer. His campaign not only placed first in the state but ranked eighth nationally. Additionally, the following year’s campaign went on to have the Best Year Ever 2.0 exceeding the previous years accomplishments.
When reflecting on his service, Mestayer emphasizes the importance of aligning your service efforts with something that truly brings you joy. “If your heart is in it, then your creativity, energy, and passion will pour into whatever it is you feel lead to support,” he says. “We all have God given super powers or gifts that we can contribute.”
His service has not only enriched his life, but has also connected him with a network of like-minded individuals in the community. Mestayer emphasizes, “We all need support, and a community that supports each other through prosperity and challenges is one that I want myself and our families to be a part of.”
In all his selfless acts, Mestayer is reminded of his ultimate goal, which is to hear from his Creator in the end, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Through his dedication to service, he continues to inspire those around him, spreading joy, healing, patience, kindness, fortitude, love, and humility throughout his beloved Southwest Louisiana community.