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From left are Rotary Board Members Susan Saunders, Wayne Vidrine, and Peter Strawitz, Rotary President Nicole Wenger, Michelle Bertrand, Rotary Board Member Jimmy LeBlanc, Rotarian Renee Brown, Jim Robinson, and Rotarian Eric Gil. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)

A catalyst of nature

Rotary of Ville Platte hears about updates at Refinery and La. State Arboretum

While enjoying Thanksgiving dinner this past Tuesday, the Rotary Club of Ville Platte heard from Michelle Bertrand about updates at The Refinery and from Jim Robinson about updates at the Louisiana State Arboretum.
The Refinery is a men’s shelter in Opelousas. “Right now we have around 80-percent of our guys working,” Bertrand said. “We have even transitioned into more of a workforce program. We have eight vehicles now that transport our guys in a 30-mile radius.”
Bertrand continued, “We’re not just a program that houses and feeds men. We’re the catalyst to get these guys reentered into society.”
Rotary of Ville Platte recently combined with the Opelousas Rotary clubs to present a grant to The Refinery for kitchen equipment. As Bertrand explained, that equipment was used in the facility’s new “fully functioning dining hall.”
Bertrand, during the meeting, was presented with donations of socks and T-shirts from Ville Platte Rotarians.
In the same meeting, the club heard from Robinson about projects at the Arboretum which makes it more accessible for guests to experience nature.
As he explained, the Friends of the Arboretum received a grant and other funds which totaled around $120,000.00.
Part of the money went toward new signage. “These signs are impervious to the weather and are pretty much vandal proof,” Robinson said. “The staff at the Arboretum developed all the information that is on these signs including all of the wording, and they took most of the pictures. It took three and a half years to get all of this information together.”
Other grant money went toward brochures and a new Website. “This Website is totally interactive,” Robinson said.
“If you want to know where a certain tree is located on a trail, you can go on that Website, find the tree, and it will actually direct you to the point on the trail where that sign is located. This is pretty good stuff. I don’t know of another arboretum that does this.”
Speaking of the Arboretum and Chicot State Park as a whole, Robinson commented, “I’m very of the Arboretum. I managed Fountainbleu and Fairview. I’ve been to every park in the state, and I still think Chicot is the prettiest park in the state.”
Robinson then fielded questions from the floor.
Rotarian Susan Saunders asked if the Arboretum will change its policy forbidding dogs, and Robinson emphatically answered “no.”
He added, “The reason they don’t allow dogs in the Arboretum is the preservation status of it. The Arboretum is the only preservation area in state parks.”
Rotarian Wayne Vidrine then asked Robinson about damage in the Arboretum caused by feral hogs. Robinson answered, “The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has actually hired someone, and they’re working in the park right now. They caught quite a few.”
Saunders then quipped, “Maybe y’all need dogs.”

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