RACELAND, La. (WGNO) — Through our Remarkable Women series, we’ve been introducing you to local ladies who have inspiring stories and are making a significant impact on our community.
This week, we share the remarkable story of a local woman who has overcome pain and found a new purpose.
Heather Benoit is “mom” to roughly 70 little ones; not all hers by blood but, by choice.
“They call me mom often which I am their mom that’s that’s that’s that’s my babies,” said Heather Benoit, founder, and director of Beyond the Bell.
Teaching is her passion and for four years that’s what she did. Benoit taught in the traditional classroom setting at a local school.
“When I taught, it was something about the ones that needed my love the most that really just touched my heart,” Benoit shared.
As the years went on, she knew she wanted to do more. Taking a leap of faith, she decided to leave the classroom but, she didn’t go far. Benoit started an after-school program for children who come from low-income families, called “Beyond The Bell.”
“So, what we try to do here is give them that unconditional love that they truly deserve,” Benoit explained. “… and to give them new exposure and experiences, so that when they’re here they are learning more about themselves and learning where they can go from here.”
These students have no access to technology, struggle to find food each day, and have nowhere to go after school while their caregivers work but, thanks to this program the students now have access to all of those things.
“Beyond the Bell” takes place in the Wallace Community Center, which is tucked away in a rural area of Louisiana called Raceland.
“Starting young and bringing those core values into their lives, shows them that, yes, hard times are going to come. Everyone has hard times but, that doesn’t mean that you have to make that hard time your future.”
That is only part of Benoit’s remarkable story. A few years back, Benoit was pregnant with her second child. She and her husband were overjoyed to be expecting again but, little did they know that their journey would be filled with devastation and heartbreak.
“When we went in for our first ultrasound, we were like, you know this is going to be in and out. Same old. Same old,” Benoit recalled. “Well, during the ultrasound they noticed that our baby had turner syndrome which only occurs in females.”
After some complications, the doctors learned that Baby Benoit was suffering from a rare disorder and would likely not survive.
“She kicked so hard the night before. So, I was like, “are you sure?” Little did we know that was really just her tell her to goodbye.”
Losing the baby Millie at 27 weeks was one of the most difficult moments in Benoit’s life but, instead of letting the horrific situation define her, she looked for a greater purpose.
“It was a very hard time in our lives but, you know with pain comes purpose,” said Benoit. “We created a beautiful thing (by creating) an infant loss group for our community.”
Benoit started a nonprofit to help other women who were in her same situation. She makes a keepsake box filled with helpful items to give to the heartbroken mom.
Heather Benoit started “Mom’s of Hope of the Bayou Region” in 2018, on what would have been Millie’s first birthday. Starting the group with just 20 women in her community, Mom’s of Hope has grown and now has 200 members in the group supporting one another.