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Caryl Ewing and her four year-old daughter Rhea Sit in a reading area at the Pointe Coupé Early Childhood Coalition on Wednesday, December 20, 2023 in New Roads, Louisiana.

Louisiana Inspired is all about shining a light on people and organizations who are working toward solutions in Louisiana neighborhoods, communities, towns, cities and throughout the state — it's work that takes extra effort by special people, demonstrating the good stuff of the human spirit.

For the inaugural Inspirit Awards, we received nominations from across the state of people who are making a positive difference and improving their communities. 

Webster says inspirit implies instilling life, energy, courage or vigor into something. 

We are pleased to announce the 2023 Inspirit Awards winners. In creative, conscientious, clever and industrious ways, these Louisianans are making the world a better place. These winners were selected from a field of nominations received from the general public. The nominations were reviewed by a newsroom panel who selected eight Inspirit Award winners. 

Caryl Ewing grew in New Roads. She went to Tulane, earned a degree in accounting and became a CPA. Then she went to Chicago. When she and her husband started thinking about having a family, they moved back to Pointe Coupee Parish and bought her family business.

"When we first moved back, I knew I needed to figure out a way to fill those buckets of need," she said. "I feel like you have to invest in your community if you want to get anything out of it."

She became a board member and eventual chair of the Pointe Coupee Early Childhood Coalition and started using her understanding of accounting to show other local businesses how they too could help improve early childhood education. 

Pointe Coupee Early Childhood Coalition is one of Louisiana's state-designated Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. Pointe Coupee has less than 1% of the state’s population, but thanks in large part to Ewing's leadership, more than a quarter of the state’s School Readiness Tax Credit funds were generated in Pointe Coupee Parish in 2022. Those funds are directly reinvested in early childhood education in Pointe Coupee.

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Caryl Ewing and her four year-old daughter Rhea Sit in a reading area at the Pointe Coupé Early Childhood Coalition on Wednesday, December 20, 2023 in New Roads, Louisiana.

"It’s not just the child and the parent who benefit — it’s the whole community," Ewing said. 

Ewing has helped other business owners in her home parish understand that the School Readiness Tax Credit is a refundable tax credit for donations made to Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, like the Pointe Coupee Early Childhood Coalition.

The tax credits turn a tax liability into an investment that works directly to reinvest community dollars. For every dollar, up to $5,000, that a business donates to PCECC, it receives a tax refund. For example, if a business owes $2,000 in taxes and makes a $5,000 donation, that business would receive a $3,000 refund from the state, an investment in early childhood that Ewing believes is crucial for supporting the workforce of tomorrow.

In Pointe Coupee, the child poverty rate is at 27%. Child care costs represent 33% of median income in Pointe Coupee Parish. 

"Once I got on the board I realized more about how quickly a child’s brain develops," Ewing said.

She learned details including:

  • 90% of brain development occurs by the age of 4;
  • Child care plays a critical role in building foundational skills and prosocial behavior;
  • Children who attend high-quality early care and education programs are much more likely to graduate high school and four times more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree. 
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Pheriche Perkins, executive director, Pointe Coupee Early Childhood Coalition, nominated Ewing for the Inspirit Award. 

"Sometimes people think, 'Oh there's a problem. That's too bad.' With Caryl, it's, 'There's a problem. I could solve that,'" Perkins said.

Perkins said that when Ewing moved back to Louisiana, she recognized need for better education and child care. She connected the dots between the state's underutilized School Readiness Tax Credit, educated business owners of Pointe Coupee and has helped raise more than $1,000,000 to fund early care and education in the parish. 

Perkins and Ewing agree that one of the best things about the success Pointe Coupee has seen in terms of improving early childhood education is that any other parish in the state could do the same.

"The state has designated a child care resource and referral agency for every parish in the state," Perkins said. "Wherever you are in the state from Caddo to Lafouche, you can choose to have your tax dollars go to prepare the workforce of tomorrow."

As Perkins said, the tax credit doesn't mean a lot if no one is using it.

"Thanks to Caryl, Pointe Coupee is leading the state," Perkins said. "It's because of her work, because of what she's doing, that we're able to take advantage of it (the tax credit). If every place had a Caryl, it would be a really wonderful world."

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