WWII veteran receives flag at ‘Project Save Bogalusa’ opening

Published 2:01 pm Saturday, November 12, 2016

Project Save Bogalusa, a local nonprofit aimed at community redevelopment, welcomed community members and elected officials into new office space at the post office Friday.

As the day was also Veterans Day, Wendy Williams, the director of Project Save Bogalusa, also used the occasion to honor veterans. In particular, Williams honored Heldria F. Swilley, a 98-year-old World War II veteran who fought in north Africa and Italy.

Lt. Col. Gavin Guidry, senior Army instructor for the Bogalusa High School JROTC program, presented Swilley with a flag and he praised Swilley’s patriotism.

“Heldria Swilley is a proud patriot who served his country with honor,” Guidry said.

In addition, Swilley was also presented with a certification of recognition signed by Congressman Steve Scalise. Ben Nevers, chief of staff for Gov. John Bel Edwards, presented Swilley with a letter of recognition from Edwards.

Williams’ office is in room 111 of the Bogalusa post office building on Avenue B, and she said the post office is an appropriate location, because she first saw the need for Project Save Bogalusa while working as a letter carrier.

“As I walked the city streets of Bogalusa delivering mail in the late 1990s, I saw, even-then, that our conditions were in the mode of decline,” she said. “At that time, I began to ponder on how we could change our circumstances and make Bogalusa, the once ‘Magic City,’ a place that thrives again.”

Over the past year, Project Save Bogalusa has spent much of its effort helping flood victims in the area after two devastating floods earlier in the year. However, soon Williams said her nonprofit will aim its focus on restoring neighborhoods. Williams said she has three goals, and they are to eliminate blight, get property back on the tax rolls and, third, to encourage home ownership.

“Not only do we want to clean up the blight, we intend to bring home buyer education classes to teach families how to achieve the dream of owning their own home and the pride that comes along with it,” she said.

Nevers praised the project.

“When you begin to save one area of town, then you begin to save all the areas,” he said.

Williams also used the ribbon cutting as an opportunity to introduce the community to Louis Thomas, her consultant. Williams said Thomas has a long history of getting federal and state grants for community development.

However, Thomas said for any community development project to be a success, it has to have community buy-in.

“What happens in the community truly has to happen at the grass roots so people in the community can be a part of what’s going on,” he said.

To find out more about Project Save Bogalusa, call the organization at 985-516-2005.