Virginia is a founder and writing mentor for New South Story Lab, a Baton Rouge non-profit that hosts free writing workshops for local youth. She graduated from Louisiana State University with a degree in anthropology and political science. After college, she put her cultural studies to good use and began exploring writing, film, gastronomy and innovative education. Virginia believes in the importance of doing what you love and enjoys curating environments where creativity thrives. She's been in non-profit administration since 2010, having worked to help at-risk youth, mental health patients and the homeless. Virginia currently serves at LSU Libraries as director of development, where she enjoys hanging out with beautiful, rare books, scrolls from the ancient world and oral histories from the Mississippi Delta. Her interests are cinema, art, writing prose poetry and screenplays, reading, cooking gumbo, community organizing and celebrating life.
Dr. Janice Petersen
Dr. Janice Petersen currently works as the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Behavioral Health, State of Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. Through staff supervision, is responsible for providing broad oversight over the allocation, distribution and use of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) Community Mental Health Block Grant and Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant, as well as other federal and state designated and discretionary grants. She also serves in Louisiana as the Single State Authority (SSA) representative to the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors (NASADAD). She is the principal investigator for the SAMHSA Substance Abuse Youth Treatment Initiative (SYTI) grant, and works closely with collaborators to ensure training is provided to professionals who address SUD conditions.
Previously, Dr. Petersen has served in the Executive Office of the President, Office of National Drug Control Policy as Chief of the Prevention Branch, where she provided guidance for promoting awareness of substance use disorders as public health and safety concerns, and worked to encourage adoption of evidence-based programs, practices and policies across federal agencies. Among her duties were contributions to the development of the prevention chapter for the 2013 edition of the ONDCP National Drug Control Strategy. She has also served on CADCA’s Community Advisory Committee for over 8 years and several advisory groups, grant reviews, and focus groups for SAMHSA addressing mental health and addiction concerns.
Garett Byrne, 2017 1st Place Winner
Garett was a senior at Louisiana School of Math, Science and the Arts when he won the 2017 essay contest. He graduates in May of this year. His essay was the unanimous first choice among the judges for its honesty, fluidity, and maturity. Garett is the child of two parents who overcame addiction to become successful adults, and his mom now works full-time helping other addicts and alcoholics achieve sobriety. He was born in Baton Rouge and has grown up in Walker. Garett’s passion is music, and he plans to pursue an education in music performance. Garett was also chosen as one of eight for the 2018 Young Hero’s Award. He is eighteen years old.
Leah Roberts Smith
Leah currently teaches Honors English to students at the prestigious Baton Rouge Magnet High School in Baton Rouge, LA. She has worked with O'Brien House on our video, "Prevention. Treatment. Hope." She is a deejay at both WHYR and WBRH.
James R. Clary
James R. Clary is an attorney and the owner of Clary Law Firm. He is a native of Baton Rouge and was educated in the public school system. He has been a trial lawyer for over thirty years. Representing clients in courtrooms all across the country is the only thing that he has ever wanted to do in his professional life. After securing both his B.A. in Journalism (1980) and his Law Degree (1983) from Louisiana State University, he was selected to attend and graduated from Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyer’s College (TLC) in DuBois, Wyoming, Class of 2002. He is honored to currently serve as a member of the Board of Directors for TLC, as well as part of the teaching staff for the college, an institution wholly devoted to obtaining justice for the injured, the accused and the least powerful among us. He is a past board member for O'Brien House.
Mike is the current president of the Baton Rouge branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.