The stories are as diverse as the children who tell them, but they all share commonalities: children growing up in unstable households and parents struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, steady unemployment and poverty that often result in abuse and criminality leading to the parents being arrested, leaving the kids on the streets.
It is a tale Lafayette attorney Glenn Armentor knows all too well, having grown up in poverty as one of 10 children. Before the age of 18, he was no stranger to a jail cell, but thanks to the timely intervention of a group of mentors, Armentor was spared the life of a career criminal.
Today, Armentor is one of the most successful attorneys in Lafayette, which is a position he uses to give back to those who are facing the same struggles he once did with the same tool that saved him: an education.
“I needed to do the scholarship because I had been so lucky in life, so I just owed it,” says Armentor. “There are thousands of kids in Louisiana that could be 4.0 college students that will never sniff a college campus because they are too at-risk. But if we can start the change then we’ve got a shot. I think it’s tragic that tonight there will be more kids going to bed that are at-risk than last night, and tomorrow night the number will be higher than that. It’s a terrible, terrible situation that keeps getting worse and doesn’t look like it’s going to have an end unless we start actively changing it. And the way to change it is education.”
A total of 23 at-risk teenagers will be selected for the $10,000 Pay-It-Forward Scholarship Program of Excellence, which will carry each one of them through a typical four-year degree at UL Lafayette. By partnering with the UL Foundation, Armentor has the prospective teens screened by a selection committee consisting of several community leaders, including former LCG Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley and KLFY-TV10 anchor Darla Montgomery.
“They are truly at risk. Five of the 23 kids who are selected by our selection committee were homeless,” says Armentor. “But these are kids who, despite their being at risk, have conquered the streets. They’re doing well on the streets, and the ones that are homeless have 3.7, 3.8, 4.0 averages, and they’ve figured out how to conquer the streets and go to school. Now you take a kid like that who’s made it on the street and you give them a college education, how do you think they’re going to do in life? They’re going to do like I did, because if you give them what they need then they can make a difference in the lives of other people.”
In an effort to spread awareness about the program, Armentor has commissioned a series of videos by Holbrook Multi Media called “Poverty Potential” in order to outline the program, as well as share the heartbreaking stories of the children who have been accepted into the program.
“The four kids who are in the new video will make you cry your ass off, because they’re worth crying about,” says Armentor of the series. “So the scholarship is a wonderful thing for these kids. It gives them an opportunity to go to school and, frankly, they’re the kind of kids who will change the world. It’s just a matter of time.”
Armentor says the program can also help local lawyers regain respect in their communities that might have been squandered over the years due to associated scandal and corruption.
“The lawyer as a hero. That hasn’t been part of America for 30 years, since the Watergate hearings and Sam Ervin, because lawyers lost the high ground,” says Armentor. “But the truth is most lawyers in their communities are still heroes, they’re just not seen that way. I’d like to return them to that.”
Both Armentor’s program and his message seem to have caught on as several other lawyers in other metropolitan areas with universities have adopted the program, including New Orleans personal injury attorney Morris Bart.
“I’ve been preaching to my fellow lawyers that we have a chance to be heroes,” says Armentor. “All we have to do is give enough back to our communities, and it’s catching on. I mean lawyers want to be heroes. They want to do the right thing.”
“And it grows because it’s an opportunity to change the world with these kids and make a difference like nothing else has made a difference. Because a kid like this that would’ve gone bad, that really has conquered the street, really has an opportunity to make things happen in a very big way.”
Armentor says he hopes to expand the program nationwide by reaching out to lawyers with similar backgrounds with the American Association for Justice at its annual conference this summer and sharing the program’s formula, including the same forms, artwork and other information that are working with at-risk teens here in Acadiana.
“The choice is pretty easy: Let them be world class and change the world for the better or let them change the world for the worst,” says Armentor. “That’s what the scholarship premise is about.”