Thursday, February 25, 2016

Gumbo Cook-Off Committee Braces for Saturday's Event

Gumbo Cook-Off Committee
Front (from left) Christine Barnhill, Jackie Beau, Janet Robertson and
Tracy Gallinghouse; Back (from left) Allen Little, Steve Cefalu and Don Redman

Organizers of the 7th Annual Northshore Gumbo Cook-Off keep their expectations simple: all they want is good weather, great crowds, awesome music, and of course, award-winning gumbo. And after a year of preparation for this one day, it appears that all their expectations will be met this Saturday when the event gets underway under crisp, clear skies on the grounds of the Slidell Little Theatre, featuring 20 cook-off teams, live music, sweet treats, beverages, face painting and more.

At first blush an incongruent partnership, the Northshore Gumbo Cook-Off is made possible because of the efforts of volunteers from Slidell Little Theatre and the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), who share equally in the proceeds generated by the cook-off to be used for their youth programs. Additionally, both organizations direct some of the donations to Homeless Outreach for Youth in St. Tammany (HOYST), a very worthy program targeting the underreported displaced children in the parish.

The gumbo cook-off was the brainchild of the late Pat McCloud, who was desperate to find a funding mechanism for an expansion of the theatre that could be utilized to enhance and expand the theatre’s youth program. He found a kindred soul in Christine Barnhill-Tramel who straddled two worlds: theatre and construction. Christine had been very involved in SLT’s Young Actors Theatre of Slidell (YATS) program as well as with NAWIC’s various youth programs and soon a plan began to gel – a gumbo cook-off fundraiser benefitting the youth programs supported by SLT and NAWIC.

Meet the Team

The Gumbo Cook-Off committee is staffed by volunteers from both organizations, but most SLT volunteers will tell you that it is the NAWIC volunteers who do most of the heavy lifting. The committee is chaired by NAWIC’s Janet Robertson of Coast Concrete Services, Inc., whose leadership is rarely trumpeted, but extremely vital to the operations of the event. Other NAWIC committee members are Christine Barnhill, president of BillBar Construction, and Jackie Beau, co-owner of Beau's Air Conditioning and Heating. SLT committee members are Allen Little, Babette Griffin, Steve Cefalu, Tracy Gallinghouse and Don Redman.

Allen Little was on the original committee that organized SLT’s first youth program back in the 1970s. Presently serving as SLT’s vice president of Productions, Allen became involved in the community theatre when he moved to Slidell in 1970 and has been an integral part of the organization ever since. He has received numerous awards over the years, including being named St. Tammany Parish’s Performing Artist of the Year for 2010.

Allen Little and cast of 1982's On Golden Pond
It was only a few years after Allen became involved in SLT that Steve Cefalu appeared onstage in 1974. A multiple-award winning actor, Steve is a teacher of Talented Theatre in St. Tammany Parish. He credits the YATS program for having given his son Stephen Cefalu, Jr., the acting bug. Today, Stephen is an actor in Chicago and is in rehearsal a show making its world premiere next month.

The Country Girl - 1990
Christine Barnhill and Steve Cefalu
Babette Griffin has been involved the cook-off since the second event and has been deeply involved with the YATS program for years in various roles on the committee including treasure and co-director, and even directed a couple of YATS shows. She currently serves as Treasure on the SLT board of directors.
Rumors - 2009
Don Redman
Don Redman volunteers at the theatre in various capacities, most recently as chairman of the Grants Committee and editor of SLT’s audience guide, "Prologue." He was the 2006 recipient of the St. Tammany Parish Literary Artist of the Year Award and marked his official debut as a playwright with the critically-acclaimed adult comedy, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia’s Wolf Note?” 

Redman recalls his first experience with YATS in the early 1990s in the old playhouse, now just a slab in the parking lot. “Grace Marshall recruited me to lead the children in a session about voice projection  -- a not-to-subtle hint that she thought I was loud.

“It gives me immense pleasure to see that the youth program continues to thrive decades later and I hope every dollar we raise through the cook-off will not only enhance the experience of YATS participants, but will grow the program even further.”

During the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tracy Gallinghouse works as a paralegal in a New Orleans law firm. During her spare hours, she devotes her time and energy to Slidell Little Theatre, in the most recent capacity, as vice president of Marketing. 

“I thoroughly enjoy the people on the Gumbo Cook-Off committee and their passion for making gumbo and creating experiences for St. Tammany’s youth,” she says. “SLT’s YATS program allows us to reach out to youngsters, starting as early as age 4, and give them that feeling that is like no other – for that moment, you and the audience are one.”

Child’s Play

NAWIC supports youth through a variety of programs, including Block-Kids, Building Design program, and the Computer-aided Design (CAD) Scholarship Awards competitions. The CAD/Design/Drafting Competition is a contest designed for Senior High School students. The contest provides recognition to students for creative design, successful problem solving and craftsmanship in preparing architectural drawings. Since its founding, the NAWIC Founders’ Scholarship Foundation and NAWIC chapters nationwide have awarded more than $4 million in scholarships to students pursuing construction-related studies.

“One of the program's we have for kids K- 6 is our Block-Kids competition,” explains Jackie Beau. “The award-winning program introduces children to the construction industry in an effort to create an awareness of and to promote an interest in future careers in one of the many facets of the industry.”

 The competition involves the construction of various structures with interlocking blocks and three of the following additional items: A small rock, string, aluminum foil, and poster board.  “They build everything from recycling plants to communities,” says Beau.  “I really enjoy hearing the stories they tell about their projects.”

Another NAWIC program is MAGIC (Mentor a Girl in Construction) camp.  MAGIC is a free, week-long camp for high school girls providing opportunities for hands-on experience in activities such as plumbing, safety, carpentry and welding. 


Slidell Little Theatre’s renowned YATS program is designed to introduce young people between the ages of four and graduating high school seniors to the stage. And while certainly the primary focus is on providing students with skills needed for the stage, the program also teaches kids a whole lot more: self-discipline, teamwork, responsibility, work ethics, creativity, and self-empowerment.

Unlike any other children’s theatre camp on the north shore, Slidell Little Theatre’s program is the only one to offer help with college tuition through the Lonnie Hass Scholarship, which is awarded to YATS graduating high school seniors who intend to study the performing arts in college. Since the year 2000, Slidell Little Theatre, through its YATS program, has disbursed more than $50,000 to local YATS high school graduates to help further their studies in the performing arts.


While St. Tammany is one of the wealthiest areas in the state, there are many people who don’t have the basic needs of food and permanent shelter.  HOYST uses its funding to offer youth 16 to 22 years of age transitional housing as well as supportive services that will lead to self-sufficiency and stable living conditions.

The success of this event could have an impact on the lives of thousands of school-age children and young adults on the Northshore by funding education programs and additional opportunities and resources. How can you help? Come join us this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., eat gumbo, listen to great music and simply enjoy the day. Helping our youth can’t be any easier.

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