For Colleen Waguespack, giving back has always been a way of life. As the grandchild of longtime Attorney General Billy Guste, she belonged to the family “5-and-Up Club,” which required all grandchildren over 5 to give to a cause of their choosing.
But her work as president of the Baton Rouge Speech and Hearing Foundation is perhaps her most personal effort.
Three years ago, shortly after Waguespack and her family moved back to Louisiana from Washington, D.C., doctors diagnosed her 3-year-old son Christopher as falling along the autism spectrum. He would require daily—and costly—therapy, which became available only after another child was dropped because of an inability to pay.
“We felt horrible about that,” Waguespack says. “So my husband and I said, ‘Let’s get Christopher on track, and we’ll help every other kid in this city.’ And so he started in [the foundation’s] program, and I ended up joining their board.”
Waguespack says the program, despite undersized facilities, exceeded her expectations.
“The people here were kind, welcoming and personal,” she says. “Every therapist was treating him like he was their very own.”
Once on the foundation’s board, she helped with efforts to raise money for patients. She also conceived a capital campaign for a new, centralized treatment facility.
When the campaign launched, the foundation tapped Waguespack for the presidency, a post she initially was reluctant to consider; between her obligations to Christopher and her job as an interior designer, she wasn’t sure if she could handle the duties. But she says foundation director Melissa Juneau convinced her otherwise.
“She said, ‘To raise the kind of money that we’re going to need to build a $6 million facility, it’s going to take somebody who really understands the mission,’” Waguespack says. “So was it a perfect time in my life to take on something that’s a full-time job on top of three kids? No. But at the same time, it’s been such a feel-good project.”