ARTICLE BY Georgiann Potts
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLY MOORE CLARK
Kristie Bardell recently became Executive Director for The Children’s Coalition for Northeast Louisiana (CCNELA). She is no stranger to that organization because she has worked with CCNELA over the past three years to advance adolescent health outcomes in our region. During that time, Kristie established partnerships with several nonprofit organizations, schools, interfaith leaders, and community members. Through this interaction, she cultivated critical relationships that will enhance CCNELA’s efforts. With over twenty years’ experience improving maternal and child health outcomes, she is well-positioned to expand those relationships, increase programming, and represent the needs of Northern Louisiana’s children and families. As she shifts roles from strategic partner to transformational leader, BayouLife salutes Kristie Bardell as our November BayouProfile.
ristie Bardell recently described herself as “a southern belle navigating this thing called ‘life’.” Although a Louisianan by birth, she is an explorer by nature. Whether seeking out new places nearby within Louisiana, or exploring new parts of the United States, or adding stamps to her well-worn passport as she travels the world, this lady is ready to navigate her life to virtually anywhere that opportunities arise.
FIRM FOUNDATIONS AND A LOVING HOME
Kristie’s parents met while riding on a bus headed to college. Both were from Louisiana and had grown up in the River Parishes. Her father, Kerry Bardell, had a successful career working in the chemical industry in Baton Rouge where the young couple settled and started their family. Kristie’s mother, Brenda Bardell, had a successful career in early education and taught kindergarten. Both retired after spending over 25 years in their respective careers.
The Bardells had two daughters, Kimberly and Kristie. Both graduated from Xavier University of Louisiana and then earned graduate degrees from the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. Today both have established, successful careers in the public health field and make their parents very proud.
Even though the Bardells lived in Baton Rouge, they often visited their relatives in the country. These extended family “connections” were very important to Kristie as they broadened her awareness of rural life.
“Family and community were a central focal point of my childhood,” Kristie explains. “Meals together on Sundays following church service were special.” However, the gatherings during the holidays were even more special.
Holiday family gatherings usually began small, but grew as the days passed, according to Kristie. Multiple uncles, aunts, and cousins meant that most such gatherings were filled with laughter and love. “We would begin in Baton Rouge with just my immediate family, and then we would go to my grandparents’ houses. There more people would gather to celebrate,” Kristie says. “We would often end up at one of my aunts’ homes with lots of family and friends. I especially loved Christmas time and going to see the bonfires on the levee along the river!”
Kristie’s most memorable childhood experience was learning how to make a special crawfish bisque that was her paternal grandmother’s specialty. Marjorie Bardell made the bisque for the family every Easter Eve. Kristie remembers learning how to make it while listening to her grandmother share family stories as the two worked together. “Her stories illustrated the love she had for her children and grandchildren,” Kristie remembers. “She was a very loving person who came from humble beginnings who constantly encouraged her family. An acquaintance once told me that encouragement from someone who believed in her more than she believed in herself was the key to her success. For me, that was my grandmother.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF LEARNING
As a child, Kristie learned the importance of education. Her parents taught her the lessons of giving anything she pursued her very best, and to remain steadfast in her work – lessons that she still puts in practice every day.
At Baton Rouge Magnet High, Kristie became involved in many things to which she gave her best — Girl Scouts, competitive swimming, tennis, and art. Kristie was fortunate to have a community around her that ensured she got support when she needed it. “If I was struggling in school, my parents would seek out additional resources like tutors to help me,” Kristie recalls. “Without that additional support and ongoing encouragement from my larger community, I probably wouldn’t be the person I am today.”
Kristie’s earliest career dream was to become a lawyer. She remembers that in high school, she was always encouraging others to present their side of an issue and to make sure that both sides were heard. Kristie joined community service clubs and service organizations where ambassadors participated in activities and debated topics such as gender equality and healthcare.
Kristie enrolled at Xavier University of Louisiana in pre-law, but her career aspirations gradually turned to a new focus – public health. To pursue this new dream, she changed her major to biology as preparation for graduate school. She met Dr. Dereck Rovaris through the Ronald E. McNair Scholar program at Xavier. Dr. Rovaris became a key mentor for Kristie and helped her navigate her education journey to graduate studies at Tulane.
One reason for Kristie’s move toward public health was the challenges that she and others she knew faced. Some of those came about because there was not good information easily available on preventive health measures, there was confusion as to how and where services were available, and there was difficulty in engaging with health services providers. Once she had seen these challenges firsthand, Kristie knew that a master’s degree in public health was her goal.
While in college, Kristie worked at a telemarketing service company and participated in two paid summer programs – one at Notre Dame and one at Louisiana State University. Both experiences widened her world view and would prove invaluable to her future career.
NAVIGATING HER CAREER PATH
Kristie’s career path has had the usual twists and turns, but her choices have always remained focused on one goal – taking jobs that gave her opportunities to change practices and policies to ensure that the work that was being done could be sustained.
Kristie began her career working with the Louisiana Department of Health where she learned “. . . the power of intergenerational influences and lack of resources.” Her biggest takeaway was the importance of having those most impacted involved in determining strategies and decision-making. Here she learned the power of working with the community to shift and improve narratives in public health and safety messaging.
Kristie then worked for the Louisiana Public Health Institute for a number of years, working her way “up the ladder” there from Non-Profit Manager to Managing Director. “I learned to harvest transformational relationships, not transactional relationships,” Kristie explains. “The difference is breaking bread with someone versus giving someone bread. I sustained relationships by ensuring authentic and ongoing communication. It is important to establish a connection cadence, understand needs and potential synergies to maintain both personal and professional relationships.”
In every position, Kristie learned valuable lessons and developed invaluable skills. From establishing data-sharing agreements that ensured organizations had a greater understanding of the data, to working in partnership versus duplication, and to creating coalitions to develop health improvement agendas that led to policy changes that are truly inclusive – these goals will all be achieved at CCNELA under Kristie’s leadership plan.
Seven years ago, a chance meeting in a New Orleans gym was the beginning of a major life change for Kristie. She and Naomi Hill became close friends and traveling companions. “We traveled the world and quickly realized we were compatible soulmates,” Kristie says. “Naomi is my rock, biggest cheerleader, and champion.”
The couple became engaged in Denver in 2019. They began planning their wedding, and then the COVID pandemic hit. This “unexpected guest” meant that the wedding had to be postponed a number of times. It – now a “micro-wedding” – finally did take place in New Orleans complete with a hip hop violinist! The event was featured in New Orleans Wedding Magazine.
Like Kristie, Naomi has a very successful career. A native Virginian, Naomi works with Cargill, Inc., where she has over 20 years’ experience in Human Resources leadership. Today she is a Global Human Resource Director. The two have a pair of schnauzer mixes named “Marigny” and “Treme” after beloved New Orleans neighborhoods.
In spite of busy work schedules, travel remains a passion for both Kristie and Naomi. “Our favorite city is London, but we have enjoyed the spinach pie in Greece, and making Pad Thai from scratch in Thailand,” Kristie says with a smile.
The pandemic did more than just interfere with wedding plans; it also reminded Kristie about the value of living each day to the fullest. “COVID taught me that we only live once and that we should live for today because tomorrow isn’t promised,” Kristie says. During the pandemic, there were times when family members and friends asked for Kristie’s advice on how to protect themselves from the virus. Thankfully, she was able to guide them based on her on-going research. As a result, she became even closer to her loved ones and colleagues.
Having to pivot to a virtual environment gave Kristie the opportunity to become innovative with ways to maintain relationships both professional and personal. She admits that this “new world” also taught her the importance of patience. Within her own neighborhood, Kristie transformed her backyard into a “pandemic oasis” and invited others to come over for puppy play dates – while maintaining a safe distance.
LESSONS FROM HER VILLAGE
Kristie is an enthusiastic advocate for volunteerism, a lesson she learned from her family during her childhood. Her father had a portion of his paycheck donated to his company’s United Way workplace campaign which gave the family opportunities to donate and volunteer for a variety of activities. These experiences helped Kristie to see both the differences and the similarities of people from all walks of life. “Volunteerism allows people to look through the window of a community,” she says.
Since those early years, Kristie has especially enjoyed volunteering in organizations that mentor youth and focus on community empowerment. Habitat for Humanities’ Women Build initiative is a particular favorite. This program helps families build strength, independence, and stability. “When volunteering, it is important to me to work with organizations that focus on developing thriving communities,” Kristie explains. “This is just as important as dismantling barriers to create pathways for the next generation.”
Of all of her volunteer experiences, Kristie has found that those times when she could help provide basic needs for others have been the most rewarding. “The experiences that have really caught my heart have been those where I’ve donated food or supplies or clothes,” Kristie says. “Ensuring that a person’s basic needs are met is the foundation that must be achieved prior to addressing anything else,” she explains. “Food insecurity is something near and dear to my heart. I’ve worked hard to increase school food consumption programs.”
DREAMS FOR THE FUTURE
Kristie has many dreams — traveling to Dubai and Ireland are at the top of her travel dream list. She is well-traveled, with passport stamps from Thailand, Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, the Cayman Islands, Mexico, England, Greece, and France.
When she travels abroad, Kristie immerses herself in the local culture as much as possible. There she also eats the local foods, uses public transportation, and engages in community activities (a local festival, if she’s lucky!) that she happens upon. With a personal goal of one international trip and one new domestic trip per year, there is little doubt that Kristie will remain well-traveled.
Although exploring new places and cultures is a passion for Kristie, she also has dreams for CCNELA. She is committed to directing CCNELA toward helping to create even more strong, stable communities where children and families can thrive. To do that she has plans to create additional authentic relationships with bold, new (some unlikely) partners while, as Kristie puts it, “. . . outlining CCNELA’s value-added to these relationships. We will address social, political, and economic factors which can only be done by working together for the greater good through collaborations and shared power.”
One of the many life lessons that Kristie has learned is to accept the fact that life is not always easy. “When you’re going through a difficult time, you may feel like your book has closed, but it’s just a chapter,” Kristie advises. “You have to push through and turn the page. Only you know your story. Don’t give up on your novel; instead trust the process.”
That is excellent advice to all who have met challenges that seemed insurmountable. Many children and families in our communities struggle every day. The people of North Louisiana are thankful for people like Kristie and organizations like CCNELA who work every day to address those struggles.