LSUA News Articles

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation Honors LSUA SPERO Advocates with The Angel Award®

Oct 17, 2023, 11:18 AM
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation has announced the recipients of The Angel Award® 2023. Among the honorees were Penny Smith and Melva Terrell Villard, SPERO advocates recognized for their dedication to children with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation is delighted to announce the distinguished recipients of The Angel Award® for 2023, a prestigious accolade recognizing exceptional individuals dedicated to enhancing the lives of Louisiana's children. In its 29th year, The Angel Award celebrates remarkable individuals who have made tangible and enduring contributions to improving outcomes for young people. These honorees exhibit unwavering commitment, even in the face of formidable challenges, to uplift children in the state.

Michael Tipton, President of the Blue Cross Foundation, expressed his admiration for the 10 outstanding individuals selected for the 2023 Angel Award. He stated, "The 2023 Angel Award recipients come from diverse backgrounds and engage in a wide range of community-driven initiatives, spanning healthcare, education, social services, civic education, and more. We are privileged to recognize this exceptional group of champions for children."

Penny Smith and Melva Terrell Villard, both residents of Alexandria, have earned this honor through their relentless advocacy on behalf of children with developmental and intellectual disabilities, including their own college-aged daughters. Their dedicated efforts and fundraising endeavors played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Special Program for the Enhancement of Resources and Opportunities for Students with Developmental Disabilities (SPERO) at Louisiana State University of Alexandria (LSUA). SPERO provides a unique higher education experience for young individuals who would otherwise be ineligible for college admission due to their disabilities.


The SPERO program is designed for individuals aged 18 to 28 who have identified intellectual or developmental disabilities. To qualify, applicants must have successfully completed high school with either a high school diploma, career diploma, or its equivalent and be ineligible for regular college admission.

Within the program, students engage in various activities, including auditing college-level courses, participating in specialized program classes focused on enhancing daily living skills, interpersonal skills, and employment skills, and actively participating in on-campus events and activities. Additionally, students receive vocational training, either on the LSUA campus or at approved off-campus venues. Upon program completion, each student receives a Certificate of Achievement and is provided with assistance in securing meaningful employment opportunities in the Central Louisiana area.

Penny Smith and Melva Terrell Villard's unwavering commitment to advocating for children with disabilities has not only transformed lives but has also enriched the LSUA community and the broader Central Louisiana region. Their recognition with The Angel Award highlights their exceptional dedication and the positive impact they have had on the future of young individuals with developmental disabilities.


Written by Adam Lord | LSUA Strategic Communications

Photo credit - Nathan Parish | LSUA Strategic Communications