Brock’s (center) vision of matching T-shirts continues to come to fruition with more and more volunteers joining the cause. Photo by Riley Bienvenu.

Giving back: Lean On Me, Inc.

‘We all need somebody to lean on,” croons Bill Withers in his soulful 1972 hit. And while the iconic song has made its place in history for its catchy rhythm, Collette Desselles Brock, founder of Lean On Me, Inc., has taken the lyrics more than just to heart, but rather into action.

“I can’t just turn a blind eye,” she says, recalling the heartbreak she feels every time she sees a   homeless woman downtown or a family out on the street. “To me, it’s as simple as opening a door.”

Once a teenage runaway with a three-month-old baby, Brock found herself as a single mother with nowhere to go. Experiencing firsthand the struggles associated with homelessness and domestic violence, as well as the life-saving generosity of individuals throughout the community, the young mother lifted herself out of misfortune and turned her focus to ensuring that other women would have a place to go and a support system ready to help.

“In 1985 I started to have visions of me with a group of women in matching T-shirts, on our way to help other young women,” recalls Brock. “I knew immediately this was my purpose. The name, the logo, everything—it automatically came to me, and people believed in me and the mission.”

Incorporated in 2007, Lean On Me aims to provide housing and guidance to women faced with homelessness due to any number of reasons, though domestic violence is one of the top contributors.

Volunteers converge on the New Beginnings Safe House to offer not only supplies, but support. Photo courtesy Lean On Me.

“Domestic violence is a silent killer,” says Brock, who notes that thanks to pop culture and a history of silence, the cause often goes overlooked and underfunded, further perpetuating, and all-too-often normalizing, violence. “You would be surprised who throughout the community is affected, and it’s never as simple as just leaving. You stay because of money. You stay because of self-esteem. You have to find it in yourself to leave, and I don’t judge anyone who stays. I’ve been there.”

For Brock, her job is being prepared to help when women do decide to take that step toward freedom. The organization operates on referrals and provides whatever is necessary to get the woman and, if necessary, her children out of the situation and into a safe environment.

“Over the years we have expanded from just putting women up in temporary housing to providing a more permanent housing option,” says Brock of the New Beginnings Safe House, which now houses a maximum of nine women, as well as their children, for up to one year. During that time, the Lean On Me team works with each woman to assemble a plan for their future—including employment, housing, budgeting skills and more. All the while, the group forms an outreach family, serving others throughout the community with events like the Rally for Change, in which Lean On Me teams up with other nonprofits to host a daylong event to supply people in need with clothing and food.

“It’s little things like looking high and low to find some socks for a woman’s baby or helping a little girl find a swimsuit,” says Brock. “I want to make a change, and this brings people together and allows them truly see one another. Often, issues go much deeper than just hunger or poverty. When you spend time helping someone, it becomes clearer the best way to offer a helping hand.”

This month, the organization is celebrating its 11th year of service to the greater Baton Rouge area with an anniversary dinner and fundraiser on September 15. Brock and the rest of her team are hoping for an outpouring of support from the community in order to continue to serve the women who need it most.

“When I started the house, it was full in less than six days,” recalls Brock as she lists Lean On Me alumni who have gone on to be reunited with their children, find full-time employment, and even send back donations to the organization that gave them the chance for a new beginning. “I see women on the side of the road every day, and I wish I could take every single one of them in. No matter what I’m doing, I never feel like I’m doing enough.”

For tickets to the anniversary dinner, as well as donation opportunities, visit