The commons area at the Hogs House on the OLOL Children’s campus includes a gallery wall and décor provided by Ann Connelly Fine Art. That is just one example of how local businesses and organizations have brought their talents and sense of whimsy to the space. Photo by Collin Richie

The new Hogs House offers comfort and support to families of children receiving care locally

When Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital and Hogs for the Cause revealed their plans for the Hogs House Family Support Home, a community-wide collaboration began. Businesses, organizations and donors united to construct the comforting and whimsical on-campus housing for families with children receiving ongoing care.

“As part of our mission statement at Our Lady of the Lake, we talk about how everyone brings their gifts and talents to take care of families, so we challenged the people working on this project to bring their gifts, talents and sense of whimsy,” explains OLOL Children’s Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Shaun Kemmerly. And the community partners delivered.

Dr. Shaun Kemmerly, chief medical officer of Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge. Photo by Collin Richie

Along with 12 family rooms, a spacious commons area, laundry room, snack kitchen and backyard, there are pigs everywhere—from the crocheted couch pillows to the hallway wallpaper. “You could have a scavenger hunt for all of the pigs in here,” Kemmerly says with a smile.

OLOL Children’s Hospital treats patients from across Louisiana and neighboring states with an average hospital stay of four days. The Hogs House offers an alternative to staying in a hotel for families who live more than 45 miles from the hospital.

“The response from families has been overwhelmingly positive,” Kemmerly says. “Recently, a father told us, ‘My wife and I haven’t slept that well in weeks.’”

After seeing the impact of Hogs for the Cause’s direct donations to patients and their families, OLOL pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Lori McBride connected with organization co-founder and CEO Becker Hall. Soon, discussions for the OLOL Children’s Hospital Hogs House began, and in February 2023, ground was broken on the new space with the help of Milton J. Womack, Inc. and Coleman Partners Architects. The second of its kind in Louisiana, the first Hogs House opened at New Orleans Children’s Hospital in October 2018. Dubbed “family support homes,” each is the culmination of continued fundraising efforts and the generosity of community partners who maintain the facilities.

The new Hogs House opened its doors to families in February, just before the 16th annual Hogs Fest, which will be held the first weekend in April.

The acclaimed festival is an annual celebration of the year-round fundraising. It also is one of the largest barbecue and music festivals in America, welcoming more than 30,000 attendees to the UNO Lakefront Arena for a lineup of 20 bands and nearly 100 competing barbecue teams. But in 2009, the festival was a small get-together in Audubon Park organized by longtime friends Rene Louapre and Becker Hall.

The pig roast took on a greater cause after they learned about Ben Sarrat Jr., a local 5-year-old battling an incurable form of brain cancer. Stirred by Ben’s story, they transformed the pig roast into a fundraising cook-off for the Sarrat family. They raised around $7,000, and that success encouraged them to host an annual event to support different causes related to pediatric cancer each year.

Embellished with bright statement walls and plenty of throw pillows, each of the 12 rooms is built for the relaxation of tired and stressed families. In addition to queen-size beds, each room also has a full-size pull-out sofa bed. Photo by Collin Richie

Since then, Hogs for the Cause has grown into a large-scale food and music festival recognized by Forbes as one of the “World’s Most Delicious Fundraisers.” Today, the organization is the leading funding source for pediatric brain cancer outreach services in America.

The remarkable initiative has granted more than $2.3 million directly to families facing pediatric cancer and contributed $8.9 million to hospital programs and charities nationwide, including more than $5 million for the construction of Hogs Houses in Louisiana.

The pig figurines and colorful paintings of hogs on the gallery wall go beyond a playful nod to the name. Each one serves as a reminder to the families staying at the OLOL Children’s Hospital Hogs House that countless supporters and community partners stand behind them in their daunting fight. As the event and its fundraising continue into the future, Hogs for the Cause serves as a testament to the generosity that brings the Louisiana community together and kindles hope in even the darkest of times.