Wins award for ‘spiritual’ work
Winning the Richard “Buzzy” Gaiennie Award wasn’t about recognition for Juanita Marino, it was about faith.
“I was born and raised Catholic, and went to Loyola College of Law in New Orleans – and faith and spirituality is part of that,” Marino said. “I enjoy working with people and get to do the legal and spiritual part of it as well.”
The Norco native and resident won the Bridge House/Grace House honor for helping the homeless in the New Orleans area.
Marino said she was completely surprised when she learned she’d won the award, but it did emphasize an aspect of her life that she considers vital.
“The spiritual component is so important in recovery and substance abuse,” she said. “A lot of people experience trauma in their lives and it is so important they get that recovery. In spirituality, we learn about grace. That’s how I felt. It was grace to receive that. It’s a joy for me to be a part of. I never feel it’s extra work or a burden. I go to Grace House once a month and they are so grateful. It’s the good energy in the world.”
In 2013, Marino joined the Ignatian Spirituality Project Team (ISP), which offers men and women who are homeless and in recovery from addiction the opportunity to meet spiritual needs through overnight retreats and spiritual companionship.
Marino was recently acknowledged for her work by Bridge House/Grace House, which provides the participants in the program in New Orleans.
The award is named for the late Deacon Richard “Buzzy” Gaiennie, Bridge House’s former chief executive of the Bridge House’s substance abuse programs.
Bill Creed and Ed Shurna developed a retreat that drew upon the 500-year-old tradition of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius in the contemporary language of the 12-step recovery movement. Founded in 1998, the program was aimed at helping build community, hope and transformation with the homeless. It is now in nearly 30 cities in the U.S. and Canada.
For Marino, the project correlated with her work as a public defender in St. Charles Parish.
“One of my things is working with the homeless,” she said. “Ignatian (project) provided people with retreats to deal with the healing. I just love being a part of it.”
An attorney since 2004, Marino also found herself drawn to the law. Her father and brother also are both lawyers.
“You go into it wanting to help people,” she said. “And if you go into that desire that’s what sustains you.”
The profession also appealed her love to constant learning.
“It’s a joy for me to be a part of. I never feel it’s extra work or a burden. I go to Grace House once a month and they are so grateful. It’s the good energy in the world.”
“For me, my higher power is public service and helping those who need help,” she said.
Also, Marino said serving as a public defender was a logical extension of her desire for law and spirituality work.
“I think the main thing is people have a voice, letting them be heard and not forgotten … and knowing their legal rights,” she said. “For us, it’s communicating and helping them get through that process.”
In St. Charles Parish, Marino also connected ISP to the parish’s drug court team for about eight years. She is a longtime drug court attorney, as well as volunteers her time to help people.
She received her undergraduate degree from the University of New Orleans in 2001 and juris doctor from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law in 2004. She has her own law practice, as well as serving as a public defender for the St. Charles Parish Public Defender’s Office.
Marino also volunteers with the Start the Adventure in Reading where she tutors and mentors public school students in danger of failing reading. She does at no cost to their families.
“It goes to who I want to be as a person,” Marino said. “Doing the work if God is the higher power for me. It renews my faith in humanity. I’m part of a team… people do have goodness. That’s what drives me. Both my professional and personal life is that meaning that there is something out there that is important and, for me, it’s God’s work.”