Coffee with Corey: When helping others makes you happy

By Corey Poole

Thinking of how to sum up who De’Andrea Sanders is, words like compassionate, outgoing, and helpful are the first things to come to mind.

Originally from East Feliciana, De’Andrea came to Natchitoches to attend Northwestern State University. From a big family, her mom was a teacher and her father was a law enforcement officer. Their house was known throughout the neighborhood as a safe spot where anyone could stop if they needed help.

“I kinda naturally came up with the idea that we take care of everyone in the community,” De’Andrea said. 

De’Andrea grew up with three siblings, plus three nieces and nephews her parents raised. When she graduated from Zachary High School, she chose to come to Natchitoches as a way to strike out on her own and chart her own course.

Originally, the plan was that Natchitoches would be a stepping stone as she built her career. It wasn’t long before she fell in love with the town. Natchitoches reminded De’Andrea a lot of her hometown. It’s small but big, so from her first days on campus, she felt at home. There were some things to get used to though, like the difference in food from the South, to the Northern part of the state. There was also a difference in people and learning the dynamic of the town.

De’Andrea is a huge history nerd who loves to read, so she loves that Natchitoches is so full of history.

As a college student she began working for the City of Natchitoches as a counselor for its summer camp program. This turned into a full-time job where she started developing and building up programs for the City. The kids soon dubbed her as “Coach De” because she often handled the physical education portion of summer camp, and that naturally required a whistle.

The nickname stuck as the parents started calling her by it too. It stuck so much that it became the name of her non-profit organization, The Coach De Foundation, which supplies resources to low-income or underserved communities.

The whistle and a fox became the brand for her foundation. The fox came from her childhood nickname due to her resemblance to Foxy Brown.

“At this point it’s the brand,” De’Andrea explained with a smile. “It’s the kids that birthed the brand.”

But De’Andrea looks at herself as more of a life coach. She wants to help anyone in the community that needs it. 

But let’s jump back in time a bit, to the catalyst that started it all for De’Andrea. As a student at NSU, De’Andrea met a local youth named Matthew. Their relationship started off with De’Andrea mentoring the young man that stayed in her apartment complex. One thing led to another and it wasn’t long before the courts decided to make De’Andrea his guardian.

In fact, ask De’Andrea what her best Natchitoches memory is and she’ll quickly answer: Matthew.

“He slowed my life down and showed me what my purpose really was,” she said. “I don’t think I have a career calling. Helping people is my calling.”

Taking care of Matthew as a young adult, De’Andrea bonded with him over their shared love for sneakers. An area youth suggested De’Andrea hold “closet” events through her foundation to supply people with things that often get taken for granted, like underwear, socks and other personal items. What started with a school uniform drive quickly led to three closet events throughout the year, reaching around 750-1,000 residents annually.

“I did not anticipate the success it’s had,” De’Andrea said. “I’m still waiting to see where it takes me.”

What’s even more impressive is that De’Andrea founded her own non-profit by going to the library and checking out books.

“People should use the library more,” she added.

After working for the City of Natchitoches De’Andrea worked as a seventh grade science teacher and BLLC teacher (student behavior intervention program) at the Natchitoches Jr. High and as the marketing director for the Outpatient Medical Center. However, through it all, she was constantly looking to get back to the kids.

“I wanted to get back to programming side,” she said. “I realized I was happier not being confined to a classroom or a 9-5 desk job. I went to a summer class once and I wanted to create summer programming opportunities for kids like myself, who may not be able to attend camps that might be considered luxuries.”

The right opportunity presented itself when the Boys and Girls Club reopened in Natchitoches this year. As the unit director for the Natchitoches site, De’Andrea gets to connect with the kids on a personal level.

“I’m a girl full of feels,” she said, smiling. “We hug it out, laugh it out, cry it out…whatever we have to do.”

There have been challenges, as there are with any new venture. Being honest, there was a level of distrust in the community when it came to the former Boys and Girls club regarding how unstable the program had been in the past. But having the support of the Acadiana Boys and Girls Club offers stability for the Natchitoches community moving forward.

Another challenge has been filling up the Ben Johnson Auditorium, the new home for the club. Filling up such a huge space has been an undertaking, and a tad bit intimidating at times, but De’Andrea is overcoming every hurdle. This was all happening while De’Andrea was simultaneously learning a whole new organization…rules, policies, procedures while hiring people to work under her.

It’s also where her love for reading came in handy.

As for the club’s future, De’Andrea is working to upgrade an area of the auditorium to make it a place where teens to hang out as well as a place for teen-specific programming geared toward peaking their interest in careers.

As if she’s not busy enough, De’Andrea is also a Realtor at Fox Realty. She realized when she decided to stay in Natchitoches, how hard it is to buy a house. She struggled when she bought her first home and learned through the process, so being a realtor allows her to help first time home buyers so they might have home ownership sooner, rather than later.

She also gardens and more recently, started her own food line called Sanders Roots. The gardening was started when De’Andrea’s partner Trinity didn’t share her love of the country. De’Andrea decided to inspire the painter by growing sunflowers to show her nature’s beauty.

The couple also love to travel and will often hop in the car and drive a few hours to grab a bite to eat and explore the area. They’re also just getting into cooking. De’Andrea covers soul food and southern cooking, while Trinity makes more international dishes like sushi and curry.

At least a couple times each week De’Andrea gets a knock on her door from area youth who are looking for a popsicle, a visit with her German Shepard Belle, or a walk around her garden.

“It’s a great way to have the kids’ ears so I can see where they’re at in life and what they need help with,” she explained.

When it comes to everything De’Andrea is working at, she’s learning that she can’t do everything in one day. She’s also learning the importance of setting boundaries and silencing her phone when she gets home at the end of the day.

What do the next 5-10 years look like? De’Andrea is working on a storefront or official building for the Coach De Foundation to operate out of. She currently has a storage space, but wants a brick and mortar location where people can walk in on a daily basis and not wait three months for one of the closet events to happen.

She’s also working for herself, focusing on branding and building her own summer camp to offset things current organizations don’t/can’t offer like dance classes. She also wants to be open when schools are closed (holidays), which is when kids are often left at home.

Best Piece of Advice: Do what makes you happy, not what would look best, or what is the most appropriate thing to do.