Posse with a Purpose

By Chrissy Cifuentes

The River Parishes are well-known for their delicious Cajun cuisine, lush sugar cane fields and mysterious swamps. However, there is one undeniable trait that also speaks volumes about these communities and their residents.  This trait is unshakable strength. Tanya Roccaforte, the founder of the non-profit Perry’s Posse, knows just how strong the communities of the River Parishes are due to an out pouring of support for her organization. “We have so many people who are generous and help us raise money,” she said. “Perry’s Posse would not be the same without the love of our friends and family who donate their time and effort.” Perry Posse was created when Roccaforte’s God-son, Perry Levet, lost his battle with leukemia in 2014. Levet was a prominent person within St. John Parish and was well-known for his infectious personality and intense love of music. He was an avid Billy Joel fan and whenever there was an opportunity to play music, sing a song or put a smile on someone’s face, Levet would seize it. Larry and JoAnn Levet, Perry Levet’s parents, are proud to keep their son’s legacy alive by sharing his story with others battling similar situations. “There are no words to really describe my son,” said Larry Levet. “He loved people, he was a great musician and coach, and he was so talented.” According to founder Tanya Roccaforte, Levet had one request before his passing. His final wish was for his dear family and friends to continue to assist cancer patients in need of encouragement and support. “He wanted to see everyone with cancer be cared for. We started this organization so that we could honor his last wishes and change lives,” said Roccaforte. 

It did not take very long for the posse to discover their purpose.  After Levet’s passing, family, friends, cancer survivors and many others who have been touched by the horrors of cancer gathered together to start raising awareness. Various fundraisers and garage sales were orchestrated in Levet’s honor. One-hundred percent of the money collected goes straight to cancer patients within the River Parishes and beyond. “No one takes a cut from what is raised. Everything goes straight to who we are helping. We have no CEO, and we are in it together to see lives change,” said Roccaforte. Local businesses, corporations and a variety of chemical plants throughout the River Parishes also have been led to be a part of this cancer fighting posse. It is with the help of volunteers and these donators that the group can continue to grow. “If anyone wants to become involved, we encourage them to get in touch with a member or visit our website,” said Roccaforte. “We have met so many people who want to get involved. We even met people on cruise ships that wanted to contribute to our cause. It truly is divine connections!” 

Other passionate members of the organization include Joan LeBeouef and Trudy Torres. Both ladies have been on board with Perry’s Posse from the very beginning. Each have been touched by cancer in some way throughout their lives. According to these ladies, the organization is a way to give back to their communities and stay strong for those who need encouragement. “Perry always had a smile on his face. He was in so much pain every day, but he would never let it show,” said LeBeouef.  “Knowing that we can reach out to these people and show them love and support is what keeps us going. They do not even know who we are, but they know someone cares,” she said. “Right now we are working on having a meet and greet. It would amazing to interact with the patients we are helping and to see their faces.” 

Currently, the posse has raised over a quarter of a million dollars and have helped over 500 patients. The patients are of all ages and have various different types of cancers. Once posse members are aware of the patient’s circumstance, they send them a bag with items of emotional, spiritual and financial encouragement. “Our motto is ‘Quitting is Not an Option’,” said Roccaforte. “Perry fought to the very end, and we want these patients to have that same spirit to carry them through.” Each patient on the groups’ list receives a package that is geared to uplift and encourage in times of despair. Group members place a handout explaining the organization in the package as well as a frog pin. The frog represents being completely reliant on God’s grace in troubled situations. F.R.O.G stands for “Fully Rely On God,” and every member sports a pink shirt with their fun-loving mascot on the back. “When people see our shirts, they always ask why our frog is playing the piano,” said LeBeoef. “That is in honor of our Perry.”

Not only does the pamphlet lift the spirits of these fighters, but also a “Jesus Calling” book is provided for them to read. The devotional gives spiritual guidance during anxiety ridden moments.  A “Letter to my Cancer” sheet is also neatly tucked away in the package. This inspirational message was created by Ginger Johnson to light the fire of strength inside each individual. One line in the letter states, “You see cancer, you do NOT own me. I own myself. And I will survive.” The team’s main belief is “If God wakes you with a pulse, then you have a Purpose.” This was a belief that Perry Levet walked out daily, and Perry’s Posse wants his spirit of perseverance to live on throughout the battles of current patients. A monetary donation is also provided for patients within St. John, St. Charles and St. James Parish. “Right now we are only able to give a monetary blessings only in the River Parishes,” said Roccaforte. “However, we are working on having the ability to donate money wise outside of just these parishes so that even more lives can be touched.” 

Perry’s Posses’ dream for the future is to reach more with this message of hope. With the assistance of more businesses and individuals donating their time and money to the cause, the group has high hopes that many more can be reached and feel the impact of Perry’s Posse. Member of the posse, Trudy Torres, recently lost her brother to an intense battle of cancer. Doctors told her brother that he only had a short time of living; however, he fought for nine years. “This organization helped my brother so much while he was sick,” she said. “I believe he overcame nine years with cancer because of this support. I am so thankful for them and that I am a part to help others who need it.” 

Every member of Perry’s Posse has a unique story concerning cancer. Each journey is as touching and emotional as the rest, but everyone has a common thread. This commonality is a heart of compassion.  “Many come up to us and praise us for what we do, but in reality, the patients fill us up even more,” said Torres. “We get to meet them and hear about their strength in their situations, and it is what keeps us moving forward.” 

Perry Levet’s fight brought a community together to rally against cancer’s horrendous schemes, and this posse with a purpose has only just begun their fight. They are believing for not only the disease to be completely destroyed, but also for the quality of life within each patient to be renewed and refreshed. They will not stop until fighters, survivors, caregivers and loved ones feel that they are not alone in their cancer journey. “My family laughs at me because when I see a pink shirt at a restaurant, I am always ready to go ask that person if they have cancer so we can help them,” said Roccaforte. “That’s what Perry would want me to do. I know that he had a say in everyone who is in this organization. This is what he wanted.”