By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany news bureau
SLIDELL – There is a simple building at 233 Robert Street in Slidell’s historic Olde Towne district that gets more attention for the quaint look than the work that goes on inside.
Laura Mauffray Borchert and her husband, Slidell Councilman Bill Borchert, renovated the 100-year-old home on Robert Street known as Notting Hill because they love history.
Laura Borchert works there as an attorney and could easily be named Slidell’s “Woman of the Year” if others knew about the long list of charity work and volunteer contributions she has made to her community.
But Borchert, an adoption and estate attorney by trade, has an even bigger passion that motivates her every day to show up for work.
“Sometimes I change the world for a kid,” she said with a smile. “What I do is not about the money—it’s about putting children with loving parents and I am fortunate I get to do this.”
Borchert is one of very few attorneys in Southeast Louisiana who specialize in the world of adoption law. Not surprisingly, in contrast to divorce and custody matters, there is an entire separate law book about juvenile matters since every legal issue must be handled perfectly when it comes to a child being adopted by new parents.
While there seems to be an idea in the world that adoptions are very difficult to make happen, Borchert is quick to disagree.
“It’s really not too difficult to adopt a child and there are some incredible people who are ready to adopt and become parents,” she added. “And most people don’t know that the government is incredibly supportive of adoptions and gives an actual dollar-for-dollar tax credit of up to $13,570 if you adopt a child.”
Borchert grew up in Slidell, attended Slidell High and Pope John Paul High School in 1983, then attended Southeastern and Southern Mississippi, earning a degree in Radio, TV and Film. She spent 12 years in the business, mostly on the radio, but some of her work in the public realm began to connect her to a situation that touched her heart.
“I began to see situations that made me know there were children who need protection and when it came to the legal system the person with the money usually won,” she said. “I really got a passion to help those who couldn’t afford lawyers so I decided to go back to college and earn my law degree.”
Borchert did just that and became a lawyer at the age of 30, now doing much of her work pro-bono.
“Being a DJ on the radio was a lot of fun, but I wasn’t doing anything to change the world and that bothered me,” she said. “Now that I am doing adoptions and helping families I see that every now and then I really do change the world for a kid.
“There isn’t a better feeling than seeing that happen,” she said.
Growing up in a family of four children certainly had an impact on Borchert wanting to do something that mattered.
“My mom had us involved in charity groups in town and our family was very involved in our church as Catholics,” she said. “I know that taught me something about helping other people.”
Borchert assists in all types of adoptions—private, step-parents, international, agency and foster parent adoption. Now working in the field for going on 20 years she is connected to numerous agencies and individuals who call when there is a baby who needs a home.
“I probably do toddler adoptions more than expected,” she said. “There are a lot of young mothers who try to keep their child as single mothers, get a lot of promises from family who say they will help out, but then as the baby gets older the help isn’t there and the mom realizes she can’t do it.”
Borchert is front and center at the hospital when a mother is ready to give her baby up for adoption and not surprisingly it can be an emotional situation that doesn’t always go perfectly.
“There was one mother who went back and forth so many times about whether she was going to allow the adoption that the prospective parents finally said they couldn’t do it anymore,” she recalled. “The parents left, the baby was born, and then the mom again said she would do it. I suddenly had the baby—I had to get a car seat and I almost had to take the baby home.
“I called the parents and told them I had the baby and they could adopt it and for a little while they still said they couldn’t do it since they were so worried the mother would change her mind again,” she explained. “But in the end, they got the baby.”
In Louisiana a mother has five days to change her mind before she surrenders a baby for a private adoption, but once she signs the papers there is no going back.
“I try to encourage a young mother to dig deep into her heart to decide what is best for her baby,” Borchert said. “It’s harder to be certain when the mother is very young, but when the mom is 20 to 30 it is easier to stick with the decision.”
Borchert maintains profiles of interested parents and when she hears of a birth mother looking for a home for her baby she selects certain parents who might work, then the young mom gets to select who she likes the best.
“It can be so different when a pregnant woman reviews pictures and information about prospective parents,” Borchert said. “One set of parents had a picture of their dogs, a big Rottweiler. One birth mom saw the picture and said there was no way she could let her baby be there with the dogs and another mom saw the picture and said, ‘puppies!’ She loved the dogs and placed her baby with the ‘puppy family’.”
Borchert’s list of community service is long enough to fill a page in the newspaper. It is reflective of a woman who has spent her life trying to help others. She has volunteered with the Youth Service Bureau, Louisiana Pro Bono Project, Southeast Legal Services Northshore, Good Sam’s Ministry and various other non-profits where she donated her legal services. After the recent hurricane in Texas she signed up as a legal relief volunteer and recently volunteered with Wills for Heroes for St. Tammany’s first responders.
She has served with over a dozen non-profit groups, including those that help children, and worked with her husband to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity, particularly as the project coordinator for Pelicans on Parade in Slidell, which raised over $100,000 for several charities when it was started several years ago.
But at the end of the day, her heart for children and families gets her main focus.
“Most of the time it works perfectly and it is so beautiful,” she said. “I did one adoption that had a 2-year-old boy run right up to his new father and say ‘dad!’ the first time they met. Too many kids get bounced around a lot and when they are united with loving parents it’s the most amazing thing to be a part of.”
And Borchert gets a good bit of that love back herself.
“Of course, if I see some of my adoptive parents in public I don’t say anything to them unless they come up to me to talk,” she said. “But one time I was at church and a little 4-year-old boy saw me after he had been adopted. He ran up to me and yelled, ‘Miss Laura!’ That was pretty exciting and beautiful for me.”
Laura and Bill were married in 1999 and have raised three daughters.