Tulli Zornes would rather not talk about what she is doing, and she would much rather focus on the children playing in her big space in New Iberia, The Gym at Place Entrepot (warehouse in French), than sit for an interview. At the same time, she is excited to talk about what God is doing and has done to fulfill her life’s calling — to be a mother. At an early age, as an only child she rushed home to her mother’s daycare just so she could take care of “her babies.” Now, her mother, Elaine Cuccio, is helping Zornes watch over the little children playing weekdays during summer camp. This is her story of faith.
Did you set out to have a camp for kids?
No. We were friends with the owner of the old Mt. Carmel property. I wanted to do a summer camp just for fun and really did the first year. But I was having a calling to do something more. I’ve had the summer program but my real calling is to help the unfortunate kids. I keep pushing it back, pushing it back. This will be my seventh summer. I think it was God’s way of just grooming me, helping prepare me for that next step. I plan to do more with New Iberia Councilwoman Sherry Guidry to help the unfortunate kids.
How did you first get started?
I grew up in a day care. I’ve been obsessed with kids since I was little. When most kids were getting off of the bus wanting to play with toys, I wanted to play with the kids. My mom had a daycare 23 years. We spent more time with them than their parents did. So I got a degree in education. I have the cream of the crop of New Iberia kids in here. It’s like you meet that kid and you just melt. You didn’t know they made perfect kids like that. That’s 85 percent of my kids. It runs itself, I don’t advertise. When you do it for the summer, it’s not considered daycare. My intentions were to do a program that would include drug awareness, talks on career and schooling, to help them take their lives seriously and understand the importance of school. The rest of the time, we’d do fun stuff. The summer camp continued, parents wouldn’t let me change things.
What is the driving force for this vision?
I think the biggest thing needs to be drug awareness, stuff like that — number one. That’s my passion to educate kids not just that “drugs are bad for you,” or “you shouldn’t do drugs.” A lot of these kids have parents who do drugs and that just brings them down. It is to understand the psychological part and how it affects your brain. They need to know the science behind it and how it affects you. To me if I could have five minutes to explain to children how drugs work, they’d never touch the stuff.
Do you have a medical background?
No, but I’m like one of those people who is sometimes called “A jack of all trades, a master of none, (‘but oftentimes better than a master of one’ is the complete original statement often misquoted). I’m a personal trainer, a teacher, I love health. I can tell you nutrition facts on everything in the grocery store, not the medical, but the dieting healthy aspect of food. I’ve played every sport you can imagine, I love to hand-stitch sew, you name it. Psychology is my passion and was my major. I use it here taking care of more than a hundred children a summer. When there’s a problem, I want it, I’ll take care of it. I love so many things, I have to ask God, what do you want from me? I really loved physiology but I felt I had a calling to be a mother so I changed my major.
Does faith play a big role in your work?
I always had a very strong faith at a very young age. I would literally go into my room and pray the rosary. At times when we could go get a surprise or a treat, I’d go get things like a cross or something about faith. I wish I was half the person of faith I was as a kid. I was perfect — close — I went to St. Edward, Mt. Carmel and then Catholic High. I was also a nanny for a family whose boys became priests. It seems that faith was a big part. Now I’m helping with the youth group at St. Peter’s. Father Blanda is great with the program. I really feel God put me on earth to be a mother. We pray everyday. It’s more private than other camps.
When did you start working with the youth at St. Peter’s Church?
It’s been about a year. It started out as a parents ministry and a group of parents were getting together to do things. Teenagers are hard to rope in. The parent ministry transitioned, and I stuck it out. I don’t like to be known with a title, I’m just a parent who is overseeing the ministry.
Tell me about your family.
My husband, Skip, and I were both personal trainers at one time. I became a mom at 26. We have three children, Will is my senior and Ben is a freshman at Catholic High. I home schooled a few years and I’m going to home school my youngest, Maria next year, in sixth grade. My one dream on this earth is to write a book about all the things I’ve taught my kids. Things they’ve heard me say over and over again. But I don’t have the time. It’s all in my head. I even wrote one earlier about not doing drugs but it wasn’t illustrated.
What do you do with the kids?
We go every year to the bowling alley, the zoo, JumpZone, Elevation Station. We play kickball, paint, watch videos, pray. I’ve always had a dream of working with kids that sometimes aren’t even showed love. I anticipate this becoming more.