Louisiana Lost a Treasure

My First LA Friend and her Homeless Legacy

Diane Nilan
4 min readFeb 19, 2023

I had never been to Louisiana before. It was my first stop on my HEAR US road trip 18 years ago. I was welcomed at the home (and driveway) of Royann (and Mark) Lane in Clinton, LA. Little did I know how she’d set the pace for my chronicling family/youth homelessness.

Shelling pecans to sell them requires tons of labor and handiwork. Royann’s mother-in-law Elizabeth sat for hours doing this task.
Shelling pecans to sell them requires tons of labor and handiwork. Royann’s mother-in-law Elizabeth sat for hours doing this task. Photo Diane Nilan

My uncertainty of what I was doing back in 2005 was humongous. I had sold my Aurora, IL townhouse and belongings, purchased a camper and video camera, and set out on a journey to chronicle stories of family and youth homelessness in non-urban communities.

Trouble was, I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know beans about RVing or RVs. I had no clue about how to operate the professional video camera and equipment I bought. But my new nonprofit, HEAR US Inc., gave me a mission — to give voice and visibility to families and youth experiencing homelessness.

My friend Barbara Duffield’s unprecedented national work with school district homeless liaisons gave her invaluable knowledge she shared with me — who would welcome me and my camera on my fledgling effort to gather stories about family/youth homelessness. First up, she recommended Royann Lane in tiny Clinton, Louisiana.

This mural accurately conveys downtown Clinton, LA.
This mural accurately conveys downtown Clinton, LA. Photo Diane Nilan

Alrighty. I contacted Royann, filled her in on my albeit untested purpose, and crossed my fingers. Of course! Come on over! You can park in our driveway and plug in. I’ll show you around.

Royann served as her school district’s homeless liaison, a fairly new position that connected students without homes with schools. The idea was to have someone remove barriers, give kids what they needed to attend and succeed at school, and other duties as they arose. Royann was perfect!

She introduced me to her world, showed me around this “foreign” part of our country, and gave me the jolt of confidence needed for my upcoming cross-country film venture. Having run shelters for 15 years, I knew that side of helping families. Seeing Royann in action took things to another level.

Royann reaped boxes and boxes of essential supplies she then distributed to those in need.
Royann reaped boxes and boxes of essential supplies she then distributed to those in need. Photo Diane Nilan

In her trademark style— no BS, twangy, whole-hearted kindness — she met every need that came at her. She solicited donations of clothes, school supplies, money and more from her hard-scrabble community so she could adeptly match kid with need. She knew where to turn for help and was unabashed in asking for the impossible — housing, legal help, and more. She offered unconditional love to students and parents, encouraging them to do the impossible and helping along the way if they needed it.

I learned to appreciate the beauty of this state unknown to me before this stop because of Royann. Pecans. Yeah, I’ve eaten my body weight in these tasty nuts. I just never saw someone shelling them for a living. I saw small towns that looked as if they belonged in the 1930s, like Slaughter (the name made me wonder), where horses ran free on the main downtown drag. I bought a small iron skillet for $6 at Clinton’s First Saturday fair — a souvenir that causes me to think of Royann every time I use it.

Downtown Slaughter, LA has a 1930s aura
Downtown Slaughter, LA has a 1930s aura. Photo Diane Nilan

Nothing and no one lives forever.

One of Royann’s friends and colleagues let me know yesterday that Royann died. I don’t know the details. All I know is that the person who brought a huge spark of compassion to her little part of the world is gone.

Royann had no way of knowing that she set me off on the right track to do what I’ve done for the past 18 years. I guess that’s a good reminder for all of us — to let our kindness shine through to all who come our way even if we don’t know the good we’re hopefully doing.

Her family, loved ones, and community will miss Royann terribly. But we all know we’re better for knowing her. She’s proof positive that one person doing the best she can will leave an immeasurable legacy. I’m richer for our paths crossing. Now to live up to her standard.



Diane Nilan

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 20 yrs. on US backroads. hearus.us