Beating the Odds

Glenn Armentor pays it forward by giving needy kids a leg up

Published in 2017 Louisiana Super Lawyers — January 2017

Growing up with nine siblings in south Louisiana’s Cajun country, Glenn Armentor knew both economic and cultural isolation. His father, who could not read or write and was born to French parents, never learned to speak English; his mother had an eighth-grade education. They were loving parents, but they struggled to provide their kids with basic necessities. Armentor resented the shabby clothes he wore to school. He felt cheated. He got into trouble.

Then a police officer, who had previously arrested him several times for petty crimes, came upon him yet again and did something unexpected.

“Instead of arresting me, he invited me to dinner,” says Armentor, now a personal injury attorney in his home town of Lafayette. “You’re really not as bad a person as you think you are,” the officer told him that evening. On that day, doors began to open in the young man’s mind. 

The officer helped him understand that his anger stemmed from powerlessness, Armentor says, and that education could make him strong. The officer put him in touch with those who could help him qualify for financial assistance at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. 

Armentor earned a bachelor’s degree, then went through law school at Louisiana State University with money he earned from a dangerous offshore oil rig job. Then he began to pay it back. 

“I started thinking about how I could give at-risk kids an opportunity to go to college,” he says.

With help from advisers at University of Louisiana at Lafayette, he launched the Pay-It-Forward Scholarship program, which provides $10,000 each in tuition to about five students annually to attend the university. The program’s funds come directly from Armentor.

“That $10,000 can turn into $40,000 to $80,000 over the course of their college years, depending on their grades and test scores,” says Armentor, who notes that he has lately extended the program to include a local community college. The program has spread to schools across the state, and he hopes to take it nationally.

An independent panel of educators and community leaders selects the scholarship recipients. Armentor, who often observes as the panel interviews students, says many have been abused or have parents with criminal histories or destructive addictions. In a third of the cases, the kids were homeless.

“I sit in the back of the room during the interviews and cry as I hear their stories,” he says. 

Armentor also has begun helping needy aspiring law students attend LSU. Recently named to the school’s board of supervisors, he is allowed to choose 15 students each year to receive full scholarships. While board members have not traditionally awarded the gifts based on need, Armentor is using the privilege to help disadvantaged students.

While Armentor shed his underlying anger long ago, even now, at 66, he thinks back on it sometimes.

“When I was growing up, I saw people take advantage of my dad in a lot of different ways, because he was not educated and didn’t speak English,” he says. “So when I see people being taken advantage of by others, especially in the personal injury sphere, I get emotionally involved. It motivates me to help.”

 


 

College-Bound and Grateful: A scholarship recipient’s story

Standing before the Pay-It-Forward Scholarship selection committee, 18-year-old Marcelino Cruz relayed his story in the hope of receiving a boost for his college education. Just before he started high school, Cruz’s parents were forced to return to Mexico from south Louisiana. 

“My parents would love to help me, but they don’t have the money,” says Cruz, who was left in the care of a guardian. “That’s why Mr. Armentor’s help is so important.”

The committee awarded him $10,000 and, even more, Cruz was invited to work in Armentor’s firm as he takes classes at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. He thinks he’ll major in chemical engineering, but “Mr. Armentor has talked to me about becoming a lawyer,” Cruz says.

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