Staff spotlight: Kyle Cousans


He loves football, hockey, earth science, Big Brother, Pearl Jam, Harvard Dangerfield and plays Barbies.

Of course, we’ll let the suspense build on that last one.

Kyle Cousans is the latest hire at Youth Rebuilding New Orleans, our new Program Analyst. The 25-year-old had been interning in the YRNO office for several months—working on projects such as a virtual timecard system and an update to our volunteer handbook—when both parties decided he would be an excellent fit for an unfilled AmeriCorps position. Unlike most AmeriCorps members in New Orleans, Cousans is actually from the area, growing up in Metairie and Old Metairie.

An only child, Kyle learned how to entertain himself at a young age. His father built a goal post in the back yard, where he’d spend hours kicking a football and retrieving it. “Very Charlie Brown-esque,” says Cousans, minus the pranking from Lucy. He also played basketball by himself in the same venue.

He became a hockey buff in the late 1990s when the minor league New Orleans Brass was in town, and played in the Crescent City Hockey League starting in 7th grade. He skated for St. Catherine’s elementary team, then the Brother Martin High School team, as well as a club team and travel hockey, participating in tournaments in Atlanta and Raleigh, North Carolina. He also wrestled and threw the javelin for a year at Brother Martin, getting his name on a team banner.

His playing days done (“I’ve been jonesing to throw a football with someone, but everyone’s gotten too old.”), Cousans remains a sports fan, especially of Saints and LSU football. “Football is kinda my thing,” he says. “I like baseball but I don’t like watching it on TV so I don’t have a team, but I enjoy going to games.” He has been to Mariners games in Seattle (where his uncle lives), Braves games in Atlanta and Astros games in Houston. He tries to go whenever he’s in a major league town, although that’s not too often. And he’s still a huge hockey fan, but hasn’t been to an NHL game.

Cousans took a somewhat winding road to get to YRNO. He and Executive Director William Stoudt hung out in the same circles and played Halo on Xbox together as kids, although they never went to the same schools. After graduating from Brother Martin, where Cousans says the atmosphere was “really relaxed” and the students were “cordial,” he attended college at Loyola for two years before transferring to the University of Oklahoma to study meteorology, despite never wanting to be a weatherman. “It was time for me to get out of New Orleans for a while,” he recalls. “One thing I was always interested in was meteorology, so when I went to transfer it was between the University of Oklahoma and the University of Washington in Seattle. I loved UW, but tuition alone was twice as much as tuition plus living expenses in Oklahoma, so I went for the financially better choice.

“Meteorology was just kind of a way to get away and we obviously had Katrina here, so that was very interesting to me.”

Ultimately, he switched majors and just this year got his degree in geography, describing it as a lot of climatology and earth science, which also always interested him. He did his senior research project on ocean waves near Hawaii and how they’re affected by the different phases of El Niño and La Niña. These days, those interests manifest themselves in his affinity for watching surf competitions, visiting the National Geographic web site, and all things Neil deGrasse Tyson. “I just love learning about how the science of the world works,” says Cousans.

He may have no love greater than for Big Brother, however. He began watching the reality television program in 2001 and eventually became a subscriber of the 24-hour uncut live feeds on the Internet, allowing him to better witness the “mind game” and how much more goes into the show. He also participates in an Eviction Order Contest, which is kind of like a Big Brother fantasy league. Cousans has actually applied to be on both Big Brother and Survivor. “I like Survivor, but I’m way more of a Big Brother fan,” he says.

Cousans lists Dan Gheesling and Danielle Reyes as his all-time favorite players because both were very cerebral. “I’ve always loved the cerebral players,” he says. “They think about every moving piece of the game.”

And he gets frustrated when someone else emerges victorious.

“Rachel Reilly’s win was a complete joke.”

If Cousans should ever get on the show, he thinks he has the winning formula. Blend in for the first few weeks and develop personal relationships. Establish an alliance with at least one or two other people, because at some point you’ll be targeted, so you need somebody to have your back and you can watch out for each other. He also believes the mid-game is most important, setting up the end game. You need to take out players early that could be detrimental to your chances later, including what he calls “big personalities.”

That said, Cousans realizes it may be difficult for him to get on the show because he’s very easy going, and controversial or polarizing contestants are more likely to get chosen. “They love uber-liberal people or uber-conservative,” he says, noting that Gheesling purposely made himself more polarizing. “It’s more difficult for me because I quite frankly don’t really care about politics that much.”

His colleagues in the YRNO office can attest to that after he was totally oblivious to the name Eric Holder when the United States Attorney General announced his resignation.

At YRNO, Cousans aims to focus on skill building. “I want to build my skill sets for further career opportunities and open my own doors up to more types of positions,” he says, noting that his geography degree doesn’t come with the standard career track you see in computer science or engineering. “You kind of have to build your own skill set and then market yourself to employers.” He doesn’t have a career path in mind, although he has considered going back to school to become a therapist or high school teacher.

Burned out on school for now, Cousans says his decision to take the AmeriCorps position was an easy one because there are not a lot of job leads in New Orleans, but it’s a good time for him to stay here for a while because his grandfather had a stroke last year and there’s a lot going on with his family. At some point, he does plan to move out of the city again on a permanent basis, with the West Coast as his target destination—possibly Seattle or San Francisco.

AmeriCorps and YRNO were also good fits because Cousans says he enjoys serving the community and enriching people’s lives, as evidenced by a previous experience volunteering at The Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma. His job was to hang out with kids and take their mind off of what was going on around them in the hematology and oncology unit. They’re there for weeks and sometimes months and they would otherwise miss the social interactions apart from doctors.

One day, a little girl in isolation was in her doorway looking at Kyle with a pitiable look on her face, and when he smiled at her, she meekly asked, “Can you play with me?” Naturally, he couldn’t say no and asked her what she wanted to do, putting on his gloves, gown and mask as she grabbed his hand.

“Let’s play Barbies.”

So that’s what the new besties did for the next hour.

Cousans says he told that story on his last Big Brother audition tape, hoping to humanize himself, but got no response from the producers.

Their loss.