Millennials often get a bad rap for being self-involved and lazy. The students and 20-somethings involved in the organization, Live 2 Serve, defy this stereotype. Jacob Allen Nichols began this powerful movement by meeting a need. Jacob recalls, “I was a freshman at LSU and every day I stopped at a gas station and got a drink. A little boy named Tyler approached me everyday and asked for a Snickers or an Icee. Then his request turned into ‘I want to play baseball for the Astros.’”
But there were two problems: no equipment and no one to play with him. Jacob brought him a ball and glove, and they started to play catch. The next day, Tyler brought a friend and pretty soon, Jacob had 30 kids in a field with collected sports equipment. He needed some help.
That simple throw and catch has grown into Live 2 Serve, a Christian non-profit with 3,000 college volunteers and 100 kids that attend weekly. Their home base is the Baranco-Clark YMCA. The kids that play in Live 2 Serve come from the surrounding neighborhoods known as “The Bottoms,” only several blocks from LSU’s campus. As Jacob describes it, “We are a modern day youth group for these kids. We play games, do a Bible study, and hang out.”
Every Wednesday night, the field, playground, and gym are full of young neighborhood kids laughing, running, drawing, and playing with LSU college students during Live 2 Play, the weekly recreation event. Hanging out is not all Live 2 Serve does, though. “We also have college students tutor our kiddos, which is fantastic. We have soccer teams that participate in the YMCA league. Next semester, we will have Manners Night and High School Boys Group,” Jacob shares. With so many kids to mentor and programs to juggle, how do these young people do it?
College volunteers keep the program going. Jacob is the only paid staff member, but he has four friends that operate as his volunteer staff. They support one another, recruit more volunteers, and of course, love on all the kids who come to Live 2 Serve. Jacob’s approach draws more volunteers. When he was a freshman and wanted to get involved, every program demanded a commitment. He decided to start his own thing and go when it suited him, but realized he wanted to go all the time.
“I understand that college kids are busy. We don’t care when you come, just come when you can,” Jacob encourages. The secret is, the volunteers get addicted to the joy that Live 2 Serve offers with each child, and they keep coming back.
Consistency benefits the children, but it also impacts the volunteers. Jacob’s vision is two-pronged: he hopes Live 2 Serve will bring support and relief to the impoverished kids of Baton Rouge but also that those kids will change the hearts and minds of the college volunteers. “I always like seeing the change in the college students. I think we are doing this for the kids, but it really does change the college students as well. We have so many volunteering, doing good here, and doing more than just getting a degree at LSU. I definitely see the impact consistent volunteers are making. They’re the ones the kids run right up to and hug.”
“You Never Walk Alone” is the motto of Live 2 Serve. The phrase originated with the Liverpool soccer club in England, and is perfect for the Live 2 Serve program. The kids never walk alone. The joke is that Mr. Jacob does walk alone. He walks through the neighborhoods every day looking for his kids and then he walks them home with other volunteers at night.
Jacob and his team are literally watching these kids grow up before their eyes. When he started, some were in diapers and now they are in first grade. “I’m really excited to see them grow up. I love seeing my high schoolers grow up and stay out of drugs. They know their lives are important. Now, I’m always worried about them, but I know they can be successful. They all have the ability to succeed, they just need a little push.” He and his team are dedicated to these kids for the long haul. He shares their passion, “We always try to focus on serving Baton Rouge. We believe that mission trips end, but we should be on a mission every day. We can serve here. This is where our passion is.” This passion carries over into the holidays, when Live 2 Serve becomes the hub of the epic Christmas Giveaway.
Christmas Giveaway started when Jacob realized one family couldn’t afford Christmas, and he thought about getting college kids to collect toys. Live 2 Serve enlisted the power of social media to spread their toy crusade. Parkview Baptist School and St. Michael’s also got involved. A friend created a video that was repeatedly shared, and the response was phenomenal. Now, the Panhellenic Greek Life’s Christmas philanthropy is Live 2 Serve. The level of support continues to increase.
This year, the Christmas Giveaway is December 18 at John Parker Coliseum at LSU. “We’re usually the last one of the year, which is good for the mother who just hit a snag or just found out she can’t buy gifts. Each child hears the meaning of Christmas before getting a ticket to pick out their toys. In the arena, local churches and non-profits set up to share information. Santa Claus is there and the atmosphere is a Christmas carnival with gospel music playing. It’s a beautiful and awesome event,” Jacob proudly says.
Jacob’s long term vision extends beyond Thomas Delpit Drive. “For Baton Rouge, I want it to become a city wide program. I would love to start one at Southern’s campus. I’d love to see it grow nationwide.” Arkansas State has started a similar program, and Jacob is dedicated to helping them realize their own dreams of service.
The Live 2 Serve crew is devoted to changing Baton Rouge through play and through love. Jacob challenges all parents, “Go serve. Because if there’s one thing I’ve realized, it’s that whatever your kids see, that’s what the kids will do. If you want to have a kid that’s going to do great things and change the world, then you have to go out and change the world yourself.” ■