by Susan Brown
Every day, LSU student Jacob Allen Nichols stopped by a convenience store for his favorite coffee. And every day, a little boy named Tyler asked him for change. “What do you want today?” Jacob asked. One day, the answer surprised him – not a cold drink or snack. He was an Astros fan. He wanted to play baseball.
A casual game of catch came next. Tyler caught the ball. Jacob caught the vision. Setting foot in the neighborhood just north of LSU opened his eyes to poverty, the hunger for opportunity, and the need for positive relationships and role models. Live2Serve was born. He saw it as a chance to be the hands and feet of Christ.
Live2Serve is a Christian nonprofit organization ministering to some 300 kids per month in the neighborhoods between the north gates of LSU and downtown. The organization is gearing up for the Dec. 20 Christmas in the Coliseum where kids receive gifts, play games, eat jambalaya and hear the story of Jesus’ birth.
Corporate sponsors may participate by contributing $50-10,000 and family sponsors by contributing $50-500. Major donors include Parkview Baptist School, St. Luke’s Episcopal Day School and LSU. The deadline for LSU organization sponsorships is Oct. 30 and for corporations, Nov. 16. Families may enlist as sponsors through Dec. 11. The fundraiser supports all of the ministry’s work, including baseball and soccer camps.
Every week, Nichols, who serves as full-time executive director, and lifelong friends Bradley Downs and Erin Kilpatrick host soccer, games, art lessons and Bible study at the Baranco-Clark branch of the YMCA on Thomas Delpit Drive. Kilpatrick leads younger children’s Bible study and – with Claire Hilse and Erin Jewell – recruits LSU Greek life volunteers. Both Nichols and Downs have coached championship soccer teams, and place their players in YMCA leagues.
“We switched from coaching football and basketball to coaching soccer because soccer’s a perfect inner city sport,” Nichols says. “The main reason is that they can be aggressive, but they have to learn how to control that aggression.”
“I want our community center to not be a place of anger but to be strictly a place of love, nothing else,” says Nichols, a member of Christ the King Catholic Church. He describes his work as the modern-day complement to inner city pastors who desire a ministry for children and youth but struggle to balance full time work and ministry.
That means his door – and his heart – are always open. And kids come wandering in. Far too often, it’s a grieving teen whose family member or friend has been shot. Or, a girl who has experienced rape. Or, recently, a teen with a knife wound in his hand, surrounded by members of the youth group.
“None of them had a car, none of them knew what to do, so they came to the YMCA. I gave them a proper bandage to start off with and we went to the free clinic on Florida Blvd.” Nichols remembers. “And I thought to myself, ‘If we weren’t there, those other boys wouldn’t have been there to come to his aid and just scare off the guy who did it. And if we weren’t there and they still had that kind of brotherhood, where would they go?”
At a time when organizations typically struggle to involve Gen Z in nonprofit work, Nichols has successfully tapped into the fluid nature of young volunteers. They can come alone or in groups and serve whenever they want. Anyone may volunteer and no one is pressured to do more than they like. Sororities and fraternities often bring volunteers. Some 1,300 have participated.
“And I get LSU students who come and ask all the time, ‘Hey I’m not a Christian but can I still come out and serve?’ Absolutely,” Nichols responds. “If God can use a sinner like me, then who am I to say you can’t come?” Nichols has seen volunteers renew their own commitment to God and become active in local churches because of their Live2Serve experience.
Like all ministry endeavors, working with inner city kids is a challenge, Nicholas says. But he compares it to a thunderstorm. “Everything could be going totally going 100 percent wrong and you just get, like, a tiny little ounce of just God, of just Jesus, a tiny little bit of just doing good and you want to dance in the rain,” he says. “Like a kid who’s just had trouble and does something great.” Or the night that a kid turns his life over to Christ. “That outweighs everything.”
(For more information visit: www.live2servebr.org)