Port Allen community, Baton Rouge Louisiana Stake link arms to help at schools, parks

By Nayda Easley

For Mormon Times

Published: Saturday, May 14 2011 7:00 a.m. MDT

Part of a series about "Day of Service" events

BATON ROUGE, La. — It all started last year with Marlys Vaughan.

Two months before the planned 2010 Day of Service, the project fell through. With several hundred volunteers and no service project, Val Riggs, president of the Baton Rouge Louisiana Stake, asked a gathering of leaders if anyone had any ideas for a new project. Vaughan, second counselor in the stake Relief Society presidency and a teacher at Port Allen Elementary, said, “Well, I know a school that could use some help.”

And that’s how the Baton Rouge Louisiana Stake teamed up with Principal Michelle Kauffman of Port Allen Elementary and Principal Jonathon Szymanski of Port Allen Middle School as part of the Great American Clean Up and the LDS Church's Day of Service.

That Saturday in 2010 amidst severe storm warnings, more than 250 volunteers crowded into the elementary school gymnasium. “If the Lord can part the Red Sea, I don’t think a few storm clouds will be a problem," said Pat Richardson of the Gonzales Ward and chairman of the project. "There’s plenty to do inside until it clears up outside.”

Within 10 minutes of the opening hymn and prayer, the rain had stopped. The number of people who participated that day had Szymanski grinning and Kauffman brushing tears away.

There were no tears this year as Kauffman directed volunteers like a seasoned veteran. Szymanski was already thinking ahead to next year’s to-do list. Outside, West Baton Rouge Parish Councilwoman Charlene Gordon stopped by and was all smiles as she told volunteers how much she appreciated what they were doing. “I’m on my way now to Cohn Elementary to do my service.”

Cohn Elementary, under Principal Cassy Brou, had been added to the 2011 service project, along with the pool house at William and Lee Park. Brou worked alongside volunteers as they painted, landscaped and pressure-washed the school’s brick exterior.

“The school could never have accomplished this amount of work alone over the summer,” she said. “These kinds of projects just don’t get done.”

At William and Lee Park, where the pool house had suffered some damage from a small fire, there were about 20 people at work. On the inside, workers were replacing the tiles in the ceiling and painting walls, while others worked outside, replacing deteriorating soffit and fascia.

Bruce Bass, parks and recreation director, pulled up in his truck and began to unload supplies the volunteers would need. Seeing all the work that had already been accomplished, he grinned. “This is awesome. It could never happen on a normal budget year for us.”

West Baton Rouge Parish Councilman Edward G. Robertson also stopped by to thank the volunteers. The pool held a soft spot for him. “I was one of the first lifeguards back in the 1960s when it was built. It was the first Olympic-size pool in the area,” he said.

Daood Walker, a self-employed contractor, was one of the volunteers at the pool house. He had heard about the project from Tommy Mann, president of the Gonzales Ward's elders quorum.

“Tommy had told me about this project, and I wanted to help,” he said. His words echoed the other nonmembers we talked to.

Back at Cohn Elementary, Peggy Mann was pressure-washing the bricks and sidewalk. The Manns own P.T. Enterprizes and had volunteered their equipment and services for the day.

“Pressure-washing is hard work,” she said. “The water temperature reaches about 360 degrees running through the machine. We have to take turns. But it’s fun to be here.”

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