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Sandy Marks
The gym of Port Allen Middle School has been completely repainted during three Days of Service spanning three years.

BATON ROUGE, La. — The West Baton Rouge Parish School Board honored members of the Baton Rouge Louisiana Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on May 16 for their volunteer efforts over the past three years.

“You can’t prepare a speech for something like tonight; all you can do is speak from the heart. I can’t say thank you enough,” said Jonathan Szymanski, principal of Port Allen Middle School. “In 2010, I was sitting in my office when Mr. George Hughes and Mr. Pat Richardson (from the LDS Church) came in and said, ‘Dr. Szymanski, we’re here to help your school. What do you need done?’”

Szymanski and two other principals, Michelle Kaufman of Port Allen Elementary and Cassy Brou of Cohn Elementary, presented a slide show to Superintendent David Corona and other board members showing the work that had been accomplished. The principals took turns praising the LDS Church members for their dedication, professionalism and service in spearheading the Day of Service, which involved members of the community as well.

After that first year, the principals’ wish lists grew. Szymanski’s was the most ambitious. He asked if the Mormon volunteers would tackle the project of painting the “ginormous” gym from top to bottom. After assessing the work needed, Hughes told Szymanski, “We can do that. Let’s do it in two years.”

The work the volunteers from the LDS Church and community has accomplished made such sweeping changes in the schools' appearances that Szymanski said, “Even the kids noticed, which is saying a lot.”

Having attended and graduated from Port Allen Middle when it had been Port Allen High, Superintendent Corona said, “That gym has never looked as nice as it looks today.”

Two plaques were presented. One honored the members of the LDS Church and was accepted by Loren Marks, first counselor in the Baton Rouge stake presidency, and another was presented to George Hughes, of the Gonzales Second Ward, who had made sure the projects were well planned and organized.

Hughes said it was easy to do service for recipients who were so accommodating and grateful.

This year’s Port Allen Day of Service included projects at all three schools and William and Lee Park, but the biggest undertaking was painting the ceiling of the Port Allen Middle School gym. Two days were needed to complete the job.

Jim Burns of Gonzales First Ward, who directed the effort, said, “We’re painting all the ceiling white, all the girders green and the sides an accent yellow. When we finish today, we will have painted the entire gym. When you get to give back to the community, it’s great.”

Directing a crew at William and Lee Park, President Marks explained the reason for the Day of Service: “The purpose is, first of all, to serve our fellow man, but also to bring the church out of obscurity and darkness … to help the community to become aware of the kinds of things we believe in, based on our actions, not just our words. Because this is our third year, we’re able to look back and see how far the schools have come over the three-year period.

“It’s a wonderful chance to rub shoulders and to be reminded what the gospel’s about in terms of the community," President Marks said. "I think too often we keep to ourselves in the church. We serve each other and that’s wonderful, but there are many people in our communities who are not members of the church, and it’s a good opportunity to get to know them better and to serve them as well.”

Meanwhile, across the state, Lafayette High School, one of the largest high schools in the state, was getting a facelift by the stake's Day of Service volunteers. Members of the Lafayette Ward, who had participated the first two years of the Port Allen project, wanted to work in their community. Members from the school's National Honor Society, Key Club and Beta Club, as well as other citizens of Lafayette, joined LDS members in the effort by scraping, painting and landscaping.

Patrick Leonard, principal of the high school, said, “It’s a matter of community. You guys are here, the community, the school board — it’s that whole extended family atmosphere of everybody chipping in. We appreciate it. It’s great.”

School custodian Evonna Provost, who was excited about the number of people and the work they were doing, called KATC TV-3. The church and the community volunteers made the evening news.

Though the Baton Rouge Stake split their efforts between two communities this year, it was the most successful Day of Service yet. Close to 350 volunteers participated, almost 100 more than last year.

Nayda Easley is the director of public affairs for the Baton Rouge Louisiana Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her email is [email protected].