Jacob Nichols bought a Cherry Coke from a gas station on Nicholson Drive almost every day during his freshman year at LSU. And every time, a boy about 9 years old would wait for him and ask Nichols for a snack. Until one day, he asked Nichols to play baseball instead.
“That’s when it kinda hit me: ‘Wow, this kid can’t afford baseball gear.’ I have tons and tons of baseball gear at my house just collecting dust. I got him a glove, and we played catch,” Nichols says. “And for the first time ever, he went home with something in his hand that he didn’t eat or drink on his way home.”
The next day at the gas station, Nichols found five more boys ready to play. Those afternoon baseball games kept growing and eventually turned into the nonprofit Live 2 Serve, which Nichols launched at only 19.
As the number of players increased, so did Nichols’ need for assistance. He asked his college friends and childhood church to step in. It then became a youth and college ministry at University Baptist Church before transitioning to its current location at the YMCA on Thomas H. Delpit Drive.
Back in 2011, Nichols expected the program to last a summer. But now he’s 27, and running Live 2 Serve has become his full-time job. He says it’s more of a calling than an occupation, though.
Live 2 Serve runs five days a week, with the help of about 70 college-age volunteers, many of whom have connected with it through Greek Life at LSU. The program works with 80 to 100 kids between the ages of 2 and 18, offering them not just baseball and basketball games as after-school activities, but a tutoring program, Christmas toy giveaways, neighborhood cleanups and internships for college students.
Nichols is Live 2 Serve’s only full-time employee, and he seems committed to the organization and its local roots. (“I love Louisiana and Baton Rouge,” he says. “I’ve got pictures of me in Kenilworth when I was like 3 years old, and the house I currently live in is in the background of that picture.”)
Nichols’ motto for volunteers is “just show up when you can.” He’s geared the whole program toward creating opportunities for college students to get involved without having to commit to a schedule. Young people want to give back to their community, Nichols says, and they just need to feel like their service won’t interfere with their busy schedules and studies.
That flexible structure even extends to its youngest volunteers: local high schoolers who collect toys for the Christmas giveaway.
“Creating opportunities for young people to do great things, both the kids and the volunteers—that’s what I would say is the main purpose of Live 2 Serve,” Nichols says. “Do it through Christ, do it through whatever they can.”
He sends college students into the Old South Baton Rouge neighborhood just outside LSU to meet the kids at their houses and walk them to and from the YMCA. For the kids, it shows them that it’s OK to play in the streets. For the college students, Nichols hopes it helps shatter stereotypes about crime in the neighborhood and the people who live there.
“The thing about that neighborhood is that there are so many more good people than bad people; it’s just the bad people make more noise,” Nichols says. “But from the outside, some people may not believe that until they go in and meet them. The college students get to go in and meet those great people.”
Nichols is keeping the future in mind, especially as Live 2 Serve continues to expand. Eventually, he would like to start a Live 2 Serve program at Southern University and maybe expand it to other cities. He also dreams of opening a summer camp for kids from single-parent or low-income homes.
“I can’t see myself doing anything else,” he says. live2servebr.org
This article was originally published in the August 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.