A life of service

Advocate file photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- N'Dia Ruffin, 13, watches as Jacob Nichols catches Darron Ruffin, 2, at the bottom of the slide at the Baranko-Clark YMCA during a Live to Serve event last September.
Advocate file photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- N'Dia Ruffin, 13, watches as Jacob Nichols catches Darron Ruffin, 2, at the bottom of the slide at the Baranko-Clark YMCA during a Live to Serve event last September.

Ministry continues to get, need support

Editor’s note: The People section is looking back at some of the people featured in past stories to see how they are doing now. The original story about Jacob Allen Nichols ran on Sept. 15, 2012.

The day the story ran in The Advocate, Jacob Allen Nichols, a 20-year-old LSU student, got hundreds of calls, texts and emails from people offering help.

The story was about Nichols’ ministry to the children in neighborhoods north of LSU.

“The response was in the hundreds,” Nichols said, “and I was on campus that day where cellphone coverage is terrible. Who knows how many calls I missed.”

The calls he did receive and the offers of help impressed Nichols.

“They made me fall in love with Baton Rouge and its people, and I’ve always loved Baton Rouge.”

Nichols is the force behind “Live to Serve,” a ministry that the children know as “Live to Play,” but he’s joined by friends, other LSU students and Nichols’ home church, University Baptist.

The ministry is simple. Nichols and friends go into the neighborhoods with sporting equipment and invite children out to play.

Wednesday nights, the children go to the Baranco-Clark YMCA, 1735 Thomas Delpit Drive.

“Before the story came out, we had five volunteers,” Nichols said. “We’ve got 14 or so, now. We had 50 kids on Wednesday nights. Now, we’re up to 80.”

“Since the story ran, we’ve gotten a lot of great donations and volunteers from around Baton Rouge, church and non-church,” he said.

Nichols stands out in the neighborhoods because he’s white and taller than most of his playmates.

People call him Jacob or “the Live to Serve guy.”

One day, Nichols was calling the police to report that his truck had been broken into in the YMCA parking lot. His backpack with wallet and laptop had been stolen.

“I was calling the police when I got a call from the guy who broke into my truck,” Nichols said.

“He said, ‘Is this the Live to Serve guy?’ He’d found some of our flyers in the backpack. He said, ‘Stay right there. I’m bringing your stuff back.’ ”

When Nichols was hit on his bicycle by a hit-and-run driver, an elderly woman Nichols knew only as “Miss Pearl” tracked down the driver.

Nichols recovered from his injuries but picked up a virus, possibly during treatment, he said.

“We’ve talked to him about his health and our concerns for his safety,” said Nichols’ mother, Nancy. “Sometimes, you just pray. God protects fools and angels.”

Emily Vidrine, a 21-year-old LSU kinesiology major from Crowley, met Nichols through a friend on campus.

“I thought he was a goofy guy, but sweet and very talkative,” Vidrine said. “In the neighborhoods, he goes into what he calls ‘minister mode.’ He’s good with the kids, but he lays down the law.”

“I only saw him in minister mode,” said Randi Singleton, a 22-year-old first-grade teacher at Parkview Baptist School.

“The first time I went to the ‘Y’ one of the kids’ dads asked Jacob, ‘Aren’t you afraid walking around?’ Jacob said, ‘No, sir, God’s on our side.’ That impressed me.”

She’s impressed, too, by the way Nichols goes on when volunteers don’t show. “He’s sick, but he can feel like garbage and he still goes.”

Though still feeling the effects of the virus, Nichols is back in school.

Singleton feels the street ministry is making a difference.

“A lot of these children don’t have the best role models,” she said. “Some of them live in really good homes but others don’t.”

Nichols and company provided Christmas for more than 2,000 children and some adults.

At Christmas, history teacher Bentley Brown’s six classes of eighth-graders at Parkview Baptist donated sports equipment and gifts to Live to Serve, Nichols said. “And hundreds of cookies,” Nichols said.

“I saw the newspaper story,” Brown said, “and thought, ‘What an incredible kid.’ ”

A baseball clinic scheduled for BREC’s Alaska Street Park on Sunday has been rescheduled for Jan. 27 because of rain-soaked fields, Nichols said.

“The Dunham School and the University High baseball teams will hand out gloves, bats and balls at 2 p.m.,” he said.

Call Nichols at (225) 588-0560 with offers of help. He’s looking for books for children and socks for homeless people.