Attic Salt for Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012

This summer, I’ve met two sets of volunteers who reminded me that Baton Rouge has hundreds, thousands of volunteers who labor out of the spotlight, their good works known only to the people they serve.

Often, the people who benefit from these good works are oblivious to the people who collect clothes, food and money, who cook, provide jobs and pray for the givers and the getters.

It used to bother me when people said, “The best thing about Baton Rouge are its people.”

They meant they’d come here from somewhere else to find us helpful, outgoing, willing to lend a hand.

But it made us sound like simple villagers. Great. We’re helpful and friendly. Would it kill us to get ticked off by failing schools, crumbling sewerage systems and suspect bridges?

Volunteers can’t address all of a city’s shortcomings, but they can put a caring face on a struggling city.

The first volunteers I met this summer were members of the Lake Brigade, everyday people who decided to remove 4 acres of giant water plants clogging a corner of University Lake in August’s heat.

The other bunch fixes bicycles for homeless and carless people in a mini warehouse on Balis Street.

They work in an adjacent (air conditioned) space small enough to hold a meeting of Baton Rouge Citizens for Sidewalks and Public Bathrooms.

A landscape architect wrote a letter to the editor the other day all but calling the Lake Brigade chumps. He called them “heroes,” but in the letter’s context it came out chumps.

Let the lake go back to swamp, said the landscape architect, a member of a profession that must often aspire to Central Park designs on a BREC park construction budget.

The landscape architect had a point. The lake wants to return to the swamp it once was. The Lake Brigade doesn’t disagree. They just don’t want to live on the banks during the long smelly process.

The landscape architect sees a breathtaking swamp. The Lake Brigade sees litter no longer floating and hears the roar of four-wheelers.

Most volunteers are job ready when they sign up.

CASA, like the U.S. Marines, is looking for a few good men and women. Before you can become a Court Appointed Special Advocate for abused, neglected or abandoned children, you go to an orientation session to see if you’re up to 32 hours of training and a commitment of one year to advocate for a child.

The next orientation is at noon Thursday at CASA’s office, 848 Louisiana Ave. If you’re ready to commit to a child’s safety, call (225) 379-8598 or go to http://www.casabr.org.

To find out about other volunteering opportunities, go to http://www.cauw.org. That connects you to Volunteer! United at Capital Area United Way, (225) 383-2643.

CASA requires much of its volunteers. On the other hand, CASA volunteers aren’t required to pull giant water plants from the muck of University Lake.