BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - How many times have you heard the phrase "actions speak louder than words?"
This age-old bit of wisdom is something we each can accomplish for a moment every now and then. Dr. Sarah Becker, however, lives the concept. She is an associate professor of Sociology and Women's and Gender Studies at LSU. As part of her job, she teaches classes that are termed "service learning." She says students sometimes come to that first day of class not realizing what service learning can mean.
"LSU provided me with special training for service learning, and as a result, my students learn far more than what are in textbooks. They learn the course materials in a radically different way," said Becker.
The training took learning from multiple sources, including hands-on learning, cultural interweaving, and analysis of cause and effect. Becker teaches by taking the college students out into the world. They go to a community and they volunteer.
"But the emphasis is not on the hours of service logged. I work with people in the community who act as hosts and who teach the students about the history and the issues that are important in their community," said Becker.
Students don't just understand a need, but understand why the need exists, the context, the economic, social, and other influences. Becker estimates her students have logged thousands of service hours through her service learning classes. So why on earth would she keep volunteering in her personal free time?
"When I go out and do work with the Garden Alliance and do work with Front Yard Bikes, I get something out of it personally. I get supported by the individuals I work with," Becker responded.
Becker's hair is in a bun and she's wearing a calico dress with a simple cardigan sweater. Her shoes are sensible for gardening. At the park across from the Carver Library on Terrace Ave., children are scampering with shovels and wheelbarrows and weeds and unwanted roots are flying out of the flowerbeds. The kids are also finding their treasure, the sweet potatoes that they planted weeks ago that are now big enough to wash and eat. The sweet potatoes pile high. This is a garden sponsored by the Baton Rouge Garden Alliance.
"The fact that we have so many food deserts in Baton Rouge is a huge issue. So that's part of why I'm involved with the Baton Rouge Garden Alliance," Becker says. "It's just a loosely knit group of people who come together and the organization serves to pull people together who are doing community gardening. So I'm just one of many people who are, right? Interested in gardening and interested in working with community gardens. They are spread out all across the city. At last count, I think, the mayor's office said there were 40 or 50."
On this day, kids can take the sweet potatoes home to their families. "Anybody who shows up, and we have food to harvest that day, and you wanna' take it home, you get to take it home, " Becker says. "And when there's extra food or we know that there's somebody that needs it that week, if there's a family nearby that needs it, we pack it up and take it to them."
The Garden Alliance is how Becker discovered Front Yard Bikes. Founders Dustin LaFont and his wife were helping with the community gardens when a child had a broken bike and Dustin moved to repair it. "That's when Front Yard Bikes was born," Becker says.
9News visited a cinder block building covered with brightly painted murals showing gears and cogs. Inside, there are racks from floor to ceiling with bicycles, parts of bicycles, and projects underway.
Dr. Becker brings her own children here to volunteer. "So Front Yard Bikes, what they focus on is having a place where people can come in, and anybody can come in, adults too, but it's mostly kids. They can work on a bike, they can earn a bike, they can repair a bike, they can make their bike really fancy."
Our camera catches a proud young man who's about 12-years-old, who is swinging a zip lock of snacks that FYB gives him to bring home and he says, "And now I've got a new bike, I've fixed on it. I'm about to go home and ride my new bike."
A grin that's a mile wide spread on the boy's face. Becker says,"They learn basic mechanics, some of them are even learning welding now, and in the process they also get a chance to learn leadership skills in this space."
Becker says when her students work in community environments, she will sometimes see them long after they graduate, still volunteering. She knows that if you encounter the good you can do and the fun you can have that, "Volunteering doesn't feel like volunteering. It feels like living a good life. It feels like part of something important and it feels complete effortless."
Front Yard Bikes' Dustin LaFont says it best: "She really stretches herself thin, as a full time professor and as a mom. She's just a rock star. She sets the example for us all."
Louisiana Honda Dealers, the Capital Area United Way's Volunteer Center, and WAFB are proud to honor people like Sarah Becker. To nominate your own super volunteer, contact the United Way.