Power of 9 Honoree: Forum 35

Forum 35 helps Merrydale Elementary beautify its campus. (Source: Forum 35)
Forum 35 helps Merrydale Elementary beautify its campus. (Source: Forum 35)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - St. Vincent de Paul's food servers wear hair nets when many are white-collar corporate types in their real jobs. Forum 35 is doing its monthly volunteer work in the St Vincent de Paul soup kitchen.

The civic-minded organization got its start in Baton Rouge when the Baton Rouge Area Foundation gave a small nucleus group a $5,000 to get started. Just three years after its 1993 start, Forum 35 created a Baton Rouge icon..the group illuminated the I-10 bridge. They raised $350,000 to do it. Forum 35 members say they aim for signature projects like that, but they do so much more in a low-key roll-up-your sleeves way.

They've had a long-running commitment to Merrydale Elementary, painting and refurbishing the inside of the school and planting trees and clearing out areas of the campus as well. Often, you'll see children from the neighborhood joining on the excitement. Forum 35 inspires the next generation.

WAFB visited as five members who may rotate during their continuing schedule were working the line. A volunteer on the end keeps up the friendly banter. A "client" says "So ya back huh?" and the young woman smiles back saying, "Oh yeah! Of course I am!"

Forum 35's Service Committee chair is Meredith LaBorde. And she's working among the hairnet crew with the food. Meredith says "Forum 35 is pretty much a young professionals group. It's supposed to be everyone under 35, but we accept everyone. And we have four pillars, it's leadership, arts and culture, diversity and service which is what we get to help with."

LaBorde says they work the soup kitchen line once a month but also pack the "clients" a gift bag to-go.

"We have an event we prepare bags of hope. Where we prepare their to-go bags so it includes a sandwich, a drink, a sweet and some kind of salty. so they're guaranteed at least one more meal, wherever they lead," said LaBorde.

When Baton Rouge does its Festival of Lights December First, a gang of merry runners and joggers may wear blinking Rudolph noses with antler hairbands. It's Forum 35's Reindeer Run and Jingle Bell Jog. It has happened like clockwork for so many years that runners see it as a signature sign of the season! Something to enjoy.

Forum 35 often makes public gatherings that draw all races and demographics to enjoy culture and art. They created and sponsor Art Melt each year, and "Uncorked"--a fund-raising mystery game with wine.

How do they get all of this done? It's fun and accomplishes something positive, plus there's the energy of youth..

Now 400 members strong, Forum 35 is energetic, can--do, confident and cheerful. It tackles projects with the vision to help make our city better.

The Power of 9 Award is sponsored by Louisiana Honda Dealers, The Capital Area United Way Volunteer Center and WAFB. Nominate your own outstanding volunteer by contacting the United Way.

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