The Catholic Commentator

Reginald Brown is a familiar face to those coming into the Gardere Initiative to receive vital services or just say “hello.” It’s something he’s happily “at home with” after a life of traveling to serve his country and communities where he was planted.

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Reginald Brown places tiles the children painted for benches in a neighborhood park in the Gardere area. Photo provided by Reginald Brown

 

The Knights of Columbus Council 9692 of St. Jude Church in Baton Rouge recognized Brown’s volunteer efforts by naming him its Family of the Month for January.

“I’m not one to say I have vision, a mission statement, I just do,” Brown said.

Brown retired in 2004 as a lieutenant colonel in the field artillery branch after 20 years in the Army.

“I was deathly afraid of the military as a child,” said Brown. “I think it stems back to Veterans Day. On Veterans Day we prayed for all the people who died in previous wars and listed all of those people. That scared me, but as I got older and matured, I realized birth is fatal. We can die as a baby, young person or older person. It’s how you live your life in between that matters.”

As Brown went to college, he considered two options: interning with a corporation and have a job at the end of the program, or ROTC. He decided on ROTC, which helped him pay for college.

“I liked ROTC at the college level. As an officer you manage people, which I was going to college for, strategize and organize. Plus, I got to go out in the woods,” Brown laughed.

While in the military, Brown spent time in various parts of the United States, Germany, Korea and South East Asia during Desert Storm. He further refined his people and organization skills during this time.

After retiring from the military, Brown, who is originally from Chicago, said his plans during college were to stay in Florida and enjoy the warmer climate. But that “inner voice” tugged at him to volunteer. He worked with an all volunteer-staffed Catholic school in Lumberton, New Mexico, which serves Indian and Hispanic children.

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“Lumberton is one of those towns that if you blink and don’t slow down you will pass right through it,” mused Brown.

It wasn’t long before Brown’s desire to be precise and organized came out. Although he was a fledgling teacher, the principal soon tapped him on the shoulder and said she was stepping down to teach and wanted him to become principal. He was reluctant, but she was persistent and won.

There were challenges for Brown. The secretary retired the year after he started. So he took on all the office management duties as well as being principal.

He also said the town did not have a palatable water supply. The National Guard would park a 50,000-gallon water tanker at the school and people would bring water coolers and fill them up.

“When I hear about Flint (Michigan), I think, ‘They have it easy, at least they have water.’ There are many places like Flint where there is not palatable water, but you don’t hear about them.”

But with all the problems, there was a committed group of people running the school.

“When parents were given the option of sending their children to a real school, they said, ‘No. We like our volunteer teachers,’ ” Brown said.

Brown, who graduated from college with a degree in finance and masters in business administration, thought he would “go off and make his millions.” But he had a house in Atlanta where he had lived for a period of time that was difficult to sell, so he returned there.

In Atlanta, Brown volunteered with the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (CASA), a movement for abused and neglected children in the child welfare system.

“If you take a look at the foster care system, those kids are abused and neglected. The fight happens at the adult level … but the child does not have a lawyer per se. CASA is that child’s voice. They know the child very well. They’ve been to the child’s school, seen them play ball, talked to the parents and family members, etc. CASA is the advocate to make sure the child gets what they need, especially when they’ve been through the tumultuous time in the foster care system or after they’ve been abused or neglected.”

Wishing there was not a need for such a job, Brown, nevertheless, continued on and has served on the CASA board since coming to Baton Rouge.

Brown’s military past is what brought him to Louisiana. He took a position with Grambling University, near Ruston, teaching military science. In a “swap” by military science training instructors at Grambling and LSU and Southern universities in Baton Rouge, Brown became an instructor at LSU. He retired from there in 2013.

“I took maybe two to three months to not do anything. I thought I would stay on my couch and get fat,” chuckled Brown. “That didn’t work. Something kept nagging at me to get active and give back.”

He immediately started making an impact upon coming to St. Jude. Starting with the Knights of Columbus, he has served in numerous volunteer capacities: the Diocesan Task Force, St. Jude youth ministry activities, Men’s Club, the Angola Prison Ministry team, a development committee for St. Vincent de Paul Vincentian Reentry Organizing Project, as well as a mentor of youth and families for Catholic Charities. Drawing on his military background, he is the current vice-chair of the Military Order of World Wars, and was the vice-chair for the Military Officers Association of America. He is also on the board of the Kenilworth Civic Association.

Brown is an inspiration in serving with the Gardere Initiative (GI). The agency provides vital resources, including books, supplement nutrition, internet and fax services, adult education and after school tutoring. It’s a place where people can do job searches or fill out social service applications or just drop by to talk. GI also advocates for the people of the area.

Because there was a need for someone to be at the organization’s facility, Brown said, “I can be there for a few hours.” That few hours turned into all day.

Brown is proud of GI’s accomplishments. He spoke glowingly of a playground that GI played a role in bringing to the neighborhood park through a grant. BREC did the prep work and the community came out and built the playground. He also pointed to future projects, such as the establishment of a multi-purpose lane along Gardere Lane, which will increase the safety for pedestrians and bicyclists in the area.

Brown, however, emphasized that the accomplishments made through GI are not his own, but of a team of strongly committed volunteers. He said he and all those involved want to see that the seeds are planted in the next generation so they can be successful.

His commitment to the children also prompts him to remind parents when they apologize for not “doing as much as he does” that what they do is 100 times manifold as important.

“Take that to heart,” Brown said. “That is their vocation – to raise kids to be good citizens to be a part of society. If they have a family, that’s where they should put their energy.”