To get to the Gardere Initiative’s monthly meeting on July 2, President Caulette Jackson-Guillard had to navigate through a crowd of young children creating art projects outside the initiative’s headquarters on Ned Avenue.

Then she had to make her way through a front room of volunteers passing out oranges and the meeting room itself, with an occupied chair in every available square foot of ground.

The diverse group, composed of law enforcement, educators, church groups and medical service groups, gathers each month to plan events that will hopefully get tools of empowerment to Gardere’s children and adults, the Baton Rouge attorney said.

“I grew up here,” Jackson-Guillard said. “I don’t really know why I was able to stay on track and accomplish what I need to, other than I believed I could shape my environment instead of having my environment shape me.”

And the crowds, both in the meeting room and just outside it, are the fruits of that labor, both from Jackson-Guillard and the many others who have worked to shape outcomes for the better in the neighborhood.

“This camp has been wonderful,” said the initiative’s executive director, Murelle Harrison, a professor at Southern University, referring to the art projects going on outside the building.

Every Wednesday, the LSU Neighborhood Arts Project sets up art stations in the parking lot and teaches progressive lessons to children participating in the program, but that’s only a small part of the eight-week summer program. Every Monday is a reading program run by volunteers from Southern University, LSU and East Baton Rouge public schools. Every Tuesday is math and a visit from BREC’s mobile activities vehicle.

“This area is a play desert. There are no play areas, no playground equipment, that are easily accessible,” Harrison said.

Thursdays bring in a rotation of science lessons, nutrition and health information, and gardening in the community garden nearby.

Children’s programs are also just a fraction of what the initiative has going on, office consultant Reginald Brown said.

“We offer adult literacy and education programs, job searching help, a library and a variety of other resources,” he said.

Coming up Aug. 2 is the initiative’s Eighth annual Back to School Day, Harrison said, which will include school supply distribution, food and entertainment. Several community outreach booths will be available to connect Gardere residents with resources that may not be easily accessible, including GRE and job resources, mental and physical health information.

“We want people to encourage people to come and stay for a while, talk to people at the booths and enjoy themselves,” Harrison said.

The initiative is still looking for organizations who may want to register for a booth, or businesses or individuals interested in supporting the event through sponsorships or volunteers.

The event will be 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at BREC’s Hartley-Vey Park. Registration begins at 8:15 a.m., and free school supply kits will be given away on a first-come, first-served basis. A parent, guardian or adult must come with children in order to register.

For more information, visit the initiative’s website at