Forum 35's Neva Butkus. Photo by Collin Richie.

Forum 35’s PEP squad

As “back to school” ads begin to fill commercial breaks and aisles become cluttered with colorful versions of classroom staples, local volunteer organization Forum 35 aims to equip Merrydale Elementary with tools for success in the upcoming school year through its Public Education Project, or PEP. Since 1993, Forum 35 has worked to engage and inspire young men and women to take action for the betterment of Baton Rouge with the belief that the key to living in a flourishing community is to create it. According to current Forum 35 president Matthew Laborde, the PEP initiative offers the ideal opportunity to “get plugged into Baton Rouge.”

On July 29, PEP volunteers repainted Merrydale classrooms, schoolyards, basketball courts and flower boxes to ready the school for the opening day of classes. But the volunteer efforts won’t stop there.

“The renovation project is just the kick off,” says Neva Butkus, chair of PEP and a Forum 35 board member. “Our commitment to the school runs the whole school year. We will provide a few smaller renovation projects, and we will offer volunteer support on campus during parent nights and more. Our Learning on Location grants also make it possible to provde funds for field trips on and off campus.”

Laborde notes that students and teachers alike benefit from the establishment of a community space that feels vibrant and special, while volunteers make new friends and build connections that last a lifetime.

If you are interested in volunteering at Merrydale Elementary or want to learn more about Forum 35, visit its website at