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Award-winning volunteer encourages neighbors to “show up” for community in tangible ways

April 18, 2020

In honor of National Volunteer Week, April 19-25, United Way of Northeast Florida is highlighting outstanding community volunteers dedicated to making a difference all year long. 

Ayleen Supernault is not just any volunteer. She’s the “Volunteer of the Year” for United Way partner Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida ( LSS.). Small wins like helping a refugee family secure state IDs and special moments like celebrating the arrival of a client’s new baby are just icing on the cake for Ayleen. By connecting her background in mental health and social services to advancing the human resources needs at LSSNF, not only has she found a way to connect her passion to purpose, she’s walking the walk and talking the talk as a contributing member of her community  

Here’s what Ayleen had to say about her philanthropic journey as a Northeast Florida changemaker:

Describe the person or event that inspired you to give back to the community.  

I wouldn’t say it was necessarily one person or one event that inspired me; it was a lot more complicated than that. It was more of a general sense of restlessness that I could be doing more and that I had the free time to do it. I didn’t necessarily see it as “giving back.” I saw it more as a means of participating in the community that I had chosen to live in. Community is about participation and I am participating via an organization that shares my values and serves those that need it most. 

What would you say is the most rewarding aspect about volunteering? 

Have you ever heard the concept “if you truly love something then you invest time in it?” That is the most rewarding part of it for me. The complete transparency of volunteering, the showing up and putting in the time. I can talk about how community is important, how the mission of organizations like Lutheran are important. Saying it is one thing, but by investing my time, I am showing how important my community is to me in a very concrete way. 

Describe the moment you realized your volunteer efforts were making a real difference. 

Day one. The very first day I walked into my orientation at Lutheran. Just by showing up, by bringing my notebook/pen and taking an assignment, I was going to make a real difference. I can talk to you about all the little moments spent with refugees or in the HR department; it would be eloquent and pretty inspiring. That’s not what this is about for me. Getting up, showing up, that’s how I know I am making a real difference. The other stuff, that’s just three years of incredible memories for me, of people I’ve met, of mentors I have made, of relationships created, of so many fun moments, and some tough ones of feeling frazzled or feeling really accomplished. 

If you could inspire people to do one thing to make Northeast Florida a better community, what would that be and why? 

Just show up. Show up for your community in a tangible way. It is up to you to decide how or what that looks like. 

What advice would you give someone on the fence about whether or not they should volunteer in their community. 

There are so many ways to volunteer. It can feel really overwhelming and that can lead to lack of action. The one piece of advice I can give is to find something you can be passionate about; the one thing that really helps you stand out can be useful to an organization. Then, reach out, show up and you will find a balance on what works for you and for them. But to do that, you have got to get off the fence first. 

How you can help

Because of the global pandemic, people like you are needed now more than ever to uplift the most vulnerable in our community. Nonprofits are experiencing a critical shortage of volunteers due to social distancing. And we must also be equipped with the resources to support thousands of people suffering from the economic damage caused by COVID-19, many who were struggling to make ends meet before the pandemic. Together, we can help those in need overcome the crisis we’re experiencing today — and the ones they experience every day. Because change doesn’t happen alone.

You can join hand raisers like Ayleen in the #United4Jax movement by supporting local nonprofits through a variety of volunteer efforts or make a gift today to support the year-around efforts to help families and individuals in crisis.