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City Year volunteer hopes to make a lasting impact on local youths

April 18, 2020


City Year volunteer Jessica Rainer hopes to inspire more people to invest in the lives of young people.

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. 

“Jessica embodies the City Year value of “Service to a Cause Greater than Self,”” reads the first line of Jessica Rainer’s nomination for National Volunteer Week. Though young, Jessica has spent many years of her life serving others and eventually, discovered her passion for improving the lives of youth. Her leadership has lead to the development of a mentoring initiatives for girls at Ribault Middle and her creativity has bridged fun and education for the students she works with. 

Here’s what Jessica 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 was originally born in Chicago, IL, but raised in Atlanta, GA. Growing up, I was always a selfless individual. I spent days volunteering at nursing homes and summer camps. Over time, I developed a passion for helping others, especially adolescents. When the opportunity to serve with City Year was presented to me, I took it graciously because I felt as though this organization was the best fit for me. During my service year, I definitely realized I made the right decision for my future.

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

I would have to say the joy and appreciation that is displayed by the recipients. My top love languages are words of affirmation and acts of service. To see my hard work does not go unnoticed is heart-warming. 

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

During my service year, I feared I may not connect with all my students. There was one particular student that used to push me away when I would try to help her. It did not stop my efforts to continue to try to get her to accept my help. One day, I noticed she was shaking to a point she was going to explode on her fellow classmates for picking on her. I asked her to step outside with me so that she could cool off.

We started talking about what transpired in the classroom and she got to a point where she was crying on my shoulder. She said,“You’re the only adult that I trust to talk to at school.” It was in that moment I realized my efforts were making a real difference.

Moving forward, she would come find me outside before class and would speak to me until it was time to go inside. There were days when I missed work and she would be looking for me. I returned from vacation one day and she got so excited because she feared that I wasn’t returning, she told me I couldn’t be gone that long, again. It’s the simple things like that, that keep me going.   

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

I would inspire people to get more active in the lives of our youth. Their minds are filled with so many great ideas, but they’re not confident in their own abilities. Children are our future. If we want to break generational curses and bridge gaps in our society, we need to be present in the planning and action steps. 

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

Take the leap of faith. I serve with City Year Jacksonville because I want to leave a lasting impact on the lives of our youth, whether big or small, so that they’ll one day continue the rippling effect. Within your community, find the one thing that catches your interest. Think about the characteristics you bring to the table. How are you able to take what you’re good at and use it for the betterment of your community? 

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 Jessica 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.