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Giving Back: Upstream coach teaches — and learns

February 21, 2017

By Kate Jolley
Originally published in The Florida Times-Union

laura crosbyIt is said personal experience is the best way to learn. Perhaps it is also the best way to teach. To that end, Laura Crosby is using lessons learned through a field service project she completed with her own mentor at the Clinton School of Public Service to coach a student finalist in United Way of Northeast Florida’s Upstream competition.

The competition allows young adults the chance to develop ideas for social change with a young professional as their coach. These ideas are then presented to a panel of community leaders for the chance to win seed money to make their idea a reality.

Although she is relatively new to Jacksonville, Crosby is already giving back to the city she now calls her home. Having moved around the country for the past eight years, she finally settled in Jacksonville as a “happy medium” — close, but not too close, to her South Florida roots.

The senior engagement manager at City Year Jacksonville, an education nonprofit that places AmeriCorps members in Duval County Public Schools, Crosby has a strong, natural affinity for helping students both young and old. When her boss, who was on the team that selected the Upstream finalists, approached her to become a coach, she couldn’t resist the opportunity.

Crosby was paired with Austen Dole, whose Upstream idea is to create better bicycle infrastructure and incentives for cyclists to promote bike transit to Jaguars games downtown. She intends to partner with the Jaguars and the city of Jacksonville to create a safe and attractive environment for cyclists.

“She hopes to promote it as a great alternative for people to get to the games and therefore alleviate some of the parking and traffic issues downtown,” Crosby said.

Dole is a student at the University of Florida in Gainesville, so Crosby helped with some of the logistic challenges that come from working on this project remotely. She also helped Dole make connections with people to gather testimonials and gauge interest.

The two gathered examples from other places like Stanford University that have successfully launched similar programs.

“I think the experience is what is valuable — not necessarily the end result,” Crosby said.

Throughout the coaching process, Crosby watched Dole learn important skills that cannot be taught in a classroom such as persistence, dealing with setbacks and networking in a professional setting. Crosby herself has gained valuable experience as a coach, experience she views as particularly important as a fairly new Jacksonville resident.

“[Coaching in this competition] shows how you can take little steps to make a big difference,” she said. “It is really a unique way to help foster in a new generation that is interested in making things happen in Jacksonville.”