By Nancy Winckler-Zuniga
Orginially published in The Florida Times-Union
Crystal Whiteside-Lemon remembers volunteering to sing in a youth choir when she was in seventh grade.
One day, while she and her mother were at a local grocery store, the song “Matchmaker” played over the loudspeaker. After they burst into an off-key version of the song, she realized perhaps the choir wasn’t the right fit for her. Whiteside-Lemon said that was the beginning of her volunteering.
“I’ve been raising my hand ever since,” she said.
For the last five years, Whiteside-Lemon has spent tax season helping individuals and families make sense of the numbers on their tax returns. A volunteer tax preparer and site coordinator for United Way of Northeast Florida’s RealSense financial-stability initiative, Whiteside-Lemon enjoys helping her clients find tax refunds that might make all the difference to them and their families.
“There was a lady that, when I told her how much she was getting back, was really happy,” Whiteside-Lemon said. “She said now she could [afford dental work] and go see her baby granddaughter. When she got her refund, she came back and showed us her teeth.”
The volunteer work Whiteside-Lemon carries out through RealSense also carries on a tradition of helping others set by her mother.
“After my mother became a widow, what didn’t she volunteer for?” said Whiteside-Lemon, who grew up in Southern California. “Church programs, soup kitchens, babysitting and foster parenting – my mom went to the hospital every time a social worker called.”
More often than not when the social worker called, there was a child in need of a loving home. Whiteside-Lemon’s mother was determined to provide it. Her mother raised more than 19 children — a mixture of her own, foster children and the nine she adopted. Whiteside-Lemon joined the Navy and met her husband while stationed in Japan. It was the Navy that brought them to Jacksonville, being stationed here off and on until retirement eventually brought them to Northeast Florida to stay.
Her time in the Navy in Jacksonville connected her to the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program and United Way RealSense. Though never one to sit quietly, even in retirement, Whiteside-Lemon is a mobile Notary signing agent in addition to her volunteer work with RealSense, The Florida Theatre and many other projects she dedicates her time to.
All are efforts she’s proud she raised her hand for.
“There are too many rewards,” Whiteside-Lemon said. “Some really just need your help, and that’s what United Way and RealSense are all about.”
For more information on RealSense, United Way of Northeast Florida’s financial stability initiative, visit unitedwaynefl.org/realsense. To volunteer with RealSense or another United Way partner initiative, visit unitedwaynefl.org/volunteer.