As the fall semester begins at University of North Florida, I can’t help but look back and reflect on my time at United Way of Northeast Florida as an intern in the Public Policy Department. My time spent at United Way was more enriching than I could have imagined. I learned about the communities of people that United Way advocates for, as well as the policies and politics that affect their lives on the local and state level. I also learned about the organization’s generous culture.
My supervisor, Jason Roth, Director of Public Policy, served as a source of newfound understanding and a role model throughout my tenure at United Way. He provided compelling arguments and challenged me to look at different perspectives on the policy issues we discussed. By providing background and context for some of Florida’s most compelling issues I gained a new appreciation for the unique policy issues that our community faces.
Specifically, I learned a great deal about United Way’s focus in education, financial stability and health, and how policy issues affect a portion of the population known as A.L.I.C.E. (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). While only 15 percent of Florida households fall below the poverty line, another 30 percent experience severe financial strain. A.L.I.C.E families work hard and are generally getting by,but they live life one unexpected car repair bill or emergency hospital stay away from poverty. My appreciation for the struggles these families regularly face will serve me well as I choose the direction of my career after college.
I’m also leaving United Way with an enhanced perception of policy issues Jacksonville faces. Having had the opportunity to draft and edit briefings on the city’s unfunded pension liability and the Public Service Grants (PSG) program, I more clearly understand how the city handles its obligations to the community and partners with nonprofits to deliver social services.
Out of everything I’ve learned in my time at the United Way, one nugget of wisdom from Jason will stick with me above all else, “Always look prospectively, not retrospectively on issues in politics and policy.”
The dedication and generosity of the employees of United Way to their community is inspiring. I would like to think that their conviction has rubbed off on me, and that I can go back to UNF and onto future endeavors with the same profound compassion and understanding they wield every day.
About Warren Butler
Warren Butler is a Jacksonville native and graduated from Stanton College Preparatory School in 2015. He is currently a sophomore at the University of North Florida and is studying political science. Warren plans to attend graduate school after he graduates from UNF to study law or diplomacy.