By Nancy Winckler-Zuniga Originally published in The Florida Times-Union
In Woodstock Park, there is a trail with painted letters and simple games known as a Born Learning Trail, built to help families with young children learn as they play in the shade. Paul and Maren Bertozzi were instrumental in helping with the Born Learning projects as part of their commitment to United Way of Northeast Florida’s Builders Society.
Building a life together, a family together, a community together is at the heart of the couple’s giving back.
“With the Born Learning Trail, you can instantly see results,” Paul Bertozzi said. “It was a lot of fun building it. The kids in the neighborhood saw what we were doing and wanted to be involved.”
“By providing a little park, you can teach a mom how to teach a child, even if the mom has nothing,” Maren Bertozzi said.
For Paul Bertozzi, a Jacksonville native and founder of Live Oak Contracting, his passion for community service started early as a Cub Scout in the Assumption Catholic Church Parrish Hall.
“I remember a dinner for the elderly,” Paul Bertozzi said. “We raised the money for the dinner, and then served. It was exciting to do and everyone was so thankful.”
Friendship and connections were what Maren Bertozzi, a former civilian architect with the Navy and now interior designer, remembered of an early moment of giving back as a pre-teen.
“My best friend and I cleaned an elderly woman’s – a neighbor’s – backyard,” she said. “We’d been asked to do it through our church. The yard was so overgrown; it was like our own ‘Secret Garden.’ Working together on it was so much fun even though we worked hard.”
The Bertozzis met at a United Way of Northeast Florida Atlantic Circle affinity group event in 2004.
“It was a fun, fall night,” Maren Bertozzi said. “I was new to the city. I remember that I wore a scarf that night, so it must have been a little chilly. Paul remembers which scarf. I didn’t know anyone, and my aunt suggested I go to this event.”
Her aunt, Kit Thomas, worked with United Way’s Legacy Giving department and thought it would be a chance for Maren Bertozzi to meet other young professionals.
Since that chance encounter, the couple developed strong roots in Jacksonville, married, started a family and helped begin a new Leadership Giving society within United Way of Northeast Florida – the Builders Society – which Paul Bertozzi chairs. The couple sees this new group as an opportunity for families looking to make a difference in the community to get involved.
In addition to her Builders Society involvement, Maren Bertozzi served as an Achievers For Life mentor and Stein Fellow. Recently, she presented an architectural workshop to Pine Forest Elementary School children, helping them design buildings and bridges.
“The Born Learning Trails have become our signature project,” Paul Bertozzi said. “For me, this is my hometown; Jacksonville is changing and becoming a city of younger families. We wanted a group that could work on different kinds of projects.”
“More family-oriented projects,” Maren Bertozzi said, “where we could bring our daughter and other people could bring their families to help with the projects.”
Next year, plans for the Builders Society’s third Born Learning Trail will develop, and the Bertozzis will be right there, making it happen.