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United Way volunteer shares her affinity for finances to make a difference

June 2, 2017

By Nancy Winckler-Zuniga

Originally published in The Florida Times-Union

Joan Hill
Photo credit: Nancy Winckler-Zuniga

Spontaneous – the art of just jumping in and doing something at a moment’s notice – is not how Joan Hill sees herself. In fact, when teaching her financial education classes, part of United Way of Northeast Florida’s RealSense initiative, she coaches her students to plan more and act much less on impulse.

And yet, when the presentation was made to her and fellow colleagues at VyStar Credit Union asking for volunteers to take on becoming financial coaches, Hill jumped at the chance without a moment’s hesitation.

“I thought to myself, ‘You know, I might be able to do that,’” Hill said. “And then I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what better thing for a nerdy accountant to do?’”

It’s been a perfect place for Hill to apply her skills, and she felt she understood what her students were going through.

“I’ve been in a similar situation, but because I had a father who provided support, I was OK,” Hill said. “Not everyone is as blessed with that.”

Hill grew up one of nine children in Paramus, N.J., watching her father take the few moments he had outside of work to help their local Catholic church. Whether fixing microphones or other electronics, he put his skills to use for his church community just as she does for Jacksonville.

“He volunteered for those things because he was good at it,” Hill said. “My mother couldn’t drive, so my dad and I would do the grocery shopping for our family.”

Hill started volunteering when her boys were in grammar school, but it wasn’t all numbers or even the PTA. Instead, she was the volunteer lunch coordinator at their Catholic school, making sure meals were turned out for 200 school children on a daily basis.

The example of two of the elderly volunteers she worked with set the tone for what she expects of herself.

“Marguerite and Candy always came in and were so dedicated even though they were about 80,” Hill said. “They came because they were dedicated to the kids and made even the drudgery of the work fun. It was such a pleasure to be around them, and I hoped I would be like them.”

Although she was involved with United Way efforts through VyStar Credit Union, retirement allows for more time to spend helping those struggling financially. Whether it’s teaching at the City Rescue Mission or Catholic Charities, the experience opened her eyes and challenged her in unexpected ways.

One of her favorite ways to start the classes is by asking: “What was your first money memory?”

“There was the man who shared his story of being 9 years old and getting paid for something for the first time ever,” she said. “He told about how proud he was to give that money to his mom. I was so proud, too – that story makes me emotional.”

Those “aha moments” as Hill calls them are an inspiration to keep going. Whether it’s manning a booth for RealSense at the Senior Expo or teaching a Catholic Charities class on budgeting, Hill is thankful she made the leap to volunteer.

“The classes I teach each have a critical skill to add to someone’s tool chest to get more financial stability, giving them more stability in other areas of their lives,” she said.

If you would like to learn more about United Way’s RealSense, visit unitedwaynefl.org/realsense. To volunteer, visit unitedwaynefl.org/volunteer.