By Nancy Winckler-Zuniga
Originally published in The Florida Times-Union
For Allishia Bauman, giving back is a way of paying forward those who mentored her and helped her find her path. She spends much of her time giving back to many organizations and initiatives locally.
This year, she added to her list of community involvement through United Way of Northeast Florida’s Upstream competition, mentoring and coaching a team of University of North Florida students.
Upstream allows college students the chance to develop ideas for social change with a young professional leader as their coach. These ideas are then presented to a panel of community leaders for the change to win seed money to make their idea a reality.
Bauman’s team is designing a project that will incorporate providing art venues to students that might not have normal access, building students’ self-esteem by placing their art in a highly visible location and beautifying Downtown Jacksonville.
Her own life experience is not far removed from the solutions her UNF team is trying to solve — support and building self-esteem. Her confident stride as she walks into a room belies the early struggles she had in life.
“I’ve been on my own since I was 16,” Bauman said. “My parents divorced. There was turmoil. I was working three jobs and going to school, turning my money into my mom and doing all the caretaking. I guess I’m strong-willed because one day I just said, ‘No more.’”
When Bauman’s mother told her to leave, the people Bauman worked for, who knew her family situation, allowed her to stay with them. Then, her teachers and community members got involved.
“That was the crucible of my life,” she said. “It was the thing that put me on my path.”
Two of her teachers at Wolfson High School, Ms. Force and Ms. Hanks – who Bauman describes as her “angels” – stepped in, guiding and helping Bauman, even paying for her graduation cap and gown.
Bauman’s road to graduation was recognized through the Jacksonville Public Education Fund’s “One in Three” campaign, calling attention to at-risk students and the obstacles they face when trying to finish high school.
Deirdre Conner, director of advocacy and communication at JPEF, remembered the day she met Bauman during a “One in Three” exhibit at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens.
“Allishia made it clear that she was interested in doing more than just passively being a part of the exhibit,” said Conner. “She wanted to be involved in driving the movement for better public schools so that all students could have incredible teachers and mentors like she had. She quickly came on board at JPEF.”
Through JPEF, Bauman told her story to thousands, becoming a visible example of what concrete intervention can be like. Volunteering and working to create positive change in the local education system opened up opportunities for college and career.
Bauman is currently chief of staff for City Year Jacksonville, a nonprofit that works with AmeriCorps members to combat dropout rates in city schools.
As she prepares her United Way Upstream team for their competition, Bauman once again brings a driving spirit that will push her students’ ideas forward.
“People took me in, under their wings,” Bauman said. “They helped me become who I am. That’s why I give back. I don’t know when I sleep, but I’m lucky to give back, and I’d do it tenfold.”
United Way’s Upstream competition is now underway and will culminate on a Pitch Party celebration Feb. 9. For more information, visit unitedwaynefl.org/upstream.