By Nancy Winckler-Zuniga
Originally published in The Florida Times-Union
Noelle O’Connor and Tylyn Recore-Dagsaan are in every way a team – you’ll hear it in the way they finish each other’s sentences, laughingly keeping each other focused. You’ll hear it when they talk about their project, one of three winners of United Way of Northeast Florida’s Upstream competition, where young professionals develop ideas for social change. And you’ll hear it when they talk about how their families have helped them find this success and more.
Both young women come from families where working together toward a common goal was everything. For Recore-Dagsaan that goal – her education – has involved much family sacrifice. “I realized my dad spent 10 years working, 10 years doing third shift, so I could have what I need,” she said. “I didn’t know many things that he did for me, to raise me. “
For O’Connor, her family’s goals have been about achieving what they can together and exposing their children to art education. She describes her family as a place where she learned life was about sharing it with others – connecting was what made it all worthwhile. “I was the youngest of the family,” O’Connor said. “There were fistfights with my sister and playing Barbie with my brothers. We did everything together. ”
That includes a three-year stint in Italy, when her family went back to explore their Italian roots and gave their children every opportunity to learn about Italian art. Her parents now run a chiropractic clinic in Palm Coast, still demonstrating a shared experience can have great results.
O’Connor and Recore-Dagsaan met at a freshmen orientation at the University of North Florida and have been friends ever since. After an Upstream presentation at their anthropology class, they put their heads together and found a way to give back to the community, honoring the impact their families had on them.
Their project has two components, a love of Downtown Jacksonville and building up the self-esteem of middle-school students. The difficulties facing young teenagers are an experience both young women know first-hand.
“Middle school is always weird,” O’Connor said. “Coming back from Italy to middle school was really tough.” “I almost failed,” Recore-Dagsaan added. “In seventh and eighth grade, I thought I was too cool for school. I was lazy, grounded over and over, before realizing what I wanted.”
Their project, BrushUp, will have middle-school students creating mosaic tiles as part of a mural installation in Downtown Jacksonville. They hope by giving students a creative investment in the betterment of the city, they will be able to take pride in both themselves and their community and avoid some of the pitfalls faced in middle school.
Next fall, BrushUp will become the collaboration that Recore-Dagsaan and O’Connor dreamed of as they team up with students from James Weldon Johnson, Kate Roux of RouxArts and Downtown Vision Inc. to create the mural installment Downtown.
“I’ve been given a lot growing up here in Jax,” Recore-Dagsaan said. “There weren’t so many opportunities (to give back) in middle school or high school, but now I can actually make a difference, carry it forward.”
For more information on United Way of Northeast Florida’s Upstream competition – as well as information on this year’s winners – visit unitedwaynefl.org/upstream.