By Nancy Winckler-Zuniga
Originally published in The Florida Times-Union
Soccer, board games and the sweet friendship of a boy in a Jamaican orphanage opened up University of North Florida senior Javon Knight’s eyes to the benefits of giving back.
“I really bonded with this kid,” Knight said. “I didn’t want to leave him behind. It really broke my heart. He was the moment [I learned] I really wanted to give back. We were just joking around and hanging out. I had immediately taken a liking to him and just wanted to help out. ”
Knight’s father is from Jamaica and later moved to Fort Lauderdale where he joined the military. Every few years, the family would return to visit its extended family and community, filling suitcases full of hygiene products and toys for those in need.
“My family all plays soccer,” Knight said, “so we used to bring balls, cleats, jerseys for the kids to play with – anything we could get our hands on. The emptiness of the orphanage really struck me. There was nothing for the kids to do, nothing for them to entertain themselves with. These kids were so appreciative.”
Knight’s own childhood, like that of many military families, was spent moving from city to city, until settling down in Orange Park. Through his mother’s involvement with the Rotary Club and United Way of Northeast Florida’s Atlantic Circle affinity group, Knight found himself joining in with local volunteer projects. It seemed part of a natural progression that he looked to be involved through his own initiative.
This year, Knight became president of UNF’s Student United Way chapter, helping to revitalize the organization, pulling in new student leadership and projects.
“This is the first year that the organization is really up and running,” Knight said. “Our goal is to do the same kind of community engagement projects that United Way does in the larger community.”
As the UNF Student United Way chapter sets out to achieve its initial goals, it has already started making an impact on campus. This past spring, the chapter co-sponsored financial-education workshops on campus with RealSense, worked with United Way’s UpStream project, and helped connect students to networking opportunities with like-minded business leaders. As the organization grows and more volunteer projects present themselves, the chapter looks to have a larger impact, he said.
“By being part of a larger organization like United Way, you get to meet other like-minded people in the community,” Knight said.
With the spring semester over, UNF students are looking toward next year’s opportunities. Knight is already planning for volunteer projects as he heads into the final stages of his finance degree program.
“This is our future,” Knight said. “We can’t depend on the generation above us to take care of things. We are going to have to take over the reins anyway – why not help out sooner rather than later?”
For more information on Student United Way, Upstream and how you can become involved with United Way of Northeast Florida, visit www.unitedwaynefl.org.