By Nancy Winckler-Zuniga
Originally published in The Florida Times-Union
Growing up, Marcus Rowe’s mother taught him to lead with action, to notice the details that would most likely create a positive impact.
“She had a servant’s heart,” Rowe said. “It was always, ‘How can I help?’”
Rowe has taken her lessons to heart – stepping up to better the lives of young people through volunteering with United Way of Northeast Florida. Resident director and financial adviser for Merrill Lynch’s St. Augustine office, his involvement with United Way first came through the Achievers For Life and Stein Fellow programs. It expanded last year when he became an Upstream coach, mentoring University of North Florida students in a social innovation initiative.
“I love going in and impacting kids myself,” Rowe said. “The Achievers For Life and Stein Fellow programs have added benefits because it’s multi-generational, allowing like-minded adults to come together.”
Rowe came face to face with the difficulties today’s students can experience when one of his students had to move due to threats of violence affecting the family.
Changing schools and having to make new friends frequently was part of Rowe’s own childhood. With each promotion his father earned with the Mars Corporation, there was a new community, a new school.
“I enjoyed it until eighth grade,” Rowe said. “I was student council president that year; I had my friends. But I learned that I had to be the first to reach out. I see myself in these kids. I want to see them succeed.”
Helping UNF students achieve success with their Upstream projects was a change of focus for Rowe. His team wanted to address the stigma surrounding mental-health treatment.
“I have always focused on education and thought at first it wasn’t for me,” Rowe said. “Instead, I became educated about their life experiences. It was my first time talking with people affected by labels. I was learning as we were learning.”
Rowe was very proud of his group’s success and efforts. Their design proposal for an after-school group won them a second-place accolade in the Upstream competition and a $2,500 grant to continue.
Jacksonville has become home to Rowe and his family, and he sees his efforts to serve others as part of taking care of that home. It is part of his own servant-led approach to life.
“A lot of people want to complain,” he said. “Very few step up to move the needle forward. Action speaks. Once they experience the impact of that action, there’s no way they won’t move forward. That’s when lives change, that’s when hearts change.”
Rowe has also served on the United Way board of directors, Speakers Bureau, co-chaired the Atlantic Circle affinity group and is on the board of the Early Learning Coalition.
For information on how you can volunteer with United Way of Northeast Florida, visit www.unitedwaynefl.org/volunteer.