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Giving Back: Volunteer with RealSense takes his childhood lessons to heart

April 21, 2016

By Nancy Winckler-Zuniga
Originally published in The Florida Times-Union

A marketing research analyst and partner with Ulrich Research Services in Orange Park, Flagg volunteers his skills with several United Way of Northeast Florida initiatives, including its RealSense financial-stability initiative and the new Upstream partnership with the University of North Florida.

Jim Flagg is thankful for the opportunity to share his research expertise through volunteering with United Way.
Jim Flagg is thankful for the opportunity to share his research expertise through volunteering with United Way.

Flagg’s efforts vary from being on RealSense strategic planning committees to training UNF students on how to use research in their Upstream proposals for social innovation.

When United Way’s RealSense team wanted to know how its financial education workshops were impacting clients’ lives, they turned to Flagg for answers. He designed a survey that allowed clients to show how they implemented newly gained financial management knowledge from the workshops.

“It documented impact,” Flagg said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that they have more money; it also measured assets like confidence. An asset like confidence is an essential product of what RealSense does.”

Helping a client gain confidence to make changes, to budget better or manage a checking account is what RealSense is all about. Flagg’s research demonstrated that methods used to teach RealSense clients were working. Flagg’s volunteer efforts help to keep the programs available for its thousands of clients.

FROM THE FAMILY

Flagg grew up knowing that confidence and second chances come from people helping each other.

“There are two reasons I’ve been motivated to give back,” Flagg said. “My family, my mother, benefited from help from the state of New Jersey, and I had an uncle who was devoted to helping the poor. He was a hero to me.”

Before marrying again, Flagg’s mother struggled alone, impoverished, trying to raise his severely disabled half-brother in inner-city Camden, N.J. Eventually, the state stepped in, taking over his half-brother’s care. Although it was a painful decision, it was the best possible solution at the time for both his half-brother and their family.

In addition, Flagg’s uncle overcame his own rough youth to become a Methodist pastor of an inner-city church and eventually went on to become the director of an anti-poverty program, Crosslines, in Kansas City.

Both situations instilled in Flagg the need for people to help others and an obligation to give back himself.

“The bumpers of my life were padded,” Flagg said. “I took that for granted. There is more to financial stability than just money. You have to have knowledge, confidence; you have to believe in yourself.”

As his career developed, opportunities to use his marketing, research and teaching skills have helped United Way agencies in Lancaster, Penn., and Central Indiana before he moved to Jacksonville.

“This is the age of evidence-based programming,” Flagg said. “More than ever, funders, donors, government agencies want to be more rigorous in their evaluations of impact.”

Flagg said he is happy to help demonstrate the impact of United Way’s RealSense and find ways to make that impact greater.