In honor of National Volunteer Week, April 18-24, United Way of Northeast Florida is highlighting outstanding community volunteers dedicated to making a difference all year long.
Steffen Strayer is described as helpful and humble by his colleagues at United Way of Northeast Florida. Since 2018, Steffen has been an invaluable asset as a volunteer in United Way’s Volunteer and Community Engagement department. Not even a global pandemic could stop his willingness to serve and to date, he’s volunteered nearly 1,000 hours of personal time.
Here’s what Steffen had to say about her experience as a Northeast Florida changemaker:
Describe the person or event that inspired you to give back to the community.
My grandmother was the greatest influence on my life when it comes to giving back. She was born and grew up in small, rural towns. The sense of community was strong and everyone pulled together when someone fell on hard times. She lived through the great depression and never had much even after that. Anything she had, she kept looking at it as if it were new. She was like that with her family, friends and neighbors. She didn’t have much more to give than love, compassion and really good company. She taught me everyone might need something, even if it’s an ear to bend.
What would you say is the most rewarding aspect about volunteering?
It wasn’t until recently that I learned my family didn’t have much while I was growing up. My parents tried hard to provide what we needed and then just a little extra. I see the heartache parents and caregivers go through, struggling to even provide what their families’ basic needs. Knowing a family can get access to healthy food, safe housing, and dry, clean clothes, among all the other things it takes to just survive today through voluntarism — that’s what it all means to me.
Describe the moment you realized your volunteer efforts were making a real difference.
In all my volunteer work, everything I’ve done, there have been many times I’ve felt I made a difference. Whether it is a thank you from a family displaced by fire at the American Red Cross or a dog adopted from the Humane Society, or when children rush to say thank you to St. Nicholas at a Full Service School, it all means so much. The one time, though, that really made me feel I made a difference is when a 4th grader returned a pencil he stole from me that I was selling as a fundraiser. He said, “I took it because I wanted it, but somebody else needs it more.”
If you could inspire people to do one thing to make Northeast Florida a better community, what would that be and why?
If everyone, no matter the area they live in or how much money they make, swapped places for one week, attitudes would change. If we can change attitudes, we can get people involved in improving everyone’s lives. Nobody has it easy, but a lot of people have it hard. And, if we would get many people to donate even 5 hours a week to the nonprofit of their choice, it would reduce the burden on many social services.
What advice would you give someone on the fence about whether or not they should volunteer in their community.
What’s the harm in trying to volunteer for a while? So what if the first place you go to isn’t right, maybe the second, third, or sixth is. Would you give up on getting a job so easily? Of course not. Just keep in mind that there is a place for you, someone needs you, a community will value your effort. So, go do it!
Because change doesn’t happen alone, people like you are needed now more than ever to uplift the most vulnerable in our community. You can find a variety of community service projects, including opportunities to uplift historic East Jacksonville, at unitedwaynefl.org/volunteer.