By Kate Jolley
Originally posted in The Florida Times-Union
Jaynae Johnson is close to her family and her community. So when her young nephew passed away uncharacteristically young due to a heart condition, she was moved to do more for those in need. United Way of Northeast Florida proved to be the perfect outlet. Though her contribution was purely monetary for the first few years, she soon discovered – in what she refers to as her “ah-ha moment” – she had so much more to contribute.
“It’s not just about giving dollars,” said Johnson. “There are so many different ways to get involved. Not everyone has money to give – but everyone has time to give.”
Since introduced to United Way, Johnson has served on committees for Atlantic Circle, United Way’s young professional group, and Women in Local Leadership (WILL), United Way’s affinity group for women. She has also mentored four girls at Ribault Middle School. Johnson credits Availity, the company for which she has worked for the past 13 years, for allowing and encouraging employees to take time out of their work week to mentor through Achievers For Life.
Achievers For Life is a drop-out prevention initiative lead by United Way and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Florida. Availity was recognized May 8 at the Duval County Public Schools board meeting for their commitment to Ribault Middle School and Achievers For Life. Johnson was in attendance for the recognition.
After taking on an additional student who was without a mentor, Johnson realized she could use her time at Ribault Middle School – where she spends her lunch hour every Thursday – to reach multiple young women at once.
“Sometimes I have up to six girls in my session if other mentors can’t make it,” she said. “My key is consistency. I want to be the one consistent thing in their lives, even when nothing else is.”
Availity also recently hosted a field trip for the Ribault students participating in Achievers For Life. The students spent the entire day at the Availity offices and interacted with guest speakers including Mayor Lenny Curry and Jacksonville Sherriff’s Office Zone 5 Assistant Chief Deloris Patterson.
“It was amazing to see these kids in action,” said Johnson.
Along with mentoring once a week, Johnson has also focused on raising awareness around initiatives like early childhood education led by the WILL executive committee, on which she has served for the past three to four years.
Today, Johnson steers as many young professionals as she can toward Atlantic Circle and invites them to events where they can learn about United Way and network with other leaders and donors in the community. “The options are limitless, and events are a great way to get people to understand all United Way has to offer,” she said.
For information on how you can become a volunteer through United Way of Northeast Florida, visit unitedwaynefl.org/volunteer.