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United Way mobilizes volunteers to rebuild hope “Out East”

March 11, 2020

United Way volunteers repairing a floor with Builders Care

On a bright, chilly November day, volunteers were hard at work Out East ripping out a rotted kitchen floor on Phelps Street.

The kitchen floor of this Eastside home had seen better days. For years, the sink in the kitchen leaked and, over time, severely rotted the floors in the kitchen and the hallway. The homeowner, who was elderly and unable to afford the repairs, had lived in the home for many years. Gaps in the rotted floor allow rats and snakes to enter her house looking for food.

The volunteers recruited by United Way of Northeast Florida, worked side by side with Builders Care construction experts to repair this senior citizens home, replacing the plumbing in the sink and installing new flooring in the affected areas. This work, powered by volunteers, not only provides the resident piece of mind but also repaired a safety and health hazard at no cost.

Whether it’s rolling up your sleeves to repair a floor, spending hours in the heat helping stuff a school bus, or lending your expertise on a board or committee, volunteerism has the power to change lives.

United Way of Northeast Florida is our community’s “one stop shop” for connecting your passions to volunteer opportunities. Whether it’s individual volunteer opportunities to team building group projects, United Way can connect your to the perfect project through an array of community partners — or design one for you.

Volunteering can advance your career, combat depression and stress, and provide a sense of purpose. But did you know volunteerism can advance a community, combat poverty and crime, and provide a sense of hope for those in need?

Members of Atlantic Circle, United Way’s young leaders society, volunteers at The Melanin Market.


“It’s a cliché, but being part of something that is bigger than you is the best human experience and is one of many reasons people should get involved,” said Erica La Spada, manager of volunteerism at United Way. “It’s an opportunity to get rooted in your community, where you can learn about new places, new history and develops new skills.”

A great example of this is the work currently underway on the Eastside.

Located near Springfield and Downtown Jacksonville, the Eastside saw major decline following the Civil Rights movement. Most notably was the destruction of many shops in its commercial district on A. Philip Randolph Boulevard in a racially charged riot in 1969. According to the Office of Policy Development and Research, vacant and abandoned properties are linked to increased rates of crime and decreased property values, further contributing to the decline of the neighborhood.

Eastside community leaders and United Way are joining forces this spring to uplift our community and the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The initiative, titled “Historic Eastside Root and Rebuild: Activating the Dream,” is a series of community events, exhibits and volunteer projects with United Way and Eastside community leaders, who are striving to restore the vibrancy of their beloved neighborhood.

But while the neglect of the Eastside community is apparent, the efforts of residents hoping to rebuild it from the inside out are gaining traction. Thanks to Eastside leaders including Suzanne Pickett, chair of the Historic Eastside Community Development Corporation, United Way mobilized volunteers not only help repair the flooring of a Phelps Street home and refresh local parks during Hometown Huddle in November, they have hosted several impactful events and projects throughout the Eastside in 2020.

GE employees pause for a photo during their Oakland Terrace beautification project.


In January, volunteers helped distribution information about “Root and Rebuild” in the MLK Day Parade in Downtown Jacksonville. That same month, dozens of children living in transitional housing at Oakland Terrace were treated to a birthday party, celebrating not just Dr. King’s birthday but their own. Many of their families would not be able to afford birthday celebrations that year.

In February, Dr. James Garrett volunteered to be the keynote speaker at the “Eastside Community Awareness Event,” where he spoke about and inspired attendees to engage in conversations on tough topics, including race. Later that month, United Way’s young professionals group, Atlantic Circle, assisted with The Melanin Market, which replies on local residents volunteers to spotlight minority business owners and entrepreneurs.

And just last week, volunteers from United Way corporate partners, including GE, Prudential and Bank of America, helped with a number of Eastside beautification projects, revitalizing safe places for children to play. These companies also sponsored the projects to make them possible.

The work of these dedicated volunteers is about more than replacing a window or pulling weeds on a playground. When people come together to help others, it reminds those in need they are not forgotten, gives them hope for a brighter future and inspires others to work together for the advancement of every person in our community.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most urgent and persistent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’” If you don’t have an answer to that question or are looking to expand your volunteerism efforts, visit unitedwaynefl.org/volunteer to explore volunteer opportunities across Northeast Florida.