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United Way award winner helps countless students stay in school

November 1, 2018

By Nicole Petersen



At William M. Raines High School, no student is without the opportunity to attend school due to family or financial hardships. This is all because of one, hardworking individual.

Jacqueline Brown, site coordinator for Jacksonville’s Communities In Schools at William M. Raines High school, has helped connect students to community resources for eight years. Her work within the school involves helping students not only stay in school but graduate and pursue their dreams post-grad. She does this by providing students with employment information, food, uniforms, mentoring and whatever else they might need.

Because of her efforts within and outside of Raines High School, Brown received the 2018 Sherwood H. Smith Children’s Champion award in the service category.

For five years, Raines High School and the Church of Jacksonville partnered to provide food and other resources to Raines students. Brown began working at the school through Communities In Schools when the partnership was in its third year and witnessed its positive impact. While many students relied on the partnership to be able to support their families and continue to go to school, it eventually came to an end.

“At the conclusion of the fifth year, it was a very sad day for me,” Brown said. “It broke my heart to tell them that the program was over. The looks on their faces were tear-jerking – some students knew they wouldn’t have food for the remainder of the month.”

Brown went to the school principal, insistent no family would go hungry. In agreement they needed a solution, the principal told Brown he would give her the space to create an area where she could stock and distribute resources for students in need.

Brown then went to local churches, businesses and organizations within a five mile radius of the school asking for donations. She received unconditional support.

“There was not one church, organization or individual who told me ‘no.’” Brown said.

With the help of the community donors, Brown built a food pantry for her students. Lovingly referred to as the school “mini-mart,” the pantry has a full supply of food, hygiene products, school supplies, uniforms, and a donated refrigerator and freezer.

Students are free to take food and supplies from the mini-mart whenever they need it. When asked, Brown boxes up whatever items were requested by the student and discretely drops it off at their last class of the day for the student to take home to their families.

Now, five years later, Brown’s resources have grown to include donated uniforms from graduated seniors, a career mentorship program, a job placement process for students, and evening classes for parents on topics like finance and college planning.

Brown said she would do anything to ensure her students have what it takes to stay in school and graduate. She loves every aspect of her job and said she was honored to be recognized with the Sherwood H. Smith award for her work.

“Being nominated meant the world to me,” Brown said, “Being recognized for something that you already love doing is really amazing. That’s two scoops of ice cream right there.”

For more information on the Sherwood Smith Awards, visit United Way of Northeast Florida’s official awards webpage. To learn about ways you can be part of the change, visit unitedwaynefl.org/get-involved.