Originally published in The Florida Times-Union
More than 300 guests packed into WJCT Studios Monday to learn how United Way of Northeast Florida and its partners work together for community change.
The event, United Way’s annual kickoff, included stories from United Way funded partners and clients they served and centered around a puzzle theme, which symbolizes the many pieces it takes to solves our community’s toughest challenges.
“Community change is interconnected and complex,” said Pat Geraghty, CEO of Florida Blue and chair of United Way’s board of trustees. “And we’re here today to ask you to join us in fitting the pieces of the puzzle together.”
George Scanlon — United Way trustee, Finance Committee member and long-time Tocqueville Society donor — was introduced by Geraghty as United Way of Northeast Florida’s 2017 campaign chair.
“I am honored to serve,” said Scanlon, who spoke about growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood in Chicago. “From my earliest memories, the concepts of sharing and providing for those less fortunate were regarded not as an ideal, but as an obligation. When I entered the corporate world, it became apparent that United Way was positioned as THE way to give most efficiently back to my community.”
Guests heard several stories from clients of United Way and the services their partners provide. Angela Boyd spoke about how United Way and partners helped Boyd and her daughters get back on their feet following an injury. Hope Barbari, a single mother of five children, spoke about Full Service Schools and Hubbard House’s life-changing counseling and other critical services her family received after they fled an abusive home. Molly Madrey shared her heart-wrenching story of her battle with breast cancer. United-Way-funded We Care Jacksonville provided her access to free treatment.
“Every dollar you donate, every hour you volunteer, every time you give to United Way, you are saving lives,” Madrey said. “I am living proof that, with the proper care and support from organizations like We Care and United Way, you can survive.”
Following each success story, a partner who supported their success also spoke about how United Way is essential to their organization.
“Our work would simply not be possible without United Way,” said Sue Nussbaum, executive director of We Care. “And We Care is just one organization of the 55 local nonprofits United Way supports.”
In addition to these stories, Michelle Braun, president and CEO of United Way of Northeast Florida, presented the annual Sherwood Smith Awards, which honor longtime United Way community leader Sherwood H. Smith. The awards are made possible by a legacy endowment gift from his son, Sherwood H. Smith, Jr. and family.
The first award was presented to Judy Hicks of ReMax Realty, a 15-year volunteer fundraiser and champion at Daniel known for her exemplary service in working with children and youth. The second award was presented to Rebecca Aleman, director for disabilities services at Catholic Charities Jacksonville and a community advocate whose efforts have resulted in positive change in policies or conditions that impact the well-being of children and youth in Northeast Florida.
“It is impressive to see the hard work, volunteerism and stewardship in our community, ” Braun said. “Our volunteers, donors and service providers are important pieces of the puzzle. Thank you, Catholic Charities and Daniel, for your nominations and for your work in the community to help our at-risk youth.”
As each speaker concluded, large puzzle pieces were added to a wall. The puzzle ultimately revealed United Way of Northeast Florida’s new tagline, “Because change doesn’t happen alone.”
The event concluded with United Way leaders sharing a strong call to action.
“When you give to United Way, your gift doubles,” said Geraghty. “This is made possible because of our united effort. United Way dollars enable our partners to leverage state and federal matching grants, volunteer time, in-kind donations and so much more.”
“Everyone sitting in this room today is an important piece of community change,” he said. “In fact, you are the last piece to the puzzle. Just a dollar a day –or 365 dollars a year – can truly change someone’s life. Thank you again for being here today and for living united – because change doesn’t happen alone.”
For more information on United Way of Northeast Florida, visit unitedwaynefl.org. If you know a company that might be interested in running a United Way campaign, email Annie Tutt, head of corporate engagement at email@example.com.