By Nancy Winckler-Zuniga
John Henderson’s relationship with his Achievers For Life mentee has grown deeper and more meaningful for both of them over the last few years. As that role has deepened so has Henderson’s role in giving back to the community, especially through United Way of Northeast Florida.
From being a United Way Leadership donor to playing an active role in United Way campaigns and events that benefit the community, his involvement has grown parallel to his relationship with the young man he mentors.
“I’ve watched him grow,” Henderson said. “He’s learning how to be a man. But he’s worrying about being an adult bit by bit and has to face more of the weight of the world than I did. I didn’t know that weight at 12.”
Henderson is able to give individualized attention and provide an anchor that wouldn’t have been possible in the reality of his mentee’s life as one of 12 children.
As Henderson saw the tangible results his connection was having, he was able to recognize the sacrifices of his own mother and family who made it possible for him to succeed.
“My mom was a single parent, a speech therapist who [had] two jobs,” Henderson said. “Someone always picked me up at three. I had everything I needed. If I went hungry, it was because I didn’t eat. If I had a bad grade, it wasn’t because I had to watch my baby sister.”
Growing up in Albany, Ga., Henderson and his family helped with Habitat for Humanity projects organized through the Methodist church. He also volunteered at the local Humane Society.
“Volunteering with animals made me more sympathetic and aware of the needs of people,” Henderson said. “Over the years, I felt my need to help grow stronger, and I’ve come to realize just how fortunate I was.”
The support of his family kept him focused as he made his way through school and college, eventually he and his wife, Amelia, bringing their careers to Jacksonville.
Henderson is director of finance at Baptist Medical Center South. It’s in the last few years he has come to see how he can give back through United Way of Northeast Florida – something he feels is an obligation for those who are able to.
“I was sheltered; that’s what’s kept me so invested in United Way,” Henderson said.
Henderson said his involvement with Achievers For Life – an early-warning response system that supports at-risk students with special support services, including mentors – is so impactful and has become a passion of his.
“If [my mentee] is better prepared to take advantage of what’s out there at 18, he’ll easily be successful,” Henderson said. “I don’t know where he’d be without someone to communicate with on a regular basis.”
We all face stress on the job, Henderson said, and sometimes the long hours are hard. But one thing that always works to help refocus it all, he said, is to do something for someone else.
“The ability to see people with real concerns can put your own issues into perspective,” Henderson said.
In addition to volunteering with Achievers For Life, Henderson currently sits on the executive committee for Atlantic Circle, United Way of Northeast Florida’s young professionals group.