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Volunteer Profile: Mark Allen

March 16, 2015

By Nancy Winckler-Zuniga

2-1-1 call specialists and volunteers, like Mark, are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to connect callers to the services they need.
2-1-1 call specialists and volunteers, like Mark, are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to connect callers to the services they need.
Mark Allen was just a boy when his father sent him out to find clients for the family’s new custom tailoring business. It was the 1930s — the height of the Great Depression — and reaching out to others was the way to keep a business alive in difficult times.

“He gave me the business cards and said, ‘Go hand these out,'” Allen said. It was his father’s chance to make a comeback after almost losing everything. It was also Allen’s first steps into the sales and marketing end of business.

“I’ve been in sales all of my life,” he said. “It has to fill the need of others. My dad was in sales, he taught me to be alert to what’s in need and try your best to fill that need.”

It takes an intuitive sense to know if a client is getting what they need and know whether to push for more or let it be. Allen believes that putting an individual’s needs first is the way to succeed in business. It’s also how he approaches his volunteer work at United Way’s 2-1-1 phone line.

At 86, Allen could easily just stay home enjoying his retirement years but, instead, he gets on the phone checking with 2-1-1 clients and making sure that they have gotten the referrals that they needed.

If not, he finds out why and may put them in contact with other resources. It is the personal follow-up that keeps people from slipping away.

“All of their cases resonate with me,” Allen said. “I keep track, if they didn’t get help, I make another referral. They might get out of trouble.”

Allen understands how it is to start over and how to be successful. For many years, he traveled the world in sales for Standard Oil. Eventually, he found himself with a company that went out of business due to overseas competition. Like many of the clients that come to United Way — and his dad — Allen began again.

The Allens moved to Jacksonville in 1970 and started their own small business franchise venture matching management talent with employers seeking executive skills. Their venture eventually expanded into another site in Orlando, becoming very successful by any standards.

“It’s important in HR to deal with people as individuals,” Allen said.

After retirement, Allen still sought to help others regain their footing, working with the Service Corps of Retired Executives to mentor small business operations, as well as with Goodwill, as they set up Jobs Junction.

“It was very rewarding, as 50 percent of small businesses fail in the first two years, and 90 percent in the first five. I donated time to help startups.”

As techniques and technology changed, Allen left the business world, but he was determined to continue to help and turned to United Way.

“I wish more people knew about the 2-1-1 program.” Allen said. “It’s open 24/7. A lot of people never heard of it because it’s not on their radar screen.”