HandsOn Jacksonville claims bragging rights to an amazing board of directors! We’d like you to get to know them all, so over the next few weeks we’ll be shining the spotlight on them. You’ll get an inside peek at who they are, what they do, what they’re passionate about and how they’re making our community a better place for everyone.
Homkor Companies including Homkor Florida
HOJ: What inspires you to serve as a board member of HandsOn Jacksonville?
EW: There’s no other organization in my new home community that has the reach that this one has nor the infrastructure to carry out the mission as well. Through HandsOn Jacksonville, I have limitless opportunity for impacting areas of need for which I am passionate, especially in:
1. closing the achievement gap in education
2. social justice
3. eliminating poverty
4. environmental and health initiatives
5. learning, connecting to, serving, and inspiring and empowering others to serve this community and beyond
HOJ: What, do you think, are the most critical issues facing the First Coast?
EW: Education, social justice and poverty
HOJ: What volunteer activities are you currently involved in and what draws you to them?
EW: I spend more time volunteering than making a living these days, though my days are no less busy. I volunteer at GW Carver Elementary school weekly tutoring an underserved population of 3rd-5th graders, aiming to boost FCAT performance, overall literacy and closing the achievement gap. This is a three-way partnership I initiated between Junior League of Jacksonville(JLJ), HandsOn Jacksonville and Duval County Public Schools.
I have developed volunteer relationships with Sanctuary on 8th Street, MOCA, FSS, Daniel, Annie R. Morgan elementary, and others through my involvement with JLJ and HOJ.
I serve the board and the development committee of HOJ. I have leadership positions through C.A.R.E.S. (Caring Assistance Resource Education Support) committee, Joint Council, and as a member of ALT (Action Learning Team) for Strategic Leadership with Junior League of Jacksonville. I received the 2010 Volunteer of the Year Award for service through the Junior League of Jacksonville.
Prior to moving to Jacksonville, I founded an organization called P.R.I.D.E. (Positive Regional Impact! Diversified Enterprise) of Mid-Missouri, Inc. (www.pridemo.org) which was a coalition of non-profit organizations offering varying services in the areas of education, health, recreation, socialization, crime prevention, sports, low-income needs, and social justice. In an effort to eliminate duplication of space and maximize service to the community, we joined in partnership to serve better. It is my belief and my passion to make this happen in my new home communtiy through these existing organizations. Together, we can do more.
HOJ: What are you most passionate about?
EW: My spirituality. My family, friends, community. Social justice, education, health, environment and working together for a better world.
HOJ: Do you have a hidden talent?
EW: Writing – though I resist it, it seems to serve well when I access it.
HOJ: What can’t you live without?
EW: Love and life’s basic necessities.
HOJ: What else would you like to share?
EW: I have the most amazing daughter! Don’t know how she’s mine, but she is! She’s teaching in an alternative high school on the southside of Chicago to an underserved population of students expelled from public school. Her work is through Teach for America. She is the only science teacher for the whole school, so she must plan and teach every science subject in the school. She is also the only teacher who speaks Spanish, and therefore, tutors every student who needs Spanish translation.
In her senior year of college, she was accepted to her #1 choice of graduate programs in Master program for Food Science/Nutrition/Dietician Internship, a fiercely competitive process. She was also selected by Teach for America, another fiercely competitive program, for a two-year commitment to teach in an extremely underserved population in an effort to help close the achievement gap. She chose Teach for America.
She struggles everyday, but realizes that she can do anything as a result of this teaching experience. Because nothing else could be so hard. Nothing else is so important. Recently, on her holiday break, she took my place volunteering at an elementary school (also with an underserved population), and she came away renewed in her inspiration and urgency in her work for her students in Chicago. She realized there’s not much time left to prepare them for the world, snd she feels compelled to make her time count for them.
Again, I don’t know how she’s mine, but I’m inspired by her. I love what she’s doing. And I’m so glad those kids have her contributions. I love her so much.
I love my husband like crazy, too! I’m a 14 year breast cancer survivor, and I have him to thank for keeping me looking forward and never making cancer what my life is about. I feel very lucky in life and love.
HOJ: What would you say to someone who is considering volunteering?
EW: Just Do It! – by Nike. It’s my favorite quote because it fits in every way of my life. Fear is the biggest obstacle to everything. Tell yourself to “Just Do It” and once you do, you’ll know why……Until we connect outside of ourselves (meaning, our comfort circle), we can’t know real joy. You’ll know it through volunteering.
Ellen Wiss is in the 2012 Blueprint for Leadership cohort.
She also participates each year in A Visit from St. Nicholas where she reads to kids in challenged schools.