By Dr. Judith Smith, President & CEO
Mayor Brown has declared April as Jacksonville Volunteer Appreciation Month; Governor Scott has declared it as Florida Volunteer Month; and President Obama will declare April 21-27 as National Volunteer Week across the USA, as US Presidents have done since 1974.
As the community’s on-ramp to volunteering, we at HandsOn Jacksonville want you—our community’s volunteers—to know how important your work is in creating change where change is needed. Jacksonville’s annual Celebrate!GOOD, open to the public, at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts was held on the evening of April 18 and featured special stories about ordinary people who have done extraordinary things.
We honored Eleanor Ashby, one of Jacksonville’s true servant leaders; the Gator Bowl Association that is fueled by hundreds of volunteers; and Bank of America/Merrill Lynch for elevating the value of our human dignity and diversity through their employees’ engagement in meaningful volunteer work. We honored Jack Diamond, Tim Armstrong, John Sornberger, Aaron Badida and JT Townsend for their amazing individual work; and we honored the Fighting Tigers of VP-8, the Pink Sisters and Friends Advocacy at Mayo Clinic, and the volunteers from Florida Coastal School of Law. We also lifted up the amazing Joanne Hickox and her Seniors on a Mission, Mayor Alvin Brown’s Mayor’s Mentors, the young leaders of City Year, and the business leaders from Synovus Bank. Good times, good deeds, good people.
So since it’s April, here’s a reminder that Jacksonville’s volunteer rate is something we should all be shouting about! Let me put the recent data from the Corporation for National and Community Service in perspective: The US rate for volunteering in formal organizations is 26.6%. The snapshot for Florida drops to 22.9%, putting our fair state in 45th place. Our sister cities stack up like this: Tampa’s rate is 26.6%, or 30th of the 51 largest cities; Orlando’s rate of 19.3% ranks them 48th ; and Miami’s 16.3% sends them to 51st place. Drum roll please—Jacksonville’s rate of 32.2% puts us in 5th place, up from 22nd place in 2011 and 33rd place in 2010.
Are we special? You decide. In a time when it can be easy to focus on the difficulties and differences we have as a community, let us remember that service can and does unite us. It helps us bridge differences and find common ground, and if we can work together in other ways, perhaps we can take another look at the larger problems that we simply have to solve by working together.
So the next time you get upset at an elected official who doesn’t share your opinion, or you hear about an organization that supports beliefs with which you disagree, or you get into a dispute with your neighbor about trimming the hedge, please remember this. At our core we are a community of people that volunteer to do good, to help others, to reach higher, and to do more. A commitment to service is a quality that unites us and that can build bridges of understanding among us, even when we vehemently disagree about something else. In spite of our differences, we CAN make a difference in our community when we work together.