Generation WORKS: Changing Jacksonville One Connection, One Action at a Time
When I first started my new business, Women Writing for (a) Change in Jacksonville, my goal was to meet with any organization in town that supported women. One of my first meetings was with the formidable Sheila Spivey of the UNF Women’s Center and her visionary Dean, Dr. Lucy Croft. They promised to introduce me to one of their collaborators, Donna Orender of Generation W. “She’s doing great work for women in the community,” they said.
I got my chance when a call came for volunteers to help with Orender’s new project, “Generation WORKS.” This new initiative would be a public-private partnership led by women “wielding weapons of mass CONstruction,” as Orender likes to say. Using a largely female volunteer network of corporate, non-profit, academic, government, and community leaders, we planned to descend on non-profits all over town to work shoulder-to-shoulder on any needed task to support their efforts.
It seemed like a worthy cause, and I was glad to help. I worked on the Communications Team and helped get out the word about this event. By the time we got to the kickoff at Unity Plaza on February 7, 2015, we had about 400 volunteers and the air was charged with excitement as we all felt the collective power of women working together to change the world. I was pleased to bring several members of my women writing tribe into that collective energy.
Now in its third year, Generation WORKS plans to put to work over 500 volunteers on Saturday, Feb. 4, at 14 different agencies around town, kicking off events at Unity Plaza at 7 a.m.
That first year, we planted trees, folded clothes, sorted shoes, built houses, painted walls, mulched beds, raked leaves, and picked up trash. We all had powerful experiences helping others, which I documented for Generation W by interviewing people on camera. Everyone was excited to take concrete actions to improve lives in our city.
What I didn’t realize that day, but I do now, is that while the actual work was significant, what was even more important was this: Orender and her team were planting seeds all over this town —seeds of connection, community, and collaboration. These seeds were part of a long-term opportunity to change this town for the better, one connection, one action, one conversation at a time. It certainly has changed me.
Did you know that redwood trees do not have deep tap roots to hold them up? What actually holds up their massive trunks is a relatively shallow but intricate and interconnecting network of thick roots. Each tree is dependent on the root system of the other trees to hold up their own trunk. That is the same social network that is holding up Jacksonville. We are all dependent on each other, and the network is incredibly important to hold all of us. What an important lesson for me to learn from Generation WORKS!
The transformation started out small for me. At first, I was just happy to meet and work with interesting and active women in Jacksonville. I saw corporate leaders, like Leslie Slover, Regional Head of Jacksonville, FL and Cary, NC, Deutsche Bank, who are activating their companies to truly work in the community.
I was curious what drove Slover to get involved. “We identified a partnership with Generation WORKS at the 2014 Generation W Conference,” she said. “The timing of the partnership worked out well for Deutsche Bank since we were looking for the right opportunity for our employees to give back to the community. We are proud to say this is our third year supporting Generation WORKS and our participation is an energizing way to kick off the year.”
Slover said Deutsche Bank’s involvement in the community “blossomed into a sustainable relationship since their first volunteer event two years ago.” She added, “Several partnerships have evolved through extended community outreach programs, such as bringing MOCA Voice of the People and Junior Achievement Financial Literacy programs into the schools, becoming the community partner for Tiger Academy, and expanding their commitment to JASMYN through this year’s Generation WORKS service event.”
I also saw academic leaders, like Spivey and Croft, who were not only building houses with Habitat for Humanity, but also working to build more conscious communities for young people on and off the UNF campus. I also talked with non-profit leaders, like Cindy Funkhouser at the Sulzbacher Center, and learned how she was actively working each day to educate the community on the issues of homelessness. At Generation WORKS last year, I planted trees with Greenscape as part of the #JaxDigsTrees initiative, and I met a few local government folks and educators, including Brian Burket with the park system of the City of Jacksonville. (Did you know we have the largest park system in America?) His words helped me to understand the important role of green space in Jacksonville, and how it’s part of a larger plan to keep our community healthy.
I even saw members of my own writing community inspired and changed by their involvement. One woman wrote a thoughtful essay on what it meant to her, for example, to sift through “soles” and “souls” while sorting giant piles of used shoes at a thrift store. She wrote, “One brief encounter in the warehouse…and I was transported into another world—a world that would change my perception of SHOES and myself.” She added, “I am so grateful for this experience and reminder that service and kindness to others is more important than buying a pair of shoes that I don’t need.”
As for myself, the connections I’ve made since that first Generation WORKS meeting have greatly enriched my community involvement. I’ve partnered on projects with UNF to raise consciousness around sexual violence on campus. I’ve learned more about our park system, and conducted writing workshops to help benefit the UNF and the City. I’ve joined the Board of City Beautiful Jax, where we work with organizations like Greenscape to find ways to improve the beauty of our city.
But most of all, Generation WORKS has exposed me to women leaders all over this town who are thoughtfully and intentionally going about the business of changing the world. As Slover said, “In Jacksonville, there are an amazing number of women in leadership roles across all sectors – business, government, education and military culture and civic. This type of diversity is one of Jacksonville’s greatest assets. When we join forces, we can make our community stronger, more inclusive, and more vibrant for everyone.”
This year I’m looking forward to working at the Hubbard House, a domestic violence safe house in Jacksonville. I asked Kristi Brandon, the chief development officer, why her agency got involved with Generation WORKS in the first place, and how it’s made a difference for her.
“The ‘aha’ moments abounded the first day I experienced this movement of trailblazing women committed to change,” she said. “Generation W and Generation WORKS allow me to be part of a community that challenges each other to question our perceived limits, dream big and take action.”
“Generation WORKS has offered a volunteer opportunity at Hubbard House each year since its inception. Francis of Assisi said, ‘Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.’ Through the mighty effort of women change agents, we can do the impossible and end violence against women.”
These words give me hope for the future—for the future of Jacksonville and for the future of our country. Kudos to Orender and her team, to all our leaders from the non-profit, for-profit, government, and academic worlds who are doing the impossible, and to all the volunteers of Generation WORKS who are making it possible.
This is the kind of leadership I want to continue to support, and I hope you do, too. Register today for Generation WORKS 2017 and grab a spot at more than 14 agencies being served this year. We hope to see you there!