February 2016

Organ Donation


Sitting in her church pew years ago, Suzette Warren was praying for one thing: a kidney. After many years against wanting to try to find a new kidney and spending hours a week on dialysis, Warren decided that it was time to find a permanent solution.


Having family that went through the same trials of needing a new kidney, Suzette needed a new solution to live her live for her family and for her missions work with her husband. While most people who need organs find themselves on a waiting list hoping for a call in the middle of the night, through the grace of her church, Suzette found a kidney from a new friend.


Leslie recounts the support she had from the church that she called home: “By the time Leslie was aware of my story, she found out about it in a church bulletin. And I was very sick my husband and the Pastor got together and suggested we put it in the church bulletin. And so long story short, 21 people called Mayo Clinic to donate a kidney to me. Most of those were the wrong blood type. Only nine had the correct blood type if I remember correctly. So right before, I guess it was the fall, Leslie called me and said she had called and went through the testing and she was a match.”

Bible Verse


Leslie Workman also went to the same church and discovered that a fellow church member needed a kidney through a church bulletin. For Leslie, giving a kidney seemed natural, “There’s um, there’s a purpose to that, to be able to improve someone’s life, and potentially save someone’s life—its, its just an amazing thing.”


Stories like Suzette’s and Leslie’s are not common. Most people who need an organ are helped by someone like Tommy Mulligan of Mayo Clinic. Mulligan is an organ pecuric nurse, a professional that coordinates people on the waiting list to receive organs. Mulligan explains, “So I will get an offer whether it’s daytime, nighttime, whenever it might be. I’ll start the evaluation process I’ll start to work with the doctors whether it’s cardiology, hepatology, pal menology, if it becomes the Mayo Clinic’s recipient’s turn to actually receive that organ and we think it’s a good organ for them, we’ll start the logistics process and we will call the OR, the blood bank, the plane teams to send them out and recover them and bring them home.”


People like Tommy make it possible for lives like Suzettes to last after needing organs, and give these people hope. Suzette, Leslie and Tommy Mulligan all stress the need for people of all ages to become organ donors, because if not for Leslie’s gift, Suzette might never have gotten a kidney.


For more information about how you can become a kidney donor, go to https://www.donatelifeflorida.org/.



Oftentimes people have a roof over their heads but still may not be in the best situations.

The Jacksonville branch of Habitat for Humanity, also known as HabiJax has a mission to provide quality homes for people in need, one family at a time.

“We look for people who qualify that means people who are 50% below the average income here in Jax,” said Thomas Wehner a member of the Habijax Board of Directors. “We expect their credit rate to be above 600, if it’s not then we have a program that will help repair their credit program.”

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Homebuyers are required to put down a 5-hundred dollar down payment before the construction can begin on a home. Inside Jacksonville spoke to Shena Simmons a Habijax applicant who just recently reached the build phase.

“It’s affordable, it’s an investment and it’s kind of easy once you get in there and do what they tell you to do. You have your brand new home built from the ground up,” Simmons said.

Home buyers like Shena must put in 300 hours of community service into the program as part of the requirements to qualify for a Habijax home.Generally applicants accumulate these hours by participating in other Habijax builds. They’re not alone in this effort, volunteers from all around the community help make up the Habijax construction teams.

“We’re building a house for somebody. It’s the 16th year that we participated in Habitat for Humanity. As an organization we have a large presence in the city of Jacksonville, we feel it’s extremely important to give back in some way, and this is one of those ways,” said Craig Tomeo a volunteer helping to construct Shena’s home. “It’s a very rewarding experience, especially when the owner or pending owner is with us participating, it gives it that special touch.”

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HabiJax is a win-win for everyone. The volunteers get the opportunity to give back to their community and those in need get an affordable home in their name.


“One thing that HabiJax wants to give back to the community, is just that…community. Building families back over in this area again, giving families a reason to begin to move forward in building legacies for their families,” said Davetta Williams a Habijax Volunteer Serves Manager.


From start to finish building a HabiJax home takes around 9 weeks. Shena’s home should be done in April.


World Relief


When most people think of volunteering, they think of giving back to the their local community, but some outreach programs may have even farther reaching effects. One First Coast organization is involved right here in local communities, but also plays the role of good samaritan on the international stage as well. World Relief Jacksonville has been successfully relocating refugees from countries all over the world including Burma, Afghanistan and Iraq since the 1991. As men, women and children fight each day simply to survive, the hopes of leaving behind a life of turmoil are often made in vain.

World Relief seeks to not only help as many of these victims as possible, but also to set an example in the United States by showing how these people can be productive, peaceful and a true asset to our diverse nation. The key to achieving this feat is education and awareness of the intensity of the refugee struggle.



There’s a common misconception that refugees leave their home country by choice, but the reality is these people were forced to relocate due to war, natural disaster or political persecution. Travis Trice works for World Relief Jacksonville and has heard many different stories from refugees over the years.


“The first thing as a refugee is you literally flee. You have to leave your home,” said Trice. “The story is always different. Sometimes a government will give you a time frame to leave and other times it’s gunfire in the middle of the night. So it’s all different but the result is always the same – you have to flee in fear of your life.”


Refugees spend an average of three years in refugee camps waiting to be relocated and according to Trice, less than half of one percent of all refugees have a chance of being relocated. Often, refugees may even spend ten years or more in a camp.


For those that are given the opportunity to relocate, once they arrive their difficult journey has just begun, but here on the First Coast volunteers are ready to help make that transition as joyful and easy as possible. World Relief volunteers are there from the moment refugees first step off the plane. They do their best to make this lengthy, challenging process of adapting to American culture easier. They assist in all aspects of the transition from teaching them English to helping them get a job.


They say ‘I may not be able to do all of it, but I can do some of it,”” said World Relief Volunteer Hannah Nunez when speaking of the refugees attitude while adapting to American society. “These people are truly resilient.”

Without the support these volunteers provide, many of these people would face even more uncertainty. World Relief welcomes these men and women with open arms and an atmosphere of love when they need it most.

Malavai Washington


Volunteers are changing lives at the Malivai Washington after-school program

The Malivai Washington after-school program has become an essential part of the community in Jacksonville. The program is an extension of the Malivai Washington Youth Foundation, which was founded by former professional tennis player and Wimbledon finalist, Malivai Washington.

It seeks to empower children through mentoring, tutoring, and sports; primarily tennis, as a means to help them become successful community leaders. The staff have worked tirelessly to ensure that the students who attend the program are motivated to become the best in all aspects of life.  However, they credit the collaborative relationship with the volunteers as their backing in youth development.

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Development on the tennis court

Tennis serves as the physical component of the foundation, which teaches kids work ethic, discipline, and overall fun. Since Washington is a former pro-tennis player, it would only be fitting for him to implement the sport in the program.

Coach Mark Atkinson is the Head Tennis Pro and Teen Program Coordinator with the foundation. While some of the students take advantage of the opportunity to participate simply for recreational play, others compete in tournaments across the country, receiving their training from Coach Mark and the help of volunteers.

Many of the kids just appreciate the opportunity to learn how to play the sport, like 8-year-old Kennesha Cooksey. “I like about the coaches that when we miss, they keep helping us and they keep throwing us balls.”

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The power of Mentoring 

The foundation has seen countless volunteers walk through its doors since 1998. The mentors play a significant role in the program, as they help foster life skills and academic support. Volunteer mentors like Nicholas Smith, who discovered the organization by chance, has been volunteering for a few years. Smith has seen a significant change in his mentee, and he knows the impact volunteers can have on the students.

“I mean, he went from a fourth grader who was struggling — D’s and F’s in math, science, all the subjects,” says Smith regarding his mentee, “and now he’s solidly I think a B to C student, which is monumental jump.” He continues, “And he’s just more confident. And I’m not saying that’s all me by any means, but to be myself and to watch it happen…the extent that I even have any effect on him has been awesome.”

Effective learning through Tutoring

Tutoring also plays a significant role in the foundation’s overall goal to help develop its students. Most of the students attending the program also attend neighboring John E. Ford elementary school. The school is currently a B school according to the 2014-2014 Florida Department of Education School grade report. While the foundation’s staff boasts that they have very bright students, some of the students do require help with their studies. That’s where volunteers like Meklit Danie come in.

She says, “We have a strong relationship and a friendship, because we grow up with them throughout the whole year and we see them in their highs and lows. And I like seeing how they’re doing. They’re catching on, they’re learning new lessons easily.”

It’s through their continued learning that the students have developed a sense of community and have discovered the gift of giving back themselves.

Empowerment through Community Leadership

“And they have the opportunity then, to develop unique friendships with someone of a different age, sometimes someone of a different race. So it really gives them the opportunity to think outside their little second or third grade or fifth grade box that they’re in so often,” says Terri Florio, Executive Director and CEO of Malivai Washington Youth Foundation.

Some of the students have even developed a friendship with children more than 8,000 miles away. Inspired by a trip taken by one of the program’s staff, the students began the Compassion Club, which consists of several young ladies who sponsor a child in Africa.

“We sponsor a child in Kenya and we provide for him,” says one of the club’s members.  “Like we send him notes, we buy him toys. And our child is seven … no … yeah seven years old. And yeah, we buy him stuff, clothes, toothbrushes and provide for his family.”

It’s quite clear that the staff and the volunteers have a profound influence on the students. The foundation is always seeking volunteers to help further its mission to, “develop champions in classrooms, on tennis courts and throughout communities.”

For more information about volunteer opportunities with Malivai Washington Youth Foundation and After School Program visit http://www.malwashington.com/

Blessings in a Backpack


Students across the First Coast who depend on free or reduced cost meals at school are provided breakfast and lunch, five days a week. Unfortunately, some students who rely on their school’s cafeteria food don’t always have enough at home to keep them fed over the weekend.

A group of Duval and St. John’s County students, parents, teachers and administrators have pushed to solve this hunger puzzle, with the support of an initiative called Blessings in a Backpack.

The national Blessings in a Backpack program helps feed 66,000 students during the 38-week school year, and it costs about $100 per school year to cover those meals a student might miss. First Coast Blessings in a Backpack [FCBB] helps feed over 2,500 students in 16 Jacksonville schools, according to their website.


FCBB program coordinator Robbin Ossi helped kick off the initiative in St. John’s County seven years ago.

“Some friends of mine were used to volunteering in their kid’s classrooms,” Ossi said. “While they were down there volunteering, teachers were telling them they were pulling out drawers full of food, like snacks and things, and giving them to the kids throughout the day. And that’s when we found out about the hunger issues.”

Ossi’s efforts started from scratch, packing bags of food for kids each week with help from her daughter and friends. St. John’s Blessings in a Backpack expanded steadily, helping 600 students in need each week.

Screenshot_2016-03-26-04-40-41.pngLast year, Ossi helped the St. John’s Blessings in a Backpack chapter merge with the Duval County group to form FCBB. Nearly 60 percent of Duval County students are on the free or reduced cost meal programs, and that figure rises each year.

Concerned parents aren’t the only ones fighting student hunger on the First Coast. There are student volunteers across Jacksonville who are willing to give up their free time to help feed those students who aren’t getting enough food.

Nease High School senior Oliver Hodge lends a helping hand three days a week for FCBB. It starts on Wednesday, when Hodge and his fellow volunteers plan, budget and purchase the food and snacks to be delivered on Friday.

“Basically there’s a set list of items that we get each week, and there’s some fluctuation towards the end,” Hodge said. “But there’s always a can of ravioli, there’s always Ritz crackers, there’s always applesauce and fruit and we try to always have as much fruit as we can.”

On Thursday the students pack the backpacks, assembly line style and pack them into Hodge’s car. Then on Friday, Hodge delivers the packed bags to students at the Webster School in St. Augustine.

“I think it has a huge impact on both of us because obviously, you know, it’s food. And it’s something that they really need to be comfortable,” Hodge said. “Even for the students who are giving, it sort of just instills, you know, a quality of giving in all of us.”

For the high school student volunteers, their experience with FCBB has certainly been humbling.

“I don’t think any of us really thought about, like, the impact that doing things like that has on our community before Blessings,” Hodge said.

The impact that FCBB leaves on students goes further than keeping them fed and healthy. Blessings in a Backpack, in association with Quaker Oats and global market research company Ipsos, has evaluated their impact on the students and found that 60 percent of students who benefit from the program find it easier to learn at school than before they received their backpacks.

According to the evaluation, 60 percent of those students have also been in less trouble and improved their school attendance with the help Blessings in a Backpack provides.

For more information on the FCBB initiative, you can visit their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/FirstCoastBlessings.


Hero Bakers


Jacksonville has a large homeless population that is in need or not only shelter, food and clothing but people that care.

For 37 years the St. Francis Soup Kitchen has taking pride in rendering help to the homeless on the first coast. Every Saturday morning, St. Francis opens their doors to individuals in need serving sandwiches and other goods including non-perishables. Aside from food, the kitchen also provides items like clothes, and shoes that have been donated from stores and patrons around town.

Across Jacksonville, dinner and necessities are taken care of but Inside Jacksonville’s Sam Herb spoke with a woman who desires to help kids without a home still find birthday joy.Cupcake 3.png


Margie Cox and her team at Hero Bakers provide birthday parties which include bake goods like birthday cakes and cupcakes for less fortunate children. Cox says she wants to give back because she can relate to the situations that the children are in. She says, “These children were homeless, really homeless children. And I thought that is my calling that is what I want to do. Unfortunately, when my kids were growing up, we were in a shelter and they didn’t have anything like this so that was important.”

For a homeless child, birthdays and other holidays are just another day. The idea behind the hero bakers is to give meaning to important days in a child’s life. Each party provides excitement and entertainment for 30-60 children. From clowns to Easter bunnies each party is different in theme but share the same significance. All the bakers at Hero Bakers say they are thankful to be apart of such a self-less organization.

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Baker Trudy Hehn says the gratitude of the children is the best feeling for her. “A little girl came up to me and threw her arms around me and said ‘can you hold me’ and she was covered in cupcake icing and everything and it kind of melted my heart. It was a very special moment for me.”

A Hero Baker birthday party can cost anywhere from $300 to $400 and can get into thousands for holiday parties. Each party is more than just cupcakes; it brings presents, laughter and love, which is priceless. To the bakers, putting a smile on a child’s face is just icing on the cake.

Hero Bakers are completely fueled by volunteers. If you would like to help, email Margie Cox at coxcoke@aol.com