K9s for Warriors
K9s for Warriors: Providing Veterans with Four Legs of Support
By: Raleigh Harbin
United States Military Veterans make the ultimate sacrifice everyday, and often have to deal with the after effects without any help. K9s for Warriors, a Nocatee-based organization, is helping those veterans cope with the harsh realities of war after returning from their service.
“We have veterans that [are] looking for a solution other than medication,” Samantha Epstein, K9s for Warriors Education Manager, said. “Even if they’re in crisis mode, our team is very good at responding to them.”
K9s for Warriors employees are all trained in crisis communication and help veterans whenever they are having trouble at the K9s facility.
But they can’t help veterans when they travel out into the community, and that’s where the organization’s highly trained service dogs come in. Through adoption and fostering, some of the most intelligent dog breeds become lifelong service dogs and companions for these veterans, at no cost to the individuals in need.
These dogs provide any type of support imaginable. They are trained at the K9s facility, and then go through an extensive training program with the veterans, gaining experience in public situations. The dog learns specific commands that help each veteran feel comfortable in their environment.
“The most utilized command is one that is called ‘cover’,” Epstein said. “So if I were a veteran and was having issues going out in public and I was hyper vigilant and afraid that somebody was going to sneak up on me if I were going to a location like an ATM, I could step up to the ATM, get my credit card out and proceed to get my cash out and I would tell the dog to ‘cover’, and he/she would actually turn around and stand and watch my back.”
Another command is called “brace”, where the dog actually braces himself to help a veteran who may have fallen, or in general has a hard time standing up on his or her own.
K9s for Warriors is a nonprofit organization, and veterans come from all over the country seeking out their own service dog. So far, 256 warrior-canine teams have graduated, with lots more to come.
“It’s awesome,” Epstein said. “I mean what’s better than dogs and veterans? You can’t have two better causes than that.”
Rethreaded: Giving Women a Second Chance
By Cassidy Alexander, Alex Lassen
Kristin Keen never thought she would be running a business, but when she found herself in Calcutta, India— working with women in the red light district— she was inspired to help.
“There was no way out,” she said, of the women working there.
After spending several years in India, Keen returned to Jacksonville and found the same problems in our city. Her solution? Start a business. Here, she began Rethreaded in order to help empower victims of the sex trade.
“When people say the word slavery, we think of the 1800s and we think of Abraham Lincoln and everything he did to abolish slavery, but it still exists,” said Haley Wright, a program specialist.
The decision to start Rethreaded and help empower women was a personal one for Keen.
“It all started with me in my own life,” Keen said. “[I] went through a period of time where I feel like I didn’t know my own worth and value, and I had some not so great experiences with sex, and I never ever want another woman to feel that way. So I said I’m going to take what you feel is your greatest shame and I’m going to use it to change the world.”
Employees at Rethreaded create their products through the donations of old t-shirts, scarves and jewelry. While they sell products, like a normal business, their main goal isn’t just to profit.
“Our bottom line is seeing survivors thrive,” Keen said. “And normal businesses don’t operate that way.”
Rethreaded has been thriving for five years now. Keen hopes to see her company expand to employ over 100 survivors in the next ten years. Part of the plan to expand includes getting corporations to buy their products.
“The more sales that we have the more women we can hire,” Keen explains. “That’s really what fuels our business. It’s essentially like every other business — supply and demand. So when have these big corporations that need 10,000 of a product to gift or to giveaway or promo items or whichever, you know that’s 10 more women that we can hire to employ to make these products.”
Rethreaded is located at 820 Barnett Street in Downtown Jacksonville.
Hemming Park Through the Ages
Breathing Life Into Downtown Jacksonville
By: Ryan Hutchins
Downtown Jacksonville could be a smorgasbord of entertainment. Anyone involved in the city or familiar with the area will tell you as much. But for some reason, the city has never reached its full potential. It’s one of the only cities in the country where you can kayak in the river one minute, but head to the beach the next.
Hemming Park in particular is one place in the city that has seen many changes over the years. The scenic gazebo has been replaced, there are not as many trees as there used to be and not as many visitors come to Hemming Park these days.
Emily Lisska, Executive Director of the Jacksonville Historical Society, has seen the change first hand over the years.
“It was our front door, our greeting place for many decades for presidential candidates. It was the big space where people could congregate,” said Lisska. “But it wasn’t necessarily a place where we would hold activities that were created locally.”
From what Lisska described, Hemming Park served as Jacksonville’s Central Park. It was the center of the city. When you arrived in Jacksonville, you would arrive at Hemming Park.
At one point during its history, that was true about Hemming. That’s where the busses would drop off people entering Jacksonville. There were abundant shops around the area, even a J.C. Penney department store. Life bloomed around Hemming Park.
Hemming Park then went through a hardship. It thrived with the homeless. It became run-down and “trashy”. Hemming Park was soon a “bad” area to be in. The shopping centers disappeared from downtown as people were moving to the suburbs instead of the city. Hemming Park wasn’t the heart of the city any longer.
Mike Field didn’t like seeing the negative reputation around Hemming Park. The Jacksonville native wanted to help pump life back into Downtown Jacksonville, namely Hemming Park.
Field is the founder of Transform Jax and Jaxson’s Night Market. Both of these are designed to bring people back into Downtown. Jaxson’s Night Market in particular, is a night market with local vendors and food trucks that gather in Hemming Park every third Thursday of the month. Field’s goal was to pump some life back into the city where he saw it was lacking.
“We started to do things that were fun and different to the city as a way to bring some life back into Jacksonville,” said Field.
The change that Hemming Park has seen is night and day. What was once a dull, drab part of town is now experiencing a cultural makeover. Kind of Jacksonville’s version of the Renaissance.
“Before… there was nothing but people hanging around yelling at you. There’s now people enjoying live music and eating lunch and that’s a really positive change,” said Field.
For the immediate future, Field hopes that his endeavors keep benefiting the city. Jaxson’s Night Market has already led to some vendors buying commercial real estate places in the downtown area. That’s what Field’s goal has been all along. In the end, he just wants to see his city reach the potential it has always been capable of.
“Long term, you’re going to see a city that is finally growing up and finally realizing a potential they’ve always had.”
Lee High School’s EVAC Program
EVAC : Evacuating the Cave of Hopelessness
What started off as a Leadership course for ninth graders quickly turned into a sanctuary of hope for 15 Lee High School students. These guys are making history all over the Internet, the White House, and in the local community. They call themselves EVAC.
“Evac is short for evacuating the cave of hopelessness,” says sophomore Allan McCoulogh. “Mrs. Donofrio always says to dream big.”
The purpose of the class is for each student to turn their personal tragedies into a positive light for the community. They meet with officials to discuss what a typical day looks like in their shoes. They also share their personal stories of loss, loneliness, and uncertainty. More than anything, their teacher Amy Donofrio, loves doing it and will continue to support these hopeful young men.
“They had the potential in them all along”, says Donofrio. “They’re just now putting on the shoes and walking in them.”
The students, who at one point had no intention to go to college, are now making plans to pursue higher education and change the world one official at a time.
“A year and a half ago, I saw myself as a deadbeat nothing,” says McColough. “Now I see myself as someone who can change the community. I can change the world if I wanted to.”
The students have a great support system. Faculty, staff, and mentors stand behind this brotherhood. Mentor Wade Johnson has been part of the movement since its Genesis, as he calls it. He was once in the students’ shoes himself, so he can offer plenty of advice, as well.
“They just need someone to talk to them, be there for them, you know, pray for them.”
Evac won’t stop here. The class has future dreams to make a book, be on a talk show, and make it back to the White House.
Habitat Young Professionals
Habitat Young Professionals
Reginald D. and Spencer R.
Habitat Young Professionals, embedded within the Jacksonville Beach community, is a non-profit organization. The goal is to have a societal impact and inspire action to end poverty housing. Habitat Young Professionals, also known as “HYP,” is a small part of a much larger organization; Habitat for Humanity.
“Basically, they’re here to benefit Beach Habitat for Humanity, so it can continue to build more homes, and make a better community,” said Lauren Cantrell, Development Manager.
Founded in Americus, Georgia in 1976, Habitat for Humanity today operates around the globe and has helped build, renovate and repair more than 600,000 decent, affordable houses sheltering more than 3 million people worldwide.
As an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, HYP also works in partnerships with local families and numerous volunteers to build homes for families in need. Through community events and daily building projects, HYP provides an ample amount of opportunities to form relationships and network with state-wide contractors, managers and local volunteers.
Educational advancement is also a major priority for HYP. As families are being moved into newly built homes, HYP has a program to assist students and families in achieving their highest academic potential. Programs include homework help, reading and math tutoring, a school-based mentoring program, and financial literacy programs.
Beyond realizing the dream of homeownership, Habitat homeowners are required to maintain their homes, manage their finances and provide the best opportunities to their children. As a method to help families stay on track, HYP offers a comprehensive array of workshops specifically tailored to Habitat families such as homeowner finance, green living and home maintenance.
With Habitat for Humanity and its affiliates being non-profit organizations, fundraising and event planning is the foundation to the organization’s success.
“HYP usually tries to do one build or one social a month. So we’ll go to a local bar, and it will be just a fun way for us to get together, and usually the bar will give us some of the proceeds too, from that night,” said Cantrell.
Fundraisers are used as the smaller events to raise money in effort to support the organization. More promoted events such as HYP’s Literacy Carnival helps to show that they support to the community in many ways, other than building quality homes.
With the hopes and aspirations of ending sub-standard housing, Habitat for Humanity and its affiliates are working diligently to restore faith into the lives of families across the globe.
Down Syndrome Association of Jacksonville
Down Syndrome Association of Jacksonville
By: Brooks Baptiste
One local non-profit organization is providing awareness in education by helping individuals with disabilities reach their full potential.
Desiree Jomant, of the Down Syndrome Association of Jacksonville (DSAJ), began as a volunteer. But, after seven years, she was hired on full time as the program coordinator.
Now she works with special needs kids, who have become her friends.
Her love for them grows daily. While Down Syndrome is a disability, the kids who have it are just as able as anyone else.
Jomant has seen a lot in her time with the DSAJ, but she enjoys the Tuesday night dance classes most of all. “I like to think that my positive energy rubs off, and they just think it’s a great program,” Jomant said. It’s her way to have a good time with the kids. “It’s something they actually look forward to each week.”
“I love to dance cause I love to dance alone in my room,” said Savannah Forrest, a member of the DSAJ. But when she’s not dancing alone in her room, she enjoys doing it with friends. “I just really like to dance,” she said.
Working with people with Down Syndrome isn’t new for Jomant. Her passion for helping those with this disability started when she grew close to her Aunt Beth.
“I always had a special connection with her and every day I wanted to see aunt Beth, I wanted to do things with Aunt Beth,” said Jomant.
She always wanted to make her Aunt Beth happy. “You know, it’s almost like a contagious laugh or smile, and just seeing her happy made me happy.”
Like Jomant, the DSAJ strives to help those with this disability create their own path to fulfillment and success. For now, Jomant continues to befriend those who need it most.
Wolfson Children’s Hospital provides hospital care for children in the Northeast Florida region, regardless of their family’s ability to pay. The hospitals’ “pay what you can” philosophy means they rely heavily on donations and grants to afford equipment and staff.
One of the hospital’s largest sources of donated money comes from The Women’s Board. Since its founding in 1973, the board has raised over $28 million for Wolfson, chiefly through two annual events—The Arts and Antiques Show and the Florida Forum.
“It gets a little crazy, sometimes I look at my calendar and think, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I did all that [work] last week,’” said Anna Neal, a chair for the Art and Antique Show.
Neal has been with the board for six years and spends her days organizing and preparing for the annual event. While this keeps her schedule crammed, it’s not all she does. She also spends her time being a mother.
Thanks to this non-stop dedication to children, Neal and her fellow Women’s Board members – of which there are over 400— are considered “the creme de la creme of Jacksonville” by Dr. Veronica Scott-Fulton, the vice president of operations and patient care services at Wolfson.
“They are the mothers to our kids at Wolfson, they are the aunties you’ve always wanted because they have dedicated their extra time, their focus, their extra funds, their energy, to the children,” said Scott-Fulton.
One of those children is Kayden Baker.
Baker was three-months-old when his family found out he had stage two kidney cancer. According to his mother, Haley Baker, he spent 18 weeks undergoing chemotherapy treatment at Wolfson.
Now, three years after his treatment, Baker is living a normal life. His mother credits the staff and resources at the children’s hospital for his good health.
“He’s crazy, he is super witty, he’s really funny, he is just so hyper, but I love it,” says Haley.