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United Way:

A partnership between the United Way and the University of North Florida


University of North Florida and United Way of Northeast Florida have been partnering longer than many of the current first-year students at UNF have been alive.  Starting in 1997, UNF employees have participated in annual United Way Campaign; in the most recent campaign $32,000 was raised at UNF and is leveraged to double the impact. Recently, this partnership has expanded to two newer initiatives with curricular and co-curricular aspects to engage students in the relationship.


United Way’s Upstream Initiative supports ideas for positive social change in any one of United Way’s grand challenge areas which include Education, Basic Needs, Financial Stability and Health.  For example, one social innovation challenge solicited ideas on improving basic needs for those living in underserved communities.  In spring 2017, $30,000 in seed grants were awarded to UNF students, working alongside community partners such as Full-Service Schools and Downtown Vision Inc., to make their ideas a reality.  Through the Upstream Initiative, UNF students established a program addressing health issues (food scarcity and hunger) in the community with “Food Fighters.”  United Way Food Fighters serving President ClintonThis initiative won $10,000 in funding to establish a food recovery program that eliminates food waste on UNF’s campus. United Way provides the finalists with mentoring workshops and networking with experienced leaders and coaches to help develop the idea and create a plan for implementation.  United Way also provides assessments of effectiveness and accountability for the programs once underway. This partnership’s dreams for future projects include collaborating with UNF’s Volunteer Center, Career Resource Center and Carpenter Library, among others, as we create new engagement opportunities for the entire UNF community.


United Way Upstream grant recipients 2017The Upstream Initiative, described above, teaches students how to implement community projects. This program does a great deal to help develop civic-minded graduates who will impact communities near and far. Having gone through the rigorous process of developing a proposal and receiving funding can make a student feel she or he could accomplish anything. UNF students successfully launched a mentorship program for African American male students at Sandalwood High School with “Gents for Jax.” Two UNF students designed the curriculum and facilitate the sessions for the program. “Embedded Within,” a mentoring project to help at-risk high school students transition to college developed by a UNF junior, and “Mindful Friends,” an after-school program to educate sixth-grade students about mental illness presented by two UNF seniors, shared the first-place finish in the inaugural Upstream competition. The benefits to the students don’t stop at grants, but also include the networking opportunities and professional development described earlier. Students who participate in Upstream have the chance to identify their passion and work with like-minded professionals to achieve something great. 



United Way MLK Day of Service Jacksonville, FL

Lastly, UNF students collaborate with volunteers in the business community and high school students in increasing numbers during Days of Service such as the city-wide Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Day of Service.  Students have worked on issues ranging from the environment to art in neighborhoods to beautification programs, education, and tax information in downtown neighborhoods.  Post-service, students convene over lunch to reflect on the day with other students to discuss their experience and what the day means to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  In addition, UNF provides transportation, t-shirts, and lunch for students to decrease barriers to participation.  

After over 20 years of supporting one another in various ways, UNF and United Way of Northeast Florida are still exploring other initiatives to encourage this ongoing relationship.  Conversations around expanding co-curricular opportunities, include more Day of Service events and partnering on other existing programs and projects.  Overall, the partnership has been one of mutuality and through dedicated staff and employees at both organization, it is a model of sustainability.



For more information about the United Way of Northeast Florida, please visit: