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Nonprofits call alumni

Tiger at Saint Augustine Wild Reserve

Deborah Warrick has always loved animals. Her desire to care for different creatures led her to the University of North Florida to study biology. Since 1981, she’s been rescuing and nursing sick animals back to health. Using her passion for preservation, this UNF alumna has launched a successful career in nonprofit management.


 “I always had an interest in caring for animals, especially the exotic,” she shared. “But I needed a better understanding of how to do it.


Adding to her zookeeper training award from the Los Angeles Zoo in 1984 — Warrick was one of 20 students of 400 to make it to the final exam and work with animals in the zoo for a year — UNF gave her the academic knowledge and hands-on training needed to establish herself as a skilled biologist. Her degree, she said, was the proverbial icing on the cake that gave her credibility as a serious biologist.


The savvy nonprofit founder formed the St. Augustine Wild Reserve in 1995. Warrick said she never thought she would run her own nonprofit. In fact, she always assumed she would become a zoo veterinarian. However, after working in the field for a time, she said she realized the world needed more conservationists.


She started out caring for wolves, but she turned her gaze to big cats in the ‘90s, a move that brought with it greater expenses and more difficult logistics. She soon realized her wards required more assistance than she could provide alone. That led her to apply for 501(c)(3) status.


Today, the Reserve hosts tours Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Volunteers act as tour guides for the seven-acre animal compound. Warrick’s biology background set the tone for these tours, which include in-depth information about the white and orange tigers, cougars, servals, coatimundis, lynxes and leopards that call the Reserve home.


“Not only can I care for [the animals] better because I understand how to, but funding is easier to acquire because I have the credibility of my UNF degree,” said Warrick, who is finishing another UNF degree — this time a master’s degree in biology.


Her future plans for the Reserve include transitioning to a fully accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.


“My dream is to become the St. Augustine Zoo,” she said. 

Warrick explained her dream includes expanding the seven acres to an area large enough to house hundreds more species of wildlife. She said the Reserve of today would not have come to fruition without the encouragement she received during her time in UNF’s biology program and the words of wisdom she received from faculty members, especially Dr. Matt Gilg.


Warrick is just one of many UNF grads to parlay their degrees into nonprofit success. Other alumni, such as Jennie Davis, have found outlets for their passions by fulfilling positions with established nonprofits. The common thread between them is that the University taught them the skills and instilled in them the drive necessary to excel in the nonprofit sector.


Davis is a UNF alumna who found herself drawn to the nonprofit sector. The international business and marketing major began her journey in the Coggin College of Business with corporate aspirations. But by the time graduation came around in spring 2007, Davis said she had “caught the nonprofit bug.”


Her time in the Students In Free Enterprise club on campus inspired her to pursue leadership roles, and her Coggin classes gave her the skills to work effectively in groups, lead teams and build businesses. She brought these skills to bear as a member of the Peace Corps.


“I took the knowledge I had and helped young women in Senegal make better lives for themselves,” she said. “That was when I knew nonprofit work was for me.”


Davis spent 28 months in Senegal, teaching community economic development, helping young people set up businesses and showing them how to design business and marketing plans. She imparted the same knowledge on financing capital ventures that she had acquired at UNF. She said this work in the Peace Corps was an ideal transition from UNF to the working world.


“I had the foundation of my business basics,” she said. “My leadership skills were put to the test daily. I had to take initiative and work with people who were different than me. These were all skills and tools I learned while earning my international business degree.”

When her time was up with the Peace Corps, she returned to Jacksonville and accepted a position with the American Cancer Society as a Relay for Life coordinator. “In Senegal, the more I gave of myself, the more I got back,” she said. “It’s the same at American Cancer Society.”


Much like her work with the Peace Corps, her job has her focused on boosting youth involvement and working with teams and groups made up of people from varied backgrounds.


“I truly enjoy the spirit of Relay,” she said. “It’s celebratory, whether in tragedy or in triumph.”


Working for an organization that has a goal to celebrate more birthdays offers Davis plenty of opportunity to revel in that spirit. For Davis, the similarities between ACS and the Peace Corps remind her of what being an Osprey means. “You have to put yourself out there and really be part of the community,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to get involved. Successful people are the busiest but still find time to give back to others.”


Like Warrick, Davis keeps close ties with the University. She serves on the Coggin Alumni Board, provides student leadership and is a liaison link between businesses and students. Both alumnae agree that nonprofit work is something every Osprey should try, even if they don’t make it a career.


“You never know, though,” Davis said with a wink. “You could find your life’s calling.”