By Beth Reese Cravey
The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville.
At the 2014 Generation W, an annual one-day women’s leadership conference in Jacksonville, founder Donna Orender and a host of speakers encouraged women to “imagine the possible.”
Afterward, participants wanted to apply the theme not only to their own lives but also to the community. That desire led to Generation Works, a citywide day of service Saturday.
“It’s an outgrowth of Generation W,” Orender said. “They wanted to do more, they wanted to contribute. … It’s about not only imagining the possible but also doing it.”
About 500 women and girls — along with some men and boys — will spend the morning working on 22 projects identified with the help of the United Way of Northeast Florida and the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida.
Their duties will range from painting at the Hubbard House domestic violence shelter and hosting bingo at the Sulzbacher Center for the homeless to sorting donated goods at the Feeding Northeast Florida food bank and working on houses being constructed by Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville, or HabiJax.
“Generation Works is one way we’re harnessing the powerful energy of women’s leadership to transform the community … to move the community forward,” Orender said. “We really wanted a diversity of projects.”
Deutsche Bank is the primary sponsor. Florida Blue, Stein Mart, CIT, Winn-Dixie and Wells Fargo are also supporting the event and contributing volunteers.
“Generation Works provides an exciting opportunity for employees to drive social change and improve the quality of life in our community,” said Leslie Slover, head of Deutsche Bank Jacksonville and Cary, N.C.
Also the Generation W women who inspired the event are spreading the word.
“The strongest women’s network is word of mouth,” Orender said.
One of the event’s honorary chairwomen is Rachel Vitti, education advocate and wife of Duval County Public Schools
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who became friends with Orender when the Vittis arrived in Jacksonville two years ago.
“Donna and I have shared on many occasions how the role of sports has shaped our leadership style and how our resilient attitudes have given us tremendous opportunities,” Rachel Vitti said. “We know, though, that without strong women next to us, our work is isolated and will not benefit the entire team.”
At Orender’s request, Vitti became involved with Generation Works, which Vitti said was intended to “showcase the innate talents and strengths of the women in our community.”
“Female contributions to the development of our city have long gone underrepresented. Throughout history … women have led the way in creating and sustaining notable change.” she said. “This effort is no different. I hope that this day of service exemplifies that women as a whole can collectively use our brain, brawn and beauty to lead the way in community transformations.”
Other honorary chairwomen are Santhea Brown, wife of Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, and Melissa Ross, host and producer of WJCT’s First Coast Connect.
Santhea Brown said she attended Generation W in 2014 and was “impressed … because there was a broad spectrum of women of all ages and ethnic groups leading various seminars.The women were truly inspirational.” She was asked to help with Generation Works, which she predicts ‘will have a lasting impact on the community.”
“Women have a powerful voice. Now more than ever, people realize that we as women are vital assets: we own businesses, we are the CEO of our homes, and we serve on corporate boards. We make everyday decisions that impact lives, including the lives of our own families,” she said.
The agencies receiving volunteer help at the event deal with “societal issues ranging from children, educational learning centers, homelessness, hunger, human trafficking, or the need for clothing,” Brown said. “The bottom line is that we are our sister’s keeper. We must take a holistic approach to care for people and meet them at their point of need. The women of Jacksonville know this and we’re ready to answer the call.”
Ross plans to make the event a dual-generational effort.
“I’m looking forward to building a HabiJax house with our WJCT team and bringing both of my daughters along,” she said.
Generation Works begins at 7 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 7 with breakfast at Unity Plaza, 220 Riverside Ave., Jacksonville. Volunteers will be at their respective work sites from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. To register, donate or get more information, go to genwnow.com/generation-works.
The next Generation W women’s conference will be held 8 a.m. to 5 p.m Friday, March 27 at the University of North Florida. Tickets are $175 through Jan. 31; $200 later. To purchase tickets or get more information, go to genwnow.com.