When people volunteer, they can change lives — including their own. Each week in Reason, we will highlight a volunteer’s story of giving back and how that selfless act was a true revelation. The volunteer project is a collaboration among the Times-Union, the University of North Florida, the United Way of Northeast Florida and HandsOn Jacksonville.

 

Paula Shields had worked hard for this moment.


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It was Duval County Day in 1998. A day when state legislators gathered downtown to hear appeals for more money from state-funded agencies or non-profits. Shields and her colleague Jeanne Pittman were going in to present their case for more funding for the Jacksonville Foster Care Citizen Review Board.

The board’s mission was to get children through the foster care system faster. To find them a home as quickly as possible.

For years, the organization had received less funding than its counterparts in Miami despite the Jacksonville group having just as many if not more foster care cases than Miami.

The main reason? Miami had done a better job presenting their case to legislators.

Shields and Pittman, volunteer members of the Jacksonville Foster Care Citizen Review Board, were tired of not getting enough funding. Pittman had gone to each Duval County Day and come home with less than hoped.

Normally, volunteers within their organization would get up in front of the legislators, talk about what they do for the organization, and say they need more funding. That clearly wasn’t working for them.

So this year, Shields and Pittman knew they needed to take a different approach.

It took time, but they came up with a solid plan outlining their needs. The two spent weeks fine-tuning their appeal as to why the Jacksonville Foster Care Citizen Review Board deserved more funding.

“We were anxious, but we were hopeful,” Shields said. “We thought we laid out a simple business case for why we should get more money.”

She knew the day was an important one. It was so important, she had to ask her boss to leave work early to attend the event.

Once there Shields, now 57, and Pittman, now retired, presented their case. They thoughtfully presented their needs, their plan and answered questions.

Two months later, the pair finally got the news they wanted to hear for so long.

The funding had been approved and $200,000 was coming their way.

Although Shields, who lives in the San Jose area and works for the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, admits her volunteer experience wasn’t typical, she says it was tremendously rewarding.

This extra money meant more employees, which meant more resources to help children in the foster care system get out of it quicker.

It was about helping children. Helping families. Giving opportunities for those less fortunate.