When people volunteer, they can change lives — including their own. Every other 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 and the United Way of Northeast Florida.

 

Carol DeMarco vividly remembers how anxious she felt about helping at a summer camp for the disabled. She was 10, in Decatur, Ill., hoping she would get to work with other children. Instead, she was asked to help an adult with physical and mental disabilities during a fishing tournament. Her trepidation quickly turned to tears of joy as she helped him.

“I helped him put the bait on, and he caught a fish!” DeMarco said. “We were all crying. He was so happy.”

DeMarco grew up spending family time with a cousin with disabilities so helping someone with special needs wasn’t completely new. The difference was overcoming the unfamiliar.

“I used to hang with him, my cousin, at holiday time,” she said. “He was just so special to me.”

DeMarco has since taken that joy she found in helping and used it throughout her career in the mortgage lending business. She helps families find a way to buy housing coupled with her continued volunteerism focused on women, children and the disabled.

“I can’t do nothing,” DeMarco said. “I know that’s not correct English, but it makes the point.”

Years of working in the mortgage lending business and watching success and failure depend on a person’s credit score inspired her to write an educational book full of tips on the subject — “Be Creditwize” — and to lend her expertise to any group who will listen.

“Credit is the cornerstone of every other financial decision, and the psychology of credit is so important,” DeMarco said. “I feel that financial education is the key, whether I’m speaking to a group of students at Orange Park High School or a women’s group.”

DeMarco’s drive and mission to share information on making good financial decisions are reasons her most recent volunteer efforts have been with United Way of Northeast Florida’s resource management team.

The income committee, of which DeMarco is a member, provides oversight to the many nonprofits that come through United Way’s door trying to make a difference and balance the changing needs of a city.

“The income committee decides who gets the money,” DeMarco said. “I learned about so many nonprofits around the city and see the good work they’re doing — you see the results that they get. United Way is really focused on results.”

DeMarco said getting to know the different nonprofits in our community has been a humbling experience.

“It behooves us on the committee to pay close attention to groups that really make a difference,” DeMarco said. “Going on site visits, seeing the actual work.”

While she carries on her own personal mission to teach the public about credit issues, she is using her financial sense to ensure Northeast Florida nonprofits are able to do the good that is needed.