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.

 

It still makes Judy Walz laugh to think of the day her mother called to tell her about 2-1-1, United Way’s 24/7 information and referral services hot line.

“It was hysterical,” Walz said. “My mom was ill in Indiana, and we were trying to figure out how we were going to help her. One day on the phone talking about, it she said, ‘I called 211!’, and suddenly I get the connection. They gave her all kinds of ideas, such as Meals on Wheels.”

The irony was Walz has spent years volunteering to make sure 2-1-1 was able to help families get connected to resources they need. She often talked about her volunteerism with her mother, but on that day, her mother’s 2-1-1 personal connection helped Walz realize why paying it forward is so important: you never know when or if your family will be the one in need.

Helping others was an example long set by her parents when Walz was growing up.

“They spent a lot of time doing things for others, especially through church,” Walz said. “My mom would buy new underwear for the homeless women in shelters. She ran a beauty shop; she knew how important that could be. She also made quilts and blankets just to give them away.”

Walz loves the volunteer work she now does with United Way 2-1-1.

“I can be part of something bigger than what I can personally do,” Walz said. “When you can’t always use what you have, you can work with different people and be part of something larger.”

Walz originally came to volunteer as a board member with United Way on the south side of Chicago. When she moved to Jacksonville to take a position with Vystar Credit Union, she looked to expand her work beyond a board role.

In addition to her duties as senior vice president of marketing and planning with Vystar, she also volunteers her time by serving as United Ways of Northeast Florida’s 2-1-1 advisory committee chair.

“We look at call volumes, what the calls are about,” Walz said. “Then, we see if we have the funding to meet those needs and what to do about them.”

She went on to say because 2-1-1 is a nationwide system, calls from a particular area going through an emergency situation, such as a natural disaster, might be routed through another United Way’s phone lines so contact can be maintained 24/7 no matter what.

For example, she noted that during Hurricane Katrina, calls coming into the New Orleans center were routed through the Jacksonville site.

“It’s so everyone is helped all the time,” Walz said. “Our biggest challenge is making sure people know about 2-1-1.”

Walz lost her mother in 2011. Knowing the work she does to help 2-1-1 be available for people like her mother makes it come full circle.

“Who knows — I might start quilting, too!” Walz said.