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.
Walk along the sidewalk at Cuba Hunter Park and multicolored ABCs will appear, stenciled along the walkway to encourage parents and children to talk about them. They’re part of a “Born Learning Trail” created by United Way of Northeast Florida’s Builders Society.
It’s the kind of project Larry Arceneaux is very proud of — creating something that will have a lasting impact on the community.
“We did another one at Woodstock Park on Beaver Street,” said Arceneaux. “We were putting on the hopscotch numbers, and a little kid came up, and he didn’t know his alphabet. It brought tears to some of our members’ eyes.”
Through his position as a supervisor at Florida Blue, Arceneaux has enjoyed other United Way projects, too, including serving as campaign chair for his company’s annual fundraising drive.
If he had to choose a favorite, though, it’s the hands-on projects that the Builders Society does every Martin Luther King Day that really speak to him.
“It’s a chance to get my whole family involved, to work together,” he said. “My wife and daughter, they’re out there, too.”
Arceneaux’s commitment to United Way and giving back to the community goes back to a pact he made with his mother years ago when he was about to join the Navy, agreeing to always set aside something to give back to the community.
“I made my mom a promise to give back,” Arceneaux said. “Ever since then, we’ve always given a percentage of our income, living simply so we can give more.”
Growing up in the tough neighborhoods of Houston, Arceneaux knew if it weren’t for the help of others, his mom — single with three kids to support — wouldn’t have made it.
He credits the strength of the women in his family, his mother and grandmother before her, for being the foundation that kept his family together and made giving back a way of life.
“I come from a line of strong women,” Arceneaux said. “My mom taught us that no matter what we didn’t have, it wouldn’t define us. It’s that same story, in my neighborhood a lot [of young men] were incarcerated. My mom, my aunts, my grandmother — there was lots of resilience. They taught me to never give up, to set goals and achieve them while watching out for others.”
Those years working in the Navy on missile systems and being deployed around the world also taught him to notice what happens to those in need in other countries, what works and what he would never want to see happen here.
“When I was in the military, I saw that even small things can make a big difference,” Arceneaux said. “When I’ve been overseas, I’ve also seen things that make me think we can’t ever let this happen in America.”
Giving back to the community has inspired his daughter to focus on the needs of students returning to school after the Christmas holidays.
“When I grew up, there were few new items,” he said. “You’d come back from the holidays and notice other students with new clothes. My daughter has noticed that and wants to do a ‘Back to School’ drive during the holidays to help.”
Whether working within Florida Blue to help nonprofits or working with United Way’s volunteer projects, Arceneaux has worked non-stop with his family to impact those in Jacksonville.
“I learned that it doesn’t matter where you come from,” Arceneaux said. “When you give back, it comes back ten-fold. It’s the right thing to do.”