Mark LeMair took over as president and CEO of the United Way of St. Johns County on Oct. 3, 2022, replacing Melissa Nelson, who assumed the role of president and CEO for United Way of Florida the previous June.
Tell me about the United Way’s role in our community.
Since 1957, United Way has been serving the St. Johns County community, playing a critical role as a local funder and service provider, and bringing together individuals, businesses and organizations to address the most pressing social issues facing our residents. Our approach to philanthropy is to be thoughtful funders, listen and be responsive to the community's needs. Generosity is a cornerstone of our work, and we are committed to being respectful, thoughtful and transparent with our donors, partner agencies and volunteers, who make a significant difference.
At United Way, we're often known as a fundraiser and funder, but we do much more than that. These are just a couple of strategies we use to help create greater health, education and financial stability for our neighbors. When we identify needs that align with our mission and capacity, we do whatever it takes to make a positive impact.
For example, we lead and manage the RealSense of Prosperity program, which was developed in response to community feedback about how some families struggle to handle the cost and burden of getting their taxes done. In 2023, this all-volunteer program helped ease the burden for 1,300 families and saved them over $1 million. We're proud to have been able to offer this program for the first time in both St. Johns and Putnam counties, and we'll continue to look for innovative ways to make a positive difference in our community.
What are some of the challenges the United Way faces today?
I am so grateful to have stepped into an organization that has been well led for so long. Credit to my predecessor Melissa Nelson, our Board and this team. And, certainly, United Way has its share of challenges — just like any other organization trying to make a positive impact on people's lives.
One of the big ones is addressing the root causes of social issues that affect our community. We're proud to provide immediate help through our partner agencies, and we're also committed to finding and funding long-term solutions to these challenges.
Another challenge is making sure we communicate well with our donors and community about the opportunity to “Give, Advocate and Volunteer” with their United Way. People are moving fast these days and have lots of great options to be generous. Being resourceful, adaptable and collaborative is critical as we identify new and innovative ways to advance our mission.
How can people get involved or contribute to the United Way’s mission?
There are many ways to support United Way's mission and make a difference in our community. You can volunteer your time and skills, donate money or become an advocate for the issues we all care about. We offer various opportunities for individuals, businesses and organizations to get involved, such as workplace giving campaigns, community events and volunteer activities.
Check out our website and social media to learn more about our work and how you can contribute. To learn about all of our programs and volunteer opportunities or to donate, please visit https://unitedway-sjc.org/.
I would add that we are looking ahead to invest in a greater way in student mental health. We worked this spring through our Women United affinity group to study local data, needs and the organizations doing amazing things to serve families and students. Over the next year, we plan to invest $100,000 with the help of a matching grant from Delores Barr Weaver to support evidence-based programs that focus on prevention, suicide prevention and intervention, access to care, family counseling and support, and other community-based programs, with a focus on K-12.
Keep an eye on our website and social media to learn more about how to support our investments in student mental health. We will continue to assess the current gaps in the community and invest in initiatives that have a lasting impact.
Tell me a bit about your background. Have you had any experiences that may contribute to how you approach your role with the United Way?
I would say there has not been a straight line to this role! I have served with a variety of organizations in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. Originally, I trained to be a pastor. And, out of college, I served as a bi-vocational minister in Central Florida — working with a church and a number of organizations that focused on education and youth development. A door opened for me to work within the United Way network for approximately 12 years. This experience significantly influenced how I see the potential for communities to improve. Moving to NEFL, I worked in philanthropy with the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida. All of these experiences have taught me the importance of collaboration, transparency and community engagement — all of which I aim to bring to my role as president and CEO of United Way of St. Johns County. It is an honor to serve this organization and to build on its strengths with our Board, staff, donors and volunteers.
What do you like most about what you do?
I think our work is anchored in a few things: relationships, generosity and community leadership. When we get to meet needs — by creatively bringing our community’s resources together — that brings me a lot of joy. United Way is about all of us working together to make a difference and I find that incredibly rewarding.
What do you like best about living on the First Coast?
St Augustine has been home for my family for the last eight years. I think this is a pretty special place in the world. Many things attracted our family here. Our community is filled with good people. The natural beauty of the area allows me to surf and paddleboard with my family, which is important to us.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I enjoy paddleboarding, surfing, biking, finding good eats and doing anything that allows me to spend time with my family and friends outside and stay active.
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