Face Off: JAX nonprofits weigh in on past challenges & future growth

Face Off: JAX nonprofits weigh in on past challenges & future growth

2023-03-10T13:05:16-05:00March 10th, 2023|Economy, Face Off, Jacksonville|

Writer: Joshua Andino 

4 min read March 2023 — The last few years of economic volatility have provided some of the greatest challenges and successes for even the most economically resilient organizations. Nonprofits, which act as a key pillar for community support across Jacksonville, have proven their own versatility in overcoming a number of hurdles throughout today’s shifting landscape. Invest: spoke to a few of Jacksonville’s nonprofit leaders to find out what’s next. 


What have been some of the key successes over the last few months and where are priorities today?

David Garfunkel, President, LIFT Jax

David Garfunkel: We are first and foremost an initiative led by the business community. It adds credibility to our efforts in the broader community and with the business leaders who are at our table. All of these business leaders understand this work to be important. As Jacksonville grows and as more businesses come in, business leaders believe wholeheartedly we can’t leave neighborhoods out of economic growth and out of city improvements. Jacksonville is not going to be the best city it can be if we are not investing in all neighborhoods. For that reason, LIFT JAX has been collaborating with leading business executives from the most prominent organizations, all of whom are contributing in meaningful ways. It is not just a good thing to do; it is something that many see as a competitive advantage for our city. 

Susan King, President & CEO, Feeding Northeast Florida

Susan King: Number one, we survived COVID. We nearly doubled our distribution capacity on a dime and are about to start renovation on a permanent home for our food bank. We are currently in the leased facility where we began in 2014, and we also have another building that was donated to us, however neither are very efficient or a permanent home. We are excited about our new 121,000 square foot building. The property is 12 and a half acres and located in the community we serve.

David McGowan, President & CEO, WJCT Public Media

David McGowan: Local journalism was an area where we really needed to step up our game. We’ve seen the erosion of the business model that supports local newspapers and other forms of local news as well. We identified that a few years back as an area where we felt we could make a difference. We know that local journalism is really important to communities and helps them operate efficiently and with an engaged electorate. The effects are far reaching. We spent a couple of years raising money for that and we’ve been successful. We’ve raised about $2 million so far to support our work and Local Journalism Initiative. That has resulted in additional investment into our news operation called WJCT News 89.9. We’ve developed a new digital first local news service called Jacksonville Today. The first product that we brought to market under that banner has been a daily email newsletter we launched in October 2021. We’re now approaching 10,000 subscribers and that number continues to grow rapidly. We’re in the process of launching the full web version of Jacksonville Today as our digital-first local news brand. It’s an area that we’ve spent a great deal of time working on and developing. It’s going well so far but we still have a long way to go. 

How have partnerships played a role in meeting the demand from Jacksonville’s growth?

Garfunkel: One of the things we work on very closely is affordable housing. Jacksonville is less affordable than it was; frankly, that concerns us because we need to ensure that as the city grows, it is accessible to people, including for people of lower incomes. With population growth and increased attention, we must make a conscious effort to continue investing in the residents and communities where people have been for a long time. We think both can be done.

For example, we lead the Restore and Repair program with our partners at the Historic Eastside Community Development Corporation. Through the program, long-time residents of the Historic Eastside community receive crucial repairs to their homes’ infrastructure. Renovations include both internal functions, such as HVAC systems and flooring, and external improvements, such as roofing and painting. Families who have lived in the neighborhoods their whole lives can now preserve their remarkable legacy and build wealth, without sacrificing their quality of life.

King: We partner with over 325 agencies and programs, and quite a number of those are directed at seniors. During COVID, we had very concentrated efforts to feed seniors, primarily in the low income housing that we have in Jacksonville. We partnered with TPC, Cisco and Disney to provide the food that would have been served to those in need. We started using that food, employing the furloughed restaurant workers and their kitchens to produce meals which we distributed in these low income senior housing facilities. The program ran almost 11 months, and during that time we distributed more than 650,000 meals. We know where low income seniors live and how they live, so we have some work in place to create a commercial kitchen, because we see it as a growing and more vulnerable population in the future.

McGowan: We’re fortunate to have good relationships with the universities here. They allow us to tap a talent pool. We’ve also brought in talent from around the country where that has been the best option. It’s very hard to ever feel comfortable that you have access to all the talent you need because the need is growing so fast. Florida has an incredibly rich landscape to do local reporting. There’s a great deal happening here.

What is your focus for the future as Jacksonville continues to grow?

Garfunkel: Our work is focused entirely on ensuring the Eastside neighborhood is one of inclusive prosperity: where families and people of all generations choose to live because they know that neighborhood sets them and their families up for success. To us, that encompasses everything in the Purpose Built Communities model: housing, schools, quality amenities, and access to resources that improve quality of life. There are several other neighborhoods that surround the urban core where we want to see that same thing happen. 

More broadly, our vision for Jacksonville is that families have access to the same quality amenities and valuable opportunities no matter what part of the city they live in. In our view, place matters. The zip code and neighborhood you are in matters. Because we know the place you live impacts the outcomes in your life.

King: We are working to be very inventive, intentional and focused on what the food supply can look like for us in the future. I don’t think the retail situation is going to change. We have to look at how we can meet needs with what we have. To be more resourceful and creative, that’s a goal for us because we know that the need is not going away.

McGowan: The Local Journalist Initiative is one of our most significant priorities. We’re also working on a few other projects. One is a set of services called the Jacksonville Music Experience. This not only includes streaming audio services but also a classical music platform. It also includes the Independent, which is devoted to new and local music and Anthology, which is a service that provides music from earlier times. We also operate a big music journalism service under jacksonmusic.org. We have a sound stage series of live performances that we operate here. We bring local bands in to do music videos and we’ll soon be launching on NPR live sessions. That’ll be a national platform for local Jacksonville artists. Building out that service is also a major priority for us in the coming year and beyond. We’re also working hard on continuing to develop our education services. We serve this community as an education provider in ways that are less understood by the community than we’d like them to be. People know us for the broadcasting work that we do with curriculum-based children’s programming. What people don’t always recognize is how used and effective those services are in reaching all the people who need them. We also provide resources to the community. For example, a set of online learning resources called Florida Learning Media. We also run a conference called TEACH. It’s the biggest and most important professional development opportunity for teachers from our community. Putting that into a framework will allow us to expand our role as an education provider here in this community, specifically around early childhood education. This is another area of focus for us over the next couple of years.

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