How and Why You Should Commit to a Cause with Local Nonprofit Leaders Deborah Bowie and Barzella Papa
As residents of Alachua County, we are fortunate in that our community is home to over a thousand different charity and nonprofit organizations. There’s a good chance you’ll find an organization that supports a cause you are passionate about in Greater Gainesville, but finding that ideal organization and the time to give can be a challenge. We sat down with United Way of North Central Florida’s Deborah Bowie and the Community Foundation of North Central Florida’s Barzella Papa to learn where they draw their charitable spirit, why they consistently make giving a priority and what giving back means to them.
1. Why did you choose to make a difference?
I would say that my earliest influence was my childhood. My parents divorced when I was rather young and I was raised by a single mother who struggled to make ends meet. Times were tough, but the generosity bestowed to us by many different people in our life and within our community helped us to get through those tough times. Ever since then I have felt compelled to pay it forward; to give back and provide others with an opportunity to grow and succeed just as it was provided to me. Like many other people, I would say that I believe it is programmed in me to make a difference. I read in a book once a statement that has really stuck with me throughout my life, and that was “I want my life to be effective beyond my day-to-day.” I choose to make a difference because I truly want to leave the world a better place than it was when I found it. I know no better way to do so than to give back to the community where I am raising my family surrounded by my loved ones.
For me the journey to United Way was a very personal one. In 2008, I gave birth to triplets, two girls and one boy. Unfortunately, my son was born with a condition called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) which essentially means that the child is born with necrosis of some to all portions of their intestinal tract. This meant that my son suffered from severe cell death of his intestinal tract and had to spend five months in the hospital recuperating. Years later, he was also diagnosed with autism. Right off the bat, having triplets is life-changing, but having a child with special needs changes your perspective of the world. It’s a situation in life where you’ll never truly understand what someone is going through until you find yourself in that incredible situation. When I was recruited for the position with United Way, it just made all the sense in the world to go into an industry that I have the utmost respect and admiration for. I understand firsthand what it’s like to be a family in need of assistance from those who live in your community, and I cannot think of a better way to give back to the community that has given to me.
2. What’s the hardest part about giving your time to others?
The most challenging aspect of giving my time is actually being able to find the time to give. I have to remind myself, however, that often the smallest act of kindness can have an enormous impact on someone else’s life. My giving of time is now a family affair, where my teenage children are involved in the process. It can be a tough juggling act, and giving your time to others isn’t something you necessarily have to do every day, but sometimes you just have to make the time to give because you know it’s the right thing to do.
Definitely, the most difficult part is finding the time to give. I believe the most valuable asset any of us really have is time. If you are committed to a cause that you find extremely meaningful in your life, it becomes almost like second nature for you to make it a priority in your schedule. So the first step is to find a cause you feel a complete allegiance to, and afterwards finding the time won’t seem an impossible task.
3. How did you find the cause you’re passionate about? What advice do you have for others who are looking to find theirs?
For me, the want to give back to others occurred on a more subconscious level. I have always been a big believer in getting involved within the community, but once I started working it seemed to me that the further I dove into the corporate world, the more I found myself giving my time to others. When my family and I made the move to Gainesville, we thought we were only going to be here for two years. By the time I realized that this was going to be a permanent home for us, I knew I needed to find a way to become involved in the community. This lead me to joining The Junior League of Gainesville, where I not only met some incredible women but also found my passion for giving. It was my involvement there that has led me to where I am fortunate enough to be today. My biggest piece of advice is to look for a personal connection. To find my passion I had to draw from my own personal experiences, so I suggest other people do the same. Being able to find something that matches your history and values will make your involvement in the organization feel not only natural, but engaging.
My personal experiences with my son and with my family are what allowed me to find my cause. On a broader scale, when it comes down to it I just want to help people and give back to my community, because like I said, I’ve been there. I’ve been in a situation where I’ve needed the help and giving back brings me such an indescribable joy, there is no substitute for it. I believe that if people think about what it is in this life that motivates them, finding a cause you’re passionate about will be a cinch. Most people already have something that they’re passionate about, they just need to hone in on that passion. The best thing about committing yourself to a volunteer effort is not what you put into it, but what you will get out of it.
4. How has being a part of this organization changed your life?
On a more personal level, it’s profoundly impacted not just me, but my whole family. For my kids, giving back to the community and having a sense of generosity in all you do has been ingrained in them since birth. Through my actions I’ve taught my children to really understand and appreciate the value of everything they are fortunate to have in their lives. My most sincere hope is that I’ve truly impacted their lives positively, and that I have made them want to impact the lives of others through their own giving. They’ve been able to see my work with the Community Foundation firsthand, they’ve met the donors, they’ve gone with me to deliver grants, and they’ve seen the people who receive the grants and just how much their lives are impacted. Through all of this, I hope my kids interpret it as it being their own call-to-action. I’m blessed to have two kids who want to volunteer as much as they do, and if anything else, I hope I can leave with them this sense of giving.
In my case, being a part of this organization made me realize how much of a hopeful person I am. Previous to my work with United Way, I never considered myself to be innately optimistic. This job has affirmed a spirit within me that believes every single thing this organization does makes a difference. Even more so with my being a special needs mother, you can’t make it through the day if you don’t believe that tomorrow will bring a better day. Being a part of this organization and realizing this hopeful spirit within me brings me great inner joy.
5. Can you give any general guidelines for choosing a specific nonprofit organization to support?
Nine years ago, when I got the call to work for the Community Foundation, I had no idea it would change my life the way it has. It has truly been an eye opener to the generosity of this community and how the charitable spirit is very much alive and well in Greater Gainesville. The most important thing, I think, is for you to make sure you can fulfill the obligation of that organization. It’s heartbreaking to let down someone who is truly counting on you, so please make sure you can really commit the time and energy necessary. This doesn’t mean that you have to donate every second of every day to that organization, but when you’re there, really be present. You’ll be surprised at the difference you can make in just one person’s life. Figure out what it is that you’re passionate about and the rest will not only be easy but most importantly, fulfilling.
Once you do find your passion through a cause make sure that you choose an organization you can truly trust with your time or money. By this I mean to find an organization that is not only well managed but also transparent. There is nothing worse than being committed to a cause only to find out that your investment was not managed properly. I say this so that people don’t fall victim to this and become discouraged from giving their time. Choosing the right organization to give your time, energy or resources to not only protects you as a volunteer, but it also ensures that those in need are actually being given the assistance they require.