Although technically not a Florida native, Ann McGee is as much a Floridian as someone who was born here. She grew up fishing with her dad, walking the beaches and admiring Florida’s natural beauty. She says she’s never once looked back at the state of Ohio, which she left at age seven, and says she can’t imagine living anywhere other than Florida.
Education is one of United Way’s most important initiatives. What got you interested in the community college system?
I graduated high school at 16, and the high school counselor thought that I should attend Duke University. But my father said no, first because of the cost, but also he felt that at 16 I was just too young to go away to college. So I attended community college in Saint Petersburg, and it turned out to be the best place for me. The class sizes were small and I really excelled. I was in the National Honor Society and received several scholarships. I transferred to Florida State University and when it came time to pick a career, I chose teaching at a community college because of my experience there.
Explain a little about the connection between you, United Way and Seminole State College?
Perhaps the most important connection lies within the goals of both Seminole State College and United Way. At Seminole State, our motto is “We Change Lives,” certainly that’s true of United Way as well. More specifically, our education goals are connected. We both are focused on improving graduation rates and helping local families become self-sufficient. My direct connection came when I joined the Heart of Florida United Way board of directors in 2011, and eventually became the vice-chair of the board and now chair.
In what ways does Seminole State benefit from United Way?
One of the most obvious services that employees and students benefit from is the 2-1-1 program. It’s been a great benefit to students and workers because they can be connected with services as they need them. Also, over years United Way has refocused and become more involved in education. That has led to some tremendous volunteer and service learning opportunities and created a stronger partnership between the two.
What kind of impact has this relationship had on our community?
As part of the “Together for Tomorrow” initiative, our students recently participated in a service project with Pine Crest Elementary School where they served as mentors, tutors and classroom assistants. United Way brought Together for Tomorrow to Pine Crest, and Seminole State psychology professors Doreen Collins-McHugh and John Cardenas provided many of its volunteers via class requirements and extra credit. Last spring, about 70 Seminole State psychology students logged nearly 600 hours of service working with the students. And since Seminole State’s partnership with Together for Tomorrow began in 2012, more than 160 students have logged more than 1,600 volunteer hours. It’s a win-win-win relationship.
Some people view United Way as old-fashioned, but you see United Way as a progressive entity. How so?
I arrived in Central Florida to a United Way that was very different from what it is today. It has evolved from being a core contributor to much more of a service experience. For instance, its reading readiness initiatives, along with its commitment to improving high school graduation rates show that United Way is looking for ways to help the community move ahead. It is truly an organization that helps people be all they can be. It’s very proactive rather than reactive, and that results in a more involved populous and moves us toward a more sustainable economy. United Way, along with the community leaders working with United Way, are all trying to create a better community for all people at all levels.
What helps United Way connect with young adults?
The Together for Tomorrow program is a great vehicle for that. Young people want to get involved. They want to change the world and make it a better place, but sometimes they’re naïve. Together for Tomorrow brought students into schools and gave them a chance to see the issues children are struggling with first-hand, and then it gave them a chance to do something about it. And that is a great role for United Way, to expose and educate young adults on the issues out in the community, and then challenge them to get creative and help with solutions. If United Way can ignite the spark, then young adults will see themselves solving some of issues.
How does this play into our broader community?
I’ve been in Central Florida for 18 years and I love it here. I consider myself an adventurer, yet this is the place that I call home. United Way’s commitment to making this a better community for everyone is reflective of this community as a whole. It’s truly a community that comes together. It’s very forward thinking and it’s a community that’s never met a stranger. All are welcome, and that’s part of what makes this such a great place to live, work and play.