Interview with WPI Alumna, Julie Davis

Julie Davis currently serves as an Assistant General Counsel in the Office of General Counsel for the City of Jacksonville. Among other insights, Julie shared her perspective on giving from abundance rather than scarcity, what we learn about our community when we begin to address big challenges, and an “aha moment” about how WPI Alumni are already joining together to continue collective giving at The Community Foundation with Caroline Brinton ’10.

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Q: What do you do in your daily life?

A: I am currently an Assistant General Counsel in the Office of General Counsel for the City of Jacksonville. I have practiced transactional law in Jacksonville for many years with two large law firms, a retail company, an insurance company, and for the last four years in local government.  My husband and I have two daughters, ages 26 and 28.  Additionally, I have many varied “extra-curricular” activities such as: exercising regularly, singing in the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus and my church choir, participating in two book clubs, and facilitating a weekly bible study. I have served on a number of community boards and have always volunteered my time to community organizations. Presently, I am active with the Women’s Giving Alliance, particularly with several of its grant committees. I also enjoy playing golf and traveling with my husband.

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Q: Currently, what issues are you putting your philanthropic resources toward?

A: I support a wide range of organizations which I believe will have significant impact on improving lives in Jacksonville. I do my best to use what SMIRFs (Social, Moral, Intellectual, Reputational, and Financial forms of capital) I have in my daily life. I have far too many interests – the arts, education, the environment, health care, and organizations who serve children and the poor. It is important to me to support organizations with strong leaders whom I believe will be good stewards of my contributions. I most like to give of my time and talent in local organizations where I have worked as a volunteer.

More importantly, I try to use every opportunity I have to talk with my friends, relatives and colleagues about organizations in our community who are doing good work and the challenges faced by these organizations and the people they serve.

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Q: Do you have a philanthropic mission statement or personal motto? If so, would you mind sharing?

A:  I don’t have a mission statement or personal motto, but I know that I give because I am so thankful for what I have been given. I try very hard to contribute from a perspective of abundance rather than scarcity (whether time, talent or treasure).  For me, learning as much as I can about the issues faced by our community and the possible solutions is a critical component of the philanthropic process.

Lately, I have become convinced that we must have systemic change in order to have the greatest impact on the challenges we face in our community. Achieving this type of systemic change requires working together with as many stakeholders as possible.

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Q: What do you like most about living in Northeast Florida?

A: I love living in Northeast Florida.  My husband and I were born and raised in Jacksonville and both (before we knew each other) chose to return to Jacksonville to work after attending graduate schools out of state.  I love living in a community with lots of extended family and friends. My friends are a mixture of those I have known since childhood and those I have made in my work and volunteer experiences over the years. At the same time, I love meeting new folks who have moved here from other places. I am very proud of our community and somewhat defensive and protective about Jacksonville and the people who live here.  My travels have taken me a fair number of places, but to me, there’s nothing better than watching the fish jump while the sun or moon rises over the St. Johns River, feeling the cool river breeze, and listening to the crash of the waves against the bulkhead.

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Q: What challenges concern you most about Northeast Florida?

A: I worry that many in our community have lost hope that they and their children will have a better future. Unfortunately, I believe that this is true for people on both ends of the economic spectrum, but especially for those on the lower end of the scale. For many of us, I believe that it is really tough to understand and empathize with the daily challenges faced by those living in poverty. As a community, I believe we often spend our resources to treat symptoms rather than addressing the root causes of problems and that this ends up costing us all more in the long run.

We must improve access to quality education and health care. Quality education must include access to quality math and science programs, but not at the expense of literature, history and the arts.  Access to quality health care must include mental health care and effective treatments for drug and alcohol addictions. We must improve access to affordable, safe housing. Our justice system must provide more alternatives to incarceration for first-time offenders and non-violent crimes. And, as a first step to all of these, we must all learn that everyone in our community is actually much more alike than we are different.

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Q: What is a lesson you’ve learned about building a stronger community?

A: Recently, I have been most influenced by the opportunity to work on the inside of local government and by my work with the Women’s Giving Alliance. WGA not only makes grants from the collective giving of its members, but also works to approach community challenges collectively with other stakeholders in the community – as was done with mental health and now with its focus on breaking the cycle of female poverty.  I believe that to have significant impact on addressing the challenges in our community, our local government, philanthropic, and business leaders must come together to work toward common goals. Again, this work must include long-term systemic change rather than layering more Band-Aids on the problem.

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Q: How have you engaged with your family in strengthening our community?

A: I try to set an example for my family in the way that I contribute my time and my resources and by encouraging and supporting their own philanthropic interests. I also try to talk with them about the challenges our community faces and possible solutions.

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Q: You attended our first Weaver Philanthropic Alumni Network gathering in October, at the home of Richard and Kimberly Sisisky. What were some take-aways from our group conversation?

A: I was so impressed by all of the comments I heard at the October gathering and the passion so many expressed for the different causes they support.  I really appreciated the opportunity to learn from others.  It made me wonder, however, if there might be some way for all of us to work collectively to have an even bigger impact on our community.  I then realized – maybe this is actually happening through the special projects and the collective work we are all partaking in right now at The Community Foundation!