Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Giving Back Mike McNamara; Neighbor Helped Him out of Debt; Now He Pays It Forward by Teaching

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Giving Back Mike McNamara; Neighbor Helped Him out of Debt; Now He Pays It Forward by Teaching

Article excerpt

Byline: Nancy Winckler-Zuniga

When people volunteer, they can change lives - including their own. Each week in Reason, we will highlight a volunteer's story of giving back and how that selfless act was a true revelation. The volunteer project is a collaboration among the Times-Union, the University of North Florida, the United Way of Northeast Florida and HandsOn Jacksonville.

Mike McNamara likes to begin his financial education workshops with a story.

"I graduated college and got married," McNamara said. "We fell in love with each other and with pieces of plastic."

Eventually, McNamara and his wife's credit-card debt caught up with them, and they needed help.

"A neighbor, who had a financial background, gently counseled us on many things - money tracking and budgeting," McNamara said. "He helped us find an institution that consolidated our debts."

That experience framed McNamara's understanding of how humbling it can be to ask for help in financial situations.

Now, McNamara volunteers as a "money coach" through United Way of Northeast Florida's RealSense initiative. He sees his volunteer role as an extension of that friendly neighbor who helped him many years ago. McNamara still uses some of the techniques he learned from that intervention.

"We learned to use envelopes to budget," he said. "Each bill got an envelope, and then our money would get divided into each one."

Growing up in a small Iowa farm town, McNamara watched neighbors helping neighbors. His father was a rural mail carrier who often volunteered to help families of World War II veterans. After the town lost its only doctor, McNamara's parents spearheaded a fundraising campaign in the town, winning a grant to fund a new doctor and clinic.

McNamara eventually followed in his family's footsteps, fund raising for the University of Florida before moving to Jacksonville to help Mayo Clinic grow into the organization it is today. He was Mayo's senior principal gifts officer before retiring.

"I caught the vision of what Mayo could be," McNamara said.

Involvement in the philanthropic business community is what brought McNamara to United Way of Northeast Florida. …

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