What it means to serve

A faithful believer shares her inspiration

It’s not always a matter of means, but the gifts one is given

There is a scripture passage which says, to whom much is given, much is required. According to Gwen Yates, it’s the premise that guides the former City Councilwoman and longtime role model, as she spoke of her service to constituents in Jacksonville.

‘Much’ is indeed a word that could be used to describe her efforts on behalf of countless nonprofits and roles within city government, while working to improve the lives of others. In fact, during her 2002/2003 year of service, Yates was awarded City Council’s most prestigious internal award, the Webb Award, bestowed annually by the outgoing President to the Council Member [or members] that best exemplify an extraordinary commitment to public service.

Having served on a myriad of boards including the Florida Council on Aging, Healthy Families Jacksonville, Catholic Charities, Youth Leadership Jacksonville, St. Vincent’s HealthCare Foundation, and Life Care Pastoral Services, Yates has demonstrated exactly how much she believes in volunteering.

“I learned early on that organizations can’t do without volunteers,” said Yates.  “If they don’t have people to step up to the plate, they can’t effectively serve the people in our city.”

Volunteering seemed to naturally evolve from whatever job Yates held.

When she taught in Catholic school at the beginning of her career, she encountered troubled families and offered counseling; when she worked at a youth detention center, she worried about kids who committed minor offenses being locked up with juveniles who had engaged in more serious criminal activity so she wrote a grant to get funding to create an alternative program for them; and when Yates served as councilwoman for District 8, she used her government position to influence legislation that would improve the lives of not only those in her Northside district but throughout the City.

For Yates, answering the call to serve is part of living her Catholic faith.

“We seem to always be at the right place and time to help,” explained Yates, when speaking of not only her own service to others, but that of her husband, Alton, as well.  “I think it’s God placing us where we need to be.”

Married for 55 years to the Air force Lieutenant Colonel known for his contributions as a space and civil rights pioneer, Yates said they learned early in their marriage to support each other’s community involvement.

“Our faith has kept us together and has been so important to how we live our lives,” said Yates. “We listen to each other, love each other and work together to try and make a difference.”

It’s her passion for both the youth and the elderly where she has tried to make the biggest difference in both her 26-year career with the City of Jacksonville and her two terms serving on City Council.

“I am very passionate about our youth and the difficult choices they face,” explained Yates. “Families have changed and what we see in the media that once was unacceptable has become acceptable.  We need more people to volunteer to be role models – to be that person that someone will want to emulate.”

While working under former Mayor Jake Godbold, she was tasked with centralizing programs that served the elderly. She was particularly concerned about the lonely old, the elderly poor, and about enabling seniors to live independently for as long as possible.

Yates said being a member of the City Council was just another level of service where she could advocate for the community.  Having embodied what it means to give much, Yates said it’s simply a matter of sharing her blessings.  “I have tried to share my time, my talents and my limited resources to help others, especially the less fortunate,” said Yates.

In Yates’ case, her faith and her blessings, as well as an abundance of love and respect for those she served, has made all the difference in the community.