by Emily Moody
This Jacksonville native and graduate of Forrest High School is not only a colleague but also a friend. Carmen Godwin is an amazingly dynamic individual with a passion for history. And, as if being a mother, wife and Executive Director of Riverside Avondale Preservation was not enough, she also serves as the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation’s education chair, and her daughter’s school advisory council as well as serving on a grant panel and doing speaking engagements, etc. Being a strong force and proven leader in our community, she is one that I consider a true mentor.
That’s a RAP
After six years of commuting from her home in Riverside to her work as the Director of the Amelia Island Natural History Museum, Carmen began the dreaded hunt of finding a job that was closer to home. Friends hinted that she should apply for the Executive Director position at Riverside Avondale Preservation and on a whim, she did. Since taking the reins of RAP three years ago, Godwin’s fresh energy and dedication has helped this organization grow leaps and bounds. Carmen has some serious bragging rights, since, on her watch, the neighborhood has witnessed countless achievements. Not only did Riverside Avondale get voted one of the 10 Best Neighborhoods of 2010 (in the nation) by the American Planning Association, but with the continued success of The Riverside Arts Market, a neighborhood watch program, the Riverside Trolley project, the launch of Oktoberfest, and her newest project, GoLo, she has so much to be proud of (though she probably would not take credit for a thing).
No Rest for the Weary
As one of her board members, I have seen first hand how tirelessly Carmen works to ensure that her legacy will continue on for generations to come. Through breakfast meetings with city officials to lunch meetings with various committees to evening City Council meetings that drag on for hours, Carmen is there every step of the way. Trust me, she puts in her hours! It takes a unique individual to be able to juggle the personalities of not only a 20 seat board of directors, but also a couple hundred volunteers AND the residents of the neighborhood. Carmen does it with a (although sometimes exhausted) smile on her face. Plus, she offers continued support by being there to listen and remain open to fresh, new ideas from business owners and residents alike.
Being a Team Player
Since 1974 RAP has been dedicated to serving our community and neighborhood. Carmen is helping to continue that commitment by understanding that you can not get something accomplished alone. There are countless committees dedicated to everything from marketing to membership. While there may only be one other person (besides Carmen) on the RAP payroll, there are hundreds of others who donate time. I asked Carmen how she kept up the energy to do all that she does and she said, “Whenever I get tired, I get a call from a volunteer who has just put in twenty hours on a project after working a full time job and I realize that we are all in this together and I need to buck up.”
How LO can you GO?
The newest brainchild of Carmen and her team of super talented volunteers is GoLo (Go Locally Owned and Locally Operated!), a group organized to help raise the awareness of the importance of supporting local, independent companies. After inspiration from a trip to Asheville, NC, Godwin noticed that many of the local businesses had posters and stickers in their windows in support of mom and pop shops. After her weekend getaway, she was inspired. Remembering how it all came about, she explained to me “I started thinking, hey Downtown is our core, and then Riverside Avondale, Springfield and San Marco are our historic residential suburbs, and combined these make up Jacksonville’s “Original Town Center” which has such a rich offering of unique dining and shopping experiences. I saw our independent stores struggling and thought our unique character could essentially die if people from our own neighborhoods choose to drive a half hour or hour away to shop instead of supporting locally owned and operated businesses.”
Carmen and the RAP Marketing Team got to work with a plan of attack, not only for Riverside Avondale, but for independent businesses in commercial corridors all around the city. Carmen sees the bigger picture. It makes so much sense for entrepreneurs to ban together against the big box stores versus competing against each other.
Frankly, Riverside Avondale should feel privileged to have the dedication of an individual that is committed to preserving our community’s businesses, greenspace and architecture. If you are lucky enough to know her or even if you do not, remember that there is so much more that goes on behind the scenes. Next time you see her, treat her to a drink or a hug and thank her for all the heart and soul she pours into her job, instead of complaining about having to get a permit for that new fence you want to build.