Each morning, when I cross over the Main Street Bridge into Downtown Jacksonville, I’m inspired by the glittering skyscrapers that surround me. Sometimes I’ll stop at Friendship Fountain, just before crossing over the bridge, to admire the city skyline in all of its glory. The feeling of driving above the St. Johns River into Downtown is like no other. I love being a part of this amazing city. When I gaze up at tall buildings, I not only think of the people who work in them, but also the visionaries who built them. I wonder what creative potential they might have foreseen for the city of Jacksonville, and I think about the future possibilities One Spark will bring to our city.
As I walk down Laura and Adams streets, I look upward at the towering structures all around. They give me that uplifting feeling, the feeling that I’m a part of something bigger than myself. I want to share this feeling with the Jacksonville community and the world. Strangers on the sidewalk pass me by, busy on their way to other places. What these strangers don’t know is that our city is changing, and I’d like to invite them to be a part of that change.
It’s kind of an eerie feeling, living in the country’s largest city by landmass, then arriving Downtown and seeing the streets empty and lifeless. Downtown Jacksonville is an empty jar just waiting to be filled, and One Spark can fill it. During One Spark last year, the jar was overflowing. I’ve seen the city light up and come alive only once in the three years that I’ve lived here, and I fell in love with the creative atmosphere. After One Spark, Jacksonville became a new city in my eyes. It was a sneak peek at what Jacksonville could be if given the opportunity to branch out, to connect and to create. I loved it. Naturally, when I find something I love, I stick with it.
Last year, I attended One Spark as a curious festival-goer. After experiencing the festival firsthand and interacting with creators of art, innovation, music, science and tech projects, I knew that I wanted to be more involved. This year, I’ve been lucky enough to volunteer for One Spark as one of its public relations interns.
I want to share my One Spark experience and encourage everyone in the Jacksonville community to get their hands dirty by creating life in our city through volunteerism at One Spark 2014. I’ve never been more convinced that volunteering at One Spark 2014 can, and will, change your perspective of Jacksonville’s collaborative potential. Plus, volunteering is a great way to give back to the community as a whole. One of the great things about signing up with One Spark is that you not only get to give back to the community, you also have the opportunity to participate in a global movement. For those of you who haven’t heard of the five-day phenomenon, you’re probably wondering, “What is One Spark?”
One Spark is an event held for five days this year — April 9-13 — where creators from all over the world light up Downtown. Artists, entrepreneurs and innovators will display projects over 20 square blocks at 78 venues in the heart of our city. One Spark is about connecting people who have great ideas to the community and resources they need to make their dreams a reality.
During One Spark, it’s completely normal — even expected — to never experience boredom. You will experience the vibrant creativity of the thinkers and doers in Downtown Jacksonville like never before: “I got to my first day of tech crew and I was running around and it was all crazy and all of a sudden my shift was over and I wasn’t ready to go home yet,” says Chris Arsenault, tech crew volunteer for One Spark 2013. “There were so many people Downtown and I met so many cool people volunteering, I ended up working around seven shifts, I think.”
During the inaugural festival, everywhere I looked I saw a One Spark volunteer ready to help guide attendees and answer questions. More than 550 people mobilized to be One Spark volunteers in 2013. These amazing people contributed time and talent behind the scenes and on the front lines to keep the festival running smoothly. As a volunteer, you can join the team of innovators who will impact the city of Jacksonville, and eventually the world, in a major way.
After experiencing One Spark myself, I asked one of the returning volunteers, Holly Lalli, whom she thought would be the perfect One Spark volunteer candidate. She replied, “Gosh, anybody! It was such a diverse group of volunteers. There were people from high school age, to people who were grandparents, all races and genders and interests, really. If you have an interest in Jacksonville, in innovation, in the environment, in technology, in just living life to the fullest — really, anybody [would make a perfect candidate].”
The irreplaceable benefit of working with other local community members is the creation of lasting friendships and networking connections you make.
“I gained an awesome group of friends,” Mandie Marron, a returning volunteer, says. “We’re all still really close and still hang out. We always do a bunch of things around Downtown together now, it’s really awesome.”
If those testimonials aren’t enough to get your creative wheels rattling, think about this: As a volunteer, you have the opportunity to see great ideas and the power to make them a reality. One Spark provides the perfect platform to put your idea in front of more than 150,000 attendees, have it validated and receive valuable feedback from the community. And as a volunteer, you’re in the middle of all the action and work directly with creators and innovators from all over America. If you’re an aspiring creator, but aren’t quite ready to showcase your idea, volunteering is the best way to get a feel for the festival. It’s also a perfect way to start your project planning for next year’s One Spark!
One Spark 2013 volunteer Onyx Seven nicely summarizes why you should volunteer: “I got a lot out of it. I learned so much about people. Being able to volunteer with so many different people and also to see so much creativity, I didn’t know we had that many talented people in Jacksonville and the surrounding areas. So just being able to meet people and interact with so many people and to see the excitement about what we were doing made my One Spark volunteer experience great.”
The author, a University of North Florida student, is a One Spark 2014 public relations intern.