Helping People

Family members united in mission to serve others

Rush Norton, a second-generation volunteer at the United Way, speaks to children during their morning meeting on Monday, October 27, 2014.
Rush Norton, a second-generation volunteer at the United Way, speaks to children during their morning meeting on Monday, October 27, 2014. Special to the Miami Herald

United by their personal missions of service, two generations of volunteers from three families aim to help others be the best they can be.

They do this through outreach, fund-raising and hands-on projects that make a difference for many South Florida charities through the United Way, which is 90 years old.

For the parents and grown children of the Farra, Grant and Norton families, it’s about more than giving. It’s about teaching others to do the same.

THE FARRAS

“I believe that you work hard and help others, who need help, to work hard,” said Mike Farra. He and his wife, Nelly, are active with healthcare and education through United Way. They started in the early 2000s with the United Way Miami Wine & Food Festival, now called VeritageMiami.

Their daughters Josefina, 31, and Nelly, 36, represent a second generation of givers who have joined the cause through United Way Young Leaders.

“We believe in leadership by example. They saw us, saw our purpose is to support a charity, and it became part of them,” Mike Farra said.

“Service is one of the most important things you can do in life,” said the younger Nelly Farra, a business-development professional for Morrison, Brown, Argiz & Farra, an accounting firm. “I think the purpose of life is to help others and uplift others.”

Being involved at the hands-on level is part of her mission with other members of United Way Young Leaders. The rapidly growing group recently held its second annual mural painting project at George Washington Carver Elementary School with Miami artist Michael Halley.

Mike Farra, chair-elect of the United Way Board of Directors, has served in many roles. His wife has served as a Women’s Leadership Breakfast vice chair, among other positions.

“My parents always believed in helping people,” Nelly Farra said. “My personal motto is, ‘If you have the ability, you should try to help people in any way you can.’”

Both believe in United Way charities focused on early education and healthcare. “In healthcare there will always be people you need to help. You can’t turn them away,” Nelly Farra said.

Said Mike Farra: “A good early education ... is one of the pillars that help people grow. When you have a job, a skill, something you can create, you can be happy.”

Josefina Farra, a physician specializing in endocrine surgery at University of Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital, helps as a second-generation volunteer.

She and her sister are in their third year on the Young Leaders executive committee. “I spend time getting the word out about getting involved,” Josefina said. She also helped with a mural-painting project at Carver Elementary School and has done Jumpstart Read for the Record, a national campaign that brings together children and adults to read the same book on the same day.

“The main reason my sister and I are involved is because we grew up in an environment and culture of giving back,” she said.

Josefina said it has been an gratifying experience. “This past September we had the first Build Your Own Brunch with only young leaders. We had celebrity chefs. It sold out pretty quickly, so we want to get a bigger venue for next year.”

THE GRANTS

Jasmin Grant, 28, daughter of longtime United Way Loyal Contributors and Volunteers Jennifer and Gerald Grant Jr., said the Carver Elementary mural project was her favorite so far.

“The artist would put a spot of paint in each area for us to fill in the colors. We turned it into an educational project combining math and art,” she said. “It was so much fun.”

Grant, assistant director of development and alumni relations at the University of Miami School of Law, has served with Young Leaders and on the United Way Campaign through the UM Development Office.

Her parents encouraged her to become involved early with United Way. They suggested she join the young leadership group because it would give her an avenue to meet other young leaders and to serve.

“We have such a passion for United Way,” Jennifer Grant said. She was employed 32 years by Assurant, formerly the American Bankers Insurance Group. She retired as an accounting director responsible for the Miami and Atlanta offices.

“We like United Way because it goes through so many agencies. There is a much greater impact in a much shorter time. You also see that we are one big community and we need to get involved,” said Gerald Grant, who is branch director of financial planning of AXA Advisors’ South Florida.

“There are tremendous results for the organizations. I would go along with the United Way representatives to get as many people involved as possible. It’s much more important for individuals to see not only that their company is involved but that they are, too,” he said.

Jennifer Grant, a Miami native, has been active with United Way for 21 years and her husband has been for 19 years. She is a member of the Women’s Leadership group, which she has chaired, while he has served on numerous United Way committees and councils.

“I’ve had the same motto since I was a little girl,” she said. “It is, ‘You have to be committed to what you commit to.’”

Jasmin likes that she is doing her own work now with Young Leaders, but she said she got started “when my mom would invite me to the Women’s Leadership breakfasts. She showed me what involvement does at a young age.”

THE NORTONS

Busy second-generation United Way Contributor and Volunteer Rush Norton, 29, agrees. He serves on the Young Leaders executive committee. His attorney mom, Susan Potter Norton, is secretary of the United Way Board.

“It all started as fun stuff for me. I was introduced to these organizations as I grew up. I was just running around with the other kids. It was like, ‘Let’s get together and have fun,’” he said.

“Through my mom I’ve been involved for a much longer time. My mom is the most involved, most caring person I’ve ever met in my life,” he said.

Rush Norton, who works for Merrill Lynch, said his favorite United Way project is the annual Read for the Record. The event helps new Young Leaders see the value of getting involved.

“The kids are hilarious. You can just feel the energy. This year this little kid I read to said, ‘Oh my God, I get to keep the book?’ This was the first year I could do it. I was pumped. It was really cool,” Norton said.

Susan Potter Norton said her son indeed became involved early on. “We didn’t give him much choice,” she said.

“I’ve gotten more out of it than I ever put into it,” she said. “It’s a way to learn more about the community. You get to meet people. I realized that I wanted to expand my horizons and be part of the community.”

She said she follows an old saying that goes something like this: “If you would live your life with ease, do what you ought, not what you please.”

Rush Norton said he agrees that members of his generation, the millennials, have to be hands-on.

“Being involved is a serious commitment,” he said. “United Way is really good because you really see where the dollars go. Before you know it you’re involved with volunteering. You get a warm, fuzzy feeling.”

Rush Norton, who has served with the Young Leaders in organizing Pub Crawls and Cruisin’ for a Cause, said he likes being involved and getting others to be part of United Way. To him, it’s like mixing a cocktail.

“One part social, one part leadership, one part volunteering. Shake it up, pour over ice and serve chilled,” he said.

His mother, who has served United Way for 25 years, agrees that the social part is important.

“I’ve met friends that are very dear and I’ve known them 10, 15 years or more,” Susan Potter Norton said. But she added that through community involvement you get that self-satisfaction of doing something for others.

“It’s like giving a loved one a present,” she said. “You’re more satisfied to give it, and to see them receive it, than maybe they are to receive.”

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