Local advisory boards could use your help
Published: Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 4:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 4:58 p.m.
For Ashley Wood, serving on the Alachua County Historical Commission is a bit of a family legacy.
To apply for an advisory board
-- Apply for current vacancies online at advisoryboards.alachuacounty.us.
-- Drop off hard-copy applications at the County Administration Building, 12 SE First St. in Gainesville.
-- Mail applications to P.O. Box 5547, Gainesville, FL 32627.
-- Applications are generally kept on file for one year. Staff will contact you if a vacancy on your desired board opens up.
His mother, Jane, served on the history-centric advisory board until her death in 1990, and he joined soon afterward, around 1991. He has been appointed continually to the board since then and now chairs it.
The historical commission focuses primarily on educating people about the county's history and advising the County Commission on related issues, such as whether long-standing buildings should be preserved, he said. It also supports history-based groups on grant applications and establishes historical markers throughout the area.
Wood is one of several area residents who regularly serve on the county's advisory boards, which generally advise the commission on issues ranging from poverty reduction to the arts. Although people like Wood are repeatedly reappointed to various boards, there are often vacancies newcomers could fill. The commission appoints members to terms of varying lengths.
"Well, I'd tell anybody that it's worth your time to do any kind of volunteer work for the county that you can," Wood said.
There are more than 30 boards listed on the county website, some of which are more popular among applicants than others, said Mary Lowry, the county's former advisory board coordinator. She recently started a new job in the County Attorney's Office.
The Veteran Services Advisory Board is usually easy to fill, and its members generally have good attendance, while the Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center Advisory Council often has more membership turnover than others, Lowry said. The latter board is more about consciousness-raising and fundraising efforts than volunteering, which can turn off new members and lead them to leave the group before their term is up.
But Lowry doesn't want to discourage people from applying for advisory boards, even if they quickly realize it's not for them.
"I would rather people try it out and resign than just not try at all," she said.
It's gotten harder to get new applicants to fill vacancies on the boards in recent years, and there was a small drop in applications during the recent recession, she said.
"I think people were just concentrating on taking care of themselves," she said. Many boards meet once a month, but during the recession, Lowry told them not to worry about holding monthly meetings if they didn't have much to discuss.
Lowry started her previous gig as advisory board coordinator in mid-2008. The county depends more on faithful board members who serve repeatedly than she realized when she first started the job. She has received fewer applications for vacancies than she used to, necessitating a greater dependence on reappointments.
"I used to get at least one application a week my first year, and now if I get one every other week I'm happy," she said.
Carol Velasques Richardson, who has served on the board for the Community Agency Partnership Program for the past couple years and has spent about a decade on the Gainesville/Alachua County Cultural Affairs Board, considers advisory boards a "great stepping stone" for people who want to get involved in their community.
"The citizens have a voice, and these boards allow people to be involved in decision-making," she said. "If you really want to be a part of change, you've got to be a part of the process."
She suggests those interested in joining a board attend a meeting. Some boards have different demands than others.
The CAPP advisory board, for example, primarily meets for one week a year rather than once a month. But that week is an intensive session in which the members consider nonprofit applicants seeking county funding.
Lee Roberts, CAPP program manager and staff liaison for the CAPP board, said it can be difficult to find people who can devote an entire week to the process. But up until the past couple years, he had a full board. He said he thinks a lot of advisory boards go through this up-and-down flow of applicants and he expects to get a full board again in the future.
"They bring a voice of all aspects of the community, from (the) upper middle class to people who actually utilize low-income services in the county," he said of the boards. "So I get people from all walks of life — (and) all different perspectives — weighing in on this process."
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.