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  • Hubbard House CEO Ellen Siler, shown here in 2015, is retiring this year after running the Jacksonville domestic violence shelter since 1998. (Bob Mack/Florida Times-Union)

    Ellen Siler, longtime CEO of the Hubbard House in Jacksonville, plans to retire this year after 25 years of helping domestic violence survivors and their children. Siler, 69, who has run the local shelter since January 1998, will depart after a successor is hired. Bob Baldwin, president of the nonprofit’s board of directors, said: “Ellen Siler has been at the helm … for nearly 20 years of the organization’s 40-year history,” he said. “She was there when the movement was just gaining ground and she has seen it through to the current day, when domestic violence is broadly understood as a crime and victims are validated and helped. On behalf of all of us on the board of directors, I say well done, Ellen, and thank you.” Siler’s professional career began with two years in the Peace Corps in Jamaica. Prior to arriving at Hubbard House, she led Quigley House, the shelter in Clay County. “For almost two decades I’ve been privileged to serve as the CEO of Hubbard House, one of the very first domestic violence shelters in the Southeast,” Siler said.


    After graduating from the University of North Florida in 2005, Frances Luna joined the Peace Corps and headed for Niger in West Africa.

    For two years she was a community health agent in a village called Dan Turke in the south central region of Maradi. The village had no electricity or running water. She was in one of the poorest countries in the world, where people were dying because of a food crisis.

    But Luna, now 34, said she would do it all again. She made a difference, improving the villagers’ health and quality of life, even obtaining a grant to pay for a new well. And the experience made her brave, broadened her perspective and reminded her to take nothing for granted.

    “In the beginning it was super hard,” she said. “That’s what changed me from a scaredy-cat … It’s a way to open your eyes.

    The Peace Corps is a U.S. government program that sends volunteers to 60 countries to work on community projects. To date, 81 UNF graduates have joined, including eight who were in service last year.

    Luna hopes Peace Corps Prep, a new undergraduate certificate program to be launched Thursday, will increase the Peace Corps’ visibility on campus and in Northeast Florida.

    Young people are “so involved with technology and know what’s going on around the world,” she said. “They would enjoy having that opportunity.”

    Peace Corps Prep is a partnership between the Peace Corps and almost 90 colleges and universities that prepares students for international service. The program runs concurrently with students’ bachelor’s degree studies, integrating coursework with hands-on experience in one of the six Peace Corps work sectors: health, education, environment, agriculture, youth development and business development. Also, students learn leadership, intercultural competence and foreign language skills.

    Upon completion, they will receive a Peace Corps certificate and a “competitive edge” when applying for a Peace Corps assignment.

    Other participating Florida schools are the University of Florida, University of South Florida, Florida International University and Stetson University, according to the Peace Corps website.

    “This program … is still relatively new and growing. We heard about it from a student inquiry, checked it out and decided this would be something we’d like to develop and provide to students,” said Tim Robinson, UNF director of international affairs and Peace Corps Prep adviser.

    He said he wants to start the program with about five students and add another five each year.

    “I am looking forward to seeing how students respond,” Robinson said. “I know that when our regional Peace Corps recruiter comes to campus, he gets many students at his sessions, so the interest is there.”

    Peace Corps Prep will be part of UNF’s International Center, which serves international students and develops international study programs and other activities for domestic students.

    “Jacksonville cannot be separated from the international events and the global realities we all live in today,” Robinson said. “We try to help provide our students different ways to connect with the world around us.”

    Ellen Siler, another local Peace Corps veteran, said the program sounds like a great idea.

    “Not only could it possibly give them an edge toward getting in, it could help prepare them for the realities of Peace Corps service. Peace Corps is a very rewarding experience, but not for everyone,” Siler said. “It takes a high level of commitment and flexibility. The more informed potential volunteers are, the greater chance of their experience being a good fit for them and for the country of service.”

    Luna, who is from Puerto Rico and majored in international studies, is now a senior case manager for Catholic Charities in Jacksonville, helping find employment for newly-arrived refugees. Her heritage and her Peace Corps experience help her relate to her clients, she said.

    “I know what it is to come to a new country, learn a new language, adapt,” she said. “I was in their shoes. … It was tough. I get it.”


  • 18 Nov 2017 by David Miron

    Retiring in 2015, Rosemary Takacs is a retired JEA employee and active member of the Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach who is soon headed to Guatemala to assist with a water project. A twice returned Peace Corps volunteer, Takacs has a significant background in international development.

    What’s your background?

    The Michigan/Indiana region between I-94 and I-80 is where I spent most of my first four decades, including Michigan universities for undergrad and grad school. I majored in accounting and auditing with grad work in production and cost control. Most of my early CPA career was devoted to auditing manufacturers in the region. I was also raising my daughter Jennifer, who would eventually head to Indiana University Bloomington. When she left for college, I left for Peace Corps Paraguay, which would kick off my passion for international development. 

    What was next for you?

    Four months after I arrived in Paraguay, the country’s longtime dictator was overthrown, and the country was somewhat in turmoil. I stayed for another two years, picking up Spanish while organizing farmers’ cooperatives, teaching accounting and even auditing an infamous agricultural collective. When I returned to the U.S., I was hired by the U.S. Mint San Francisco as a production controller, which led me to spend the next 15 years in Northern California. At the millennium, I switched from manufacturing coins to chemicals. But in 2004, the bust reached the pharmaceutical industry. By then, my daughter, her husband (Dr. and Mrs. John Lazzara) and my three young grandsons (Alex, Davis and Will) were settling in Ponte Vedra, so I was lured to the East Coast. 

    I soon joined JEA’s internal audit staff, where I worked until my retirement in June 2015. While working at JEA, I was asked to translate for some water projects. JEA water department engineers had partnered with Engineers Without Borders (EWB), Rotary and others. A site selection team was formed in 2012 to assess various Honduran projects, and I was invited to go. Suddenly I was back in the international development field and would make five trips to Honduras over the next three years. On a whim, I decided to look at the Peace Corps website for Response (volunteers who have previously served as Peace Corps volunteers). There was an interesting short-term assignment: organizing a goat milk cooperative in Nebaj, Quiche, Guatemala. Six weeks after I retired from JEA, I was serving in Peace Corps Guatemala, where I would live and work until March 2016.

    We understand you’re headed back to Guatemala soon. What’s the project all about?

    I will be returning to Guatemala to assist with a water project in the community of La Esperanza in Sololá. The Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach, Beaches Rotaract and Rotary District 6970 are primary funding partners, with technical and construction support from the University of North Florida College of Engineering, Wisconsin Water for the World and Agua Para La Salud. Peace Corps Guatemala has offered to assign a volunteer to the community to teach hygiene and water quality monitoring once we complete the system. The volunteer will work with the community water board (Junta del Agua) to assist in establishing water rates and measuring consumption from a meter we are installing at each of the 120 houses and the school. The community of La Esperanza has raised nearly 30 percent of the construction funds, plus donating all of the unskilled labor, locally sourced sand, gravel and framing timber. 

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  • Barbara A. B. Gubbin, director, Jacksonville Public Library (Jacksonville, Florida),
    has been named the 2017 winner of ALA’s Ernest A. DiMattia Award for Innovation and Service to
    Community and Profession. The award, supported by the DiMattia Family, recognizes a public
    librarian who demonstrates leadership in anticipating emerging trends in services, products and
    technologies that will enhance the library’s position in its community. The winner also
    participates in the life of the community using membership in and volunteer service through a
    broad range of community organizations and projects.
    Gubbin is being honored for her many accomplishments to bring new services and ideas to both
    the library and into the community. The library’s vision is “Start Here, Go Anywhere,” which is
    evident in the outstanding leadership Gubbin has shown through outreach and in the diverse
    community partnerships that she has created.
    Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry states, “through persistence and infectious passion for the
    library, she has built the strongest partnership with the Duval County School System that JPL has
    had in years.” The partnership enabled the library to issue special Student Library Cards to nearly
    130,000 students in nearly 150 schools, in kindergarten through 12th grades.
    The DCPS partnership was designed to improve reading proficiency, and also to increase student
    accessibility to the library. Students can check out books or audiobooks and return them to any
    JPL location. Additionally, educator cards enable teachers to check out more materials for longer
    periods of time for classroom use. During the first year, all students in kindergarten through
    second grade visited a library to check out books. For third through fifth grades, library staff
    visited school classrooms to provide educational presentations. As part of the continuing
    partnership, DCPS kindergarten, fourth, and seventh graders are continuing field trips to the
    library this school year.
    The annual award, consisting of $5,000 and a citation of achievement, will be presented at the
    ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois in June.2017
    Here is Barbara at our 2017 Partnership dinner doing what she does best, convincing all of us  "You can go anywhere by Reading"