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Gainesville volunteer spotlight: Julie Ferguson shares passion for United Way, Wisdom Project 2030
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Julie Ferguson has volunteered with United Way of Hall County for over 30 years. She was recently awarded as the nonprofit's 2019-2020 Volunteer of the Year. - photo by Kelsey Podo

Anyone who speaks to Julie Ferguson will soon find out that she doesn’t like the spotlight. 

Ferguson, like many other volunteers, prefers to work collaboratively behind the scenes. 

For over three decades, she has spent her free time helping out where she can, sewing masks for United Way of Hall County, helping oversee Wisdom Project 2030’s “Plan in a Can” and serving on local nonprofit boards. On Thursday, July 8, she helped several members of First Presbyterian Church Gainesville and Wisdom Project 2030 paint bowls for Georgia Mountain Food Bank’s upcoming Empty Bowl Lunch. 

“She is a doer,” Jessica Dudley, president and chief professional officer of United Way, said. “If she sees a need, she steps up, consistently.” 

United Way of Hall County recently named Ferguson the nonprofit’s 2019-2020 Volunteer of the Year. Dudley said Ferguson helped organize a group of ladies to cut and sew more than 1,000 masks during the fall of 2020. The face coverings were distributed to kids and adults throughout Hall up until March 2021. 

“I knew she had to have sewn at least 500 masks, she was rocking them out,” Dudley said. “ … It’s really inspiring to watch how much she has done in the community. We really just wanted to recognize her for taking that initiative and meeting the need. She’s just selfless.”

Ferguson is also helping with a mental health first aid training program through United Way and Wisdom Project 2030. The sessions are supported by a grant from the Cresswind Community Fund and held every other week from July through November. Ferguson said the goal is to train 500 people.

“There’s such a need for that awareness of people having issues with mental health,” Ferguson said. “We’re trying to educate people on how to watch for that. This has been the focus of what I’ve done for the last 6-12 months. It’s really exciting to see that come together.”

Those wanting to sign up for the free training can visit unitedwayhallcounty.org or email Teigha Snowden at tsnowden@unitedwayhallcounty.org. The next class is Friday, July 16. 

Ferguson said she first dove into volunteering with United Way in the ‘80s, right after moving to Gainesville from Atlanta. Up until her retirement five years ago, she worked at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in the IT department. Her role involved automating electronic records for patients. 

Ferguson said one of her first assignments in town involved leading the United Way campaign at the medical center. She was hooked. 

“They’re (United Way) an umbrella organization that covers and helps so many different areas,” Ferguson said. “I think they are really good at evaluating how to help an organization grow and efficiently take care of their clients.”

In 2015, Ferguson said she joined Wisdom Project 2030, a community improvement group of people 55 and older. Membership entails completing a series of eight all-day sessions that involve exploring local issues and opportunities and engaging with leaders in business, industry, agriculture, education, health care, social services, the arts and more. Once the program is completed, participants become a Wisdom Keeper.

The organization has implemented many initiatives in Gainesville, including “Plan in a Can” in 2019. Partnering with Northeast Georgia Health System, Wisdom Keeper volunteers collected discarded tennis ball cans and used them to make emergency kits for storing medical information. 

In December 2020, Wisdom Project 2030 joined United Way and Forum Communications to deliver letters of encouragement to residents in long-term care and senior living facilities across Hall. Students in Gainesville City Schools, members of a few local churches, Brenau University staff and other individuals in Hall created the hand-written letters.

Carol Hanlon, former president of Wisdom Project 2030, said she is proud of the organization’s group of volunteers and enjoys working with Ferguson, whom she describes as “way too modest.”

“She has done so much,” Hanlon said. “Julie is a longtime Gainesville resident, and she is always looking for ways to connect with people to make things better for our community. She’s got lots of energy, and I just love her to death.”

Ferguson has served on several boards of local groups including Elachee Nature Science Center, Center Point, First Presbyterian Church Gainesville, United Way of Hall County, the Junior League of Gainesville-Hall County and Wisdom Project 2030.

For those wanting to get involved in the community, she recommends attending Wisdom Project 2030’s program and connecting with a nonprofit that aligns with a passion. 

Now retired with her husband in Gainesville, Ferguson said she spends most of her time volunteering, playing bridge and spoiling her four grandchildren.
“We’re very happy,” she said. “We wouldn’t live anywhere else.”

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