Imagine it’s Friday night after a long day of work. You walk out of your building, exhausted but excited. Instead of going home, you drive straight to your local elementary school. When you arrive, you see a group of parents and young adults walking into the school’s cafeteria. Everyone’s smiling, talking and… stretching?
This is what David Mantia, an RS&H employee and Navy Reserve sees as he joins his fellow volunteers at Jacksonville’s New Berlin Elementary. Every Friday, after a warm-up stretch, David and the other volunteers come together to set up the mobile church within the school’s cafeteria. Together, they remove the school’s lunch tables, clean the room and set up the church’s equipment for the weekend services.
David’s help with this process is beneficial on its own, but he goes a step further, as he does in all of his community involvement work. On Sunday after the service, where he serves as security, he assists in packing up and readying the cafeteria for school on Monday.
Service to Community
David first got involved with community service at his church when he married his wife, who was already a seasoned volunteer. In the years since, he had expanded his volunteer work to include assisting several non-profits, serving as a United States Navy reservist – and his participation in RS&H’s yearly Halloween costume creation for wheelchair-bound children.
For all that and more, David received this year’s R. Ray Goode Award. This award is intended to recognize the outstanding performance of an individual who demonstrates professional excellence, leadership and teamwork.
“Be changed by someone and then try to be the change for someone else.” That’s the advice David gave to others following his win. He offers this guidance because it’s been a defining theme in his life.
Annual Halloween Costume Build
This all began in 2015 when architect Brandon Pourch invited associates to assist his small team of volunteers in building a Mardi Gras float costume specially designed for a wheelchair. Once David saw what was being built and how it could affect children, he hopped right in, using his construction knowledge to help the team put together costumes. The following years includedStar Wars Tie Fighter, X-Wing and Mickey Mouse Roadster.
“The parents are bawling because the kid is talking and interacting with a storm trooper friend,” David said, thinking back on the Star Wars costume. “The parents said he didn’t talk that much at home; they saw him blossom.”
David has witnessed similar growth in his own son.
“Our son would join us on trips to volunteer, and he’d bring toys to the kids,” David said. “We didn’t tell him to do that.”
As Halloween season approaches each year, David and his fellow associates begin constructing the Halloween costumes. His son is more interested in the costumes for other children, even though David makes his son’s costume as well.
“He’d rather see the wheelchair costumes finished before his own,” said David.
David added that he is proud of his son; not only has he learned the benefits of donating, he’s taking what David has taught him and using those skills to help anyway he can.
“He’s one of the older boys in his Trail Life USA group and recently, they were painting rooms in the school to spruce it up for teachers,” David said.
David and his family donate a lot of their skills and knowledge to help others.
Dedicated to Giving Back
David has also given something that you cannot get back: time.
David volunteered nearly 800 hours from February 2013 to June 2017. This earned David the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal for outstanding public service while he was stationed at Operational Health Support Unit Detachment Papa, Jacksonville, Florida.
From deeds as small as painting or fixing a sink to something as complex as building a Star Wars R2D2 costume made from foam materials, David’s actions have changed lives.
“The costumes, the road clean-ups, the working in the heat,” David said. “I don’t try to publicize it, but I didn’t know anyone really knew.”
People were watching and admiring his actions all along.