Davi Sits with VyStar Credit Union

This year’s Toast to the Animals fundraising event may be canceled, but the cause is not.

In light of the current COVID-19 situation, the Jacksonville Humane Society has opted to host a Curbside Wine Pull, benefiting its medical fund. The proceeds raised will not only provide basic veterinary care to every animal who arrives at the shelter but also allow JHS to save animals in life-threatening circumstances.

The event, sponsored by VyStar Credit Union, will feature many wine options as well as Tito’s Vodka and Prosecco. Participants can purchase a mystery wine bottle for a $30 donation (or two for $50), but some bottles have a much higher value.

Last week, I had a chance to meet with the Community Liaison for VyStar Credit Union, Kaci Honeycutt. Let’s jump in and see what she has to say about VyStar and their partnership with the Jacksonville Humane Society.

(Not the Community Liaison, but a very big VyStar fan in his VyStar tee.)

Davi: Thank you for sitting with me, Kaci. What is your role at VyStar?
Kaci: My role at VyStar is Community Liaison. I work closely with Amanda Crawford, our VP of Sponsorships and Community Engagement, to build relationships with local nonprofit organizations such as the Jacksonville Humane Society and create meaningful partnerships between VyStar and those nonprofits. I also created and launched a program called the VyStar Visionary Employment Program in which we identify job opportunities within VyStar and work with nonprofit partners to fill those positions with their clients who may otherwise have a difficult time finding employment including individuals who have intellectual and developmental differences and individuals who were previously incarcerated to name a few.

In three words, describe the company.
Innovative, Inclusive, Giving.

I’m begging to learn more! What makes VyStar stand out from other local businesses?
VyStar stands out from other local businesses in many ways but the top three ways are: member focus, employee focus, and community focus. Being that VyStar is a credit union rather than a bank, our organization is founded by and focused on serving our members. I’ve been on staff with VyStar a little over a year now and I can honestly say the focus on employees is incredible. The leadership at VyStar invests in their employees through incredible benefits but much more than that, they care about their employees. They strive to get to know the employees and foster relationships with them and they have worked to create an amazing employee culture through the new office spaces, employee lounges, and employee resource groups. Last but certainly not least, VyStar’s focus on community is incredible. We partner with many local nonprofits and are always looking to build new partnerships that align with our strategic initiatives.

Sounds like a barking good place to play! What has been the most rewarding part of your role with VyStar?
It’s tough to choose the most rewarding part of my role with VyStar because there are so many parts of my role that are rewarding! If I had to pick one, I would say launching our VyStar Visionary Employment Program and employing three individuals that were candidates through our nonprofit partners. To see these individuals being given a chance at a new position and seeing them grow in those positions has been amazing. I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to work with so many wonderful nonprofits and individuals in Jacksonville.

Looks like you are a natural pack leader! How does VyStar give back to the community?
At VyStar, we strive to uphold the credit union philosophy “people helping people” by not only providing our valued members with quality financial products and services, but also actively supporting the communities where we live, work and play. Through our charitable efforts and support of local events throughout Northeast and Central Florida, we are proudly committed to making a positive difference in the lives of the people that we serve. Each year, VyStar employees donate money, hold fundraisers and selflessly give their time to benefit hundreds of worthy programs within our community.

It must be a real treat to work with so many incredible humans! How long has VyStar partnered with the Jacksonville Humane Society?
VyStar employees vote annually to choose a cause to champion and raise funds for and the JHS was among one of the top votes. We partnered with the Jacksonville Humane Society in 2019 as a corporate sponsor of their Mutt March event where our employees raised over $3,000 and hosted a booth during the walk. In 2020, we launched our “people helping pets” campaign and offered a custom-designed T-shirt for sale with all proceeding going to the JHS. This year has been challenging but JHS has been amazing at pivoting their operations, pets still need homes regardless of a pandemic! VyStar celebrated their 68th birthday by giving back to the community by covering the cost of adoption fees the weekend of April 28th. Despite being in the heart of the pandemic, the event was a success helping 57 animals find their forever home!

That’s loyalty! What part of the Jacksonville Humane Society’s mission statement inspires you most?
I really love that the mission of the Jacksonville Humane Society spans beyond just being a shelter for homeless pets. While that is extremely important, the ways JHS invites the community into the facility to walk the dogs and read to animals is so meaningful and the affordable medical services offered help ensure that those who have pets will be able to give those pets a great quality of life.

You certainly have my tail wagging! Okay, last question. If you were a dog, what breed would you be?
If you’d asked me this question a year ago my answer would be a Basset Hound because my husband and I were planning to get a Basset Hound puppy one day in the future. Now, my answer has changed and the type of breed I would be is simply “a mixed breed”. Last October, we were driving home from a meeting and saw this dog on the side of the road drinking out of a puddle. We pulled over and though she kept running away initially, she eventually rolled over when I got close to her. She didn’t have a collar on and it was about 9 p.m. so we brought her home for the night. After trying for 10 days to find her owners (she didn’t have a microchip) through flyers, social media posts, photos at the veterinarian offices, photos at the shelters, we adopted her! I’d gone on a tour of the JHS during this 10-day timeframe to discuss our partnership with VyStar so once she was officially “ours” we took her to JHS to get spayed and her surgery went perfectly! She’s such a sweetheart and a perfect mix of 5 breeds – Pitbull, Boxer, Chow, Rottweiler, and German Shepherd. She shattered our perception of adopting a mixed breed dog versus buying a full-breed puppy and we couldn’t be more in love with her!

The Curbside Wine Pull event will be held Wednesday, August 19th through Friday, August 20th, between 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM. Tickets can be purchased online at https://jaxhumane.networkforgood.com/events/22291-wine-pull-presented-by-vystar-credit-union.

At a time when everyone needs to be physically apart, we also need to band together to secure a healthy future for homeless pets. This curbside event will help support pets in need while ensuring the safety of participants and enabling you to bring your pet along for the ride.

So, grab your car keys – and your dog – and head over to the Jacksonville Humane Society to take part in the Curbside Wine Pull and take home a bottle of wine. Ultimately, it’s not drinking alone if your pet is home. Right?