Go-Giver: Mark Rosenberg

Go-Giver: Mark Rosenberg

By Julie Kerns Garmendia

Mark Rosenberg, a Jacksonville native and local attorney with a private law practice in Riverside, lives with his wife Natalie, daughter Charlotte 10, and son William 6 1/2, in Avondale. Several years ago Rosenberg first began supporting the nonprofit The Sanctuary on Eighth Street through a friend’s involvement.Later a chance personal encounter with the Sanctuary children introduced Rosenberg to the group of underprivileged children and teens who would become nearly a second family to the busy attorney.

“At first I was just the typical check-writing supporter of The Sanctuary — then we ran into the kids at Boone Park where they were enjoying an Easter egg hunt,” Rosenberg said. He explained how he reconnected with Sanctuary director and nearby resident, Vicky Watkins during the run-in. Rosenberg’s interest in the Sanctuary was rekindled a year later in the same park. “I was at the park again with my family when I saw a friend, Robert George, who was trying to set up a ‘not-for-profit week’ at Camp Rockmont in Black Mountain, North Carolina for kids who would never be able to attend summer camp otherwise. I knew I could pull some people together and make something happen. I wanted to help send Sanctuary children to the camp, and through that goal, my involvement with the organization grew over time.”

Through his connection with the summer camp, Rosenberg was able to arrange for the first group of five Sanctuary children to attend Rockmont. For the past several summers, more children have earned the trip through their behavior and academic accomplishments in The Sanctuary’s enrichment and scholastic programs.

“I got to know the children, the staff and their mission and began to spend a lot of time there personally, as well as working for them on my own,” he said. “I was asked to join the board and served as president for the past two years.Those kids are my little friends and they mean alot to me. What I do for them pales in comparison to the blessings they have brought to my life.”

The Sanctuary began as Urban Ministries of Springfield in 1992. The organization changed its name to The Sanctuary on Eighth Street in 2001. The organization will celebrate its 20th anniversary September 21, according to Rosenberg. It has grown from an after-school program for a few children to serving more than100 inner-city children and youth in after-school, summer school and a small,but successful home school program taught entirely by volunteer teachers. Their programs seek to encourage and empower youth and families in need by ministering to their spiritual, physical, social and intellectual needs with the goal of expanding opportunities through education, social services,recreation and the arts.

“It’s funny, but the Sanctuary Board is littered with my friends because not only did I want to bring on more strong board members, but I know how my own involvement has affected my life and I want to share that,” Rosenberg said. “A perfect example of how we can encourage and help the kids, is their Sanctuary basketball team practices and games. Sometimes I have been the only adult thereto cheer for their games, or it’s just me and my children, the staff, teachers or other board members watching them play. It just means so much to them.”

Rosenberg has already contributed successful ideas to help The Sanctuary kids and he has more future plans and goals. His daughter Charlotte’s Brownie Troop painted thecomputer lab. He came up with the idea for Party Partners, where a church orother community group hosts a party for the Sanctuary children.

“WhenI learned that many of the Sanctuary children never had parties given for them,even birthday parties, all I could think of was how many parents andgrandparents of my childrens’ classmates attend the many parties and holidaycelebrations held at Riverside Presbyterian Day School. There is always anabundance of families, food and fun and the comparison to these children washeartbreaking to me. I just wanted to change that,” he said.

Now several churches and organizations host parties for every holiday at The Sanctuary, and many return each year. Rosenberg said the program has been a wonderful success for the children and has simultaneously introduced many people in the community to the Sanctuary children, their programs and needs.

Vicky Watkins, executive director, says that Rosenberg transformed everything since he came, through his personal involvement and commitment to the children. She called him a blessing to the organization and a strong, committed leader with vision, who gets things done and always follows through.

“Mark strengthened the board tremendously and expanded our reach into the community.He brought so much to us with his full involvement at every level,”Watkins said. ” He personally gets to know the kids and loves them and his commitment to their well being and futures is contagious.”

Rosenberg’s goals for the future of The Sanctuary focus on funding and sustainability of programs so that every child can improve behavior, school performance and succeed in life. His concern when he speaks of their difficulties and challenges at home and elsewhere is sincere. He said they have little opportunity to meet their personal potential, that most are working below grade level and some are in danger of dropping out of school. He proudly speaks of The Sanctuary’s goal of helping children to attend KIPP Impact Middle School(charter) or a public magnet school, and that three alumni entered college last year. One deserving student received a full scholarship.

The Rosenberg family moved to Avondale from San Marco when Natalie found her dream Tudor style home, which they completely renovated. Later Mark relocated his office to Riverside. Natalie is also an attorney, a fulltime mother and active volunteer. She too can be found with the Sanctuary children, where she listens to their individual reading. Natalie serves on the Women’s Board of Wolfson Children’s Hospital. The Rosenbergs also support the Sulzbacher Center, the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, American Cancer Society, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

“I just want to help these kids become all that they can be. I want to do for them what I do for my own children,” he said.

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