Laura Crum McLaughlin

Laura, third from right, kneeling, AnKhe, Vietnam, 1969

By Julie Kerns Garmendia

Resident Community News

When a friend invited her to an Uptown Civitan Club meeting, Laura McLaughlin, an energetic, engaging 60-something years young, had long been involved with community service organizations. A realtor with Norville Realty and 20-year Avondale resident, McLaughlin is also a longtime community volunteer with a belief in service to others. At that first luncheon meeting she realized that Uptown Civitan Club, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, was something special.

“I’ve been a volunteer for many other service organizations and this group of about eighty professional women gets more done for youth and the developmentally disabled – and I mean really does more – than any service group I’ve ever known!” she said. “They are so effective, and for a professional woman in Jacksonville it is a great place to meet other like-minded women. Civitan International was formed in 1917. There are 35 clubs in Florida and more in 32 countries worldwide, each dedicated to helping people in their local communities.”

Jacksonville’s club, among the largest in Florida, has been locally and nationally recognized for its service. They received the highest honor – the Dr. Courtney W. Shropshire Outstanding Civitan Club Award – 10 times during their 30-year history. The award is annually given to honor one club selected worldwide from the international organization for outstanding community service. Uptown Civitan most recently won this award in 2010-2011.

“Civitan contributes volunteer hours and funds in support of Clara White Mission, Pace Center for Girls, Seamark Ranch, Girls, Inc., Angelwood, Ronald McDonald House, Pine Castle (where we also sponsor a Junior Civitan Club), and Beaches Fine Arts. Collectively Civitan clubs have pledged millions in support of the Civitan International Research Center at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. The center conducts research related to human development, mental retardation and developmental disabilities and was the first institution in the U.S. solely dedicated to developmental disabilities research,” she said. McLaughlin has been a member of Uptown Civitan Club for 15 years and is immediate past president.

McLaughlin chose to live in Avondale because it reminded her of the traditional neighborhood where she grew up in Charleston, West Virginia.

“In 1981 when I transferred to Jacksonville for work, and found my Pine Street house, it felt like I had come home,” she said. “The area is so eclectic with many different, interesting people.”

Outside of her career and volunteer work with Civitan, McLaughlin is active in her church, First Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville. She likes to exercise, walk her neighborhood and participate in annual walks to raise money for cancer research. She likes to garden, read and travel the U.S. and Europe. She has enjoyed investing in her neighborhood and restoring Avondale properties. McLaughlin’s travel often is to spend time with a unique group of dear friends who, with her, played a part in U.S. history.

“Right after college graduation in 1969 when I was 21 years old, I traveled to Vietnam with a group of other young women, to work for the American Red Cross. We were called ‘Doughnut Dollies’ but doughnuts didn’t have much to do with it…we ran recreational centers on military base camps during the war. We were sent by helicopters forward, ahead of the troops to prepare the fire support bases before they arrived. It was a one year position, by invitation from the military,” she said. “The name ‘Doughnut Dollies’ was given to the women who served hot coffee and doughnuts to soldiers from trucks during World War II.”

McLaughlin has remained in touch with the Doughnut Dollies through reunions, phone calls and Internet. There are approximately 680 of the women who maintain contact, and within that larger group she has a smaller group of close friends.

“It was such a special time in my life with a wonderful group of women. We were all just out of college and too young to fully realize or even care about the dangers of traveling and working in a war zone,” she said. “…and I’ve enjoyed a unique life. My last trip to Russia, in St. Petersburg especially, was depressing but very eye-opening. Russians hate the U.S., but they know nothing about us…they are miserable and unhappy, so oppressed. They have never known freedom. It was such a reminder of what makes America so great, how blessed we are to be free and the importance of our belief that all people have the right to freedom.”

McLaughlin said that in celebration of its 30th anniversary, the club will host as guest speaker the first woman who served as president of the international Civitan organization. Women interested in exploring Uptown Civitan volunteer activities and membership can visit the club’s website. Luncheon meetings are held on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month.


Pay It Forward


Headline: How can you help?


Editor’s note: This month The Resident offers another opportunity that we hope inspires residents to be change-makers for community good. “How can you help?” profiles a local nonprofit organization and showcase ways to support it. It is our sincerest hope that by creating awareness of local needs, we can all help generate positive solutions, funds and help for those in our community who deserve it most.

Organization: The Children’s Home Society of Florida – Buckner Division/Jacksonville


Mission: The Children’s Home Society is dedicated to “Embracing Children, Inspiring Lives,” with a goal of rescuing and helping children to heal. They work to break the generational cycle of child abuse while building and strengthening families. The society seeks to protect children from harm and help them to grow up safe, healthy and prepared for life. They also are dedicated to helping teens who struggle to survive on their own after age eighteen.


Opportunities to Help: The Children’s Home Society has group volunteer opportunities available including hands-on projects like landscaping or clerical work, group activities with the children such as parties or arts and crafts. There are volunteer opportunities for individuals to work directly with children helping in the after-school tutoring program, held Monday-Thursday, 3:45-5:30 p.m. Volunteers are also needed to help during the post-adoption meetings held the last Tuesday of each month from 5:45-8:00 p.m. Individual volunteers are also needed during the Caring Chefs (held each Fall), and Evening of Taste (held each Spring) annual events. All volunteers who will have direct contact with the children must attend a volunteer orientation. The society is a 501c3 nonprofit organization and donations, one-time or recurring are tax free. Donations may be made anonymously or in honor or memory of someone. The Champions for Children Campaign is another way for individuals, groups or businesses to advocate for children, volunteer and raise funds to support children in need and the programs that serve them.


How to Raise Your Hand: For information about how you can volunteer or help The Children’s Home Society contact Myra T. Simmons, development specialist and volunteer manager, at (904) 493-7738, or visit the society’s website:

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