By Martie Thompson
Jennifer Harrington is practically a Mandarin native, having lived in the area for more than 30 years. She first moved here as a child and lived in south Mandarin with her family. She recalls when San Jose Boulevard was just two lanes.
After graduating from Wolfson High School, she continued her studies at Florida State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in child development. She followed that up with a master’s degree in elementary education at Jacksonville University. She taught school locally for a few years, then got married and had twin boys only a year later. She opted to be a stay at home mom, eventually having a daughter and caring for her brother’s daughters after he passed away from cancer in 2007.
- What do you like most about living in Mandarin?
I love the small-town feel of Mandarin, despite the fact that it is part of a much bigger city, Jacksonville. It still has that niche of “small town.” I tend to stay local: we attend Mandarin Baptist Church and I play tennis at the YMCA when I can. My husband is a graduate of Fletcher High School and when we married, I convinced him to cross over the bridge to live in Mandarin, which was no easy task. He now loves it here.
- What caused your initial interest in Relay for Life?
I lost my mom when I was in my early 20s to cancer. I have since lost multiple family members to cancer. I didn’t know anything about Relay for Life in 2005 which was the first year we participated. My twin boys were in second grade and they wanted to do something to help their Uncle Rock, who was diagnosed with cancer and lived in Chicago. We rallied a team of friends and family. It was neat to see the kids have a passion to go out in the community and raise money for a good cause. The name of the team was Kids 4 A Cure and the kids really did all the work.
- Are your sons still participating in Relay for Life?
Today, my boys are 20 and go to college out of state, but they still participate in their local Relay for Life. The Kids 4 A Cure team lives on, though, as my youngest daughter, who is still in high school, has taken on responsibility. My brother’s daughters who came to live with us when he passed away also live locally and participate in the team. The team has grown up and we thought about changing the name, but it is so well known that we just never did it. I estimate that we have raised nearly $100,000 for Relay for Life in the past 11 years.
- What is your role this year for Relay for Life?
For the last five years, I served on the Relay committee, but this year have taken a step back. These volunteers work hard; it is nearly a year-long commitment. Since I started with Relay, I am a two-time cancer survivor myself. I am still active with two teams, Kids 4 A Cure and the team from my husband’s work, Royal Pest Services.
- If you were stranded on a deserted island and could take just three things, what would they be?
I would take my Bible, my family and ice cream.
Photo courtesy Jennifer Harrington
Jennifer Harrington and family.