a woman standing in front of a white wall
Maria Jones works with Florida Keys Electric Cooperative. She’s an Upper Keys Rotarian and United Way board member. KEYS WEEKLY PHOTO

A tireless volunteer and advocate for families and the Keys community, Maria Jones embodies the nonprofits she serves. 

Her desire to serve the local United Way came after witnessing the positive impact the organization had in the community. In 2012, she joined its board. 

Jones eventually served as chair of United Way of the Florida Keys for several years. She was instrumental in its merger with United Way of Collier County and today serves as vice chair for United Way of Collier and the Keys.

Leah Stockton, Keys area president for United Way, said Jones “shows what it means to ‘Live United’ in everything she does — serving food at Burton Memorial’s Thursday night dinners, leading ‘Be Like Mike’ efforts and helping spearhead the Feed the Keys food drive, serving as a chamber ambassador and more. She does it all with a smile on her face.” 

An Upper Keys Rotarian, Jones plays a pivotal role in coordinating the 300-plus vendors that participate in the annual Gigantic Nautical Market.

“Her patience, fairness and firmness are key and critical to the unsurpassed success of this event and its annual $200,000 benefit to the past and present Coral Shores High School students,” said Frank Derfler, Upper Keys Rotary president. 

Jones is the director of member services and governmental relations at Florida Keys Electric Cooperative. She uses her expertise as FKEC’s government affairs liaison to keep the co-op in touch with and positively proactive in the community.

“The Upper Keys community and FKEC are very fortunate to have such an incredibly dedicated individual working for them right in their own backyard,” said Cris Beaty, FKEC chief financial officer.

What was the volunteer opportunity that changed your worldview? It wasn’t a specific opportunity, but when I was 7,I lost my mom to cancer, and I saw how hard my dad had to work to provide for my two brothers and I. I began high school when we moved to the Keys, and I soon began to realize there were the “haves” and “have nots.” I saw the need to make a difference in our community. 

Last night on Earth: who are you spending it with and what are you doing? I would spend it with my loved ones – most likely enjoying a favorite meal together.

What is your favorite quality about yourself? I think I’m a very good judge of character. My Spidey-senses kick in when they need to. 

What three words do you hope others use to describe you? Kind, compassionate and loyal.

Looking back on your life, who or what makes you instantly light up? My Dad. I’m very grateful that I still have him in my life. 

Do you talk to yourself? Do you answer back? Guilty as charged! Talking to myself is like having a personal brainstorming session. And yes, I’m known to give myself some pretty good advice from time to time.

What’s item No. 1 on your bucket list? Traveling to Africa for a safari has been my goal for a while now. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and would love to cross off my bucket list someday.

How do you hope people describe you? I hope that people see me as someone who genuinely cares about others, strives to make a difference, and leaves a positive impression on those I encounter.

If you could have one wish come true, what would it be? That my brothers and I could have had more time with our mom. 

What is your least favorite smell? What’s your favorite? I grew up with two older brothers – need I say more? Coming from an Italian family, there’s nothing better than the smell of a homemade sauce cooking on the stove.

What’s your hype song? The theme song for the “Howard Stern Show.” I just know a good laugh is coming!

Do you believe in ghosts? What about life after death? I think the idea of ghosts is fascinating, but I haven’t seen any convincing evidence to make me believe in them. It’s a big question, isn’t it? I think everyone has their own beliefs and perspectives on life after death. I prefer to focus on making the most of this life rather than worrying too much about what might come after

Which celebrity would you choose as a mentor? I haven’t pinpointed a specific celebrity, but I’m inspired by individuals who use their platform for positive change, like Dolly Parton. Learning from someone with that kind of impact would be incredible.

What keeps you up at night? It varies, but I think, like many people, I’m often thinking about the things I need to get done or the challenges I’m facing. It’s something I’m working on managing better.

Jim McCarthy
Jim McCarthy is one of the many who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures in Western New York. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 5-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club. When he's not working, he's busy chasing his son, Lucas, around the house and enjoying time with family.