The United Way is an organization known worldwide for its generous commitment to the well-being of the many communities it serves. By partnering with other charitable organizations, the United Way helps to provide essential health, education, and financial resources to vast numbers of people.
The St. Johns County branch of the United Way is the local arm of this global outreach. And this local arm is guided by Executive Director Melissa Nelson, whose own spirit of giving and compassion acts to advance the goals of the organization.
After graduating from the University of Florida with a degree in Public Relations, Melissa worked in non-profit management for twelve years for several organizations including the Chamber of Commerce, the American Institute of Architects, and the American Medical Association. Her experiences with those groups enabled her to fulfill and broaden her desire to aid others. This desire to offer help was increased by two when her children were born. For fifteen years after the birth of her children, Melissa chose to be a stay-at-home mother. “It was such an amazing gift to be able to be with my children!” says Melissa. “It was where I wanted to be.”
While busily raising her children, Melissa’s drive to help her community never diminished. She continued volunteering at schools and helping with programs and functions at her church. The busy mother and volunteer also found time to become a small business owner where she taught creative problem-solving techniques to students.
But after fifteen years in these roles, Melissa returned to the workforce. She applied and was accepted for the Executive Director position at the St. Johns County United Way. “I have been truly blessed in my life,” she shares. “I felt that I could align myself with a philanthropic non-profit and make a difference. A push from friends and a push from God and the next thing you know, I’m here!”
Melissa immediately went to work pursuing and enforcing the core visions of the United Way. The organization is a great fit for her calling to stand alongside those in need and giving them much-needed ways to improve their lives and the families in their care. “It’s all about fundraising,” explains Melissa. “Year after year, day after day, we go out to seek funds for programs that matter the most. But it’s not about the dollars; it’s about the lives changed.”
Melissa and the United Way service the community in a generally soft-spoken way. By partnering with other local nonprofit organizations and charities, the United Way acts as a bridge to bring resources to many people throughout the area. The United Way is well known, but its true presence and impact aren’t always visible. “It’s kind of hard to wrap your head around it,” says Melissa, “but we’re all over the community. People don’t always know us or see u because we’re behind the scenes enabling a lot of programs to exist. We’re not running them. We are allowing those who are equipped to run these programs the means to do so. If we can plan the fundraising while they focus on their programs, it helps everyone more. The community wins!”