Local United Way CEO to lead state organization


United Way of St. Johns CEO and President Melissa Nelson will soon be serving a much larger group of people in need. On Thursday, June 16, the United Way of Florida Board of Directors announced that she has been tapped to preside over the state organization of 28 local United Ways.

“This is a bittersweet moment for United Way of St. Johns,” said Kelly Green, chair of the Board of Directors. “We celebrate this announcement with Melissa and with the United Way of Florida Network, but we will truly miss her passion, commitment and leadership here in our community.”

Green noted that, during Nelson’s time with the local organization, it has exceeded fundraising goals, initiated new programs and responded to two hurricanes and a pandemic.

“She has earned the trust and support of our community by demonstrating what it looks like to ‘Live United,’” Green said.

“As a local United Way CEO who transformed the United Way of St. Johns County, Melissa possesses the interpersonal skills, business acumen and Florida legislative advocacy experience that make her the perfect choice to lead the organization,” said Jeff Hayward, United Way of Florida board chair.

Nelson, of St. Augustine, has been with the United Way of St. Johns since March 2014. During that time, annual support has increased from $1.12 million in 2015 to $2.37 million in 2021. In 2019, the organization expanded to include Putnam County, where it has administered $1.2 million in CARES funds to individuals.

During Nelson’s tenure, the local organization added rolling strategic grants that focus solely on food insecurity, housing and mental health. It was recently tapped by the Board of County Commissioners to handle the vetting and distribution of $7.7 million in American Rescue Plan Act Funds in St. Johns County.

Asked about these successes, Nelson was quick to credit everyone involved.

“United Way does great work,” she said, “and we have a passionate, collaborative group of partners, whether they’re residents, donors, people from the faith community, corporate partners, our board of directors, our volunteers — we just have a great group of collaborative agents that want to do good work in our world.”

Despite the many successes she has seen since joining United Way of St. Johns in March 2014, Nelson acknowledged the work still needing done.

Though the county is advantaged in many ways, “so much of our population lives one paycheck away from disaster,” she said. “They’re working families that can barely keep afloat. We need to be aware of that in our community, especially with the affordable housing issues that we face and the eviction crisis that’s looming and inflation.”

She said that, because fuel prices have increased so much, some families have already spent their entire gas budgets for the year.

“So where do they get gas money for the second half of the year?” she asked, rhetorically. “Their food budget? Their rent budget?”

United Way of St. Johns, which has existed since 1957, will immediately launch the search for its next president and CEO. Throughout the transition, United Way and its community partners will continue to address the challenges faced by residents of St. Johns and Putnam counties.

Nelson, who assumes her new role on July 18, said she appreciated the trust, support and friendships of the board, staff, partners and community.

“I am so grateful to all of our partners in the community,” she said. “I love that we can share that we have done this great work together.”