Melissa Nelson is the president and CEO of the United Way of St. Johns County (SJC).
Can you please briefly tell us about your background?
As a professional, I have almost always been in the nonprofit field. I started right after graduating from University of Florida handling public relations for a Chamber of Commerce in Brevard County. Along the way, I took some time off to raise my children, but even then, I was super involved as a volunteer. I’ve served in this role with United Way of St. Johns County for nearly five years.
How do you explain the efforts of the United Way to those people who are unfamiliar with the organization?
Explaining United Way is tougher than you might think. As the most widely recognized brand in the nonprofit world, it seems surprising. We sum it up by saying that United Way fights for the health, education and financial stability for every person in our community. How do we do this? By building collaborative relationships, actively fundraising, spearheading volunteer efforts and advocating for those who need it the most. There is no other organization that brings together the work of nonprofits, government, individuals and the faith community in the way that only United Way can and does.
What’s the most rewarding part about your job?
The most rewarding part of my position is that I can confidently say that not just me, but our entire team — staff, board members, volunteers and donors — can feel confident that United Way-SJC is positively impacting thousands of lives in our community. It could be someone you work with, a child in your child’s class at school, the elderly neighbor who sits two pews over in church or even a family member. We all need a helping hand sometime.
What are some of the challenges that United Way faces today?
St. Johns County is a rapidly growing community — especially from Nocatee and World Golf Village north — with much of our population identifying with and working in the Jacksonville metropolitan area. Many are unaware of the challenges in our community and that United Way-SJC is working to address those issues. For example, many are startled to hear that in our own county, we have enough homeless children to fill an entire elementary school. Our goal is to make people more aware of these needs and encourage volunteers and donors to engage right here where we live.
Does your organization have any upcoming events the community might be interested in?
We just wrapped up three very large events, but there is always something on the horizon. Anyone interested in attending a function or getting involved can keep up to date by sharing an email address with us. There is a golf tournament in the works, a ladies’ luncheon and so much more. We are busy.
How can people get involved? What opportunities are available?
Every spring, United Way-SJC invites volunteers to partner with us in determining funding for nonprofits. Typically, grants are given to about 30 organizations for 40 to 50 programs. We use volunteers to vet the organizations and programs. It is a great way to learn what we do, who we work with and about community needs. We welcome individuals to the process. In fact, this is the same way I learned about and fell in love with the work of United Way-SJC.
What do you enjoy most about living and working on the First Coast?
For the most part, I am a lifelong resident of Florida’s First Coast. I grew up on Amelia Island, and I have lived here in St. Johns County for nearly 20 years. Just crossing the Intracoastal or driving up A1A gives me a sweet feeling of contentment. It is beautiful here. Knowing that, you won’t be surprised to hear that a great day is spent relaxing with my husband of 30 years, Brad, my 21-year-old twins, Max and McKenna, and a good book, while in my beach chair sipping something sparkling.
Edited by Jon Blauvelt