TUPELO • After 29 years of service with the United Way of Northeast Mississippi, President Melinda Tidwell will be stepping down at the end of 2020.
Tidwell was first hired in 1991 to serve as United Way’s Director of Finance and Fund Distribution, overseeing the organization’s finances and grant process. She worked for almost 10 years before being named associate director in 2000. Tidwell became president in 2001, replacing the previous president, Debbie Woodrick Hall.
When Tidwell leaves at the end of December, she will have served 19 years and 10 months as president. A farewell celebration in her honor will be announced later this year.
Tidwell said she is grateful for all the board members, volunteers, staff, agencies and agency directors she’s worked with over the years. Tidwell thanked them for the assistance they provided, insight they shared and all the work they’ve done.
“It’s just been a privilege and an honor to serve our community in this capacity for more than 29 years,” she said.
Tidwell said she was inspired after meeting Terry Morris, a young former resident of the Alpha House for Boys in Tupelo, during her early years at United Way. Morris was abused as a child, and originally lived in Chicago, Illinois, before his parents abandoned him in Mississippi. He entered the Alpha House, a former group home that was also a United Way agency, and persevered. He graduated from Tupelo High School and attended Mississippi State. He now works as a systems engineer at NASA Langley Research Center.
“It’s one of the reasons why I’ve done this job as long as I have,” Tidwell said. “Every child deserves a chance to become what God created them to be, and his story has been an inspiration to me all these years.”
Under Tidwell’s leadership, United Way of Northeast Mississippi has grown from raising $1,419,000 to more than $2,660,000 in 2019, according to a recent press release. The organization also expanded its geographic reach to eight counties after mergers with Pontotoc and, earlier this year, Monroe County.
United Way of Northeast Mississippi has expanded to include community initiatives, such as the Early Childhood Coalition, the Tupelo/Lee County Hunger Coalition and Volunteer Northeast Mississippi, in partnership with organizations like the CREATE Foundation, to address unmet needs through collaboration within the community. United Way has also refined its grant-making process to focus more on data-driven results, according to the press release.
“Melinda has been an exceptional leader for this organization,” said board chairman, David Wilson, president of North Mississippi Medical Center, in a prepared statement. “She has been able to call on her years of experience while also looking to the future, to make sure United Way has remained relevant and beneficial to the community. You can tell that she has a deep commitment to serving this region.”
United Way of Northeast Mississippi is the largest United Way agency in the state of Mississippi based on revenue. Tidwell said this isn’t because Northeast Mississippi is the most populated part of the state, but among the most giving. Over the years, many United Way agencies have reached out for advice, but Tidwell said their success is due more to the community rather than anything United Way has done.
“The people here are just so generous, and so giving, not only of their money, but of their time. I have just felt very blessed to have been in this community all these years,” Tidwell said.
Tidwell said her job has allowed her a level of community involvement she could have never reached otherwise. She was part of Tupelo’s 2015 All-American City team. When the city won its fifth award, she was proud to be a part “because it was something that recognized the specialness of this community.”
Tidwell plans to stay involved with nonprofits and is excited for her next steps. Although she believes it’s time to move on, she remains grateful for her time at United Way.
“It is a great organization that allows so many people, people from all walks of life, to join together to make a difference in our community,” she said. “We’ve been able to fund over 60 agencies the last several years, and those agencies really depend on the funds we raise. It’s just been an awe-inspiring thing to see how many people are willing to come together and be a part of it.”