Making a Real Difference to our Neighbors

Berneice Cox, President & CEO


Zip codes tell us where our neighbors are struggling, but zip codes don’t tell us why they struggle. The numbers may quantify the issue, but they don’t tell us about the need of our neighbors and neighborhoods. To ensure our funded programs provide real help, we collect data to provide accountability to our donors.  We want our donors who generously contribute to know that their money made a real difference to their neighbors.

Tallahassee has many recognitions of which to be proud – being named an All-America City (twice), one of the South’s Best Cities, and one of the Most Livable Cities. However, one designation stands in sharp contrast to those accolades – that of being home to Florida’s poorest zip code, 32304.

Much has been written and discussed about the needs of families and neighbors in 32304 and beyond. We know about the needs because, for almost 80 years, United Way, with the support of thousands of local contributors, has been providing programs and resources across our eight-county region.  Many of our longtime supporters have asked us how United Way is impacting 32304, 32305 and 32310.

And our data shows this: between 2017 and 2020, the United Way served an annual average of 12,128 people who live in the 32304 zip code. That is over 25% of the 46,145 people who live within that area. United Way support provided over 400,000 meals each year to hungry children and families, helped nearly 1,700 people each year with housing support, and assisted 157 people in developing new skills to aid in employment.

During that same period, 2017 to 2020, the United Way served an annual average of 5,703 people living in the 32305 zip code.  That is more than 25% of the 20,073 people who live within that area.  Support provided included 377,752 meals served each year to hungry children and families, nearly 350 people helped each year with housing support, nearly 1,000 infants, children and teens receiving support services, and an average of 2,330 people experiencing financial crisis who were served through our safety net programs.

And, those same years, the United Way served an average of 5,690 people per year who live in the 32310 zip code.  That is more than 30% of the 17,402 people living in that area.  Services and help our funded program partners provided included 295,599 meals served each year to hungry children and families, nearly 700 people helped each year with housing support, and over 700 infants, children and teens served in a variety of early learning and health programs.

But these numbers don’t really tell the stories of how contributions to the United Way bring real help to families in neighborhoods across the city.

For example, between 2017 and 2020, more than 1,000 infants, children, and teens living in neighborhoods defined by the zip code 32304 were impacted by the United Way’s early learning initiative support, like our funding of Kids, Inc., which includes an early childhood education program in the Frenchtown area inside 32304. This program provides families in the area a safe place to bring their children so that they can work or attend school.

Childcare for infants can run from $600 to $1,400 plus each month, it can be nearly impossible for a single mom making $10 an hour or $1,700 a month (before taxes) to afford care. The families whose children are in those programs realized benefits such as having childcare that allowed them to get and maintain employment, knowing that their kids were being cared for in safe and stable environments.

As the President and CEO of the United Way of the Big Bend, I see contributors, volunteers, and supporters every day who have a heart for helping families and seniors in poverty or on the edge of poverty.  We know our programs can help make a difference for our neighbors and neighborhoods. Together with the support of local governments, educational institutions, businesses, non-profits, and individuals, we are in the business of bringing about real help and change for many families and children in the identified neighborhoods and beyond.

We are excited about seeing how we can collaborate with other organizations who are now recognizing what United Way has known for near 80 years: it’s about neighbors, not numbers.


At our recent Board of Directors meeting, the gavel has officially been passed to our new Board of Directors Chairman, Erik Davis.  We look forward to your Board term as Chairman and the great work you will do and have done over many years serving on numerous committees and most recently as Treasurer and last year as Chair-Elect.  We’re excited for your Chairmanship!

A big thank you to Dr. Jim Murdaugh for his service to United Way of the Big Bend as Chairman of the Board over this past year and for his continuing service as Immediate Past Chair.  We look forward to a great year ahead!





Meet our new Chairman of the Board,
Erik Davis


With the vote taken at the Annual Board of Directors meeting on March 10th, Erik Davis was elected Chairman of the Board for the upcoming 2022-2023 Board year.  We caught up with Erik to learn a little bit more about him including what being involved with United Way of the Bend means to him.


Q        What does your involvement with United Way of the Big Bend mean to you?

A         My involvement with the United Way of the Big Bend is extremely important to me. I feel that you must be hands on in your efforts to add value and improve the place you call home.

Q        What do you think the value of United Way is in our community?

A         I think the United Way plays a vital role in our community. The current direction is one that allows the organization to be nimble and to assure that the organization is always actively working to aid the community in the areas of most need at that time.

Q        Why are you involved with the United Way?

A         I’m involved with the UWBB, because I want to be a part of the solution.

Q        What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

        Passive Day- Relaxing in the shade on a quiet beach and enjoying the sunrise- sunset with a good book. Active Day– Running a marathon in 40-degree weather and overcast conditions, while setting a new Personal Best.

Q        Is there something that you have dreamed of doing for a long time?

A         I’ve dreamed of skydiving for a very long time.

Q        Favorite Dessert?

A         Yellow cake with chocolate frosting

Alan Keesee

As we are wrapping up our 2021-2022 campaign season on April 15th, we wanted to check in with a member of our Board of Directors and Chair-Elect, Alan Keesee, and ask him why giving to United Way of the Big Bend is important to him.

As Chair of the Resource Development Committee over this past year, I am honored to support the United Way. Each dollar given directly impacts our neighbors in our Big Bend region and we’re focused on building a stronger community.  Families are provided hope through our united support. Together we are stronger – thank you for joining with me by giving to the United Way. 

Read UNITED Week, February 28th – March 4th

First grade students in Leon, Wakulla, Gadsden, Taylor and Madison counties had a special treat during Read UNITED week, February 28th – March 4th, when their classrooms were visited by over 60 volunteers in 75 classrooms sharing their love of reading with students.

For twelve years, United Way of the Big Bend has hosted Read UNITED week:  a week-long event providing volunteers with the opportunity to encourage a love of reading with hundreds of first graders in Title I schools in our Big Bend region.  These volunteers not only read with the students but leave the gift of a bundle of new books for the students to continue to enjoy.

“Early Learning is one of the United Way of the Big Bend’s five impact areas and what better way to express the importance of learning in children than to spend time with children reading and giving them a gift that will keep on giving after the event – books.  Read UNITED helps children become lifelong learners through reading.  United Way of the Big Bend’s Reading Pals program throughout the school year has also proven to improve reading grade levels. Leon County Schools appreciates this long-term partnership we have with United Way of the Big Bend,” said Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna.

This year’s special volunteers included: Superintendent Rocky Hanna, Leon County Schools; Assistant Superintendent  of Leon County Schools, Dr. Michelle Gayle; Berneice Cox, President & CEO, United Way of the Big Bend; Angie Sipple, Women United Chair; Kim Campo, Women United Engagement Chair; Ashley Rousseau, Director of Florida Blue Tallahassee Retail Center and UWBB Board member; Sally Bradshaw, Founder & Owner of Midtown Reader and UWBB Board member; Michelle Lynch, AVP & Community Development Officer with The First and member of the UWBB Loaned Executive Committee; Katrina Rolle, CEO Community Foundation of North Florida and former UWBB CEO; and Liza McFadden, President of Liza & Partners.

“The time, talent, and energy the United Way of the Big Bend volunteers bring to this event every year is greatly appreciated.  It is evident by the smiles on the faces of both children and adults alike that this is a special moment for all participants, and we look forward to many more years of reading together,” said Berneice Cox, UWBB President and CEO.

Berneice Cox, President & CEO, speaks at the Children Services Council meeting

Pictured left to right: Berneice Cox, Brittany Birken, Cecka Rose Green

On February 10th, Berneice Cox, President & CEO, had the opportunity to speak at the Planning meeting of the Children’s Services Council of Leon County.  Berneice provided information about the United Way of the Big Bend’s funding allocation process.   Pictured below are Berneice Cox, United Way of the Big Bend President & CEO, Brittany Birken, CEO of Florida Children’s Services Council, and Cecka Rose Green, Executive Director for Children’s Services Council of Leon County.

Program Partner Insight with Brehon Family Services’ Executive Director, Shirley O’Rear

On a cool day in late February, we had the chance to speak with a United Way of the Big Bend funded program partner and find out what United Way funds mean to their organization.  The response was anything but chilly and was as warm of a response as any we could have hoped to receive.

When we caught up with Shirley O’Rear, the Executive Director and twenty-two-year employee of Brehon Family Services she started by saying “Brehon would not even survive without funds from United Way.  The funds are not a cost reimbursement which is very hard for us; we know we can count on funds to be there when we need them.”  Shirley explained that they serve as a safe and secure house twenty-four hours a day and that United Way funds help people in ways that they may not otherwise be able to help them — Items like birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and Florida ID’s.  Shirley mentioned that it isn’t uncommon for Brehon employees to dip into their own pockets to help people because they do not have petty cash, but United Way funds allow them to help people because they are not tied to grants requiring money to be spent in a specific way.  “We feel like the United Way team is a real partnership.  That their thoughtfulness and timing is always perfect.  Not just the financial part, but the extras and support (diapers, formula, gifts for children at the holidays).  We’re grateful for the support – the emotional and human part also.”  Shirley stressed that no matter who is at United Way, that United Way has always been supportive of Brehon.  “It’s a real partnership for as long as I can remember and we are proud to support United Way.  Everyone on our team is a supporter.”

And our whole team appreciates the support of our funded program partner, Brehon Family Services, and the important work that Brehon does making an impact in our community.

Thank you Power 5 Cabinet & our Loaned Executives!

Since our campaign kicked off in the fall, we have been assisted with our campaign efforts through our Power 5 and Loaned Executive programs.  These programs allow employees to build and to share their professional skills in support of community workplace giving campaigns.

This year we were joined by the following Power 5 Cabinet members:  Caitlyn Yancey-Moore, TC Federal Bank; William Smith Jr., Capital City Bank; Mark O’Bryant, Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare; Kimberly Moore, Tallahassee Community College; and Paul Watts, Centralis Health.  We would like to thank them for their hard work and the effort put forth on behalf of our United Way team and members of our community who we are able to help every day because of the impact we are making together.

Our Loaned Executives this campaign year were:  Michele Lynch, The First; Michelle Wilson, Kikoda; Jared Cotton, Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare; Natalie Robertson, Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare; Misty Love, Capital City Bank; Ben Moon, Nicole Acosta, and Lorelle Chapman with Thomas, Howell, Ferguson.  We appreciate your leadership and support.  Thank you!

Shop & Stoll

Spring weather did not dampen the spirits of the jubilant attendees at the second annual Shop & Stroll on Market Street event hosted by the United Way of the Big Bend affinity group, Women United, on Thursday, March 24th.

Local businesses in Tallahassee came together and offered special discounts and raffle items including the chance to win a gold & diamond necklace donated by Hearth & Soul.  Funds raised through ticket sales helped to support the initiatives of Women United and United Way of the Big Bend in their mission to lift women and families out of poverty.

“Shop and Stroll is such a great event in that it truly is community supporting community.  We raised money and awareness for United Way programs, while supporting so many fabulous local Market Street merchants and participating vendors from throughout our city,” said Angie Sipple, Chair of Women United.

Tickets for the event included exclusive offers and the opportunity to win raffle items at participating retailers.  Over nineteen vendors participated in Shop & Stroll including:  Skin Science, Hearth & Soul, The Wine House, Chic Verte, Black Fig, Gypsy Rose Boutique, Coton Colors, Momo’s Pizza, Market Street Liquors, Midtown Reader, Poco Vino and more. Shop & Stroll was sponsored by Capital City Bank, Tallahassee Community College, Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare, Trulieve, and Skin Science.

“Shop & Stroll is such a fun event that encapsulates what Tallahassee is all about while at the same time it provided a chance to shop with friends and to support United Way and our amazing vendors in the Market District and around Tallahassee.  This event was such a fun night!” said Katherine Boland, Women United Shop & Stroll Event Chair.

United Way of the Big Bend appreciated everyone who came out and braved the weather for an evening of shopping, spirits, and fun for a good cause!

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