Our Board of Directors serve two, three-year terms.  Thank you for joining our Board of Directors & we look forward to working with you!

Board Member Spotlight:
Rhett Bagwell,

Resource Development Committee Chair


Rhett Bagwell pictured here receiving the prestigious Publix Super Market’s Mr. George Community Service Award at the recent Publix annual stockholders’ meeting in Lakeland, FL in mid-April

Our Board of Directors member, Rhett Bagwell, was recently recognized by his employer, Publix Super Markets, for exemplifying community service – a belief by Publix founder, Mr. George Jenkins, who “believed that Publix and its associates should make a difference in the communities they serve.”  Affectionately known as Mr. George, “he set the example by giving of his time, talent, and treasures.  Each year, Publix awards associates who are actively involved in their communities, display personal integrity and represent the generous spirit of Publix’s late founder.”

Rhett was recognized for serving on our United Way of the Big Bend Board of Directors since 2017 and being actively involved as a ReadingPals volunteer as well as serving in various officer positions and currently serving as Chair of the Board Resource Development Committee.  Congratulations on receiving the Mr. George Community Service Award and for the work you do in and for our community.

We were able to catch up with Rhett and ask a few questions about his involvement with United Way of the Big Bend earlier this year, and a question about dessert because, well, if you work for Publix then you’re bound to have a favorite food.

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

A         For me, being involved with the United Way of the Big Bend provides an amazing opportunity to give back to our community. Volunteering is very important to me both personally and professionally and I find it consistently rewarding.

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

A         The value of the United Way in our community is unmatched. The United Way consistently provides support in the areas of greatest need while remaining flexible to quickly react in uncertain times. The resources and support provided in these situations are truly invaluable.

Q        Why are you involved with the United Way?  

A         I’m involved in United Way because I feel called to serve and give back. United Way provides a strategic path to directly assist those most in need and I am honored to be a part of the organization.

Q        Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

A         Warren Buffet.

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

A         Nature hike with my wife and daughters.

Q        Favorite dessert?

A         Cheesecake.

Thank you for your time and commitment to United Way of the Big Bend!

New Report: Florida Children Living in Poverty Worse than Federal Data Shows

The ALICE in Focus: Children report reveals the disproportionate impact of financial hardship on the state’s Black and Hispanic children, while also challenging the reliance on federal poverty guidelines (a standard measure of financial hardship in America originally developed in the early 1960s) for eligibility for assistance programs. The report finds traditional measures of poverty have severely undercounted the number of children of all races ages 18 and younger in Florida who are growing up in financially insecure households.  Of the 4.2 million children living in Florida in 2019, a staggering 2.4 million were living at or below the ALICE Threshold which uses census data and cost of living adjustments specific to ZIP codes to identify households that don’t earn enough to afford necessities such as Housing, Child Care & Education, Food, Transportation, Health Care and Technology.

The majority of Florida’s Black and Hispanic children — 73% and 66% respectively — lived in households that could not afford basic necessities in 2019, compared to 42% of white children, according to a new report from United Way of the Big Bend and its research partner United For ALICE.

While 17% of all children in Florida were deemed in poverty in 2019, the report shows that 39% – more than twice as many – lived in families defined as ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). ALICE households earn more than the Federal Poverty Level, but less than what it costs to live and work in the modern economy. Combined, 56% of Florida’s children lived in households below the ALICE Threshold forcing families to make impossible choices and risky trade-offs every day: pay the rent of buy food, receive medical car or pay for childcare, pay utility bills or put gas in the car.

“Undercounting the number of children who are at risk can have lifelong consequences,” said United Way of the Big Bend President & CEO, Berneice Cox. “Thousands of children are locked out of receiving critical support for stable housing, food, and quality education, all of which can inhibit healthy child development.”

Because ALICE households often earn too much to qualify for public assistance, the report finds that almost 1.5 million at-risk children in Florida did not access the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. SNAP coverage of children below the ALICE Threshold varies greatly among states.  Florida is in the top half of states at 38%.

Other findings from the ALICE in Focus: Children report include:

  • Having two working parents did not guarantee financial stability: Among households with two working adults, 36% of Florida children were living in families whose income did not meet the cost of basic needs in 2019.
  • Among households below the ALICE Threshold, families of Black children had the lowest homeownership rate at 33%.
  • Nearly 700,000 children in households earning below the ALICE Threshold had no high-speed internet access at home.

“Having accurate, complete data is the foundation for designing equitable solutions,” said United For ALICE National Director Stephanie Hoopes, Ph.D. “COVID-19 hit ALICE families so much harder than others because they struggle to build savings yet often don’t qualify for financial assistance.”

According to the new research, 40% of Florida families below the ALICE Threshold reported in the fall of 2021 that their children “sometimes or often” didn’t have enough to eat, in contrast with 22% of higher income families.

In Leon County, 21% of children were living in poverty in 2019 with an additional 34% living in ALICE for a combined total of 54% of Leon County children living in ALICE or below, struggling to make ends meet.

The highest percentage of children in Leon County living at or below ALICE are its youngest members with approximately 61% of children ages 0-2 living in ALICE or below.  According to the study, 86.43% of those in ALICE and poverty are in renter households with 100% of these households reporting being Rent Burdened.  The length of time a family is in a residence reflects housing instability and impacts the well-being of families contributing to increased family stress, social isolation, and lower academic performance.  Financial stability among children is largely impacted by the job status of the household members.  But even having working parents or guardians does not guarantee financial stability.  In 2019, 26% of Leon County children lived in a home with two working adults whose income still did not meet the cost of basic needs.

The report states that how a child starts in life impacts their long-term health, wellness, education, and career, and that financial stability is one of the strongest predictors of current and future well-being.  Financial instability not only contributes to current experiences of stress, trauma and hardship, but it impedes a child’s opportunity for future success, including higher education, a higher income, and long-term asset building.

Thank you, Loaned Executives!


After a busy campaign season, our President & CEO, Berneice Cox was able to join some of our Loaned Executives for lunch to say a great big “thank you” and for our Loaned Executives to share their experiences serving on our Loaned Executives Campaign Cabinet this year.  Thank you, again, for your help and the effort you put forth on behalf of United Way of the Big Bend.

Pictured from left to right:  Natalie Robertson, Lorelle Chapman, Nicole Acosta, Berneice Cox, President & CEO, Jared Cotton, and Misty Love (not pictured:  Ben Moon, Michelle Wilson, and Michele Lynch)

United Way of the Big Bend ReadingPals

Supporting our kids one word, one sentence, one story at a time.

In Leon County, 62% of our children entering school are not “Kindergarten Ready” making learning to read very challenging that first year. And it doesn’t get easier. Despite all children achieving about the same amount of learning gain during a school year, if they start behind, they cannot catch up without extra help. Almost half of our children in Leon County are not reading on grade level by grade 3. You can provide that extra help and make a real difference for them in only 60 minutes a week.

Recruiting Volunteer Mentors – Goal of 150 mentors matched with 150 students

ReadingPals is an early literacy initiative that trains and supports volunteer mentors for students from preK – 3 grade who may need extra help.  According to the Florida Department of Education, only 62% of children starting school in Leon County were “Kindergarten Ready”. In Spring of 2021, almost half of Leon County’s third graders were not reading at grade level proficiency.  Research shows that early intervention and individualized attention gives students the best chance at future success and our ReadingPals program offers those two things.

Our mentors are trained to use research-based lesson guides and literacy activities created by teachers and reading specialists in one-to-one mentoring sessions with their pals. Our virtual program uses an online professional reading software program based on research and best practices. Our program tracks our pals’ reading gains on an annual basis, comparing their scores with a control group of non-participating students.  For the past decade, 80-90% of ReadingPals’ participating students have made improvements in reading scores as measured on standardized assessments. Last year, in our virtual program, 80% of students in ReadingPals made at least one level gain in their reading program in only 10 weeks.  The data shows that ReadingPals helps improve reading skills.

However, and just as importantly, we also know that children in our ReadingPals program gain more than just reading skills.  Studies show that children with committed mentors are more confident and have fewer behavioral problems.  ReadingPals gives community volunteers an opportunity to have meaningful relationships with young children, which can help them be more successful in school and in life.  Children who are successful in school, stay in school, improving graduation rates in the community and that benefits us all in so many ways.  To be successful, children need good early learning experiences and nurturing adults in their lives.  Our ReadingPals provide just that.  Investing in our ReadingPals program is an investment in our community’s children and their future success.

Donate $165 per student for books, supplies, and resources

It’s not about how smart they are, it’s about the support they get. –   Become a ReadingPals Mentor!

Contact UWBB for more information on how to get involved:  sara@uwbb.org


Calling all Educators, Mentors, and Volunteers! Parents and students who have participated in one of these programs this school year are welcome to join in the celebration. Come celebrate a fantastic school year with us on Thursday, June 2nd from 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm at the Carriage House at Goodwood Museum & Gardens.


Habitat for Humanity Home Dedication

The new home is now occupied by a mother-daughter duo who have spent much of their spare time over the past few years collecting, packaging and shipping donated items back to the mother’s hometown in Haiti. Their hard work and commitment has paid off for the new homeowners and they recently told Habitat for Humanity that they believe what you put into the universe will come back to you. “I am very happy and grateful to become a Habitat homeowner,” the new homeowner said.

Funding from United Way of the Big Bend helps Habitat for Humanity to continue to build homes for families in need, like the excited new homeowner and mother who now realizes her dream of homeownership. As of Friday morning, this mother-daughter duo is now able to make memories in their forever home.

“One family at a time, United Way of the Big Bend is focused on increasing dependable housing. We work every day to increase access to housing opportunities and appreciate our partnership with Habitat for Humanity,” said Berneice Cox, UWBB President and CEO.

Congratulation to one of our neighbors who gets to realize her dream of home ownership through he hard work and commitment to helping others and years of giving back.


On a beautiful May 16th morning, golf enthusiasts & supporters of United Way of the Big Bend gathered at the Southwood Golf Club for the 24th Annual Community Golf Classic to enjoy a round of golf and raise money for crushing poverty and helping those at the edge of poverty.  Twenty teams and over eighty people battled it out on the fairway in good-natured competition all in the name of a very good cause.

Caitlin Yancey Moore was awarded the prize for the “Closest to the Pin” putting contest, and Chris Adkison won the “Longest Drive” contest.  The winning team with the net score based on their golf handicaps and representing the Leon County Sheriff’s Office was Lee O’Connor, Jason Glover, Eddie O’Neal, and Jack Powish.

Accompanying the competition on the greens, United Way of the Big Bend with the help of their sponsors provided exciting silent auction items, and terrific raffles allowing everyone to share in the winning no matter their golf handicap.  United Way of the Big Bend also partnered with Jerry’s Famous Cigar Shop selling locally branded cigars with proceeds donated to United Way of the Big Bend.

With the 24th Annual Community Golf Classic now having successfully played out on the back nine, United Way of the Big Bend is looking forward to their 25th Annual Community Classic in the Spring of 2023 at the Southwood Golf Club.

“Thank you to everyone who came out to support United Way of the Big Bend and for contributing to the event’s success!  Your support impacts the work we do every day – helping our neighbors living in poverty or at the edge of poverty.   A few of the ways we are making an impact are providing rental assistance in Housing; providing childcare tuition assistance in Early Learning; providing Health & Mental Health and Skills Development services, and providing for basic needs,” said Berneice Cox, President & CEO.

Pictured:  Erik Davis, Chairman of UWBB Board of Directors and Berneice Cox, President & CEO


Winning Team representing the Leon County Sheriff’s Office:
Eddie O’Neal, Jack Powish, Jason Glover, and Lee O’Connor

Winner of Longest Drive Contest:  Chris Adkison pictured with
Erik Davis, Board Chair & Berneice Cox, President & CEO

Winner of the Closest to the Pin Contest:  Caitlin Yancey Moore Pictured with Berneice Cox (L), President & CEO, and Erik Davis (R), Board Chair

Upcoming Events

June 2nd 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm at Goodwood Museum & Gardens Carriage House:  Education Celebration! for Educators, Mentors, and Volunteers.


June 23rd 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm: ReadingPals Year-End Conference hosted by The Children’s Movement – Zoom Webinar, for anyone interested children and literacy.  For more information, contact Rhonda Cooper at Rhonda@uwbb.org.