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story.lead_photo.caption Melinda Light of Batesville is the new director of events and volunteer services for the United Way of North Central Arkansas. She also coordinates the Angel Tree project, which is underway in Independence County. - Photo by Staci Vandagriff

Hired less than two months ago as director of events and volunteer services for the United Way of North Central Arkansas, Melinda Light has hit the ground running. The local United Way serves Independence, Izard, Sharp, Stone and Cleburne counties, and she is involved in projects in each of those areas.

“I’ve always liked to be involved in helping people,” said Light, 35. “This job is an answer to a prayer. I need to be where I can help others.”

Kimberly Tucker, executive director of the United Way of North Central Arkansas, said Light “is a great asset to the United Way of North Central Arkansas.

“We are confident she has the experience and skills necessary to lead the office team, work effectively with community partners and supporters, drive measurable impact and build strategically to ensure the success of our programs, as well as expanding our programs into other areas,” Tucker said.

Light is coordinating this year’s Angel Tree project in Independence County.

“The Angel Tree project is one of our biggest events,” Light said.

She said the Angel Tree project assists low-income families in Independence County with Christmas gifts for their children, ages 2 to 10, and that the children must be living in the home listed on the Angel Tree application, and the family must be enrolled in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).

“After we get all of the names verified through the [Arkansas] Department of Human Services, we hand those names out to local businesses, mostly the banks in Batesville,” she said. “Those in the community who wish to adopt an angel and purchase a gift for a child may pick up a name at one of the local banks — First Community Bank, Citizens Bank, Centennial Bank, Merchants and Planters Bank, and Southern Bank. Names will be available Nov. 15 through Dec. 1 at the banks. The gifts must be returned to the banks by Dec. 5.”

Light said patrons may also make monetary donations.

“We use those donations to help supplement the project,” she said, adding that organizers expect to provide gifts for approximately 400 children this year.

Among Light’s first United Way events in which she was involved was the Children’s Health and Safety Fair, held Oct. 20 at the Independence County Fairgrounds in partnership with The Community School Inc. This was the first time the United Way of North Central Arkansas had sponsored this event.

“It was very successful,” Tucker said. “We had representatives from the Arkansas Department of Human Services with information on programs such as SNAP, the Northcentral Arkansas Development Council with information on the Head Start program, Block Insurance with information on teen driving, the Rotary Club of Batesville, the Independence County 4-H program and first responders from Vital Link, the Independence County Sheriff’s Office and the Ruddell Hill Volunteer Fire Department. The White River Family Fun Center also brought a bounce house.”

Light said the United Way of North Central Arkansas just recently partnered with First Security Bank and the White River Area Agency on Aging Inc. to host a coat drive for senior citizens in Stone County. Coats will be available for those needing them at a chili lunch on Nov. 20.

“I had always heard about United Way,” Light said. “At one time, my family had to use the Angel Tree program. My grandmother was a big supporter of United Way, and my parents received help from the Red Cross, which is a supporter of United Way. So I knew how much help United Way can provide to people.

“I am excited to serve with a talented team of workers and volunteers, and I am looking forward to serving the community. I hope in coming to work for United Way, I can help the communities get more involved with helping others and help promote the great ways United Way helps people in our coverage area.”

Light was born in Batesville, a daughter of Galen and Meredith Melton of Desha. Light has one sister, Mirinda Melton of Batesville.

Light graduated from Southside High School in 2001 and received an Associate of Arts degree in 2010 from the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville, where she studied early-childhood education. Following graduation, she taught preschool for 10 years, first at Southside Christian Academy, then at Ascent Children’s Health Services, which is no longer in business.

“Then I sat home for three years taking care of my family,” she said, adding that she and her husband, Glenn Light, have been married four years. They have a blended family — Trey Light, 13, Alli Scroggins, 10, and Kenna Enoch, 5.

“When this opportunity came about for me to work here at United Way, it was perfect for me,” Light said. “I like to help people, plus it allows for flexible hours so I can be with my kids.”

Following the Angel Tree project, Light, Tucker and others involved with the United Way of North Central Arkansas will continue with projects to help area residents “Live United,” which is the theme of the nationwide nonprofit organization.

The United Way Tackle Hunger Food Drive Competition is scheduled to begin the second week in January and conclude three weeks later in time for the Super Bowl.

“Local businesses will set up and compete for points for the amount of food they collect,” Tucker said.

“Patrons will bring the food items to the businesses, and those items will be used for the school backpack programs in Independence County, as well as in Cave City. The winning business will receive a trophy,” she said.

“Citizens Bank has won the trophy two years running, and I think they are gearing up for a three-peat,” Tucker said, laughing. “I think we collected $8,000 worth of food items in last year’s competition.”

Tucker said there will also be a Strike Out Hunger Food Drive competition in the spring, with food items being donated to the school backpack programs in Cleburne County.

The United Way of North Central Arkansas also holds a food drive in Sharp County, with the food being donated to Cherokee Village Elementary School.

Light said she is still in her “training” period at the United Way of North Central Arkansas.

“Next time, I’ll be on my own with all these projects,” she said.

The United Way of North Central Arkansas’ current partner agencies and initiatives include the Arkansas Craft School, Batesville Help & Hope, the Boy Scouts, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of the 16th Judicial District, Childcare Aware of North Central Arkansas, the Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Cleburne County, the Diamond Girl Scouts, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, Family Violence Prevention Inc., Independence County 4-H, Independence County Senior Citizens, Meals on Wheels, Inspired Communities Foundation, The Community School Inc., the United Way Angel Tree project, the United Way Project Pink and the United Way Emergency Assistance.

For more information on the United Way of North Central Arkansas, call (870) 793-5991 or email info@liveunitednca.org.

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