MELISSA is a proud Hoosier and Fort Wayne native. She hails from a long line of hardworking German and Belgian immigrant families. A family ethos of serving and championing others was instilled in MELISSA at a young age.
MELISSA received her undergraduate degree in Political Science from Indiana University-Fort Wayne (1992) while minoring in Spanish and Anthropology. She then attended the University of Texas-San Antonio for a Master's degree in Cultural Anthropology (1996) and years later obtained her doctorate in the same at Michigan State University (2006).
MELISSA is the Executive Director at Wellspring Interfaith Social Services, Inc, a local non-profit that serves at-risk populations needing food, clothing, and enrichment programs. MELISSA also sits on the Legacy Joint Funding Committee with the City of Fort Wayne.
MELISSA enjoys volunteering, writing, gardening, and most of all being a single-mother to Sedona - whom she considers her greatest accomplishment.
MELISSA is a proud single-mother to a future teacher. Raising Sedona while dancing with poverty more than once, as recently as four years ago, wasn't easy. She understands first-hand why women are 35% more likely to live in poverty than men. And, how women of color and women with disabilities experience poverty at alarmingly higher rates. Women constitute nearly 52% of the population in Allen County and 20% are living in poverty. In fact, it's estimated that 40% of single mothers have incomes below the federal poverty line.
MELISSA also understands how a wage gap of 24% between women and men in Allen County impacts the social determinants of health for their families. Everything from housing to healthcare to food on the table is determined by a woman's ability to secure a living-wage job.
The National Women's Law Center determined in 2020 that when it comes to employment and earnings, poverty and opportunity, and health and well-being in Indiana - Indiana receives a 'D.' When analyzing work and family conditions in Indiana (inc. paid leave, elder and dependent care, childcare index, gender gap in labor force), Indiana received an 'F.' We can do better.
The National Women's Law Center also determined that political participation and representation amongst women in Indiana earns a 'C-'. More women need to be civically engaged whether representing their interests locally, at the statehouse or beyond.
Women hold 20% of elected offices in the United States and currently, out of 150 state legislators in Indiana, only 39 are women - 9 in the State Senate (2 Democrats and 7 Republicans), and 29 in the House of Representatives (15 Democrats and 14 Republicans).
MELISSA has also determined that a Democratic woman has never represented Fort Wayne in the state legislature. And, she wants to be the first.
MELISSA wants to make HERSTORY.
MELISSA'S CAREER PATH
MELISSA was a university professor for much of her career and enjoyed teaching a great deal. As a trained cultural anthropologist, she conducted research and writing, but MELISSA'S path changed when a 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti in January, 2010. Her research area was never in Haiti, she didn't know anyone in Haiti, and had never even been to Haiti, but MELISSA was touched in an inexplicable way. She organized a city-wide Haitian relief effort a week after the earthquake struck which resulted in the collection of 17 tons of rice, beans, and water. Donations were flown in two shipments to Port Au Prince courtesy of the State Department and FedEx. After planning this event, she knew her calling was elsewhere. Two years later, MELISSA returned to Fort Wayne and forged a new career path.
MELISSA has worked for area non-profits ever since. Serving at-risk communities is extremely gratifying work and as many have said, a 'perfect fit for someone like MELISSA. Her training in culture, research, writing, education, development and public speaking have been tremendous assets for working in the human services field. "I feel blessed to go to work every day knowing that I'm leading an organization into its next few chapters of helping people where they're at."
And, it's for these very reasons MELISSA ran for Perry Township Trustee in 2018. This elected office offers poor relief and emergency rescue services to township residents - two areas she couldn't be more supportive of. By running for office, MELISSA learned a great deal about herself and her community. She remains forever grateful for the experience and made many new friends along the way. In her own words, "Civic engagement is in my blood."
What informs MELISSA'S positions...
Understanding her immigrant heritage,
Raised by an educator,
Raised in a frugal home,
Raised to champion those who are unable to do so,
Raised in a labor-strong middle class family,
Being a single mother,
Living on the economic margins periodically,
Training as a social scientist and viewing persons, places and things objectively,
Reading non-stop, and
Always questioning how she can make a difference.