Meet your neighbor: staci cox

Whether it’s from her time spent with the United Way of Southeast Mississippi, the Avenues Alliance or the Luckyday Scholars, Cox makes it a point to better the people and places around her on a daily basis.

“Community is what makes life possible,” said Cox, who now serves as director of community impact for United Way SEMS. She’s also the winner of this year’s Best of the Pine Belt’s Best Volunteer award.

“Tupac (Shakur) said, ‘I am a reflection of the community,’ and that is the absolute truth – we all are.

“Reflection is two-way, so our community is also a reflection of us and what we put into our community. So, regardless of what level of activity you’re doing, you are contributing to your community in some way.”

Originally from Brandon, Cox came to Hattiesburg to attend the University of Southern Mississippi, where she graduated in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science. She followed that up in 2007 with her master’s degree in Education in College Student Personnel.

While at Southern Miss, Cox got involved with the Luckyday Citizenship Scholarship Program, which focuses on student engagement through community service and leadership development.

“That’s really where I learned the value of importance of community, was being a Luckyday Scholar,” Cox said. “It’s a scholarship program that is changing lives.

“I luckily was part of the inaugural class of Luckyday Scholars, and worked there about five years after I graduated.

“That’s where the sense of community was instilled into me, so I have Luckyday to thank for that.”

In 2015, Cox came on board at United Way SEMS as director of marketing and communication, where she was tasked with communicating the United Way’s mission to the public. During her time in the position, Cox aspired to show how United Way and its 19 partnering agencies helped make a difference in the areas of education, health and financial stability.

As current director of community impact at United Way SEMS, Cox works closely with the partnering agencies and acts as a liaison between them, United Way’s board members and the community. 

The move from Cox’s previous position to her current one was a bit of a transition, if only because the director of community impact was a new concept to United Way SEMS.

“United Way in itself is kind of making that transition from being funds distribution-based to being more community impact-minded,” Cox said. “We’re not a charity for the community, but we’re actually an agent of change that’s making a difference, and is active and doing things on a daily basis and working with our partners.

“It was a completely new position – one that a lot of United Ways have across the nation, but one that we hadn’t explored yet here in Hattiesburg. I had a couple of key initiatives that were given to me – job responsibilities – but other than that, it was kind of the freedom to figure out exactly what we wanted to do.”

Cox credits her success as director of community impact to the volunteers and community leaders she works with, including an education advisory council made up of education professionals from across Forrest and Lamar counties. She also works with a community impact committee, a group of volunteers who handle applications and interviews from applicants.

During the three years Cox has worked with United Way, one of the aspects she’s enjoyed most is working with the wide variety of people she’s had the chance to interact with.

“We get phone calls every single day about the issues and the needs of the community, like if someone needs something or there’s not enough of this or that,” she said. “But on the opposite side of that, we’re getting to work with people who are so passionate about all of that, and are working their tails off to make a difference and meet the needs of those people we’re getting phone calls from.

“So it’s just so neat to be able to see all these people from so many different backgrounds get together for one main purpose: to make our community better, to make a better tomorrow so that we’re all hopefully happier and living a better life.”

Cox’s interaction with the community certainly doesn’t end when she leaves work. She’s also heavily involved in the Avenues Alliance, where she volunteers to help plan things like the Avenues-Wide Yard Sale and various Halloween events.

For Cox, it’s all just second nature.

“In my opinion, I think we should all try to contribute in the most positive way as possible so that we can make the community better, because that’s what makes life happy, rich, and good and worth living,” she said.

“They sit and ask the hard questions – they’re the ones asking, ‘you asked for an increase in this, so why did you ask for that and what do you plan to do?’” Cox said. “Then they make that suggestion that I take to the board, and they make the decision on how much money that agency’s going to get for the year.

“So I don’t know if a lot of the community understands that, or if they see that – it’s not staff members sitting in the office making decisions on how much the agencies get. It’s community leaders that have volunteered their time, that come in and go through the information and make that hard decision of how much money each agency is going to get, and then our board of directors ultimately votes on it.” 

Haskel Burns, staff writer for Signature Magazine, lives in Oak Grove with his fiancee, Heather. Unfortunately, they were never lucky enough to win a new house in United Way's "Home Sweet Home" raffle.