Our Staff:

Patti H. Parker



I am a native of Monroe County, MS. Although I am new to United Way of Northeast MS in 2020, I was the Director of the United Way of Greater Monroe County for 20 years. In that role, I am proud of the work we have done to strengthen the Monroe County area, particularly after the 2011 tornado outbreak that devastated the communities of Smithville and Wren. I look forward to expanding my work in serving the wider Northeast MS region. I hold a bachelor’s degree in English from Mississippi University for Women and a master’s degree in History from Mississippi State University. I am a recipient of the MS Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 Award. My husband, Randy, and I are proud parents of two children, Johnny, a meteorologist, and Chloe, a criminologist.

Cara Waters

Director of Finance and Administration


I have been with United Way since July of 2004.  I am originally from Columbus, Mississippi, and attended Mississippi University for Women, receiving my Bachelor’s degree in 1996. My husband Justin and I have been married since 1997 and have two sons, Cooper and Samuel. Our family are members of Gum Tree Presbyterian Church in Tupelo. I am a graduate of the NEWMS Success Skills program. My most recent victory is that I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October of 2015, and I am proud to say that I am a survivor.

BJ Kent

Campaign Director


I joined United Way in May of 2022 as Campaign Director. I am a graduate of Mantachie High School and Itawamba Community College, where I received an Associate Degree in Religion and Ministry. I have served as a youth pastor for Basileia Church in Mooreville, Missisippi, since 2011. I have worked in sales, retail, and non-profits. Most recently, I worked at The Autism Center of North Mississippi for three years as a Lead Registered Behavioral Technician, where I worked one-on-one with children with autism doing ABA therapy. Doing such, I have great first hand knowledge of how United Way is helping support programs across our area.

I am a native and resident of Mantachie and have been married to my wife, Morgan, since 2013. We have three children, Zora, Waverly, and Jalen.

I am honored to join the United Way of Northeast Mississippi team and look forward to working alongside our communities to make a collective impact in the eight counties we serve.

Caleb Gann

Campaign Director


I joined United Way in July of 2023 as a Campaign Director. I’m native to Aberdeen, Mississippi, and currently reside there with my wife Shelby and our two children, Norah and Clark. I obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Mississippi State University, and recently worked in the field of applied behavior analysis as a registered behavior technician at the Autism Center of North MS, as well as the Center for Behavior Analytic Services. At these clinics, I provided ABA therapy to children and teens on the autism spectrum as well as in multiple school districts with both neurotypical and neurodivergent children. I have seen the good that United Way has done in our area, and I’m beyond thrilled to join this organization, as we fight for better quality of life for our friends and family in our community.

Ethan Benefield

Director of Marketing and Communications

662-432-1609 | ethan@unitedwaynems.org


I joined United Way in August of 2023 as the new Communications and Marketing Director. I am native to Saltillo but have moved several times, ultimately settling back down here in recent years. I recently graduated with honors from the University of Mississippi, where I obtained my Bachelor's in Integrated Marketing Communications with a minor in Business, specializing in computer science. While at Ole Miss, I served as the executive secretary for Alpha Kappa Psi Fraternity and President of Phi Beta Lambda. My heart has always been geared towards service. I have served on the Walk to End Alzheimer's committee for the Northeast Mississippi area for nearly seven years, in addition to countless hours of volunteering and leading different service organizations through high school and college. I am very excited about this opportunity to serve my community through such a treasured organization of Northeast Mississppi!

Paslay Adkins

Director of Donor Engagement

662-432-1607 | paslay@unitedwaynems.org

I joined United Way in January 2024 as the new Director of Donor Engagement. I am a native of Saltillo, Mississippi, and have resided in Lee County for all of my life. I recently graduated with honors from Mississippi State University, where I obtained my Bachelor’s in Business Administration, with an emphasis in Finance, Economics, and Insurance. I am excited to have the opportunity to serve our community, and I look forward to helping those in need. 

Rebecca C. Nelson

Director of Community Impact


I joined the United Way staff in January 2019 as director of Volunteer Northeast Mississippi and became Director of Community Impact in March 2021. Prior to that time, I had spent 34 years in education in various capacities, including a 22-year stint as a high school English teacher in Augusta, Georgia. I have a bachelor’s degree in communication from Mississippi State University and a master’s in post-secondary education from Troy University. My husband Andrew and I both graduated from Tupelo High School, and we are proud that our daughter Lindsey did as well. While we thoroughly enjoyed living in Georgia, we were thrilled to move back to our beloved Mississippi in 2014. My work with United Way is beyond gratifying, as I get to see on a day-to-day basis the amazing work being done by our nonprofits and volunteers to help our neighbors in need.

Shelly Brooks

Early Childhood Coalition


I have been with United Way of Northeast Mississippi since 2017 and am honored to serve as the director of the Early Childhood Coalition-Tupelo/Lee County. I am originally from Blue Mountain but have lived in Lee County the past 24 years. I am a graduate of Blue Mountain College, with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education. I received my Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction and my Specialist in Education in Educational Leadership from the University of Mississippi. I spent 25 years as a teacher and administrator in the Lee County School District. I spent the last 7 years as principal at Shannon Primary School.

I live in Tupelo, with my husband, Harvey, who is also a retired educator. We attend Cross Pointe Ministries and enjoy serving our community through our church and local service organizations. It is an honor to serve in this position and be able to impact the young children in our community.

Jason Martin

Hunger Coalition of Northeast Mississippi

662-432-1894 | jason@unitedwaynems.org

I am a native Tennessean who moved to Tupelo in 2008. I have been with United Way of Northeast Mississippi since 2018, serving as the director of the Hunger Coalition. I am a graduate of Mississippi State University, with a bachelor’s in Business Administration. Prior to working for United Way, I served as a youth pastor for seventeen years and previously co-owned a land surveying business in Tennessee. I have been the director of the St. Luke Food Pantry in Tupelo since 2013 and still hold that position as well. In 2019 I was elected to serve on the board of the Mid-South Food Bank, which provides services to eighteen counties in North Mississippi. In 2020, I was named as an “Extra Mile Hero” by the mayor and city council of Tupelo. In 2021, the Hunger Coalition received an honorable mention for Covid-19 response by the Governor’s Initiative for Volunteer Excellence.

My wife, Jennifer, and I have been married since 2000. We met while attending Northeast Mississippi Community College and dated all through our college years. We have enjoyed living in Tupelo and are grateful to call Northeast Mississippi our home. Our spare time is filled with riding bicycles, playing with our 3 rescue dogs, and enjoying being outside. I feel that all of my previous work experiences have prepared me for this role and I’m reminded daily why I do what I do.

Terry Baber

Northeast Mississippi Health Alliance

662-432-0180 | health@unitedwaynems.org

I joined United Way in February 2024 as Director of Northeast Mississippi Health Alliance. I am a resident of Ecru, Mississippi, and graduated from Blue Mountain Christian University with a bachelor of science in psychology. I worked 21 years in community mental health as a community support specialist and triage coordinator. I am married to Earnestine and we have one child, Tyler. I am a member of the Pontotoc County Chamber of Commerce/Main Street Association and serve on the affordable housing committee for Pontotoc Achieving Community for Tomorrow (a CREATE Foundation affiliate). I enjoy fishing, bowling, and volunteering through our church ministries. I am honored to be part of the United Way team and assist with creating opportunities to improve the lives in the communities we serve.