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How Jessica Dudley plans to add more passion into United Way’s mission
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Jessica Dudley will start as the new director of United Way of Hall County on April 22. - photo by Kelsey Podo

With her background in social work, fundraising and pinpointing the needs of community members, Jessica Dudley expects an easy transition into her role as United Way of Hall County’s new president.

“I was really encouraged by what they’re doing at Compass Center in trying to meet the needs of Hall County residents,” Dudley said. “My past in working with underserved and underprivileged populations has really made me interested in all that’s going on with United Way.”

Dudley’s first dive into social work began when she took on an investigator position with the Department of Family and Children Services. She then went on to serve a children’s group home, where she worked with kids in foster care and homeless youth.

“I absolutely love giving back,” Dudley said. “I just saw the need that was really there, and it encouraged me to move toward a master’s in social work.”

For the past four years, Dudley has served as the executive director of Community Helping Place in Dahlonega.

Through her team of 15 staff members and 200 volunteers, she has implemented various programs including providing free meals for kids during the summer and around Christmastime, implementing a food pantry three days a week and helping families determine their needs to move out of poverty.

Dudley said Community Helping Place relies on its fundraising and two thrift stores to stay afloat. This past year she said they raised $35,000 with the nonprofit’s tomato sandwich supper, $55,000 with the Gold Party gala and $17,000 through its annual historic site ornament sale.

Dudley also leads Lumpkin Matters which is an initiative among local government leaders, nonprofits, businesses and community members that develops a game plan to move Lumpkin County forward.

She said the project proved a huge undertaking, holding forums, focus groups and surveys to capture all of the needs in the community.

During its first year, the initiative received $65,000 in grant funding. This led to hosting “navigation events,” which brings a plethora of resources together in one centralized location.

These events include providing access to HIV and AIDS screenings, fresh produce, flu shots, blood pressure tests and activities for kids.

Dudley said her experience with the Lumpkin Matters initiative will aid her in her role with United Way, more specifically collaborating with partners.

“Just being able to bring the community together and work cohesively at one large goal will help,” she said. “I think that in communities we have organizations that do amazing work, and when we can all come together and focus on the problems at hand, you make a larger dent.”

As a leader, Dudley describes herself as someone who seeks to encourage and work hands-on.

“I really feel like it takes an entire village and that’s a similar approach I take at work,” she said. “It’s what I enjoy about the field of social work is being able to work with many different partners and folks, and being engaged in the community.”

Having spent time working with the North Georgia Community Foundation, sitting on the Northeast Georgia Health System Advisory Board, spending time with Good News Clinics staff and participating in the Lead Forward Executive Leadership Program, Dudley said she has become familiar with Hall County.

She will join United Way part-time on April 22, then transition into her full-time role by April 30. She said the current president, Joy Griffin will assist her as she assumes the position.

“I would want to tell the community that I’m excited to be here and that I look forward to working with everyone — donors, volunteers, board members and every organization,” she said. “It’s amazing to see what Hall County has done with the Compass Center, Community Game Plan and Vision 2030.”