Volunteer Mississippi is pleased to feature Elise Varner Winter for our Volunteer Spotlight. Mrs. Winter received the Marsha Meeks Kelly Award for Lifetime Achievement in Volunteer Service at the 2015 GIVE Awards.
While Governor and Mrs. Elise Winter are lifelong champions of public education and racial reconciliation, Mrs. Winter has volunteered tirelessly at her church, Fondren Presbyterian, and for many worthwhile causes throughout our state.
While raising three daughters and serving as First Lady of the State of Mississippi from 1980 to 1984, Elise Winter juggled many volunteer leadership roles. She was the state chairperson of Easter Seals and Mississippi Library Week, as well as a leader of the YWCA State Campaign. She was chairperson of the Alumni Council of Mississippi Community Colleges, and a charter member of Parents for Public Schools.
One of Mrs. Winter’s most notable contributions is as founder of Habitat for Humanity Mississippi Capital Area. She has been the “heart and soul” of this organization, working tirelessly for 29 years so that more families in the metro Jackson area have a decent place to call home and a brighter future. Winter has remained active and visible on Habitat worksites, in the board room, and as an ambassador for Habitat in the community.
That build site was a far cry from the first one over 30 years ago. Winter says she has vivid memories of the bitter cold day, when she and a small group of volunteers gathered in front of a Bratton Street plot to bless it for Habitat for Humanity’s first home.
“It had rained the night before and the lot was dirt. So we ended up blessing a big mud puddle,” she says. “I would have never dreamed that day that we would ever get to 600 houses.”
For six years, she also served on the Habitat for Humanity International Board with former President Jimmy Carter. Working in 2006 with Dick Molpus, former Mississippi Secretary of State and president of the Molpus Woodlands Group, she helped secure a $100 million award for Habitat for Humanity International as a part of the historic U.S.-Canada Softwood Lumber Agreement. This award supported the construction of more than 19,000 homes by Habitat affiliates throughout the U.S.
Through her faithful ‘love in action,’ she has breathed life into Habitat’s ministry, helping it grow from a prayer around a mud puddle on a somber, cold day, into a vibrant ministry offering families decent, affordable homeownership. More than 2,500 adults and children in the capital area wake up every morning in a Habitat home that was built with the loving hands of their fellow Mississippians. Thanks to Elise Winter’s vision and tireless dedication, the Habitat for Humanity Mississippi Capital Area has been ranked in the top 5% of Habitat affiliates throughout the United States.
Thank you, Mrs. Winter, for your many years of service!