Volunteer Spotlight: Tonya Cook & Melodi Ford

This month we’re highlighting two of our wonderful longtime Numbers Luncheon volunteers – Tonya Cook, MS-HRD, CLC and Melodi Ford. Tonya and Melodi have been involved with AWF for at least ten years each.

Tonya Cook
Melodi Ford

Tonya is a program specialist at The Multicultural Center at Georgia State University. She a native of Atlanta and a class of 1994 Georgia State University Alumnus with a bachelor of business administration in marketing and a master of science in human resources development also from Georgia State. Tonya is responsible for coordinating a diverse range of cultural and educational programs in the Multicultural Center.

Melodi retired from a career in corporate wellness and now works part-time at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. She is passionate about equal rights for people of color, especially women and Gloria Steinem is her shero. Melodi is starting a nonprofit organization to support girls.

Tonya Cook

What does volunteering mean to you?

When I think of the word “volunteering,” I think of making a difference that is authentic, awesome, and aspiring. I enjoy helping and giving my best effort all while making an impact at the same time on behalf of organizations that I am passionate about like The Atlanta Women’s Foundation. 

How did you become an AWF volunteer and why do you volunteer with AWF?

I was a member of AWF’s Destiny Fund – Class of 2008 (AWF’s previous leadership development program), and it was an awesome experience to learn more about philanthropy from many levels. 

Destiny Fund Class of 2008

I was so impressed with AWF that I want to get more involved; so DiShonda Hughes recommended that I could still help by volunteering, be it at the office or for its signature program Numbers Too Big To Ignore Luncheon. 

I really enjoy volunteering for AWF because you appreciate me as VIV – Valuable and Important Volunteer. You are organized and when I do volunteer, I know that my time and talents are respected. I feel like a member of the family when I am volunteering with AWF. 

What is a favorite Numbers Too Big To Ignore Luncheon memory?   

I have volunteered for several Numbers Too Big To Ignore Luncheons and I would say a favorite was the 20th Anniversary celebration held in 2016, featuring keynote speakers Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem. It was a joy to welcome the attendees with a smile, help attendees find their seat, the music, the décor, and to hear the keynote speakers share valuable wisdom and knowledge. 

It was a milestone year as AWF celebrated its 20th year anniversary. In addition to the 2016 main event, I also volunteered at the main office located in Buckhead as AWF was preparing for 2019 Numbers Too Big To Ignore Luncheon. Due to my work schedule, I was not able to be there in person to listen to Former First Lady Laura Bush and Dr. Jill Biden as the keynotes. 

I was determined to help so Meredith Broyles stated that it would be great if I could stop by the office and volunteer. I had fun organizing the beautiful thank you cards and had a great conversation with the CEO too. 

I stayed for about four hours and it was great knowing that, though I could not be at the main event in person, AWF allowed me to make an impact and share my time with an organization who is making a major difference in the lives of girls and women in the metro area.  Again, AWF always make me feel welcome!

Melodi Ford

What does volunteering mean to you?

Volunteering with the AWF feeds my soul. Watching several hundred women strut, and I do mean strut, into the ballroom at the Georgia World Congress Center is so empowering.  Women of all ages, ethnicities, body-types and educational backgrounds. All there with one common goal – to help end generational poverty for women and girls.

How did you become an AWF volunteer and why do you volunteer with AWF?

I became aware of The Atlanta Women’s Foundation (AWF) back in 2004 or 2005.  My mentor at Verizon Wireless, Sheryl Sellaway, Director of Public Affairs, could not attend an event they were hosting and asked me to step in in her absence. As the wellness coordinator, I had experience working with various non-profits and organizations building awareness around health and well-being, but I had never heard of AWF.

Growing up in Queens, NY, the child of a mother who was pregnant with me at age 17, I was repeatedly told to go to school and get an education. I just thought, Okay Mom…whatever you say.  Years later, while volunteering at a Numbers event, I realized I was the first person in my household to graduate from college. Not only the first person, but the first female in my household to graduate from college AND eventually earn an upper level degree. It was this crazy A-HA moment.

How could I not volunteer with an organization that celebrates women and girls? One which realizes the importance of a women earning a college degree.  I am a walking example of what can happen in a young girl’s life when given the proper tools and support. Several degrees and certifications later, I am now retired from corporate wellness and owner of a consulting company.  In addition, I recently launched a non-profit that focuses on using purposeful play with dolls to help young girls build confidence, self-esteem and positive body image. (Note: Research shows girls as young as age six have low self-esteem.)

What is your favorite Numbers Too Big to Ignore Luncheon memory?

My favorite Numbers memory comes from 2013.  I was volunteering at the table outside the ballroom.  I saw Susan Taylor from Essence Magazine coming up the escalator.  I was so excited, began to smile and lightly clap my hands together.  She walked directly up to me.  She had this big smile and said “No.”  She grabbed my hands together and began clapping them together for me.  I have no words to articulate how magical that moment was.

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