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The force was alive and well in Meridian Thursday morning.

And there were plenty of familiar faces brandishing light sabers and wearing the masks of their favorite Star Wars characters at United Artists Bonita Lakes during the United Way of East Mississippi’s 2017-18 campaign kickoff event.

Representatives from local businesses and community organizations attended the event, and there was plenty of popcorn and soda to go around.

United Way of East Mississippi helps fund nonprofit agencies and numerous civic programs in Clarke, Kemper, Neshoba and Lauderdale counties. 

According to UWEM Board Chairman Scott Stevens, the event marked the beginning of UWEM’s fundraising season, which will continue until the end of December.

“We want to get everyone fired up for the new season,” Stevens said.

In light of this year’s theme, “The Force is in You — Live United,” the event began with a screening of the not-yet-released trailer for Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi.

United Way t-shirts with this year’s theme featured on the back were distributed at the theater entrance, and those in attendance were encouraged to wear them often to spread the word about the campaign season.

Last year, the UWEM raised a little more than $1 million dollars. UWEM Campaign Chairperson Dr. Angela Payne said the goal is to at least meet that goal.

“It’s a battle cry of sorts in letting the community know we are on our way to being a part of giving back,” she said. “And when you say popcorn at 9:30 in the morning, people come.”

Partner agencies were also recognized and included Best Early Education Practices, Boys & Girls Clubs, Boys Scouts, Camp Eagle Ridge, Care Lodge, Carter Foundation, Davidson Shelter, Feed by Faith, Foster Grandparents, Free Clinic of Meridian, Habitat for Humanity, Hope Village for Children, Illuminations Center for Dyslexia, LOVES Kitchen, Meals on Wheels, Meridian Freedom Project, Neshoba Christian Women’s Job Corp, Neshoba County 4-H, Salvation Army and Wesley House.

Other programs recognized included the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, Emergency Food and Shelter, Familywize Prescription Discount Program, Income Tax Prep Program, Imagination Library, State Health Insurance Assistance Program, Stuff the Bus Program and UWEM Volunteer Program.

Pacesetter companies recognized included Alliance Health Center, Anderson Regional Medical Center, Bank Plus, Citizens National Bank, City of Meridian, EMBDC, First State Bank, Great Southern National Bank, Liberty Fuels, Lockheed Martin, Meridian Coca-Cola, Meridian Community College, Meyer & Rosenbaum, Mississippi Power Company, MSU - Meridian, Mitchell Companies, Regions Bank, Rush Health Systems, Trustmark Bank and WTOK TV.

For more information about the United Way, call 601-693-2732 or visit


DR. ANGELA PAYNE - Campaign Chairwoman

Dr. Angela Payne serves as the 2017 - 2018 Campaign Chairman for United Way of East Mississippi. Dr. Payne is employed with Meridian Community College as the Director of Adminissions.

Payne holds a doctorate from Jackson State University; a master of business administration degree from the University of Dallas and a bachelor of science degree from Texas A&M, Commerce.

Payne and her husband Larry have been married 20 years and have a blended family of six children and eight grandchildren. They enjoy traveling and volunteering in the community.