The Women’s Foundation Board of Directors demonstrates the character of the Foundation, itself. Inspired. Determined. Fearless. They have refused to accept the hand dealt to women in Mississippi. Each of these insightful and resourceful leaders has made a stand to create new solutions. Their collective strength, support, and wisdom fuel our mission.
Every day, our staff works with determination and compassion to foster real change. They work together with Mississippi’s politicians, schools, and communities to ensure Mississippi’s women thrive.
Melanie Powell’s experience in nonprofit management spans over 25 years, most recently serving as the Executive Director of the Community Foundation of Washington County in Greenville, MS. She also served as a member of the Board of Directors for Families USA, a national non-partisan voice for health care consumers, and Teen Health Mississippi.
In addition to her work in the nonprofit space, Powell has used her training as a licensed Social Worker for the State of Ohio to advance community support. Her work as the Sociology Instructor at Bryant and Stratton College and as the Center Coordinator for the Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland helped young people successfully transition out of rehabilitation programs and expanded local mental health resources and education in the area through several community initiatives. Powell is the proud parent of one adult son, Demetrius.
Frances Patterson Croft
Frances joined the Women’s Foundation in January 2017 as the Director of Strategic Initiatives and now serves as Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel. In her role, Frances focuses on advocacy efforts, leadership programs, fund development, and special projects. Frances is a Jackson native and received a BA from the University of Mississippi and a JD from the University of Mississippi School of Law. Prior to coming to the WFM, Frances practiced law as a prosecutor with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office for eleven years. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra and the Junior League of Jackson. Frances also serves as Past Chair of the St. Andrew’s Episcopal School Parent’s Association and previously served on the Board of St. Andrew’s Episcopal School and the Mississippi Children’s Museum – serving as President of MCM Partners. She serves as a member of the UMMC Community Advisory Council. Frances and her husband Justin have three children, two dogs, and two cats, and are active members of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral.
Marqueta Perkins, a native of Jackson, Mississippi, joined the Women’s Foundation in December of 2021. Her focus is operation management. Marqueta has a background in human resources and speech communication. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from Jackson State University and a Masters in Organizational Leadership from Belhaven University. Marqueta lives in Northeast Jackson with her husband and three children. She enjoys walking outside, football, traveling, and great food!
Board of Directors
Mary Largent Purvis
Mary Largent Purvis is the Director of Legal Analysis and Communication at Mississippi College School of Law, where she has taught Legal Analysis and Communication, Criminal Law, Secured Transactions, Sales and Leasing and Advanced Legal Analysis. Mary previously served as the Executive Director of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Mississippi. She graduated magna cum laude from Millsaps College in 1998, and she graduated summa cum laudefrom Mississippi College School of Law in 2001, where she was a member of the Law Review. Mary serves on the Mississippi College School of Law Child Advocacy Advisory Board and the Child Welfare and Advocacy Committee of the Mississippi Bar Association. Mary also serves on the Board of Directors for CASA Mississippi, Habitat for Humanity and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. She is the Chair of the St. Andrew’s Parents’ Association, and she serves on the Board of Trustees for St. Andrew’s Episcopal School. She previously served on the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Women Lawyers Association, the Young Lawyers Division of the Mississippi Bar as the Chair of the Bar Admissions Ceremony Committee, and the Board of Directors for Operation Shoestring, the Mississippi Children’s Museum and the Junior League of Jackson. She is a member of the Capital Area Bar Association, Association of Legal Writing Directors and the Association of Academic Support Educators, where she has served as Chair of the Bar and Bar Advocacy Committee. Mary lives in Ridgeland with her husband, Alex, and her children, Cate and Jack.
Lindsay Thomas Dowdle
Lindsay is a Special Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Litigation Division with the Office of the Mississippi Attorney General. She received her J.D. from the Mississippi College School of Law, and she also earned a Master of Education in Counseling Education from the University of Mississippi and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Appalachian State University. The Mississippi Business Journal has named Lindsay one of “Mississippi’s 50 Leading Business Women” and “Top 50 Under 40.”
Kathryn joins the Women’s Foundation Board with over a decade of experience in the non-profit sector. She started a choral music program in Marks, Mississippi in 2004; ran a statewide arts non-profit (the Thacker Mountain Radio Hour); and worked for Teach For America as the Chief of Staff for the Greater Delta region. Currently, she works as Chief of Business Development for Chism Strategies, a political consulting firm. After a run for State Senate in 2019, she was elected to her local school board in 2020. Kathryn and her partner, Joe, live in Water Valley, Mississippi with their two children (Emma and Herschel).
Bethany Tarpley is a partner at Jacks Griffith Luciano and has a diverse practice but specializes in appeals and Section 1983 litigation. Currently, she focuses on defense of public officials, defense of public sector claims under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act, defense of public sector employment claims under Title VII and the Civil Rights Act, and liability claims arising from law enforcement. She graduated from Florida State University, earning her BA and master’s degree, and is a huge Seminoles’ fan. After graduation, Bethany moved to London to work for the International Bar Association (IBA) in its Human Rights Institute. She is honored to currently serve as an IBA Foundation Trustee. When she moved back, she received her JD from Mississippi College School of Law.
As an entrepreneur, Donna started her own company in 1991 as the founder and owner of Mississippi River Trading Company, an importer from China. As part of Mississippi River Trading Company, Donna designed and manufactured her own clothing line which she branded under the name of Hamilton Kennedy. She travelled extensively throughout China and Mongolia for 10 years. She is currently serving on the board of The Aspen Institute, an international nonprofit forum for values-based leadership and the exchange of ideas. She is also Chair of the Board of MississippiToday, a digital nonprofit, nonbiased news organization dedicated to making Mississippi a better place for all. She is chair of the Board of Nunoerin, an interactive digital play experience company that works around the globe providing creative solutions for companies. She currently serves on the board of the Miss. Civil Rights Museum Foundation and the Ms. Women’s Foundation. In the past she has been President of the Jr. League of Jackson, a founding director of Leadership Jackson, Habitat for Humanity, Ms Arts Commission, America’s Promise and many other civic organizations. Her three children, Jay Sones, Ken Sones and Dr. Megan Clapton are her pride and joy. She and Jim collectively have 12 grandchildren. They feel very blessed and fortunate to be involved with their entire family in many ways.
Rita Brent is an award-winning comedian, musician, and military veteran. She grew up in Jackson, MS where she played music in Baptist churches alongside her mother and singer-pianist, Angela. She credits her mother for single-handedly cultivating her talents and preparing her for the entertainment business. By 18, she joined the Army National Guard where she served as a drummer in the 41st Army Band, ending her time in service as a sergeant. She began her radio broadcasting career at WJSU 88.5 FM as a student at THEE Jackson State University from which she graduated, and later spent six years at Mississippi Public Broadcasting as a host and producer. In 2013, she made a big leap into standup comedy. 9 years later, she has appeared on Comedy Central, truTV, Epix TV, LOL Network, Circle TV, CNN, and more. She tours as an opening act with her mentors, Rickey Smiley and Cedric the Entertainer. She wrote for the 73rd Primetime EMMY Awards, the Academy of Country Music Awards, The People’s Choice Awards, and Stand Out: An LGBTQ Celebration on Netflix. In 2023, she became a first-time Writers Guild Awards Nominee in two categories. When she’s not on the road as a standup comedian, she’s an up and coming music performance artist. Her most popular singles are Kamala, I Deserve to Be Alive, and Can You Rock Me Like a Pothole. She recently released the hilarious hit song, “Do the Hoochie Daddy”. She’s a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated.
Margaret Oertling Cupples
Margaret Oertling Cupples writes briefs and motions, and manages other lawyers who write them, in civil
appeals and commercial litigation. As litigators and their clients know, a vanishingly small percentage of
cases actually get to trial; for the rest, a great brief is the way to win.
As national legal writing counsel in major litigation for 3M Company, Margaret’s individual contributions
and her strong collaboration with colleagues have brought significant value to 3M for two decades. Her
experience also includes dozens of appeals in Mississippi’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, in the
Fifth and Sixth Circuit Courts of Appeals, and in other states’ appellate courts. She also handles
insurance sales practices, consumer finance, and general commercial litigation.
Margaret is listed in The Best Lawyers in America® for Appellate Law and Products Liability Litigation, in
Chambers USA for Appellate Law, and in Benchmark Litigation as a “Litigation Star” and as one of the
“Top 250 Business Women in Litigation.” She frequently presents seminars on legal writing and helps to
mentor younger lawyers seeking to improve their writing.
Margaret is the managing partner of Bradley’s Jackson office, and complements her practice with pro
bono work and community service on a number of nonprofit boards. Her volunteer work has given her
significant experience in nonprofit governance and problem-solving. She is a committed advocate for
Mississippi’s capital city and her historic neighborhood.
Robbye Good Smalley is Senior Vice President of Investor Relations at Hope Credit Union, Hope Enterprise Corporation and Hope Policy Institute – collectively known as HOPE. In this role, she leads the team responsible for cultivating and managing trust-based, enduring relationships with the donors, depositors and other investors critical to sustaining and growing HOPE’s impact. A Black and woman owned financial institution, HOPE provides financial services, aggregates resources and engages in advocacy to mitigate the extent to which factors such as race, gender, birthplace and wealth limit one’s ability to prosper. Since 1994, HOPE has generated over $3.6 billion in financing and related services that have benefited more than 2 million individuals across Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Before joining HOPE, Robbye served as Director of Talent Retention Initiatives at the New Memphis Institute, a nonprofit with a mission to forge a more prosperous and vital Memphis, TN by attracting, developing, activating and retaining talent. She led a comprehensive strategy for activating and committing professionals to the continuous improvement of the city. Robbye’s work at New Memphis, earlier organizations and now at HOPE comprise a career dedicated to empowering others to pursue a brighter future for themselves and this world.
Robbye also serves on the Steering Committee of the Arkansas Chapter of the Asset Funders Network (www.assetfunders.org) and the Fund Development Working Group of the Partners for Rural Transformation (www.ruraltransformation.org/). She earned a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Southern California and Master’s degree at Vanderbilt University. She lives in Jackson, MS with her husband Zach Smalley and son Theodore.
Erin Shirley Orey
Erin Shirley Orey, the co-founder of the Drs. Aaron and Ollye Shirley Foundation (The Shirley Foundation), a nonprofit 501c3 organization established to honor her parents, Dr. Aaron Shirley and Dr. Ollye Shirley, who spent their lives and professional careers on the health and well-being of people in underserved communities.
Erin is also a project manager at the University of MS Medical Center. She manages an opioid use disorder grant-funded project that addresses the opioid crisis by increasing access to medication-assisted treatment via telehealth for clients in Mississippi.
Erin is a doctoral student at Jackson State University’s School of Public Health, where her research interests include analyzing insurance type and medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders among African Americans in the state of Mississippi.
Erin is married to D’Andra Orey. They have a son, Kalen, a daughter-in-law, Iesha, and a granddaughter, Kali Dior.
Ashley graduated from Mississippi State University in 1996 with a Master’s degree in Professional Accountancy. She started her accounting career as an auditor with Deloitte & Touche and remained in public accounting for 15+ years before transitioning into industry. Ashley currently serves as the Chief Financial Officer for Barbour International, Inc., in Brandon, MS.
Ashley lives in Madison, MS with her son and daughter and spends most of her free time supporting them in various sports and civil endeavors.
As a member of Butler Snow LLP, Business Services and Public Finance Groups, Ashley’s practice focuses on public finance, general corporate transactions, and tax issues such as: public finance tax, state and local taxation, controversy matters, and tax credits. With over twelve years of experience, she has represented qualified active low-income community businesses, leverage lenders, guarantors, source lenders, state credit investors, and community development entities in $600+ million federal New Markets Tax Credit (“NMTC”) transactions. She has also represented developers in hybrid NMTC transactions, historic rehabilitation tax credits, and/or renewable energy tax credit transactions. As bond counsel in tax-exempt bond financings, Ashley has worked with mass transit agencies in the exercise of early buy-out options and voluntary terminations of tax-advantaged leases, including payment undertaking. In addition, she has represented taxpayers in controversy matters with the Mississippi Department of Revenue and the Internal Revenue Service, and served as counsel to banks in financing transactions.
Ashley received her J.D. from Tulane University, a M.P.A. from Jackson State University, and a LL.M. in Taxation from the University of Alabama. She is admitted to the State Bars of Mississippi and Texas, the U.S. Districts Courts for both districts of Mississippi, and also serves as a certified public accountant. Ashley is a member of the American, National, Magnolia, Mississippi, Texas, and Capital Bar Associations, as well as the National Association of Bond Lawyers and the Mississippi Society of Certified Public Accountants. She has served in various leadership positions, including President of the Magnolia Bar Association, and chaired various committees. She was named in the top 10 of Mississippi Business Journal; Top 50 Under 40 (2018) and Leaders in Law (2021) Rising Star tax by Mid-South Super Lawyers.
During Ashley’s free time, she enjoys volunteering and community and civic involvement. Currently, she is a member of the Beta Delta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and the Junior League of Jackson (having served in various leadership positions in both organizations). When Ashley is not pursuing her volunteer and service-driven efforts, she loves to travel. She hopes to cross Italy, Egypt and Africa off her travel bucket list. Ashley also enjoy spending time with family and friends, listening to music (which naturally leads to dancing) and attending concerts.
The Women’s Foundation of Mississippi began as a field-of-interest fund within the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson.
Inaugural Power of the Purse
The first Power of the Purse event, an informative session on how women could get involved in philanthropy, was hosted.
The Community Foundation officially launched the Women’s Fund.
The Fund hosted several new events, including the first Lunch and Learn, Change by Design, and Dining by Fireflies
International Women’s Day in Mississippi
Former governor Haley Barbour declared March 8th “International Women’s Day” in Mississippi.
First Executive Directcor
Carol Penick appointed as the first Executive Director.
W.K. Kellogg Foundation funding
W.K. Kellogg Foundation awarded The Fund a two-year, $375,500 capacity-building grant to support future endeavors.
The Fund officially separated from the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson and became an independent, statewide organization.
Teen Pregnancy Focus
The Foundation committed to addressing proper sex education and teen pregnancy, and released an informational packet on the cost of teen pregnancy in Mississippi.
Partnership for Women’s Prosperity
The Foundation joined the Partnership for Women’s Prosperity (PWP), an organization focused on supporting economically vulnerable women by providing opportunities in education, job training, and employment.
Fact Not Fiction
The Foundation launched Fact Not Fiction, a website and statewide advertising campaign with the goal of lowering Mississippi’s rate of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STI’s).
The Foundation’s endowment was valued at $1 million, and it awarded $235,000 in grants.
The Foundation implemented the Two-Generation model, awarding grants to community colleges throughout Mississippi.
The Foundation worked with the Community College Board to pass Senate Bill 2563, which requires community colleges to address the needs of women.
David & Lucile Packard Foundation Funding
The Foundation continued to gain recognition locally and nationally, receiving a $1 million grant from the Packard Foundation.
Carol Penick announced her retirement after serving as the Executive Director of the Foundation for 9 years.
Tracy DeVries became the new Executive Director of the Women’s Foundation, effective January 1, 2017.
New Research Released
The Foundation released research on women’s access to quality jobs in Mississippi showing that closing the wage gap between similar men and women workers would cut the poverty rate in Mississippi BY HALF.
She’s on Board
The Foundation hosted its first annual “She’s on Board” training seminar where more than 130 women received board governance training.
Mississippi Women’s Policy Institute
The Foundation recruited, trained, and supported its first-ever class of Women’s Policy Institute fellows. The fellowship is a program designed to train community-based leaders in Mississippi in public policy advocacy.
Rapid Response Funding
No one could’ve imagined what 2020 would have in store. In response to the once-in-a-century pandemic, the Foundation awarded more than $160,000 in Rapid Response funding to help support women and girls.