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  • Writer's pictureGrace Anne Alfiero

Local Survivor Thrives and is Promoted to Executive Director

Leading the agency that once gave her a helping hand, Melissa Dohme Hill is promoted to Executive Director at Hands Across the Bay.

Melissa Dohme Hill, Executive Director, leads volunteers and advocates at Hands Across the Bay with the Kindness Warriors program. (Image courtesy of Hands Across the Bay.)

Tampa Bay, Florida—It is rare that one meets an altruistic leader who walks the walk and talks the talk, and can earnestly speak frankly and honestly from lived experience. Tom Free, a board member at Hands Across the Bay met Melissa Dohme Hill through an extraordinary circumstance. As a board member of his family’s foundation and as the CEO of his own personal foundation, he works with a network of individuals and organizations, trying to help out whenever possible. Sometimes that means he serves as a board member of a local agency, and sometimes that means he is asked to write a check.

Tom learned about the excruciating details of Melissa’s tragic experience with domestic violence from a dear friend who contacted him for financial support for Melissa’s reconstructive surgeries. On January 24th of 2012, Melissa was fatally wounded and was the victim of a multiple stabbing attack (32 to be exact) by someone who she knew and dated in high school. The attack caused Melissa’s entire blood volume to be replaced twice, resulting in her flat-lining four times and eventually suffering from a stroke in the emergency room. Melissa’s story of survival and tenacity is otherworldly. Not only was she stabbed multiple times, but she was left for dead. It was touch and go for a while to heal from the gaping wounds and Melissa was also diagnosed with a head injury. It took her years to slowly recover.

Fast forward a decade, and Melissa was just promoted to Executive Director by a unanimous vote from all board members at the agency where she works. Tom Free stated, “Melissa is incredibly hardworking and knowledgeable. She is an amazing advocate and has been an inspiration to me since the day I met her.”

Melissa was initially employed as an advocate and then, a program manager, steadfastly gaining the experience needed to evolve into an effective nonprofit leader and take the helm as the Executive Director. The Board Chairperson and Founder of Hands Across the Bay, Julie Weintraub stated, “Melissa was an invaluable addition to our team and has made incredible contributions! We are so excited that she is able to grow with us and provide us with her deep understanding and knowledge of what it is like to be a survivor.”

Through her advocacy work and with her administrative duties at Hands Across the Bay, Melissa estimates that she helps over 300 individuals and families per year gain the independence they need to move on, begin to heal, and live a healthy life, free of violence and fear.

Chelsea Heavenridge, Director of Development (left) and Melissa Dohme Hill, Executive Director, gather donations from volunteers and supporters at Hands Across the Bay. (Image courtesy of Hands Across the Bay.)

Just spend one afternoon with Melissa and it is easy to observe her innate ability to connect with program participants, providing empathy on a level that may only be tantamount with survivors. Her cosmic abundance of compassion and her joyfulness as she tackles even the most mundane tasks is at times palpable and yet she is ever present to make tough calls and hard decisions too.

Melissa remembers having one major breakdown during her path to recovery. She experienced paralysis and still has some lingering effects, but she says she has always felt like she was saved for a special purpose, some others describe it as a miracle. During our interview, Melissa looked up, toward the top corner of her screen, definitely taking a pause to think through each word choice and then slowly stated, “So many other victims of abuse and domestic violence never get a second chance, and believe me, I had moments of doubt, especially during the beginning of my recovery. But I truly believe that the reason I survived and my true calling is now about speaking out and connecting with other survivors, providing them the strength necessary, and the tools necessary to change the hand they were dealt. I did, and if I can live to tell this story, then everyone deserves the support and hope that got me through!”

In recognition of her effective advocacy in the community, Melissa was awarded CASA’s 2013 Victory Over Violence award, WEDU’s 2016 Be More Outspoken: Voice of Tampa Bay Award, the Pinellas County DV Task Force’s 2016 Outstanding Achievement in Preventing Domestic Violence Award and many more. Despite doctors advising her to take a break due to her traumatic brain injury, Melissa returned immediately to college and never gave up on her education! In 2012, she was awarded St. Petersburg College Clearwater’s Student of the Year and honored as the commencement speaker for her Associates Degree. In May of 2016, she proudly reached her ultimate goal and graduated with honors, Summa Cum Laude, with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Business Management & Organizational Leadership.

Now Melissa will lead Hands Across the Bay into its next decade of service advocating for survivors, like herself, who deserve to live a healthy, safe existence without fear and violence. To learn more about Hands Across the Bay, click here: To make a tax-deductible donation to the agency, click here:

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