It’s not everyday we get to sit down and talk with not one, but two of our favorite young professionals in Central Indiana. With Melissa and Jim Peterson we get a one-two punch: generous supporters and generally awesome people on their own; and together, a dynamic duo committed to making Central Indiana a better place to call home. Melissa is in her second year on the Host Committee for ELEVATE, and Jim leads Eli Lilly’s Core Cultivation Team and sits on the Emerging Leaders Steering Committee. We got the full dish on how they met, what they think about being a young professional in Central Indiana, and why United Way floats their boat. And of course, we closed out the conversation with their thoughts on our signature fundraising event, Havana Nights!
Give us your 30-second career story.
Melissa: I’m in HR at Republic National Distributing Company, that distributes wine and liquor across 22 states nationwide. Before that, I spent four and a half years in retail management at Target.
Jim: I’m a global marketer in the pain division at Eli Lilly and Company. I spent some time in sales and sales training before finding my true passion in the marketing organization.
Let’s talk Indianapolis.
J: We’re both from the Chicago-land area and went to University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. We met there at the Orthodox Christian Fellowship–we’re both ethnically Greek. Before you ask, it’s true: we really do break plates, Greek dance, and say, “OPA!”
M: We were dating when Jim moved here for a promotion. We got engaged shortly after, and I moved here within the year.
Favorite date night spot?
M: We love Livery on Mass Ave. for its food and atmosphere. It’s always buzzing and is within walking distance from our apartment.
J: Yeah, we enjoy downtown living. We drink a lot of coffee. Coat Check and Provider are go-to stops for us. Lost and Found Coffee is a hidden gem we discovered at a brunch festival. Look out for their mobile cart for some really, really good coffee.
What called you to get involved in community?
J: I’ve been an active volunteer since college and I was involved with several charitable organizations in the Champaign-Urbana community. Originally, it was our church that opened our eyes to the importance of getting involved.
When I started full time at Lilly, I hit a period where I was working really hard and didn’t prioritize getting out and helping in the community. I missed it. Lilly has always supported the United Way, so I started exploring opportunities to get involved. Someone suggested I check out United Way’s Emerging Leaders. It ended up being a perfect fit. I was able to build a network outside of work, develop leadership abilities and support things I care about. Melissa and I both value education strongly, so we loved being able to support United Way of Central Indiana education programs like Read UP and All in for Pre-K.
M: Our upbringings taught us so much. I grew up in a nice suburb, but with an extremely hardworking family of physicians. The importance of hard work and education were engrained in the way I was raised. My grandfather game from Greece with very little money and worked extremely hard to provide opportunities for his kids to get an education. So from an early age, my mother and uncle were role models for me and shaped the way I think about education. Jim had a much different upbringing – meeting him further opened my world view.
J: Yeah, the area I’m from is not a high income area. I come from a divorced family; single mom trying to raise two boys. Growing up, there was a lot of bad stuff and gang activity in my neighborhood. The staff at my high school didn’t provide a lot of push to excel – they just wanted us to graduate. A very low percentage of folks from my school go on to something else. When I got to college I felt disadvantaged. I wished I’d had more exposure to things, like how to complete a college application, how to study effectively and how to think about my career. High school as very easy so I had a lot of catching up to do in college.
M: University of Illinois, where we met, is a melting pot. I found myself immersed in a much more diverse environment than where I grew up. I didn’t really understand what it would be like to come from a background without privilege, and I found myself being judgmental when Jim shared things from his past. He’s taught me a lot about treating people with respect and understanding different viewpoints. Before I feel like I couldn’t read people, or I’d say the wrong things. It was lack of exposure. We both realized the value of exposure, education and the importance of diversity.
How did United Way enter the picture for you?
M: We went to the Red Carpet Gala just as regular attendees. It was the Alice in Wonderland theme. I’ve always loved planning things, so joining the event committee seemed like a great way to meet people here and to explore my creative planning side. It’s been an educational experience for me to see what all goes on behind the scenes. I’m excited that this year we’ll be raising money specifically for struggling Indiana families. I’m hoping to learn more about what it means to be “food insecure” in our community.
What advice would you give to other YPs who are still trying to figure out how to get involved in the community?
J: Go online and look for young professional groups. Just get out there. Meet one or two good people— that’s all you need to get hooked. That personal connection is so important.
M: Find your passion. Figure out what you care about, whether that’s children, education, a local neighborhood, and then find a way to get involved.
Let’s talk United Way’s new signature fundraising gala, ELEVATE. Do you know what you’re going to wear to for the Havana Nights theme?
M: Last year, I was going to get a beautiful yellow ball gown like Belle for the Beauty and the Beast theme from Rent the Runway. Then, I ended up wearing black. I’ll probably look for something that fits the theme. Maybe I’ll look like the dancing emoji! I’m really looking forward to the dancing.
J: We both Greek dance! Maybe a theme for a future year?
Mojitos, yay or nay?
J&M: Emphatic, YES.
Last word: Why should people come to ELEVATE?
J: With a Havana Nights theme, you know it will be a lot of fun. You will be in the presence of some of the best and brightest young professionals on the city. Plus, you will learn about United Way of Central Indiana and their work.
M: We’re going to dance and we’re going to make an impact. That’s the bottom line: it’s a 2-for-1. You get to go to this great event, but there’s something much deeper going on.