Throughout his professional career, Sammy Moon has been dedicated to enacting changes he sees are for the betterment of society, and he is continuing that mission by serving as an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. His work with the LGBTQ Fund of Mississippi combines his extensive work experience with his personal experiences growing up gay in Mississippi.
Moon grew up in Becker, a small town near Amory, and later moved to Jackson after college. He attended the University of Mississippi for his undergraduate degree and then earned master’s degrees from Ole Miss, the University of Southern Mississippi and Harvard University.
“I always had been focused on working with others in some way or another,” Moon said. “I knew it was going to be in the ‘helping’ field.”
His career in ‘helping’ began when he worked with an organization providing direct services for vulnerable children and families. After a few years, he began working with United Way of the Capital Area..
“It was really the United Way experience that grounded me on a professional path that took me to the level of understanding the difference between micro and macro change,” Moon said. “I started understanding that if you’re going to really affect a large number of people, you need to be thinking about how resources are used to change systems or policy.”
Through his work with United Way he lived in San Diego and eventual moved to Baltimore to take a position with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which focuses on improving the wellbeing of American children.
After retiring as a senior program director with the foundation, Moon made his way back to Jackson.
“I decided to come home, basically,” he said.
However, once he got settled in Jackson, a friend called him to see if he would be interested in doing some volunteer work with the Mississippi Association of Grantmakers in his new found free time.
“With my background, I said yes, and that turned into becoming the first staff person that organization had ever had,” Moon said. “And that turned into the opportunity to look at how philanthropy and foundations work with nonprofits.”
In this role, he was also able to partner with Volunteer Mississippi to help create a series of regional hubs across the state. There are eight regional volunteer and nonprofit hubs throughout the state.
“Most of them are housed in community foundations or United Ways, and everyone of them has a full-time staff,” he said. “So Mississippi is wonderfully positioned to have the ability to not only offer services out of our central office, but to offer services and support out of our regional hubs as well.”
He now serves as the executive director of the Mississippi Alliance of Nonprofits and Philosophy.
“When I came back, I assumed that after being gone from Mississippi for 25 years that there would have been progress made on a lot of different fronts. I assumed more people would have more open attitudes,” Moon said.
He said in some ways things had changed. However, the amount of change he expected to have occurred in had not taken place.
“Part of that is about the time I came back to Mississippi was the time when house bill 1523 was being debated and ended up being passed. It was clear that that was setting the stage for what many view as the potential to discriminate against LGBTQ+ folks,” he said.
Returning to Mississippi in that environment combined with his work experience, Moon found the perfect opportunity to make a difference by identifying gaps in services and the needs of the LGBTQ+ community.
“I work very diligently with a great team,” he said. “We’re a fund at the Community Foundation of Mississippi. That’s how we got started.”
The fund identifies emerging needs and provides financial support that enhance the work of organizations addressing issues important to LGBTQ Mississippians.
The fund developed its priorities through a comprehensive statewide needs assessment conducted by doctoral students at Mississippi State University, surfacing the challenges and opportunities that Mississippi’s LGBTQ+ citizens encounter in their daily lives.
They advertise requests for proposals and award grants based on need.
“Until now, there has been little specific funding to support the well-being of the state’s LGBTQ+ community,” said Moon, the founding donor. “A diverse group of Mississippians came together to address this need by launching the LGBTQ Fund. This is very exciting progress for our state.”
The 12-month grants range from $3,000 to $15,000.
Through the statewide needs assessment, Moon said they established four areas where the state was lacking in meeting the needs of the LGBTQ+ community: mental health, health, safety and neighborhood and community.
“There was a lot of need expressed for having places and/or organizations that provide a welcoming, respectful and inviting opportunity for LGBTQ folks to socialize and get to know one another. There was a sense of social isolation noted, particularly in rural neighborhoods/communities,” Moon said.
This is part of what shocked Moon upon returning to Mississippi. His hope is that the work of the organizations supported through the LGBTQ+ Fund will bridge the gap in services and community.
A volunteer’s work is never really done, and Moon intends to continue his work to enact lasting change in the state.
For more information about the Alliance or the LGBTQ Fund, visit alliancems.org/ or lgbtqfundms.org/ respectively.