Melissa Blevins, Chattanooga Area Food Bank Director of Operations, will lead a best practices session at the 2016 Feeding America Fresh Produce Summit in Tampa, Florida. During a session entitled ҂est Practices Addressing Barriers: Whatճ Working?ӠMs. Blevins will present insights on growing produce programs to representatives of Feeding Americaճ 200 food banks nationwide.

A local nonprofit organization known for instilling confidence in girls and preparing them for college is welcoming a new leader who hopes to continue increasing the organization's standing in the community.

Girls Inc. announced that Melissa Blevins will replace Bea Lurie as the organization's CEO, following Lurie's January resignation after nearly 10 years on the job.

Blevins comes to Girls Inc. from the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, where she worked as the director of programs and operations. The Covenant College graduate said in a Monday interview that it is, "an absolute privilege" to take the reins at Girls Inc.

"When this opportunity came open at Girls Inc., I was surprised to realize all they do and how little I knew about them," Blevins said. "The more I learned, the more excited I got about the opportunity to serve in this role."

Girls Inc. was founded in 1961 and has served more than 27,000 girls in Hamilton County. Participants take courses on leadership and women's history and work on community projects. The organization says that, since 2007, 100 percent of high school seniors who have completed Girls Inc. afterschool programs during their senior year have attended college.

Blevins said she hopes to build on the organization's nationally recognized programs that are overseen by Toccora Johnson, the Girls Inc. senior director of program operations.

"She's got a great track record, and I want to build on that and align our strategies with the national office," Blevins said. "There are some great opportunities to impact even more girls."

Blevins worked to develop community partnerships during nearly six years with the food bank. She hopes to do the same at Girls Inc., and said she looks forward to "having a seat at the table" as local education continues to be in the spotlight through initiatives like Chattanooga 2.0.

"One of the things I'd like to see," she said, "is for others to experience what I have and learn more about the Girls Inc. programs, get involved and support them."

Volunteer service as chairwoman of the 2015 Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and membership in the Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute also highlight Blevins' recent community involvement.

She is originally from Wisconsin but has lived in Chattanooga since 2008.

"Melissa has demonstrated strong management and leadership abilities throughout her career in steadily increasing roles and responsibilities," Girls Inc. board chairwoman Gina Dhani said in a news release. "We're thrilled she has agreed to join Girls Inc. as our next CEO and continue our growth and recognition in the community as the leading organization advocating for and supporting girls."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at or 423-757-6249.