Difference Makers: Christy Mershon enjoys making a ripple effect through work, community involvement

Christy Mershon
Photo by Aaron Eisenhauer

Editor's Note: The B Magazine Difference Makers series is sponsored by Executive Property Management and your local Edward Jones Financial Advisors. Read more stories at www.semissourian.com/DifferenceMakers.

It’s hard to name an organization in Cape Girardeau that Christy Mershon hasn’t been a part of in some way.

Mershon has served on the board of many local not-for-profits and organizations, including Southeastern Missouri Area Health Education Center (SEMO AHEC), Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence, Historical Association of Greater Cape Girardeau, Health in the Heartland and several others.

Mershon’s dedication to service began in 1999. She worked a job in retail management, but something didn’t feel right. She was making good money, but her job wasn’t fulfilling, she said. At the end of 1999, Mershon landed a job at Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) as an admissions recruiter.

“When I finally got that recruiting job at the university, there was just this connection,” Mershon said. “I fell in love with the service component and what the university did for the region.”

The position was a launching pad for several other roles Mershon later held at Southeast.

Mershon currently heads SEMO’s Economic and Business Engagement Center as its interim director.

The engagement center serves as SEMO’s outstretched arm to the community, according to Mershon. It was first created in 2003 as “the innovation center” with a mission to foster business and workforce development in the region with resources derived from the university.

As interim director, Mershon helps local business owners and workers fill any professional or personal development need. The engagement center also collects data new businesses can use to start up.

“If somebody needs something from the university, but they don’t speak academic speak or know how to find a resource, we are the door they can come into to find what they’re looking for,” Mershon said.

At the height of the pandemic, Mershon continued her service to the community by coordinating COVID-19 contact tracing courses and serving as a vital member of the SEMO AHEC team.

Mershon also serves on the board of Bootheel Babies and Families, an infant mortality reduction initiative.

From 2010 to 2012, six bootheel counties had some of the highest rates of infant mortality in the nation, Mershon said. So, the Missouri Foundation for Health started two parallel initiatives in St. Louis and Southeast Missouri to address the issue.

One of those initiatives was Bootheel Babies and Families. The goal was to reduce the bootheel’s rate of infant mortality to below 7%.

Mershon channeled some of SEMO’s resources into the project and ended up chairing Bootheel Babies and Families for a number of years.

“The highlight of my work was in 2019 when not a single African American baby in the bootheel died: We’d never seen that data,” Mershon said.

Yet, Mershon’s work doesn’t stop at milestones.

She classifies herself as a worker bee — someone who works hard but out of the spotlight.

“I like to kind of sit back on the side and see the ripple effects of all the work,” Mershon said. “As cheesy as it sounds, I feel like all I do is pick up a rock and throw it in a pond.”

Mershon once saw those ripples clearly on a visit to Discovery Playhouse, another organization whose board she serves on.

Last summer, she walked around the playhouse while an event with the Make-A-Wish Foundation was held for a sick child. She said she remembered what Discovery Playhouse looked like before it became what it is today.

Around 2009, the playhouse’s founder, Kevin Priester, gave Mershon a tour of the playhouse’s future premises. At the time, the space was the empty remains of a closed-down bar. Trash littered the floor. The building smelled like stale beer.

Yet, Priester, Mershon and fellow board member Kelly Morton worked to transform the space into Discovery Playhouse.

Eleven years later, Mershon attended the Make-a-Wish party and watched children enjoy what she helped create with her friends and began to cry.

“This is the journey,” Mershon told B Magazine. “I just want to create doors and create ripples. Once you open it for somebody else, they open it for somebody, too, and it goes on and on.”

“I look around this community and I see so many ripples, but then I see so many closed doors that I think can be opened. There’s a lot I feel like I haven’t done and want to. I just want to keep opening doors and see where it goes.”