Special/Signature Issues » 2015 Top 40 Under 40

Melinda Wooten, 34: Special Nutrition Programs Supervisor at the Virginia Department of Health


Melinda Wooten missed her first interview with Style because the Virginia Department of Health’s building caught fire that afternoon. She got a pass on that.

When you talk with Wooten, you realize how uncharacteristic it is for her to miss a meeting. She’s an eight-year veteran of the Army — joining right before things ramped up in 2001 — and brings the drive and organizational skills of the armed forces with her.

As a medical specialist, she toured Belize twice and South Korea on humanitarian missions. “We went to remote areas — places where people had no medical care, none at all,” Wooten says. “Hundreds and hundreds of people would come out.”

After the Army, Wooten worked in the Department of Veterans Affairs in Miami, helping veterans navigate the system. “As a veteran myself, I loved, loved the job,” she says. “I was their ears and hands. I loved being able to help and guide them.”

Wooten and her husband, who was still on active duty, landed in Texas, where she worked for the state’s Department of Agriculture as a program review specialist in its child and adult nutrition program. Two years later, they moved to Richmond.

Here, her job is similar to the one in Texas, she says. Under the Commonwealth Council on Bridging the Nutritional Divide — which Gov. Terry McAuliffe established and is headed by first lady Dorothy McAuliffe — the Virginia Department of Health has several programs to help to end childhood hunger. Wooten became the special nutrition programs supervisor in the department.

She says her passion for her work came about when she had her own child, now 11. “My life changed completely,” she says. “It threw me for a loop and made me passionate about helping children. I want to grow with the kids [in the programs] and help them succeed. Everyone needs to eat and I want to provide them with healthy meals.”

As the supervisor for the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Summer Food Service program, she oversees and trains staff across the state. And she’s made an impression. Her manager, Conchetta Yonaitis, says in nominating Wooten: “There is no such thing as a 9-to-5 job in Melinda’s eyes. Whether she’s traveling to far Southwestern Virginia or to the coastal cities of Tidewater, Melinda’s mission is clear — to end childhood hunger in the Commonwealth.