Heart & Home: Mary Alex Thigpen & The Greater Belhaven Foundation
Longtime Belhaven resident Mary Alex Thigpen, who has expertly led others within her pursuits in education, marketing, and nonprofits, is now at the helm of an organization close to her heart and home – the Greater Belhaven Foundation.
The 501(c)(3) non-profit's mission is connecting residents and businesses to foster a vibrant, historic community.
As Greater Belhaven's new president, Thigpen and her team are working diligently to continue promoting and preserving one of Jackson’s most historic and storied neighborhoods.
We recently sat down with her to see what goals she has in store for 2024, as well as some of her favorite things to do in the place she loves most.
"I love this neighborhood," Thigpen said. "I've lived in Belhaven for a long time, raised my children here, and now my parents live down the street from me on Fairview. My husband works at UMMC, so our whole world is basically here. I really love this job and the people I get to know; it feels like its own small town in some ways. Some locals have lived here for a long time, and then there are plenty of newcomers. It's been inspiring to see all of the positive changes that have happened since growing up here as a little girl.
Do you have a top priority for the Greater Belhaven Foundation in your first year?
One of my big priorities is streamlining our efforts. Previously, we've had multiple organizations working towards the same goal but in different areas. It was like an alphabet soup of groups. However, this year, some of them have come under the umbrella of the Greater Belhaven Foundation, so it’s a lot more streamlined. My goal is for people to understand our mission, the projects we've completed, and the work we continue to do, much of which is behind the scenes. I want our Belhaven neighbors and neighbors in other Jackson areas to be aware of who we are and what we stand for.
How can the local community be involved with Belhaven and the foundation’s mission?
We encourage people to engage with us and connect through our community platforms. We have a Facebook page and Instagram account, along with a monthly newsletter that we send out via email; you can sign up for it on our website.
We also organize various events throughout the year. We have our art series, including 'Shakespeare in the Park,' 'Taste of Belhaven,' and ‘Belhaven’s Bright Lights,’ and an upcoming fundraiser called 'Art for the Park' at The Fairview Inn to support our three neighborhood parks. These events are great opportunities to connect with neighbors, meet new people, and benefit from the Foundation's work in our community.
What are some of the things you love most about Belhaven?
I really don't have a reason to leave! It's so convenient; I can do everything here. We have grocery stores, churches, schools, and hospitals – not to mention some of the best food and entertainment in the city. I can also walk to most places. For example, this morning, I grabbed coffee with some board members at Native Coffee, one of our local coffee shops, and I loved that I knew everyone there. It's a lovely, healthy place to live. Not just because of the access to running and biking trails, but because people are out connecting with each other. A lot of times, you connect with your neighbors through the history of the home they live in. In many neighborhoods, all you see is the facade of houses, with the garage as the main feature. People pull into their garages, shut the door, and go inside. Belhaven is the opposite of that. People are in their yards, building relationships, and forming actual friendships. It's not just a neighborhood; it's a special place to live.
Where are some of your favorite go-tos in Belhaven?
I’m currently the president of one of our Belhaven Garden Clubs – there are two in the neighborhood – and there are no membership criteria; if you live in Belhaven and want to join, you can. One of my favorite things to do is attend these Garden Club parties, where you get to visit people's homes and see their unique designs and special details. It's a great way to learn about the history of their house and meet new people or spend time with friends.
I spend a lot of time at Laurel Park because I have a four-year-old and a two-year-old; another place we frequent is the Museum Trail, which is a fantastic asset for the neighborhood. My four-year-old is learning to ride her bike there, and my husband and I can jog while she rides and we push the baby in the stroller. It's great to see so many people in the neighborhood taking advantage of these opportunities to stay healthy, be outside, and socialize.
Belhaven Town Center (BTC) has also added a lot to the neighborhood; I love spending time on the Terrace having a glass of wine with friends, or having dinner at Elvie’s, which is owned by my daughters’ godparents, Hunter and Mary Kathryn Evans. I remember one time, I spontaneously decided to take my girls to BTC in the morning, and it turned out to be the day of the World Cup final. When we arrived, they immediately saw their friends, and I was handed a drink by one of my best friends. We didn't plan it, but all our people were there. I love that I don't always have to make plans to meet with friends; I can just show up, and someone I know will be there.