Acooa Lee Ellis Senior Vice President of Community Impact
Inspiration: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” -Maya Angelou
What working in this community means to me: I have had the privilege of working in this community in numerous capacities for nearly 20 years; it is home. Working in community to me means meeting folks where they are in their journey to being great, expecting their best, and providing support to achieve just that.
Acooa directs United Way grantmaking, coalition engagement, systems change, public policy and the agency’s 2-1-1- resource helpline. A champion for equity, she lobbied in multiple states and worked at the local level to advance critical business and civic objectives. Acooa currently co-chairs MinneMinds, a coalition of organizations and thought leaders from across the state with a common commitment to prioritizing investment in the education of Minnesota’s most vulnerable learners.
Acooa previously served as Director of Social Justice Advocacy for Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Prior to that role, she managed government relations for the southern region of the country on behalf of Target Corporation. As legislative aide to former St. Paul city council member, now Mayor Melvin Carter, Acooa also created the community development strategy for what later became the St. Paul Promise Neighborhood – a network of support to improve education outcomes and pave pathways of opportunity for children and their families in the Frogtown and Summit-University neighborhoods. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from the University of Iowa, and master’s degree in public policy with a concentration in community economic development from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Acooa is mom to her very own superhero, her 5-year-old son. Her family calls St. Paul home.