Benjamin Franklin once said that “out of adversity comes opportunity.” For Maxine Delores Hill Woodside, adversity at a young age also bred inspiration and a burning desire to help others.
Woodside’s mother became ill when her daughter was born, and with another pregnancy soon after and three other children already in the house, she needed help. At the age of 3 months, Woodside moved to the home of her great-aunt and uncle, 150 miles away, for what was supposed to be a temporary stay. However, her mother suffered one hardship after another and the return home never happened. Although Woodside’s surrogate parents had almost no education themselves, they placed her in a good private school so she could have a different future. When she visited her biological family over the summers and at Christmas; she felt both a deep sense of loneliness and an awareness that she had advantages her siblings did not have.
“Those visits left a profound impression on my life. I grew up thinking I always needed to help other people who had less than me,” explains Woodside, a lifelong resident of East Tampa, Florida.
Along the way, she was given an extra boost by an unexpected source—a seventh grade math teacher.
“Grace Jones changed my life,” Woodside recalls. “I tried to push her away; she was so well-bred and sophisticated, I thought I couldn’t live up to her standards. But she just wouldn’t leave me alone! She told me I was brilliant. One day, I shared my troubles with her, and she let me know there was nothing wrong with me. She became my role model and from that time on, each time I experienced a milestone in my life, I called her. At her funeral, I shared her influence on me.”
It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that as a teenager, Woodside was a leader. She served as a peer counselor at her community college and for the city of Tampa’s National Model Cities Program, middle school and junior class president, student council state representative for her high school and youth columnist for the local newspaper.
Her decision to stay in the East Tampa community took root when she’d have to walk home five miles after missing the bus due to band practice.
“I got the chance to see all sides of the community and the people on that walk,” she recalls. “In one area, you’d see doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professionals living in nice homes. And then I’d come to my neighborhood and see extreme poverty. I lived in an area called ‘the bottom’ because it had a steep slope. I remember thinking I had to climb from ‘out of the bottom’.”
Woodside earned a scholarship that helped her attend one of the local universities, and ended up specializing in business with a minor in education. She worked briefly in business after college but when she later moved to education, she discovered her calling. Her “niche” was outreach to children and youth prone to dropping out of school. Maxine says her most rewarding teaching experience was serving as a business administration instructor at a high school for girls who had just given birth.
“We became a family,” she says. “I was able to mentor them through their fear of not being able to raise a child successfully; so many of them saw themselves as failures. Today, I see those girls and they introduce their almost-grown kids!”
Maxine Woodside: Always focused on those in greater need
For Maxine Delores Hill Woodside, adversity at a young age also bred inspiration and a burning desire to help others.
Along the way, Woodside became a minister—a call she says she “fought for seven years, doing everything possible to convince the Lord I was not pastor material.” Clearly, that was not the case, because her good works since then are too numerous to list. However, here are just a few:
- Through her role of executive director of Bethesda Ministries, her church’s community development corporation, Maxine was instrumental in opening a food bank that offers diverse and high-quality nutritional choices to a community that that has been called a food desert because residents must drive two to three miles to shop at a full supermarket. Up to 100 families a week benefit—including teachers working at the nearby charter school she brought to the area.
- One of her pet projects at Bethesda Ministries is “God’s Pedal Power Ministry,” which provides bicycle transportation for residents who can’t afford a car or insurance, whose driver’s license has been revoked, etc.
- Another favorite initiative helps disadvantaged teenagers become “job-ready”—a program that NeighborWorks member Corporation to Develop Communities (CDC) of Tampa took over after Maxine and others attended a Community Leadership Institute.
- CDC of Tampa was so impressed with the drive and results she demonstrated as a volunteer since 2007 that it brought her on board. Since 2014, she has worked with CDC of Tampa’s Economic Prosperity Center and, a year later, as a member of its Employer Advisory Committee.
Throughout all of these activities, Woodside has remained true to her original motivation—helping others who have less than she does.
“People in crisis have a tendency to think they are the only ones suffering through what they are enduring,” she says. “So I am very transparent; I let them know my own background and that I can identify with them. You have to be real with people. You have to accept people for who they are.”