Our fearless founder evolved into our chief visionary officer!
Earlier this year, the R.J. Leonard Foundation’s founder Jo Leonard moved into a new role as our Chief Visionary Officer. We recently sat down with Jo to talk about her new position and her thoughts about the future.
How was the transition to Chief Visionary Officer?
It has been very interesting for me. As you can imagine I felt protective about who I wanted leading this very personal initiative. After interviewing a number of candidates for the role I was relieved to find that one of our own was the best candidate for the job. Caitlin has been working with us since our launch, and so I felt very confident in not just her abilities but her passion and commitment. This made it much easier for me personally.
How is your new role as Chief Visionary Officer different than your previous role as Executive Director? How have your tasks changed?
I’m definitely not as involved in the day to day as I used to be, which is lovely of course, as it gives me more time to work on other projects. Beyond supporting the team as they continue with the transition, I’m constantly on the lookout for new ideas that can improve our programs. I am an avid listener to local media broadcasts, which often highlight local social programs that can be of value to our Fellows (foster care youth we serve). For example, we connected one of our Fellows to Zip Code Wilmington, a fantastic coding program. Sam* excelled in the program and now works for a large investment company, earning a salary that gives him a wonderful quality of life for his new family.
What are you hoping to achieve as Chief Visionary Officer in the next year, or maybe in the next month?
I think the year is a better question than the month. It’s hard to be a visionary every day!
Making connections is what I love to do. Uncovering new supporters and new programs and connecting them to the RJLF keeps the organization fresh and innovative, and engages Bucks and Montgomery County residents in a cause that we can all feel great about. We live in a county of disparate opportunities and overall quality of life. When we share our wisdom, effort and wealth with those who have less opportunity than ourselves, everyone wins.
Longer term? I have a lot of big ideas. We are always on the look out for smart, vibrant board members who love the idea of changing the trajectory of someone’s life for the better. With this new team in place, I am confident the big ideas will come to fruition over the next 5 years. And I can’t wait to see it all manifest!
The vision for the RJLF remains the same. It’s quality over quantity, changing the lives of our Fellows in meaningful ways. Our program’s attention to detail and involvement in almost every aspect of our Fellows’ lives is what sets us apart.
Meet Jo and Caitlin at Heart for Change, the R.J. Leonard Foundation's largest annual fundraiser!
* Names and identifying information have been changed to protect the confidentiality and safety of Fellows involved in the R.J. Leonard Foundation's programming.
When my dad died in 2006, it felt like someone had removed a part of me. It was as if my foundation had crumbled away, and I had been left alone. Who was I going to call when I was in trouble? Who was going to talk to me logically about my heartache, my house flooding, the career decision that I needed to make, etc.? Who was going to come and look at the house that I wanted to buy and give me advice?
Lucky for me, my dad had given me an internal fortitude, a solid foundation. He was an incredibly competent and capable man, and I learned from watching him and working hard in his business. And as it turned out, I was not alone; he had helped me become a capable and strong adult, and for that, I feel blessed.
Robert James Leonard, my dad, was a successful teacher and entrepreneur who had passion for knowledge and education, as well as the tenacity necessary to build a successful business from very little. His passion, the decisions that he made, and the opportunities that he grabbed have inspired me throughout my life and still do today.
In August 2008, motivated by both his passions and the support that he offered to me throughout his life, I launched the R. J. Leonard Foundation (RJLF) in the memory of him.
It may come as a surprise to you that in Bucks and Montgomery Counties, which have a reputation for being affluent suburbs, there are approximately 125 young adults who are in the process of aging out of the foster care system. Their foundations are nonexistent. Their families are gone or unknown to them, and they are left to fend for themselves at 18.
Many of these young adults have overcome obstacles that would upset, frighten, and/or startle you. They have been forced to bounce from foster family to group home and back again, more times than they can count. At 18, they are emancipated, often unable to afford and insufficiently qualified to continue their education. They are let out into the real world to fend for themselves without any kind of support system.
Our mission is clear. While we are supportive of government programs to assist the underprivileged, we are dedicated to providing our Fellows with the resources that will put them back on a level playing field with their more privileged peers. In this way, they will live their own lives and raise families without government assistance. Self-sufficiency is imperative.
It is our hope that our Fellows will pay it forward, helping others like themselves in the future. It is my hope that they build a career and a family – a life after foster care – so that their past does not define their future.
With love and gratitude,
R. J. Leonard Foundation