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Longtime Community Foundation leader Jennifer Leonard to retire in 2022

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There is a leadership change coming to the Rochester Area Community Foundation. Jennifer Leonard, who has led the organization as its president and CEO for 28 years, is announcing that she will retire in September 2022.

Leonard is the foundation’s third top executive, and longest-serving leader, in its 49-year history.

Simeon Banister, the Community Foundation’s vice president for community programs, has been promoted to executive vice president. It’s expected he will eventually take over as president and CEO when Leonard retires, as part of the organization’s succession plan.

Banister joined the foundation in 2017, and his career has spanned both the public and private sectors. For several years, he has been president of the Greater Rochester Martin Luther King Jr. Commission.

“The Community Foundation’s board of directors enthusiastically looks forward to working with Simeon in his new role and unanimously approved this transition plan in support of the Foundation and the community,” said Tom Richards, board chair.

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Simeon Banister, executive vice president of the Rochester Area Community Foundation, will eventually take over leadership of the organization.

During Leonard’s tenure, the Community Foundation’s assets that benefit the Greater Rochester-Finger Lakes region have grown from $32 million to $578 million, and nearly two-thirds of that is permanently endowed. The organization said that the Community Foundation distributed $34 million in grants and scholarships last year and more than $547 million since it was established in 1972.

Leonard, a Brighton resident, has also helped to establish the ROC the Future education initiative and served as its board chair.

Leonard said that the Rochester area has always been a very giving community, even after cutbacks at its older manufacturing companies resulted in less funding coming from those big corporations.

“The capacity for corporate giving that had really held up Rochester’s charitable sector was devastated, and in its place has come a great deal of foundation philanthropy,” said Leonard.

Richards called Leonard “an outstanding leader who encourages and nurtures community-minded donors to address tough issues here at home and skillfully engages community partners to make our region a better place to live, work, and education our children.”

Banister said that the Community Foundation continues to work to address inequities in the resources available to various parts of the greater Rochester community.

"We also see it really important to create a sense of agency for folks that are in our communities that are living with the vicissitudes of economic deprivation. And so that’s a place for us to lean in,” Banister said.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.