For the last twelve years, the Community Foundation has benefitted from the leadership of Dr. Les Garner, Jr. Through some of the largest challenges our community has ever faced, Les led our organization with grace, compassion, and wisdom. After a long and illustrious career, Les will retire in June of 2023.
“It has been an honor to serve as the leader of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation,” says Les. “I am proud of the organization and its efforts to strengthen our community through philanthropy. The collective efforts of the Board of Directors, a talented staff, and innovative donors and nonprofits have been inspiring. I am optimistic about the future of the Community Foundation and Linn County.”
Les joined the Community Foundation in 2010 after serving as President of Cornell College for sixteen years. Before that, he was President of North Carolina Wesleyan College and served as assistant professor of business administration and director of the Young Executives Institute at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He also served as special assistant to the director at the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria.
Les led the Community Foundation through three strategic plans, more than doubling the organization’s assets from $91 million in 2010 to $223 million in 2022. Annual grantmaking increased from $6.3 million in 2010 to $12.6 million in 2022 and the staff grew from 13 employees to 21.
“I have loved working with Les for the past 12 years,” said Karla Twedt-Ball, Senior Vice President, Programs and Community Investment. “Under Les’ leadership, the Community Foundation has helped position the community for the future through a number of efforts. He will have a long lasting legacy in our community.”
Some of those efforts include the micro-lending program for Cedar Rapids entrepreneurs, the expansion of the Kids on Course University summer programs, the third-grade reading proficiency program called Reading into Success, and the Creating Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities Fund for youth violence prevention efforts. Many of these are direct results of Les’ ability to convene and connect with people.
When donors came to the Community Foundation with an interest in funding a microloan program for local entrepreneurs, Les brought the idea to life. “He began investigating how to create such a program and eventually formed a partnership with the City of Cedar Rapids, the Public Library, Kirkwood SBDC, the local SCORE chapter, and the East Central Iowa Council of Governments,” said Jean Brenneman, Chief Financial Officer. “While all the partners have contributed to the success of the program, I truly believe it would not have gotten off the ground without Les’ entrepreneurial, convening, and storytelling skills.”
Within the Community Foundation, Les’ innovative leadership has had a tremendous impact. Initiatives during his tenure include an upgraded data software system, an expanded menu of investment options, increased involvement in community learning, and stronger supports for nonprofits through grantmaking and the Nonprofit Network.
By all accounts, Les leaves the Community Foundation in a good position to continue supporting Linn County far into the future.
“We appreciate Les giving us time to prepare the Community Foundation for his departure,” said Okpara Rice, Board Chair. ““He has been a convenor and collaborator that has led the Community Foundation through tremendous growth over the past 12 years.”
For now, Les will continue to lead the Community Foundation and provide support during the transition. The Board of Directors will oversee the search process, which will begin in January 2023 with the goal of filling the position by June 2023.