The Rochester Area Community Foundation next year will have a new leader for the first time in nearly three decades.
Jennifer Leonard, who has been the Community Foundation’s president and CEO for 28 years, plans to retire in September 2022.
Simeon Banister, vice president for community programs, has been promoted to executive vice president. A Rochester native, he will work closely with Leonard to ensure a smooth leadership transition as the organization marks its 50th anniversary in the coming year.
“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.
Leonard is the third—and longest-serving—top executive of the Community Foundation, the Rochester-Finger Lakes region’s largest grantmaker and steward of charitable funds and endowments. During her time at the helm, the organization’s assets have grown from $32 million to $578 million, nearly two-thirds of which is permanently endowed. The Community Foundation last year distributed $34 million in grants and scholarships; since it was established in 1972, distributions have totaled more than $547 million.
“The mark that Jennifer made on this community and everyone she worked with will be present for years to come,” Richards said. “She has been 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 educate our children.”
In addition to leading the foundation, Leonard has played a key role in numerous other community efforts. She helped to establish the ROC the Future education initiative and served as its board chair. She also has held positions on the boards of Center for Governmental Research and Causewave Community Partners, and has served on the steering committee for the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, which was established after the Community Foundation and ACT Rochester released their first in-depth reports on poverty in the region.
Leonard is the recipient of numerous honors including the 2010 Athena Award. In 2007, the Rochester Business Journal named her one of “20 business people who have made the biggest impact on Rochester over the past 20 years,” and in 2019, she was one of 10 women inducted into RBJ’s Circle of Excellence. City & State New York named Leonard to its first-ever statewide Philanthropy Power 50 list in 2020 and its inaugural Western New York Power 100 list in 2021.
Before moving to Rochester in 1993, Leonard was vice president of the California Community Foundation in Los Angeles and a national writer and consultant in philanthropy.
Banister joined the Community Foundation in 2017. Previously, his career spanned public and private sectors, including positions with the New York State Senate, state Department of Taxation and Finance, the State University of New York, and several private commercial real estate firms.
In March 2020, when the Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes launched the Community Crisis Fund in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Banister was named to co-lead the committee that met every day for several months to review and approve grant requests. Nearly $7 million was distributed by that committee during the first year of the pandemic.
Banister is a graduate of North Carolina Central University and the Princeton Theological Seminary. For several years, he has been president of the Greater Rochester Martin Luther King Jr. Commission and serves on the boards of the University of Rochester Medical Center, the Children’s Agenda, Genesee Land Trust, and the Congressional Award Foundation. He is a former member of the Rush-Henrietta school board.
Paul Ericson is Rochester Beacon executive editor.