Ron Soeder calls his 14-plus years as president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland “the most rewarding, challenging and special experience of my life other than having my own kids, my own family.”
After facilitating a July 2019 merger of clubs in Cleveland, Akron, Lorain County and Sandusky to create the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio — the largest-ever Boys & Girls Clubs merger in the U.S. — he was ready to retire.
“I’d always had it in my mind that I would probably retire to do something else,” says the 68-year-old Concord Township resident.
It didn’t take him long to find it.
In August 2019, Soeder sat down with Rick Simmons, co-founder with wife, Amy, of the telos institute, a Chardon-based firm that helps business and industry leaders around the world optimize business strategies, hone leadership skills and manage change. The Simmonses wanted to support disadvantaged young people. Soeder offered to put together a white paper describing an initiative to develop emerging leaders, ideally 19-to-24-year-olds who had a year of college or work experience. In September 2020, he signed on as director of the telos leadership foundation.
The foundation’s 10-month program, which recruits participants from the likes of the Mandel Scholars Program and federal educational opportunity outreach programs, consists of four parts. Preparation involves completing assessments designed to uncover strengths and determine values. Next is a catalyst: a weeklong trip to a bucolic locale such as the Cuyahoga Valley National Park or Rocky Mountain National Park.
Integration is achieved by implementing lessons learned into daily lives with the help of a coach, a process that continues in a sustainability phase with periodic reunions, “skill calls” and implementation of a class’s plans to develop a vacant lot into a transformational neighborhood space — a community garden, park, etc.
“As alums, they have access to a career coach, a wealth manager, a lawyer, a health and wellness coach, pro bono to them,” Soeder says. Each receives $100 to open a Vanguard S&P 500 index fund so they can explore how the stock market works. “So many young people get started, and they don’t think about the long haul.”
Two cohorts — one of 10 participants and the other of 20 — have gone through the program. At press time, the foundation was beginning to recruit the next class of approximately 24 participants. Soeder talks of growing the program to include an international cohort, a time when participants become program facilitators, coaches and fundraisers. He says he truly enjoys the work.
“It inspires me, it motivates me,” he says. “It keeps me young.”