VCCF Donor Spotlight: Interview with Sean Leonard

 In Blog

Quinn and Sean Leonard hugging while standing in front of the sign for the Great Ocean RoadWhile many know Sean Leonard as the Chair of the VCCF Board of Directors, we’d like to introduce Sean as a passionate member of the VCCF donor community. His faith, family and community inspire him in his philanthropy, and he and his wife Gwen hope to pass their legacy of giving to their sons one day.

Sean was born and raised in Hong Kong, his father working for the Hong Kong government and his mother in a dress shop. Sean said the two were inspirations in their work ethic and love for family growing up. He came to the United States to study at the University of California, Los Angeles as a foreign student and was the first in his family to attend college.

Sean became a United States citizen in 1985 and has lived in Ventura County for over 30 years with Gwen. The two met while Sean was attending UCLA and he has been married to the “love of his life” for 45 years, with three sons, three daughters-in-law and three grandsons. They own S.L. Leonard & Associates, a project management firm specializing in helping nonprofits with their capital improvement and real estate development projects.

“We are so blessed to be able to help and protect some of the most amazing organizations in Southern California,” said Sean.

Sean spoke with VCCF about his philanthropy, the role it has played in his life, and how VCCF has been able to foster his spirit of giving.

Did you have any early experiences with giving back to your community, whether it was philanthropy, volunteering, or something else?

My philanthropic journey really started with my faith. After bargaining with God — and Gwen — about how much to tithe, and whether it’s on gross or net income, I soon learned that our faith was rewarded by God’s provision. Matthew 25:40 says “…whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” This further inspired us to give of our time, talent and treasure as more than an act of tithe, but as a cornerstone of our legacy as parents and now grandparents.

How do you hope to pass down your spirit of philanthropy to the next generation of your family in your sons?

Sean Leonard standing with his three sons wearing suits and corsagesThey are all successful young men now, but when they were younger, we tried to be good role models. Gwen was elected Volunteer of the Year at our boys’ middle school and high school, and we would take trips to Vicente Guerrero in Baja California, Mexico twice a year to build houses and serve a school and orphanage. Recently, I told our sons not to expect a windfall when we passed; instead, we would want them to be trustees of our charitable trust which would be the primary beneficiary of our estate. All three of them were not only supportive but excited to do this. Despite living in three different states, all three of them and their families are giving back generously to their communities; I could brag about them for hours.

Do you and Gwen have any expectations for the giving your sons will do in your memories with your charitable trust, whether it be causes that you two are passionate about, causes your sons care about, specific nonprofits, etc.?

We will have guidelines for giving which would include disadvantaged youth, homeless services and faith-based charities. Organizations that come to mind are Casa Pacifica, Rescue Mission, and the Boys & Girls Clubs. My sons are currently supporting these causes as one supports organizations that build homes for disabled vets and transitional age foster youth housing, another serves on a Boys & Girls Club board and the third is active with financial literacy training for disadvantaged youth.

You are a supporter of the nonprofit Casa Pacifica as a member of their board. What does their mission and work mean to you?

Wow! Talk about a vital organization serving the most vulnerable of our community! Casa Pacifica helps youths with complex mental and behavioral health challenges and restores hope to them and their families. I urge anyone reading this to look up casapacifica.org or ask me about them. I’d love to introduce anyone who has a heart for kids and arrange a tour of the idyllic 24-acre campus. Like me, when you see the happy faces calling out to staff members as we walk the facilities you will soon realize that Casa Pacifica is a safe space for these kids. We are giving them a hand up to a path forward where they can be contributing, thriving members of our community; that’s a triple win, for our youth, for Casa Pacifica and for society.

Do you have any favorite stories about giving back to your community?

I remember when Gwen and I were getting into our car at a supermarket parking lot, and a young woman screamed at Gwen and ran up and gave her a huge hug, so excited to tell her about how far she had come, how well she is doing. This person and her family came to the Provide team at our church for help, where Gwen worked with them and personally went the extra mile mentoring and supporting them for many months. It brought tears to our eyes.

What advice do you have for anyone who would like to make a difference in their community?

If you follow your heart and give unconditionally, I guarantee you will never regret it. What you give will come back to you many times over. It truly is better to give than receive. If you want to explore philanthropy, VCCF can help connect you with a nonprofit that matches your passion. Check out vccf.org or contact me; I can introduce you.

Do you have anything else you’d like to add on to this interview?

Just do it; you can start at a smaller scale and grow as you catch the philanthropy fever. VCCF can show you how to leverage your assets and help more organizations in doing work that you are passionate about.

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