Del Mar Encore Fellows, New Senior Fellow Selected to Help Lead Community Efforts


L to R: Saundra Collie, Sharon Hawkins, MPA, MSN/ed, RN, Leah Konicki, Jane McGee-Rafal, Pam Morgan, Dan Thaxton, Deborah Wilcox, PhD

Eight highly skilled older adults have been selected as the newest fellows and senior fellow for The Dayton Foundation’s Del Mar Encore Fellows Initiative, which deploys retired or career-transitioning older adults to work on significant community issues. Each Fellow brings new sources of talent and experience to nonprofit organizations tackling critical needs in Greater Dayton.

Since its launch in 2017, the Del Mar Encore Fellows Initiative has placed fellows with 15 organizations and have contributed more than 30,000 hours of work, providing an estimated $2.1 million in value to the Greater Dayton economy. This work is made possible by a generous grant from the DMH-Dayton Fund of The Dayton Foundation.

Providing oversight of the initiative is new Senior Fellow Leigh Sempeles, JD. Sempeles joined the Foundation in 2021 as a Del Mar Encore Fellow working in partnership with the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission’s Institute for Livable and Equitable Communities to establish nine area communities as part of AARP’s Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities. Thanks in part to her leadership, the Miami Valley is now Ohio’s first designated Age-Friendly Region.

Sempeles has more than 20 years of experience in legal information services with LexisNexis and Bloomberg L.P. She also served as the executive director for St. Vincent de Paul in Dayton, executive director of Foggy Bottom West End Village in Washington D.C., and as an adjunct professor for the University of Maryland Global Campus.

Serving for the next two years as Del Mar Encore Fellows are the following.

Saundra Collie is working with Learn to Earn Dayton and school district leaders on an innovative early literacy model that can be scaled across Montgomery County. Collie is a former adjunct instructor for the Central State University Education Department and Wright State University, as well as a retired school principal for Dayton Public Schools.

Sharon Hawkins, MPA, MSN/ed, RN, has joined the University of Dayton’s Fitz Center for Leadership in Community to develop and implement a Health Equity Activation Think Tank to improve the health outcomes of historically and systemically underserved Daytonians. Hawkins previously worked for University Hospitals of Cleveland and the Cleveland Clinic as an advanced clinical nurse and assessment nurse. Additionally, she has taught at Sinclair Community College, worked to help establish the Gem City Market and currently serves as president of the Ohio Nurses Association, District Ten.

Leah Konicki is assisting Miami Valley Housing Opportunities in seeking new ways to serve vulnerable populations in the community. Konicki has a background in preservation, city planning and economic development, and has worked in preservation and architectural history for city government and public and private sectors.

Jane McGee-Rafal is helping Learn to Earn Dayton launch the Miami Valley Early Grade Literacy Collaborative to promote evidence-based literacy practices and strategies. McGee-Rafal has nearly 50 years of experience in public education in Ohio and Arizona, including serving as the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Mesa, Arizona. Most recently, she was the vice president of special projects and a senior executive recruiter in Fort Myers, Florida.

Pam Morgan is helping the University of Dayton launch the Brain Health Collaboratory to provide research, education, outreach and clinical opportunities for students and the Greater Dayton community. Morgan worked for 43 years as a pediatric nurse, including at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and most recently at Dayton Children’s as the director of operations for the surgical service line.

Dan Thaxton has joined the Montgomery County Ohio College Promise to help develop a sustainable pool of future mentors for students enrolled in the program. Thaxton retired in 2015 after a 30-plus-year career as a project manager and identity and security expert, advising numerous state and federal agencies on how to improve national security credentials. He also holds eight U.S. patents, taught classes on religious history and serves as a volunteer mentor for College Promise.

Deborah Wilcox, PhD, is working with The Dayton Foundation’s Nonprofit Capacity-Building Partnership initiative to help design a comprehensive impact evaluation model to assess and analyze facets of capacity building through a racial equity lens. Wilcox is the founder of Confluency Consultants and Associates, which provides comprehensive organizational development and health and wellness coaching. She also has taught in higher education and has experience with city government, foundations and nonprofit organizations.

These seven new fellows join three current fellows who have been working for the past year to help childcare providers earn certifications and degrees to increase the quality of care provided for children, reverse low literacy rates of employees and clients, and create an online employment tool linking older workers with employers.

For more information about the Del Mar Encore Fellows Initiative, please contact Leigh Sempeles, senior fellow, at (937) 225-9949.