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Del Mar Encore Fellows Initiative: Fellows Look to Expand Program’s Reach
initiative with helping to expand awareness about low literacy in Greater Dayton.
When the pandemic expedited Leigh Sempeles, JD, and her husband, Mark Ording’s, return to Dayton, she wanted to find an opportunity to contribute to the community and employ her more than 20 years of experience in business and nonprofit leadership roles.
“The opportunity to work as a Dayton Foundation Del Mar Encore Fellow with the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission’s Institute for Livable and Equitable Communities on establishing age-friendly initiatives in the region was particularly exciting,” said Leigh, who started working as a fellow for MVRPC in 2021.
Thanks in part to her leadership, nine area communities recently became part of AARP’s Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities, which helped the Miami Valley also to earn the designation of becoming Ohio’s first Age-Friendly Region.
“I am grateful to have led a robust community engagement process, encouraging MVRPC’s members, partners and stakeholders to transform policies, places and programs within their communities so that they may ensure we all can live better as we age,” Leigh said. She found the work so rewarding that when Noreen Willhelm, the Foundation’s former senior fellow overseeing the Initiative, announced her retirement earlier this year, Leigh eagerly threw her hat in the ring and applied.
Encore Fellows Initiative
“I am dedicated to the mission of engaging older adults in addressing the significant issues that exist in our community, from the lack of accessible and/or affordable housing to digital literacy and ageism,” said Leigh, who started her new role in July. “But above all, I want to continue to change the conversation around aging.”
Changing the conversation around aging and harnessing the talents and expertise of retired or career-transitioning older adults to aid Dayton-area nonprofits through the Del Mar Encore Fellow Initiative was the brain child of Don Ambrose, president of Del Mar Healthcare and advisor to the DMH-Dayton Fund of The Dayton Foundation, in 2016. To date, the fund has contributed nearly $3 million to sponsor the initiative, the impact of which has made tremendous strides in education, social services and more.
DMEF recently released a five-year evaluation, which reports that the 14 Del Mar Fellows hired to date have provided more than 30,000 total hours (with a value of $155,000 per organization) of expert-level services across 15 Greater Dayton nonprofit host organizations. It’s estimated that for every dollar DMEF invests in the Initiative, host organizations see a $1.31 in savings if they were to hire a consultant to complete the same work – a 31% social return on investment. Even more impressive is that 100 percent of the fellows and their hosts reported high satisfaction with their DMEF experience in a recent survey.
Brunner Literacy Center Executive Director Ashley Lackovich credits the organization’s partnership with DMEF for expanding awareness about low literacy rates in Greater Dayton. Fellow Joni Watson is working with BLC to establish a coalition of organizations and companies whose clients and employees are at risk of low literacy. To date, 20 organizations have joined the BLC Literacy Leaders Coalition.
“With one in five adults at the lowest level for reading and writing and one in three at the lowest for math, this outreach is helping us reach a critical mass of people in need of literacy services,” Ashley said.
“Expanding our reach will deepen our impact in making Greater Dayton a better place, not just for older adults, but for all our region’s citizens.”
– Leigh Sempeles, Del Mar Encore senior fellow
One of the coalition’s members, Preschool Promise, recently used BLC for support in assisting two of its teachers on the path to higher education and, ultimately, better paying jobs.
“Both teachers are English language learners, so the prospect of taking the paraprofessional exam was very daunting. BLC’s tutors worked with them to enhance their English skills and helped them prepare for the test,” said James Cosby, career advisor and special projects manager for Preschool Promise. “Both teachers passed the exam on the first try, have jobs at local school districts and are pursuing associate’s degrees in education.”
Joni feels fortunate to be a part of a program that is making a difference in so many lives. “We can’t have equity without literacy,” she said. “BLC is life-changing for adults with low literacy, and I am proud to play a part in its success.”
Currently, seven new Del Mar Encore Fellows are taking on roles to aid area nonprofits, including efforts to expand access to affordable housing for vulnerable populations and to develop resources for people with traumatic brain injury, thus bringing the total number of current fellows working in the region to 10.
“This is an exciting time for the Initiative, or as we call it the Del Mar Encore Fellows Initiative 2.0,” Leigh said. “Expanding our reach will deepen our impact in making Greater Dayton a better place, not just for older adults, but for all our region’s citizens.” k
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