Meet Brian Leshner: Director of Special Initiatives

Brian Leshner has rejoined the Activities Beyond the Classroom team as the Director of Special Initiatives, and is already working diligently with Executive Director Sally Grimes and Director of Advancement Carmen Lawrence-Bille.

But Brian’s face is not new around the ABC offices. Brian was the founding Executive Director of ABC and helmed the organization for 17 years. He resigned from this position as of June 30, 2021.

“Back when we started ABC, we had humble dreams: to make sure students didn’t have to pay for their own soccer jerseys, or to make sure students weren’t blocked from playing on the basketball team because they couldn’t afford the shoes,” said Leshner. “Those dreams have come true. In fact, ABC today has far surpassed my hopes and dreams.”

The ABC of today that Brian refers to is one that not only makes high school athletic opportunities more accessible, but a vast selection of wellness and after school activities accessible and equitable. ABC serves approximately 15,000 students annually across the Cincinnati Public Schools district, 90% or more of which live at or below the federal poverty line.  Programming is targeted to support each school and community in unique ways, and programming areas range from athletics to arts to STEM to wellness.

“Over the last 17 years, we’ve grown to accommodate the particular needs of each community we serve,” said Deputy Director Rachel Stallings. “The Aiken community needs are different from Walnut Hills’, which are completely different from Silverton Elementary’s, and so on. Rather than pretend to know what’s best for these communities, we’ve spent the better part of two decades listening to these communities and responding to what they tell us they want and need. Now, we support the student experience in holistic ways that address root causes to systemic problems.”

Brian cheerfully resigned from his position and took a two-month sabbatical while the new Executive Director, Sally Grimes, stepped into the leadership role. “Now,” he grins, “the fun begins.”

Special Initiatives at ABC

In his new position, Brian will be helping Activities Beyond the Classroom create a legacy that will last generations. “We’ve been helping kids for 17 years now,” Brian recounted. “I’d like to see ABC still around to help their kids, and their grandkids, and the generations beyond them. There is no limit to the amount of students we can support- if we have the necessary support to get there.”

Brian plans to spend his time in several areas of legacy planning across the organization, including…

Arts & Music Funds- For seventeen years, ABC has supported high school athletics efforts. As ABC matured and we increased our partnerships and resources, we began investing in other, more expensive activities, including the arts. “The only reason ABC hasn’t supported arts in schools as long is because it’s cheaper to provide soccer cleats to a team of players than it is to provide cellos to a class of instrumentalists,” Brian explained. “But we’ve come a long way, and we’re able to support these big initiatives now.”

With ABC’s greater bandwidth and capacity, planning has begun to increase and expand arts programming across the Cincinnati Public School district. “CPS is onboard, ABC is onboard, the students are totally excited,” Deputy Director Rachel Stallings shared. “Now all we need are the resources to really run with this. There is no reason why every student in CPS cannot be, in their own unique way, an artist.”

Reserve Funds- One in three nonprofits needed to close their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic due to financial instability. Fortunately, ABC was not one of these unfortunate nonprofits… “but I hate to imagine if that had been us,” speculated Executive Director Sally Grimes. “We pulled through the pandemic in one piece, still serving our community, because our donors and community believed in the power of ABC programs. That made us strong. And we’re smart enough to know, we’re probably going to need that strength again someday.”

ABC is starting to plan for the future in ways it never has before by establishing a reserve fund, in case of national disaster. “If something like COVID were to happen again, we don’t want to scramble. We want to know that we have 6-12 months of operational funding tucked away, so we don’t need to consider lay-offs or suspending programming or anything else that would go against our mission,” Sally continued.

While other organizations may pursue endowments for this purpose, ABC is opting for a more liquid reserve fund. “There is a lot of research being done on endowments and how this model of longevity planning can actually harm equity and diversity efforts,” explained Carmen Lawrence-Bille, Director of Advancement. “With these values being so dear to our mission, we cannot in good faith pursue an endowment. Instead, we’re excited about this reserve fund. It means we can take risks and try new things for our students without fear that one small failure will poison our success.”

Planned Giving- Some people call this legacy giving, or estate giving, or planned giving, but the intent is all the same. These are gifts that require more planning, thought, and paperwork than your standard donation. “A planned gift is often a person’s final gift to the world,” Director of Advancement Carmen Lawrence-Bille explained.  Oftentimes, a planned gift comes in the form of a bequest in someone’s will. “What people don’t always realize is that these gifts keep giving. That final gift you make through a bequest can give a student the gift of swim lessons, which could save their life, which then helps them teach their families to swim and save their lives. These gifts compound in ways that keep us alive long after we’re gone.”

ABC is incredibly fortunate to have Brian’s expertise and knowledge as we discover that many of our donors and friends already have planned gifts for ABC that had not yet been documented! “It’s incredibly important we know about these gifts so that we know they can continue, they can grow, they have the support of the community. But it’s also important to us to be able to thank you while you’re still here, and to make sure you get to see the brightness you bring to our community through your foresight and generosity.”

For more information on Brian’s new position, ABC’s special initiatives, or the future of ABC’s programming, send Brian a message at