It only took one week for former EHS faculty Gail and Perry Epes ’65 to change the trajectory of Leah Leah’s life. Born and raised in Lexington, Ky., Leah had never considered boarding school before she met Gail and Perry at Kanuga, a retreat of the Episcopal diocese in the North Carolina mountains. Leah learned a lot about Episcopal during that fateful middle school summer, and the Epeses encouraged her to apply.
As a student at EHS, Leah discovered her passion for the classics and community service. Today she is a member of Episcopal’s Advisory Council, serves as a class correspondent and Reunion volunteer, and co-chairs the Young Alumni Leadership Society. As president of Strategic Funding Group, Leah has found her calling, and we wanted to learn more.
How did you become involved with the Strategic Funding Group?
When I was a junior in college, I began studying for the LSAT. My mom is a former prosecutor, and it just seemed like what I was supposed to do, but my heart wasn’t in it. My dad, who founded Strategic Funding Group in 1990, suggested I work for him. I honestly didn’t know all that the firm did at that point. If asked, I always said, “My dad writes grants for nonprofit organizations.” I started working for him as a research assistant, helping grant writers gather data for grant applications and researching funding sources for clients. I realized it was the perfect fit for me: a combination of creativity (identifying and packaging funding sources to help clients meet their goals), research (I love a challenging research task), and writing (I am a technical writer through and through, and this field is perfect for that). After working my way up from research assistant to grant writer to chief operating officer, I became president of Strategic Funding Group in 2012.
Tell us about a project that you’ve worked on with SFG that you were particularly passionate about.
My true passion is workforce development. Right now, we are working on several Department of Labor Tech Hire grants, which will fund new and innovative training services targeted at youth and young adults, ages 17-29, to give them the skills they need to get well-paying, high-growth jobs across industries such as IT, healthcare, and financial services.
Tell us about a project that you’ve worked on with SFG that did not receive funding.
This is one of the downsides of my job. Sometimes the projects I think will absolutely get funded, don’t, and vice versa. One of the first grants I wrote was a Department of Housing and Urban Development Rural Housing and Economic Development grant for a client in rural Kentucky. I felt great about the project and the partnerships, and I was really excited to bring some much-needed support to an area of my home state that really needed it. But it didn’t get funded, and I was pretty bummed. Unfortunately, that is just the way it goes in this business. You have to remember that there is a lot of need across the country.
What is most challenging about your job? Most rewarding?
The most challenging part of my job is remaining somewhat detached and objective on projects that pull on your heartstrings. In doing so, I can craft a better funding strategy for my clients, making sure we send out quality, persuasive applications. The most rewarding part of my job is seeing such projects receive funding and then hearing about how successful it is. One of our clients just opened up a homeless health clinic in Louisiana and sent me a picture of the clinic’s first patient. There’s nothing better than that!
Anything else we should know about you?
I’m married to Dre Tennille [who attended EHS in 1996-97], whom I missed at Episcopal by two weeks! Our son, Townsend, is two, and will absolutely attend EHS. We also have a boykin spaniel, Mae West. I am a board member for the Urban League of Greater Atlanta (with Ken Hodges ’84), and I serve on Missions, Finance Committees at St Anne’s Episcopal Church (with Jim Sibley ’65).