Forming the future

Since its founding, LEO has not only been measuring impact, we’ve also been producing it. Each year, interning at LEO provides a powerful and meaningful opportunity for Notre Dame undergraduates to apply their knowledge beyond the classroom. Doug (ND ‘93) and Kara Ciocca (ND ‘93) saw this potential from the beginning.

A decade or so ago, Doug and Kara heard their former classmate, friend, and LEO co-founder Jim Sullivan talking about an idea for how evidence could be used to best maximize our power to fight poverty. “The concept made so much sense,” shared Doug, “Knowing Notre Dame’s mission and resources, and the brain power of Jim and Bill, it was hard not to get fired up about.” Plus, LEO’s mission resonated with the Ciocca’s previous experience with charitable work at Catholic Charities in their Kansas City area. They wanted to get involved and quickly became interested in supporting and expanding LEO’s undergraduate intern program.

For Kara, LEO’s goal “mirrors the very best parts of Notre Dame in that you’re harnessing your education and skills to make sure that you make the world a better place.” Doug added, “We had an introduction at the critical launch point for LEO, and we felt so fortunate to be getting the inside scoop on something that was going to emerge into a really powerful force for good on campus and around the country.” Kara and Doug share the impact they have seen the last 10 years:

How did you get started with LEO?

We got involved with launching the intern program so LEO could get research assistants in the building, tap into their intellectual capital, and magnify the amount of research they could do to assist service provider partners on an ongoing basis. Humility is a big aspect of education that’s hard to put in a curriculum. When you’re working for LEO, you know you’re part of something so much bigger than yourself. The need is so immense and challenging to meet, but you realize that if you knock yourself out trying, it’s a pretty good allocation of your time. What LEO really offers young people is that perspective. It’s exciting to have all these young brilliant people, who come with all these new ideas. It’s just going to make LEO stronger and in the process help many, many people who are in need.

Why is the undergraduate engagement side of LEO especially important to you?

The timing aspect with undergraduates is important. When you’re a young person, and even an adult, you just don’t know what all is out there. LEO gives you exposure to all these different organizations, the good that’s being done, and how we can do it better. We can teach young women and men how to maximize the experience that Notre Dame has to offer by cross-pollinating education and service. Being introduced to LEO at a young age is so formative, and hopefully becomes a big part of what these undergraduates carry forward when they leave the University. It has a regenerative power as we watch these undergraduates go on to continue to be good advocates for what they’ve learned outside of Notre Dame. LEO truly is the gift that keeps on giving.

Bill and Jim have so much pride in their interns. When we asked them about how one of their first interns was doing and what he was up to now, their faces just lit up. Right now, that past intern is getting a graduate degree of public policy from Duke, and here they are, having influenced this young man and given him an experience that made him choose that. It makes them feel so good, because they know that’s the fiber that they helped to weave when he was a student. LEO seems to leave people wanting more in every aspect. I think the LEO alums will likely be some of the most content, productive, and successful people to come out of Notre Dame. Whether it’s the interns, service provider partners, or benefactors, LEO just has a natural gravitational pull. People that work with LEO and support LEO find a lot of enrichment, and we are no different, that’s for sure.

Last summer, your son was an undergraduate intern for LEO. What was it like to watch his experience?

It was really amazing to watch him become a part of something that we already knew was incredible. We’ve been very involved in lots of different volunteer organizations to give back, and we certainly wanted to instill that in our own children. LEO is such a wonderful example of how to give back to the world with more than just financial support. It was exciting for him to really dive deeper and see what LEO is doing. All the reasons that past interns felt passionate about this program—it was the same thing for our own child.

As you have followed LEO’s work over the years, what has stuck out to you?

The scale and number of service provider partners that LEO has empowered already is incredible and even surprised us, but it has not even scratched the surface of what LEO is going to do in the next 10 years. No matter how much LEO has grown, they don’t abandon their core principles, that’s what’s so important, and the benefit to their partners is probably immeasurable. They’ve given them the proper framework, so they can go on and continue to impact lives and do what they can to break the poverty cycle. It’s pretty incredible. We have known since LEO was a month old, and we have just had such fun following its growth and success.