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January 3, 2019

Hightower Passes the Torch to Lessley at Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation

(Above, L-R) Joedy Hightower and Amanda Lessley

Joedy Hightower has retired from her role as President/CEO of Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation after 15 years of service. The Community Foundation board of directors appointed Amanda Lessley to replace Hightower during their December 2018 board meeting. The transition between Hightower and Lessley is the result of a succession plan established by Hightower and the governing board in 2015.

Hightower joined the Community Foundation in 2004 as the Executive Director of both Mattoon Area Community Foundation and Effingham County Community Foundation. The two community foundations merged in 2009 to create Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation and Hightower became the President/CEO of the newly established organization.

Under Hightower’s leadership, the Community Foundation increased its assets from $1 million to $18 million and has contributed more than $22 million in grants and scholarships since 2005. The number of affiliated funds has grown to 136 and the Community Foundation now has 541 acres of farmland under management.

During her tenure, Hightower facilitated several large gifts to the Community Foundation that have permanently affected the region. The largest gift came in December 2012 when Dr. Rick and Angie Workman made a $6 million commitment to build the Richard E. Workman Sports and Wellness Complex. Hightower served on the project’s steering committee and directed the community campaign that raised $3 million toward the capital project which was completed in 2016.

Additionally, under her leadership, the Community Foundation has received certification in National Standards from the Council on Foundations in 2008 and 2012 (re-certification is currently under review), implemented the Outstanding Philanthropist Award in 2011 to recognize philanthropic leadership in the southeastern Illinois region, and established the Fields of Opportunity farmland giving program. Hightower served the Effingham CEO advisory board from its start until 2015 and has been an active member of Effingham Sunrise Rotary since 2004 (serving as President in 2014) and is a member of 100+ Women Who Care Effingham County.

“Joedy Hightower has really been the biggest contributor to the success that Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation is today,” remarks Rick Siemer, former governing board chair. “From the beginning, she embraced the true genius of a community foundation beyond raising and distributing money for worthy causes, to playing a leadership role in creating a thoughtful philanthropic spirit in the community. She developed the interaction between Effingham and Mattoon in early years that inspired the area-wide focus that gives Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation a broader base of support. Joedy was a godsend for Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation at a critical stage of its development. I’m very grateful that she was here, and that I had the privilege of working with her!” Siemer served on the original Effingham County Community Foundation board and has served as chair of the Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation governing board.

Amanda Lessley joined Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation as Development Officer in February 2016. Before joining the staff at Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation, Lessley had more than 12 years of experience in nonprofit development and fundraising. As Development Officer, Lessley developed strategies for supporting and sustaining the mission of the Community Foundation and its 136 affiliated funds. She has coordinated annual events, donor stewardship programs, and training programs to assist fund advisors who are building endowments in communities throughout southeastern Illinois. In addition to these duties, Lessley has spent the past three years training for the role of President/CEO under Hightower’s leadership.

“It has truly been my pleasure to serve as board chair the past two years and have the opportunity to work with both Joedy and Amanda as we have worked to transition the leadership of the foundation. I look forward to the future and know that Amanda will carry on the great work that was done by Joedy this past 15 years for all the communities we serve,” expressed Jerry McDaniel. McDaniel serves on the governing board and served as chair in 2017 and 2018.

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