One of Phoenix’s most active volunteers is Melissa Leonesio. This former New Yorker is involved with over ten nonprofits, and is the Senior VP of Community Relations and Director of Charitable Giving for her and her husband’s company, O Premium Waters. “There are so many worthy causes. When I see all of these people dedicating their lives to helping others, how can I not participate?”
Her dedication comes naturally: “My father is an extraordinary man. He has been my inspiration for my participation in nonprofits. He is an MD in an inner city hospital in Brooklyn, New York, The Brookdale Hospital Medical Center. He has set a great example about doing the right things in life.” Melissa grew up in Great Neck, NY, which is on the north shore of Long Island. “ My parents are true New Yorkers- they think no where in the world can compare to the City! I miss them so much and visit as often I as I possibly can.”
Melissa explains “I am truly a champion for the underdog. I am incredibly inspired by the people who are on the front lines every single day working at the nonprofits, the true unsung heroes- the ones doing the research, the ones holding AIDS patient’s hands, nurturing the homeless etc.; those angels in the trenches. I wish they got more press!”
She is also very proud of her three sons, ages 14, 16, and 24. “I want and need to make sure that I don’t just talk about helping others, I actually do it. And I hope my example has influenced them. My boys are just awesome. At their recent joint Bar Mitzvah the two younger boys gave away every single penny they were given as gifts to two incredible charities - Body Positive, and HomeBase Youth Services. My middle son is presently working with a little boy who has autism. They’re also into various sports, including football and I’m their biggest fan; the embarrassingly loud mom, cheering in the stands that’s me! My husband and I wouldn’t dream of missing a game.”
Melissa’s route to Phoenix came with many stops along the way. “I was working in the health club business and doing well. I worked in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Cleveland. My husband and I were married and living in Akron, Ohio when we began a new health club chain which included locations in Arizona. We fell in love with this state and the people in it, so we built a vacation home in Paradise Valley. Each time we visited it became increasingly more difficult to leave, so we made the move and have lived here for 9 years now. I love the friends I’ve made here and the many nonprofits I volunteer with.”
“Phoenix Theatre is one my favorite organizations. It is the oldest arts institution in Arizona, currently celebrating 86 years. Michael Barnard is the Artistic Director and I’m so blessed to work with him. I majored in theatre at NYU, so I’m looking forward to being in the cast of Thoroughly Modern Millie in the Phoenix Follies, Phoenix Theatre’s major fundraiser, this year. I participate every year and my husband, Frank, is serving as this year’s Honorary Chairman”
Melissa speaks with passion in her voice when describing some of the nonprofits she is involved with. “I’d like to draw more attention to the directors of each of these wonderful organizations. For instance, Pat Leach of HomeBase Youth Services does a remarkable job providing vision and leadership. HomeBase offers a full continuum of care to homeless youth ages 18-21. That age group is difficult for most to embrace, but what they forget is that these kids are living on the streets because, more often than not, it’s a better alternative than where they came from. We provide outreach 7 nights a week distributing basic needs to youth living on the street. A medical van provides critical medical services to at risk youth as well. Our Outreach Center is a safe place to go during the day where kids can use our learning center, get fed, shower, do laundry, get referrals for housing, individual case management and more. Our Transitional Living Center (TLC) is the next step. Youth can live at this facility for up to two years as they learn essential life skills while working, going to school or both. HBYS operates the TLC in a family-like environment where the youth feel respected, are held accountable and are valued. There is even a follow-up component for “graduates” of TLC called the Independent Living program where they can live on their own, but HBYS will continue to support and work with them. This organization operates on a shoe string budget and is saving homeless youth, one life at a time each and every day.”
She also mentions Brian Helander, the Executive Director of Body Positive, an HIV and AIDS research and resource center. “He heads this nonprofit whose clinical trials work is on a par with the Mayo clinic and Johns Hopkins. In fact, 18 out of the 23 drugs now on the market used to combat HIV and AIDS were tested here at Body Positive. Brian and everyone at BP are dedicated to providing care and programs for both those infected and those affected by HIV and AIDS and that’s all of us, because we are all affected by this horrific disease. The people working there and those living with HIV and AIDS inspire and motivate me more than words can say.”
“Kids Ball”, laughs Melissa, “is not a room full of little kids in tuxes!” Instead, on November 4, 2006 you will find her along with 1000 children spending the day playing with balls and having a ball to raise awareness and money to support the American Heart Association’s initiative to address the myriad issues associated with child obesity and inactivity. Professional and ASU student athletes will participate, and pediatricians and nutritionists will be on hand for a health expo for the parents. “It’s all about children and their parents making healthier choices in their lives.” Melissa maintains her own fitness by working out 5 days a week.
The AZ Foundation for Women’s “Angels”, “are an unbelievable group of highly motivated women who are dedicated to stopping domestic abuse. I’m so extraordinarily honored to be involved with them. My husband, Frank, belongs to MAN, the men’s anti-violence network. This group works alongside the Angels and is so important to our mission because it is men speaking to men who are abusers about stopping the violence.”
And Melissa is very enthusiastic about her work with the Phoenix Suns Charities. “If it betters the life of a child, the Phoenix Suns and the Phoenix Suns Charities will be there and be involved. Recently she was the chair of the latest Suns Charities gala, “Suns & Stars 2006” and raised over 3 million dollars.
With committed volunteers like Melissa Leonesio, the Arizona nonprofit community will remain strong!
Name: Melissa Leonesio Hometown: Great Neck, New York Resident: Paradise Valley Education: NYU, Theatre Major Profession: Community Volunteer Status: Married, 3 sons
What are your volunteer activities? Phoenix Suns Charities (Board Member & Chairman of Suns & Stars 2006), HomeBase Youth Services (Board Member), Body Positive (Chairman of the Advisory Council), Heart Ball (Chairman of the Kids Ball… play for life!), Phoenix Theatre (Fundraising and much more!), Arizona Foundation for Women (Angel), Brophy College Preparatory (Mother’s Guild), TRENDS Charitable Fund, Childhelp USA, Phoenix Science Center and more.
Which social event is your favorite? Suns & Stars!
Favorite Restaurant? Bloom for lunch and it depends on my mood for dinner.
Who is your hero and why? My father, he is a doctor for all the right reasons.
Who is the most interesting celebrity you have ever met? Kirstie Alley, don't ask why.
If your life were a movie, whom would you want to play your part? Sandra Bullock. She seems like she's always having fun.
What gives a woman/man style? Kindness, grace and sincerity are always in style!
Do you have any Pets? A black lab named Neo.
When you move, what will your home tell its next owner, about you? Our children are the most important things in our lives, we have a sense of humor, and "Home is where our art is"
What words describe you best? Enthusiastic, energetic, passionate, a really good friend, sensitive to other people and over-committed.
What words would you like others to use to describe you? Kind, loving, smart, passionate and fun!
What was your first job? A camp counselor.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Insecurity
What is the trait you most deplore in others? Negativity
What is your greatest indulgence? Crystal champagne and beluga caviar.
What is the greatest gift you have ever given and received? I made a music video for my husband's 50th birthday of myself and my children singing "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby!" The greatest gift received is the love and trust of my family and friends.
What or who is the greatest love of your life? My husband and my children without a doubt!
What is your current state of mind? Overwhelmed!
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement? Motherhood.
hat is your most treasured possession? My wedding ring.
What is the quality you most like in people? Passion
Favorite books / Writers? I have no time to read although I love to! I adore reading plays from Shakespeare to Neil Simon.
What is the best advice you have ever received? "Learn how to say no", although I haven't taken that advice.
Oh, Melissa, we are all so proud of you! You are gorgeous, talented, married to a sexy Italian, and dedicated to many important causes. I am most pleased that you love and care about homeless youth. Your deep concern has created significant change for their lives! You are the best!