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Valuing Leadership

Joe and Janet Aleshire invest in teachable leadership moments for students

The Aleshires participate in a check presentation

From Bell Tower - 2018

Giving away money is easy, but giving it away in a responsible manner is not.

One of the many lessons in leadership Joe and Janet Aleshire hope to teach students in Washburn University’s Leadership Institute is that allocating funds to competing, yet worthwhile causes, is not an easy endeavor.

“It takes work to understand what your money is going toward and to make sure it’s going to do what it’s supposed to do,” Janet said.

Joe and Janet Aleshire have a passion for early childhood development and leadership development dating back to the early 1980s. While working for Capitol Federal, a company well known for its support of community service, Joe was invited to serve on the board of the United Way of the Plains in Wichita and eventually served as campaign chair and board chair.

For Joe, it wasn’t just about raising the money and distributing it to the agencies but seeing firsthand the programs funded by United Way.

“We had 40 agencies we supported with the campaign, and I wanted to tour every agency,” he said. “This way, we could talk about the agency programs and tell a story that may touch a heart.”

While chairing the campaign, Joe and his United Way team also encouraged businesses to conduct agency tours, so others could see where their money goes and what it does. They hit a home run and raised a record amount for the United Way agencies.

After moving to Topeka in 1997, Joe, who had a deep passion for the United Way, began serving on the board of the United Way of Greater Topeka, and later served as campaign chair and board chair.

While serving on the board, he met Jerry Farley, president, Washburn University. Joe and Janet had developed the idea of the Aleshire Venture Grant Program. They wanted to create a program which would allow students at Washburn University to experience philanthropic opportunities and civic responsibilities while providing funding to non-profit programs that address early childhood development. Farley knew the Leadership Institute would be a good partner.

The students in the Leadership Institute’s LE 300: Leadership Skills Development class write requests for proposals, review grant requests, do agency tours, conduct research and make a recommendation to the United Way board of directors on how the money should be allocated.

“This is an experience they haven’t had before, and they have to do their due diligence to make sure the money is used wisely,” Joe said. “If they have multiple requests, or the team is divided on where the money should go, they have to come together and make decisions. They have to set emotions aside, look at the logic and the return on investment.”

The Aleshires noted the importance of a strong partnership that must exist with United Way and Washburn University to not only make this work, but to make it a teachable moment for the students to learn true leadership skills and how to make difficult decisions.

“The United Way has been a big part of my life, and it had made me a better person,” Joe said. “I believe it’s a responsibility for leaders to give back and help groom future leaders by giving them an opportunity to see leadership in different lights. Leadership is not about power, it’s about responsibility.”

Joe and Janet have contributed to the Leadership Institute in many ways. Joe was one of the founding members of the Leadership Institute Advisory Board which was instrumental in developing the Leadership Challenge Event. In addition to the Venture Grant Fund, the couple has also started the Joe and Janet Aleshire Fund for Excellence in Leadership that can be used for students to experience different opportunities. The money recently helped support the attendance of six students to a leadership conference in Brussels, Belgium.

The couple also invests their time by regularly meeting with Washburn students, guest lecturing in classes and giving books to students to start their leadership library. Janet said whenever they visit with the Leadership Institute, they are excited and invigorated after seeing what the students have learned.

“The commitment of time, talent and treasure the Aleshires have made has allowed us to provide students more opportunities for leadership development and community engagement,” said Michael Gleason, director of the Leadership Institute. “They are an inspiration to all of us involved with the Leadership Institute.”

The  bell tower

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