A 2nd Act: The Golden Thread

Sam Leyvas has been a man on a mission his entire life. That’s not hard to imagine considering his lovely mother, Helen, taught her only child the value of lending a hand. Whether the need came from their South Phoenix neighbors or a family member, Helen was quick to offer assistance without being asked. Taking those valuable lessons from his cherished guidepost to Northern Arizona University, Leyvas was active in student government and the Arizona Students’ Association. 

Following graduation (and continuing to volunteer with ASA), Leyvas dove into a lobbying career, advocating for affordable housing, proper land use and other policy issues. That work led him to First Things First, an organization dedicated to helping Arizona’s young children from birth to 5 years old. “Children who are hungry or in need of medical care can fall behind even before they’re in school,” Leyvas said. “Then, when traumas manifest or roadblocks build — which they will — it’s harder for kids to keep up.” His dedication to that mission took him all the way to the CEO position.

Next on Leyvas’ career path was the newly launched Stand Together Foundation. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the group was looking for someone to build partnerships. Leyvas was the perfect candidate, having done similar work with First Things First. In his spare time, he volunteered as a reserve officer with the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.

One day, Leyvas attended a conference where civil rights attorney and activist Bryan Stevenson spoke. The author of “Just Mercy,” Stevenson made a statement that stuck. “He said, ‘If we want to improve people’s lives, we have to be proximate to where issues exist and people struggle. The world changes at a grassroots level,’” Leyvas said. 

Leyvas’ previous jobs had been at the statewide and national levels. “Those few words made me realize I wanted to work at the local level,” he said.

Adding a University of Arizona MBA and a Georgetown postgraduate certificate in nonprofit management along the way, Leyvas followed Stevenson’s advice and came home to launch the Phoenix chapter of HomeAid, which focuses on homelessness. 

He wasn’t in the position long when the COVID pandemic arrived. Nonprofit work, just like everything else, changed drastically. Meanwhile, the new CEO at Valley of the Sun United Way was also navigating a new position amid the pandemic. Less than a year later, a new, five-year program was launched called Mighty Change.

“Their whole dynamic was changing to address the root causes of four key areas: health, education, housing and homelessness, and workforce development,” Leyvas said. “You can’t solve one without solving the others. And United Way was uniquely positioned because of their intersection with business and nonprofit partners.”

They were also seeking a vice president of corporate relations and social responsibility. Leyvas’ return to the Valley had created a big local wave (think tsunami-sized). They recognized that he was perfect for the job, and he stepped into the new role last May.

Even though it’s a national name, each United Way chapter is independent, which fulfills Leyvas’ desire to work at the grassroots level. His position also fulfills an unwavering belief in the inherent dignity of people. It’s the golden thread that has run through all of his career steps — the one first woven by a single mother lending her neighbors a hand.

To learn more, visit vsuw.org

About Judy Pearson

Judy Pearson is a journalist, published author, and the founder of A2ndAct.org. Her organization supports and celebrates women survivors of all cancers as they give back to the greater good in their 2nd Acts. Her passion is finding those who have have healed themselves by helping others.
More in: A 2nd Act, Magazine

From Frontdoors Magazine

Back to Top