An Interview with Stella Hodgkins, Senior Vice President of Opportunity and Outreach
By Megan Sanders
This blog marks the first of a series spotlighting the advisory council members of El Pomar’s Elevating Leadership Development (ELD) program. ELD advisory councils convene ethnic community leaders from Pueblo to Colorado Springs and introduce ELD participants to broad-based community involvement, civic engagement and training opportunities. There are four councils: Asian Pacific Islander, Black, Hispanic/Latino and Native American.
Earlier this year, Stella Hodgkins began as Senior Vice President of Opportunity and Outreach at El Pomar, a role which includes directing the ELD program. Stella worked at GE Johnson Holding Company over the previous ten years in the positions of Corporate Citizenship Manager and Sustainability Specialist. She has been an ELD participant for the past 15 years and served as the co-chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Advisory Council.
Megan: Stella, congratulations on your new role as Senior Vice President and overseeing the Elevating Leadership Development program (ELD). What are you most looking forward to in this role?
Stella: I am most looking forward to inspiring people to engage in the community. Philanthropic, nonprofit, for-profit and public sector entities can, and do, accomplish incredible work that enriches our quality of life but, at the end of the day, there is always more than can be done. It is up to individuals to raise their voices and communicate what they want to see, to lend their resources to make things happen, and contribute to the robust, vibrant and inclusive community we all want to be a part of.
Megan: What is your history with the ELD program?
Stella: Around 2006-2007, I decided that it was time for me to get involved in the community. My daughter had started school, work felt stable, and I was seeking broader connections, particularly with other people of color. I found a ‘call for volunteers’ to help with the 1st annual Diversity Festival and immediately contacted Susan Saksa, then Executive Director, at Leadership Pikes Peak to sign-up. That led me to meet Jay Patel, one of the first ELD participants and, at that time, co-chair of the ELD Asian Advisory Council. Jay brought me to my first ELD meeting in 2007 and I remember being awestruck. I had found what I didn’t know I had been looking for – a network of incredible, civic-minded people of color who were supported by El Pomar Foundation in their leadership development, and by each other personally and professionally.
I have remained involved in the ELD program ever since, and it has supported the evolution of my career and community engagement every step of the way. The leadership trainings always aligned with key moments in my development, providing tools and opportunities to focus on areas needing improvement. Anytime I feel stuck, I draw upon the mentorship of Theo Gregory or other ELD participants who quickly became my family. It is difficult for me to separate much of my life from the ELD program because it is so intertwined in everything I do, predominantly through the people. The ELD program has made my life richer, more impactful and more connected than it ever would have been without it and has defined the true meaning of community for me.
Megan: ELD has already gone through some transition, most notably changing its name to Elevating Leadership Development, where it was previously Emerging Leaders Development. What is your vision for the program in the coming years?
Stella: The refresh in the ELD name was created to better reflect the emphasis on leadership development and to embrace the broader expanse of participants we have in the program, from emerging to established leaders. My initial focus will be on bringing people back together again. The pandemic resulted in reduced connections, which is the lifeblood of the program. Our network relies heavily on those connections to bring in new participants, connect each other to opportunities for engagement, and to enhance the leadership training participants receive by supporting each other’s growth and development. From there, I will be focused on enhancing our community partnerships and listening to ELD participants to uncover additional ways the program can support their opportunities for civic engagement.
Megan: You have had an impressive career in various sectors. What are the most important lessons you’ve learned from these positions? How do you see them influencing your work with ELD?
Stella: The most important lesson I’ve learned is that professional development and community engagement have a beautiful synergy with not only personal growth, but impact on both sides. Industry professionals can bring their skills to nonprofit organizations, helping to guide them in areas normally outside of the nonprofit’s expertise, which can result in cost savings. Conversely, board members have fiduciary responsibility which requires understanding of the organization’s financial and legal risk, as well as strategic operations. These may be areas that an individual might not have exposure to in their professional work, depending on their job duties, and it presents an opportunity for growth and development than can help advance them professionally. In addition, relationships made through community engagement can support client leads and connections for their business. I want all ELD participants to understand this value proposition to help foster their evolution through activation in the community.
Megan: What are the two or three most important qualities you value in a leader? What is your leadership style?
Stella: The most important qualities I value in a leader are integrity, excellence, and action – do the right thing, do it well, and make it happen. It’s important to acknowledge barriers, yet find solutions. I would say my current leadership style is leading by example. That is my default, but it may not be what is needed now or in the future. My intent is to find the leadership style that will help me be most successful for where I am now and develop that moving forward.
Megan: Beyond your work, what is one thing you are passionate about in your personal life or in your community?
Stella: One thing that I am very passionate about is traveling. There is nothing better to give me perspective and various lenses through which to view the world, my world, and situations and people I may encounter. I love learning about new cultures, uncovering our differences and commonalities and learning history through experience. There is a world (literally) of diversity and richness out there, that I could never hope to fully understand or gain exposure to, but I’m determined to experience as much as I can in this life!