It’s been a long journey for Joe and Judith Conda and their daughter, Susan Conda, from their family’s beginning in Burlington, New Jersey to their involvement in philanthropy in northwest Ohio.
Joe started working after high school, but did not begin college until six years later. While holding a full-time job and studying at night, he earned his bachelor’s degree at age 34. In 1969 he became employed at Brockway Glass which was sold to Owens-Illinois in 1988. The family then moved to Perrysburg. He worked his way up the ranks, eventually being named president of O-I’s Healthcare Packaging Company, as well as a corporate officer of the company.
“When we were kids, both of our families had very little money, but we didn’t know differently,” recalls Judith. “No one in either family had money to give away.”
“The concept of philanthropy was foreign to us,” added Joe. “In preparation for retirement, we first met with an estate attorney in 2005. He told me that we might want to consider giving some of our money away. That was a hard concept for me to digest — it took a while.”
Joe admitted that, at first, he was even more reluctant to embrace working with the Toledo Community Foundation. “We were a bit nervous about it. It actually took us about seven years to give it a try — and then we finally did set up a donor advised fund. But we didn’t make any grants for some time.”
The Condas were no strangers to generosity, though, having already given much of their time and talent to the community. Susan had become active in public service and volunteer work in 1995 – and when Judith retired from education in 2003, the two began to work more as a team. “Collaboration is just how we do things; it’s something we focus on,” said Judith. “When we get involved with an organization, we like to see whether they’re collaborating with other organizations.”
To illustrate, Susan described a pilot program she started at the Toledo Humane Society in 2010.
“It was called Hope and Recovery Pets (HARP). ProMedica now has ownership of HARP, and is working with my long-time HARP partner, Dr. Janet Hoy-Gerlach of The University of Toledo, during the pilot phase of the program. This pilot is doing physiological studies evaluating the long-term effects of the human-animal bond.” Said Susan, “The HARP program’s adoption by ProMedica was integral for my vision of the potential of this program. With the expertise and resources of a human health care system, such as ProMedica, new ground is being broken and biomarker data is being collected and analyzed to evaluate Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) as a behavioral health treatment modality. This is the type of collaboration we love to see.”
Education was the initial driving interest for Judith; special needs in particular. Her developmentally handicapped older sister inspired her to pursue a career in special education. In fact, their family’s first significant gifts were to support scholarships for students majoring in Intervention Services at Bowling Green State University.
It wasn’t long, however, before the Condas sensed that their efforts were not focused. Joe’s second retirement in 2016 was the catalyst for a more strategic approach to the family’s giving. They all agreed that literacy in all its forms should be the major focus. For them, “literacy” means more than the ability to interpret the printed page. “It means understanding yourself, your community, and your world,” said Judith. “That’s why so much of our giving now leans toward ‘helping others navigate their world.’”
“Under this broad umbrella,” said Susan, “we have two strategic goals: investing in the community and positively impacting as many lives as possible.” Judith added, “We now have four distinct criteria. First, a project has to be sustainable — we want the endeavor to last. Second, we want to support programming, not capital projects. Third, desired outcomes must be clearly defi ned, driving toward positive change. And fourth, there must be accountability — where resources are being used and how they are promoting the objectives.”
A Conda family project that typifies their strategic orientation to giving is the Toledo Zoo’s ZooTeens, a 17-year-old program that started with 16 area youths and now involves over 500 teens. Said Susan, “These future leaders unwittingly become philanthropists themselves by voluntarily using their time and talent. And at the same time, they also build literacy in communication and social skills, while being actively involved in self-development.”
Reflecting on Susan’s comment, Joe remarked: “We want them to have the opportunity to become more than they ever thought that they could be.”
2017 was the year when the family started using the funds that had been growing for years at the Toledo Community Foundation, and Susan opened her own fund.
Joe laughs as he recalls the transition. “Working with the Foundation is almost TOO easy,” he said.
“It makes everything very simple. They know all the rules and regulations about granting gifts. They take care of all of the bookkeeping, and send us a quarterly fund statement.”
“We think we have a clear vision of what we want to accomplish with our giving,” added Joe, “and the team at GTCF is a great sounding board for our ideas. We’ve transitioned from thinking in terms of giving money to charity to investing in community. The Foundation makes it simple to do what we envision.”