Envision Consulting Finds New Leader for AbilityFirst

June 27, 2024 – Following an extensive search, Pasadena, CA-based Envision Consulting has helped to place Sergio Rizzo-Fontanesi as the new president and CEO of AbilityFirst. “From our first conversation with Sergio, the board was impressed by his profound empathy, strategic thinking, and deep understanding of our values,” said Kathryn Sanders Platnick, board chair of AbilityFirst. “I knew immediately that he was the person we should hire as CEO. As a 98-year-old organization, it’s important that we bring on someone to lead who can honor our legacy while also continuing to innovate and elevate AbilityFirst to the next level, so we can make an even greater impact on the population we serve. I have no doubt that Sergio is the right person for this task.”

Following a national search led by Envision Consulting, which attracted more than 300 highly qualified applicants, Dr. Rizzo-Fontanesi emerged as the ideal candidate. Having worked as a licensed clinical social worker, a researcher and executive in the non-profit sector, he comes with innovative perspectives, a breadth of knowledge, and robust management experience. Dr. Rizzo-Fontanesi has expertise in program design, planning, and evaluation, having analyzed the program effectiveness of numerous community-based organizations. Formerly the executive director and CEO of Beit T’Shuvah in Los Angeles, he has worked at the intersections of substance use and mental health treatment, reentry and supportive housing services, and education and workforce development.

“As a person-centered organization, AbilityFirst places the needs of its constituency first and foremost. It is this guiding philosophy that connects everyone in the organization,” said Dr. Rizzo-Fontanesi, explaining why the mission resonates with him.

While Dr. Rizzo-Fontanesi does not have someone in his immediate family who has a developmental disability, he shared that when his sister was 13 years old, she sustained an incomplete spinal cord injury and corresponding paralysis. “While she ultimately regained considerable mobility, as a result of this experience, I witnessed firsthand how having a disability affects not only the individual but the family unit as well. Individuals who have disabilities are often seen for their disability and unseen for their gifts and potential,” he continued. “I am excited to lead and be part of an organization whose focus is on capabilities and possibilities, and I am committed to challenging the stigma and barriers that impede individuals with disabilities from achieving their full potential.”

Related: 11 Traits to Look for in a Non-Profit Executive

Founded in 1926 as a response to children with polio, AbilityFirst continues to evolve to meet the need of people with developmental disabilities. “AbilityFirst was built on the ethos of possibility and that resonates with all of us,” said Dr. Rizzo-Fontanesi. “We all want to achieve what’s possible and reach our full potential. This is what we aspire for ourselves, our children, and the future of the world. This is the fundamental core of AbilityFirst’s programs and services.”

How Non-Profits Can Identify and Recruit Their Next Great Leader
Thanks to younger generations, interest in and support of mission-aligned organizations is surging. According to the Better Business Bureau, seventy-five percent of millennials believe that a business should have a higher purpose beyond generating capital. For Gen Z, the desire is even greater, according to a recent report from Johanna Vargas, vice president and senior associate at BroadView Talent Partners. “That’s good news for non-profits,” she says. The same purpose-driven organizations that younger generations are supporting with time and resources are the ones they hope to work for one day, according to Ms. Vargas.

In collaboration with key stakeholders, Dr. Rizzo-Fontanesi has his sights on developing a strategic plan for the organization dedicated to empowering individuals with disabilities. Guiding its next five to 10 years, the strategic plan will define what success looks like, measure program effectiveness, enhance program adaptability to meet the current needs of its diverse participants, and secure additional funding streams while strengthening brand reputation. Ensuring a stable and seamless transition, Dr. Rizzo-Fontanesi is committed to honoring AbilityFirst’s legacy while steering the organization toward a future with fresh insights, new opportunities, and measured growth. There will be a leadership overlap with interim CEO Julie Tugend to guarantee the successful transition.

Serving Clients Since 2006

Envision Consulting was founded by Matt Kamin and Allison Fuller in 2006. Mr. Kamin, managing partner, has been working and volunteering in the non-profit world for over 18 years. He previously served as executive director of Palisades Emergency Residence Corp. in New York, Children’s Nature Institute in Los Angeles, and Los Angeles Youth Network in Hollywood. Mr. Kamin has also been a consultant to organizations serving populations ranging from disabled adults, domestic violence, children in non-public schools, and the geriatric community. He is co-founder of Youth for Charity, an organization bringing together teens of different faiths to raise awareness for families living in poverty, as well as founder of Eleventh Commandment, which has grown into JQ International.

Ms. Fuller, managing partner, has worked in the non-profit sector for more than a decade. Her interest in non-profits began as a volunteer, leading her to co-founding her own charitable organization. In the non-profit sector, she has held numerous staff and executive leadership positions, including executive director. As a former escrow officer, Ms. Fuller brings extensive planning and logistical experience into overseeing many aspects of management organization, contract administration, strategic planning, and operations. In addition, as a graphic designer and web marketer, she brings in unique talents to non-profits, expanding resources and efficiency while substantially increasing fundraising revenues. She also has a passion for helping youth and has worked with several major non-profit organizations, including Autism Speaks, YWCA, and Step Up Women’s Network.

Related: 3 Ways to Nurture Talent for Future Leadership in Non-Profit and Social Impact Organizations

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief and Dale M. Zupsansky, Executive Editor  – Hunt Scanlon Media

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