Leah Shepherd, Chief Operating Officer of onePULSE Foundation

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

"That strong feeling of community, so apparent at Boone,
made a very big impression on me and helped shape the person I am today. "

Leah Shepherd serves as Chief Operating Officer of onePULSE Foundation. In this role she oversees the foundation’s day-to-day operations, strategic business plan, major donor relationships, and a multi-million-dollar capital campaign to design and build a national memorial and museum commemorating the PULSE tragedy. Prior to this role, Shepherd served as Vice President of Philanthropy for the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and her early career includes extensive sports marketing experience with management roles at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Orlando Magic.

Leah sat down with us to discuss her time as an OCPS student and how her experiences shaped the community-minded person she is today.

Tell us about your OCPS history and experiences.

I was an OCPS student from 1971 to 1984, attending Blankner Elementary, Memorial Junior High and Boone High schools. Yes, Memorial was a junior high school back then! I was the last of four siblings to go from first grade through senior year as an OCPS student. From the very start, I just really loved everything about school – both the learning and the social aspects. I served as a Safety Patrol and was active in Girl Scouts at Blankner Elementary, and was also the Spelling Bee Champion in 6th grade.

However, it’s recalling high school that brings me my fondest memories. While at Boone, both our basketball and baseball teams won the State Championships, which was a tremendous source of pride. It was an incredibly fun and celebratory time to be a student at Boone. And although our football team certainly did not rise to the ranks of champions, attending those games was one of my favorite things to do. It felt like a community coming together every Friday night as many families had attended Boone for generations. It was wonderful to see teachers, students, parents and even grandparents come out to cheer on our teams - week after week, year after year. That strong feeling of community, so apparent at Boone, made a very big impression on me and helped shape the person I am today. 

I’ve always known that every person has the ability to make a difference – to make things better. I saw that in the actions of my OCPS teachers, coaches, counselors and all of the people that supported me and so many students throughout the years. In high school, I was a member of Student Government Association and served as President of Civitan, which was a service club. My interest in society and community was nurtured at OCPS and remained with me through my college years at Florida State University, growing even stronger as I progressed in my career.

How have you continued to contribute to our Orlando community?

Currently I serve as board secretary of POLIS Institute, and Vice-Chair of the City of Orlando’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee. I’ve also served on the board of the Foundation for OCPS. One of my proudest contributions, however, was my service on the Orange County Children and Family Services Board from 2010 – 2017, with two of those years as Chairman. One of the main programs the board oversees, is Great Oaks Village, the Orange County group home for abused, abandoned and neglected children in our community. I went to school with kids who lived in Great Oaks Village; as a student at Blankner, Memorial and Boone, and I knew how fortunate I was to have a loving home with amazing parents. I wanted to help kids who did not have the resources and support system I was blessed to have had with my family. And these kids were living right here in my neighborhood, attending the same schools that I had attended. I continue to serve on a number of other boards, but that one was really personal to me. It was my privilege to be a part of the important work of Great Oaks Village and to work to improve the lives of kids who have much to overcome.

Tell us about your current role and why you chose to get involved with onePULSE Foundation.

When the Pulse nightclub tragedy happened, it shocked our community and impacted the lives of so many of our Central Florida friends and families. Forty-nine beautiful lives were taken that night. Hundreds of family members, survivors, first responders, healthcare workers and others were affected. We all needed to unite, to come together as a family to grieve, to heal, and to forgive.  

This terrible tragedy happened in my backyard. I still live one mile from where I was raised and went to school. I love my neighborhood and everyone who makes it the wonderful place I know it to be. I’ve been afforded much in my life and I wanted to step up to not only help our community heal but to find a way to honor the 49 souls taken on June 12, 2016. 

The mission of onePULSE Foundation is to create and support a memorial that opens hearts, a museum that opens minds, educational programs that open eyes and legacy scholarships that open doors.  In the three short years since its inception, the foundation has opened an Interim Memorial at the site, receiving more than 114,000 visitors since May of 2018, from all 50 states and 60 different countries.

We break ground on the National Pulse Memorial & Museum in 2021. Our institution has an unprecedented opportunity to reach millions with a message of unity, acceptance, equity and lasting change. Importantly, it will also be a shining example that we did not let hate win and by coming together in our darkest days, we’ve begun to heal and build a stronger, more tolerant community for all.


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