New Prevent Child Abuse Utah director may change nonprofit's direction

Feb 23 2012 - 10:49pm

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Suzanne Leonelli, seen Wednesday, is the new executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Utah, a nonprofit organization based in Ogden. (KENDAL RUSSELL/Standard-Examiner)
Suzanne Leonelli, seen Wednesday, is the new executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Utah. She is from Centerville and has two children. (KENDAL RUSSELL/Standard-Examiner)
Suzanne Leonelli, seen Wednesday, is the new executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Utah, a nonprofit organization based in Ogden. (KENDAL RUSSELL/Standard-Examiner)
Suzanne Leonelli, seen Wednesday, is the new executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Utah. She is from Centerville and has two children. (KENDAL RUSSELL/Standard-Examiner)

OGDEN -- A change in leadership at Prevent Child Abuse Utah also may indicate a change in direction for the organization.

Suzanne Leonelli took over as executive director Jan. 17.

She plans to expand services well beyond their previous scope and to take programs to the state's rural areas.

"Last year, we served 50,000," she said. "We want to increase that number."

Erni Armstrong, chairwoman of the board of Prevent Child Abuse Utah, said she believes Leonelli is just the person to take the organization to the next level.

"She has intelligence and poise. When she's speaking, people listen to her."

During the selection process, as a field of 60 candidates was whittled down, Leonelli continued to impress the board, staff and selection committee, Armstrong said.

"She did her homework. She had developed plans for expanding our reach to the rest of the state."

Leonelli said she wants the organization to help as many parents as possible.

"Parents do what they know," she said. "Unless someone teaches or coaches you, you will do the same thing."

The Centerville resident also plans to include more evidence-based efforts in the organization's programs.

"We're really moving to evidence-based programs versus home-grown programs," she said, noting that funding comes more easily to programs that can prove their effectiveness.

"A lot of programs already are evidence-based. Some, we are adding that element."

Leonelli, 42, said she plans to stay with the organization for the long haul and feels that she has decades left in her career to contribute to the cause.

Utahns got their first glimpse of the new leader this month when her organization held a pinwheel vigil to remember Charles Powell, 7, and Braden Powell, 5, who were murdered by their father.

Leonelli said it was the first such vigil the organization put together and that she plans to do other, similar types of events to help make the group's name more recognizable.

"We want to position ourselves as the experts in the field of child abuse prevention," she said.

Leonelli was excited to see local residents and statewide media get behind her organization in supporting the cause of prevention.

"How do you not get behind child abuse prevention? It impacts us all so many different ways."

Leonelli said her career so far has shown her the benefits of prevention.

She started work as a clinical therapist for children and adolescents in 1996.

"I saw the results child abuse has on a family," she said.

Leonelli worked as the director of prevention and intervention at Counseling Associates Inc., in Roswell, N.M., for five years.

She also was resident services and contract manager for the Salt Lake County Housing Authority for a year before working as vice president of programs for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah in Salt Lake City for four and a half years.

She believes her background positions her to lead Prevent Child Abuse Utah into the future.

"We're never going to treat ourselves out of the problem," she said. "As a community, where do you want to invest your money? In prevention or treatment?"

The new executive director hopes to use this year's 30th anniversary of the Ogden-grown nonprofit to take it to new heights.

"All of our programs are volunteer," she said. "People choose to participate. That's what I love. People aren't coerced. It's by choice. It's driven by their desires."

When she's not working, Leonelli is taking care of her two daughters, Madison, who soon will be 11, and Bella, 7.

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