San Jose, CA — As drama teacher Ian Leonard winds down from the school day, he heads home, checks his mailbox and suspecting nothing unusual, sets down his things. He sinks into a chair and starts opening his mail only to discover he was secretly nominated for the Belle Foundation grant and also won said grant.
His first reaction was disbelief. "At first - honestly - I thought I was being pranked. It was such a random surprise." He chuckled. "I hopped on the internet and did about two hours of sleuthing. But what I read about the Belle Foundation really connected with me. Their mission is about paying it forward, about believing that 'small gestures matter.' They do."
The Belle Foundation is comprised of a national network of scouts that seek to identify and nominate artists, educators, and creative coalitions that deserve appreciation and encouragement for their work but go under-recognized from the larger community. Every January, a small handful are awarded a token of support to help incite "the spark that keeps the fire alive." Belle Foundation grantees further the foundation's belief that the "arts and humanities are among the most vital elements of human civilization."
Mr. Leonard reflected: "I was lucky enough to stumble into my career as an arts educator at a young age. But those first two decades involved a lot of freelancing, a lot of pavement-pounding. I feel like my journey as a teacher is only beginning; the students here at Almaden Country Day School are the brightest, kindest reminders of all the things I still want to learn. But those values that the Belle Foundation embraces - paying it forward, believing in the power of small gestures - will, I hope, be at the heart of our auditorium's many misadventures for years to come."
Head of school, Dr. Olaf Jorgenson is not surprised. "Mr. Leonard brought many gifts to Almaden Country Day School, beyond his formidable talents as a director, performer, and educator. He has the ability to connect in the most personal, genuine way with every child he encounters, of any age, and he provides for them whatever they need to feel valued, whole, and capable when they're in his space. Mr. Leonard challenges and inspires his students, and obviously enjoys being in their presence. Children respond to him because they know Mr. Leonard loves them and is their biggest cheerleader. Mr. Leonard is the perfect Belle awardee because despite his gifts with children and his considerable abilities as a performer himself, he is quick to dismiss accolades and avoid the spotlight, so he might easily go unrecognized beyond the scores of children who adore him. I'm incredibly grateful that Mr. Leonard joined the Almaden Country Day School faculty, and I'm very proud that he earned this prestigious recognition."
It only seems only fitting that with a mission of "paying it forward" that the Belle Foundation granted an arts educator, whose role it is to pass on experience and knowledge to the children they serve, the honor of being recognized. Congratulations Mr. Leonard!