At an age when most people have long since settled into retirement, LaDonna Hoy continued directing the $10 million nonprofit with its staff of 50 that she launched from a church basement decades ago.
Over the years, Hoy, the founder of Interfaith Outreach, has gained considerable recognition for her work as a pioneer tackling suburban poverty on many fronts. But after 40 years of building one of the west metro’s most well-known social service nonprofits, Hoy stepped down as its top leader this month.
“I am 86, and until I made this decision, I never thought about how old I am,” said Hoy, taking a break from back-to-back Zoom meetings in her Plymouth office. “The organization is in a very good place. We have smart, seasoned staff. And the board was able to find the absolute right person,” Greg Hilding, as the new executive director.
Having virtual meetings amid a pandemic was not what Hoy envisioned when she spearheaded a food shelf from the basement of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Wayzata in 1979. Then the church’s director of pastoral ministries, she had been reaching out to faith communities across the western suburbs, hoping to collaborate on projects to help lower-income families.
Hoy said the group learned early on that those families have a series of interconnected needs, including food, housing, jobs and transportation. Helping just one of those needs would not move many of them out of poverty.
So starting with zero paid staffers and no budget, Hoy built an organization that last year distributed 1 million pounds of food and household goods, provided $1.4 million in rent assistance to more than 1,000 families, helped nearly 1,000 schoolchildren get academic support, operated a transitional housing program for people leaving homelessness, and more.
The work is typically done in collaboration with many community partners, from businesses to churches, nonprofits and schools. The nonprofit’s official name, Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners, reflects dozens of joint efforts to stem poverty for families and children.
In the process, Hoy gained a reputation as a tireless advocate who got things done. Wayzata Mayor Ken Willcox, who has known Hoy for years, called her a community “institution.’’
“If you live here and you’re conscious, you know LaDonna,” said Willcox.
And Interfaith Outreach is a respected nonprofit, the mayor said. Willcox, a former chairman of the allocations divisions for Greater Minneapolis United Way, which provided funding for the nonprofit, said he remembers reviewing the agency’s goals and finances. “It was one of the stellar performers,” he said.
Perhaps because of that, Interfaith has been able to recruit a robust volunteer crew, which Hoy estimates at around 2,000.
Hoy, for decades a frequent speaker at community and religious events, has been recognized in many ways. She was given an honorary doctorate in law in 2007 from St. John’s University in Collegeville, where she had served on the board of directors of the School of Theology. She was named a fellow at the U Center for Integrative Leadership; and the Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, made her one of its “Leading With Faith’’ award recipients in 2016.
For Hoy, retiring doesn’t mean calling it quits. She will continue as a consultant to Interfaith Outreach for a year, focusing on housing, education and mental health initiatives.
Hilding, a former banking executive and volunteer nonprofit leader, believed so much in the organization’s history and mission that he stepped into his new job as executive director smack in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
He called Hoy “an inspiring and visionary leader” and said he feels confident about the organization and connections that she has built.
“She sees things and has a vision, and knows how to get people connected around that vision,’’ Hilding said. “People are looking for inspiration and hope right now. LaDonna embodies those characteristics.”