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North Star Reach Welcomes Seasoned Nonprofit Leader

North Star Reach, the ninth U.S. residential camp in SeriousFun Children’s Network (SeriousFun) founded by actor and philanthropist Paul Newman, proudly announces the appointment of Howell-native J.J. Lewis as its new Chief Executive Officer. With over 20 years of nonprofit management experience, including involvement with North Star Reach as a donor and volunteer.

“On behalf of the North Star Reach Board of Directors and myself, I am thrilled that J.J. Lewis is joining NSR as our permanent CEO,” announced Sheri Mark, Board Chair. “J.J. is a proven non-profit executive whose enthusiasm, talent, and career experience made him a unanimous and enthusiastic choice of the Board. We are especially fortunate to have found a new leader with deep Michigan roots and a historical personal commitment to the mission of the organization. Our mission is compassionate, our vision inspiring, and our plans are in motion. Our community of children, families, donors, staff, volunteers and partners are excited to Keep the Campfires Burning under J.J.’s leadership.”

Lewis will take on the role from David Leckey, who served as the Interim CEO for the past 12 months. Leckey is an accomplished executive who has leveraged his breadth and depth of experience to help non-profits and communities navigate through change and build resiliency and opportunity for long term success.

“We also want to recognize and thank our Interim CEO David Leckey,” shared Mark. “David agreed to lend us his 35 years of career executive leadership during 2023 to help us build our vision and strategies for the future and conduct a thorough search process for our permanent CEO. Thank you for seeing us to this point, David!”

Currently serving as the Chief Philanthropy Officer for United Way of the Lakeshore, Lewis has demonstrated leadership in fundraising initiatives, including individual, major, and workplace giving, as well as strategic planning. Prior to his tenure at United Way of the Lakeshore, he held the position of Superintendent and CEO at Compass Charter Schools in California, where he received recognition for his exemplary leadership, transparency, and vision. He also brings with him experience in communications, fundraising, and volunteer management through his previous roles at both Detroit Public Television and WRCJ 90.9 FM and ServiceSource.

Lewis’s connection with SeriousFun began during his time at Central Michigan University as a brother of The Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity, as the Network is their national philanthropy. He actively supported North Star Reach’s establishment, overseeing Phi Kappa Tau’s National Community Service Event that aided in setting up camp facilities for its inaugural campers.

Reflecting on his appointment, Lewis remarked, “I have been a steadfast supporter of SeriousFun Children’s Network and North Star Reach since my collegiate years. Every child deserves the transformative experience of camp, and I am honored to lead an organization that embodies this belief.”

In addition to his extensive professional background, Lewis is pursuing a Doctor of Education in Organizational Change and Leadership from the University of Southern California. He holds a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership from San Diego State University and a Bachelor of Science from Central Michigan University in history and political science. Certified in Nonprofit Management and Fundraising, Lewis is an active member of various professional associations, including the Association of Fundraising Professionals and Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity.

“I am eager to collaborate with our dedicated team, supportive Board, and the wider community to expand North Star Reach’s impact,” Lewis expressed. “Together, we will continue to provide life-changing experiences for children facing serious health challenges, ensuring they have access to the magic of camp.”

North Star Reach invites the community to participate in a Spring Work Weekend scheduled for May 3-5. Attendees will have the opportunity to volunteer alongside Lewis and partake in a welcoming campfire. For more details and to register, follow this link.

We invite you to connect with J.J. on LinkedIn and stay in touch with North Star Reach through Facebook and other social media channels. J.J. can be reached via email at and is excited to engage with our North Star Reach community!

Program Plans for 2024

A Lesson from My Dog

Happy Spring! At least that’s what the weather was like last week when I sat down to type out my thoughts. I had just been outside in the 60-degree warmth and sunshine playing with my dog, Joey, and enjoying the wonder of her endless enthusiasm for chasing the little orange ball. She’s relentless. Until she’s not and decides to lie down and take a break. I’m always seeking inspiration for storytelling. So, both the dog and the weather seemed like good opportunities. Let’s start with the weather.

If you’re from Michigan, or anywhere else in the northern half of the country, the saying “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” may resonate with you. It seems to relate to the uncertainty of weather patterns and the level of our satisfaction with them. Regardless of how we feel about the weather, it changes. That’s something that North Star Reach’s campily has experienced over the last couple of years. Change from COVID; change from funding; change from change. We are not the same organization we were in 2019.

But what we are is an organization that has experienced change AND is still committed to the same mission, with perhaps a different vision of how to get there. As mentioned in our last message, our Board and CEO completed and endorsed an updated strategic plan. Our mission is to provide life-changing camp experiences for children with serious health challenges and their families, free-of-charge. That is the core of our purpose. Our vision is to be a sustainable and resilient organization that offers year-round, high-quality, medical camp programming that transforms the lives of our children and their families while sharing our regional asset with collaborative, mission-aligned partners. So, what does that mean and how does it affect me you might ask? I’m so glad you did.

As I consider the stakeholders who are vital to NSR’s success, I think of campers, families, donors, volunteers, our community, and our staff. For many, if not all, the change won’t dramatically impact the experience you have or hear about at camp. There will still be mooseness, the “magic” we talk about that happens here. There will still be the lasting impact that our camp programs provide. There will still be a need for volunteers and donors to help make camp happen. Camp may be cost-free, but it still costs money. Perhaps the biggest impact will be on our community. We are working hard to become sustainable and resilient, as our vision states. With those two characteristics, North Star Reach will be here for the long run. Not that challenges won’t continue. In the nonprofit sector, they always do. We will be better prepared to meet them as we offer historical North Star Reach programming AND continue to collaborate with mission-aligned partners to increase opportunities for others to take advantage of our camp facility, a purpose-built regional resource.

As we work toward sustainability and resilience, our plan for this year is still somewhat fluid. We know we will be partnering with the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan to support a weekend family camp. We are also continuing to host two weeks of Friendship Circle, a program with a mission to provide every individual with special needs the support, friendship, and inclusion they deserve. May 3rd – 5th is a Spring Work Weekend, a sequel to one held last Fall. We have welcomed the leadership team from Dance Marathon at the University of Michigan for a retreat and look forward to the Hemophilia Foundation coming to camp in October. Exploring and growing partnerships are key steps to achieving sustainability and resilience. They will also help us bring our traditional programs back by increasing support funding.

To bring those programs back, we will need to add more staff and funding. Our hope is to schedule fall family camps as our resources allow. While we can’t wait to have our campily return, we want to make sure that our long-term goals of sustainability and resilience are the focus. It is difficult to be patient. Believe me, I know.

Which brings me back to the dog. What I discovered during our game of fetch was when she was fatigued, it only took a moment for her to catch her breath and she was back at it. She never really stopped wanting to play. She just knew when she needed a rest. Her relentlessness was still there, just based on what she knew she was able to do. Like Joey, our team is relentless in wanting to achieve our goals. We want to weather any storms and enjoy the warmth and sunshine outside at camp. But sometimes we must pause to catch our breath in our efforts to become sustainable and resilient in order to get back to full stride. Something we continue to learn from our campers and families who share their stories of how camp has left a lasting impact on their lives. And of course, my dog.

Love the mooseness,

Chief Program Officer