Ellie Leeper is a vital member of several thriving new organizations in San Antonio, having been involved from the ground up. Their continued success to this day is, in part, because of Ellie’s leadership and commitment to this city.
Let’s start with a little bit about your educational background.
I actually started college at Texas Christian University in the Musical Theater program. I ended up transferring to Trinity University after my first semester. I realized that in order for me to succeed at my best, I needed a small school with endless extra curricular activity options, regardless of my major or minor. I graduated in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. While at Trinity, I was heavily involved in theater, television, choir, and dance, as well as student leadership.
Any memorable performances you enjoyed being a part of?
All of my performances were memorable, but I really enjoyed being a part of Momentum, the student-run annual dance show. I co-produced the show my Senior year, in addition to choreographing pieces and dancing. I was also a member of the Trinity Choir, and we toured throughout Europe during my Sophomore year, performing in Vienna and Prague. That was an incredible experience I will never forget.
What is your current role?
I am the Public Relations Manager at the Children’s Rehabilitation Institute of TeletonUSA, known as CRIT USA. This is an incredible facility with an unmatched culture that is starting in the United States from the ground up, just next to Morgan’s Wonderland. We serve children ages newborn to 18 years old with neuromuscular and skeletal disabilities. We offer comprehensive rehabilitation services to both patients and their family members here at our 45,000 square foot medical center, regardless of their insurance or ability to pay. The parents and children come to us for a one-stop-shop type of treatment. We have everyone here from pediatric specialists, to physical and occupational therapists and speech and language therapists, to nurses and social workers. They all help guide the process for these families as a team. Most children come to us with a proper diagnosis, but some do not. The doctors assess them and lead a team that executes their customized treatment plan that is meant to improve quality of life and social integration, not just for the child but also the entire family. It is a tested treatment model for chronic disabilities that has been proven extremely effective in Mexico for 20 years. We just opened our facility in November of 2014, and have the capacity to serve 600 children. We are already full, with patients traveling from over 28 states for a minimum of eight weeks per year to be treated here. We already have a waiting list of over 700 potential patients. There is a great need to serve these families, not just in San Antonio but all over the United States. As an organization, we are passionate about providing hope to all of these children through improving their quality of life.
We hosted an amazing Block Party to launch the group, and registered 250 members that night alone
You’ve been involved with The Tobin Center from the very beginning. Can you share that experience with us?
I worked at The Tobin Center for a few years as a part of the Development team. As a native San Antonian growing up without a proper performing arts center, this was an extremely exciting project, because San Antonio was going to have a its very own state-of-the-art facility. My passion project while I was on the staff was the Ghost Light Society. I was fortunate to have leaders in the management team that let me run with it as an internal entrepreneurial adventure. I gathered a Board of young professionals from different backgrounds and industries. Each founding Ghost Light Board Member worked day and night to built the existing membership structure and the curated event experience that members continue to enjoy. It has been such a rewarding project because we all worked towards one goal as a team. We hosted an amazing Block Party to launch the group, and registered 250 members that night alone. Although I am no longer an employee of The Tobin Center, I continue to serve on the Ghost Light Society Board. Now we have the diverse programming at The Tobin Center to build unique events from, which is a huge luxury compared to when we started the group without the building open!
You are involved in several organizations; can you talk a little bit about those?
I serve on the Board of the Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio (COSA). We have recently started a Millennial Committee as a part of COSA’s efforts to make classical music more accessible to a younger demographic, and I help with that committee. I serve on the Board of the Ghost Light Society at The Tobin Center, and I serve on the Board of the San Antonio chapter of the Trinity University Alumni Association. I was a founding Board Member of the Leadership Organization of Professionals (LOOP), which was an incredible learning experience. My term as Board Member is finished, but I am still a member of the organization. It does amazing work to engage young people in our city.
I am getting married in March of 2016, so my work/life balance has become a high priority. I am very committed to my health integrity, and I seek information about wellness and nutrition constantly. I have learned that the more I take care of my body and my mind, the more productive I am in all areas of my life. I have also learned that I have to take care of myself first, in order to give to those who depend on my productivity and positive attitude every day. I stay active 6 -7 days a week and I am very careful about the things I put into my body. I also have several hobbies outside of work and volunteering that require my body to be working at its best. When I have a little extra “me time” to spare, I pursue my life-long passion and perform in local musicals, plays, film projects, and dance productions.
What are some challenges you have seen in San Antonio, as a Young Professional?
I perceive our number one challenge to be public transportation. We are improving slowly but surely with initiatives such as the E-Line in our urban core. I realize this is an ambitious dream, but we need a metro within San Antonio, and a high-speed train that connects the big cities in Texas.
One of the biggest challenges for Young Professional organizations is engaging those that live in different areas of the city. A common theme among Young Professional organizations is that they are very downtown-centric, and I think it is because those of us who live downtown run into people and events, so we learn that these organizations exist. Young Professionals who are not working or living in the urban core are not always privy to the goings-on in our cultural corridor. They tell me that they go to bars in strip malls hoping to meet people. I would love to see YP’s that live in Stone Oak or the Rim at our events downtown. The spread out nature of our city is something we need to overcome in order to feel truly metropolitan, and I’m just going to state my firm opinion (and everyone else’s) that we need to bring Uber back. Our city needs to get with the times regarding ride share, and I believe that Uber is a much needed first step to more public transportation options.
What are some positive aspects about being a Young Professional in San Antonio?
San Antonio still has small town approachability. To me, this is one of its many livable charms. As a Young Professional, I feel there is endless opportunity to make a mark on our city. The sky is the limit for what we can do and create here. The more established generations are open to giving us a voice, and that is something we should own with the greatest of responsibility. Things are changing here, and the city is becoming friendlier for a younger demographic. I can’t wait to see what things look like in the next five years.
You have another exciting side project that is coming up, would you like to share that with us?
Sure! I have a bit of an entrepreneurial personal endeavor that my fiancé Dan and I are working on. It is a lifestyle blog called Sequins & Suspenders, and we are getting ready to launch in the next few weeks. It is a blog about our fun-filled Texas lives as a young couple entering into marriage. It will chronicle our musings on several topics; not just fashion, but wellness, travel, wedding planning, puppy parenting and other social adventures. It is a joy to collaborate with Dan on a creative project that we can call our own.
Is there somebody that has been a mentor for you who has helped guide you in your professional life?
My mentors are my parents, without a doubt. I am very fortunate to have a mother and father who I have grown up watching build very successful careers for themselves. My father is a commercial real estate broker, and has been involved in the development of downtown San Antonio for decades. Many generations of his family have been civically engaged downtown, beginning with my Great-Great Grandfather who arrived from Italy and set up shop (Pizzini’s) in Market Square. The plaque remains on the building today. I attribute my professional creativity and my passionate nature to my mother. She is the Associate Publisher for Society Diaries Magazine, and I have watched her build this incredible luxury publication with her business partner from the ground up. She has a special finesse in dealing with others, and an uncanny ability to connect people, no matter the circumstance. I channel both her unapologetic strength and her genuine warmth in professional and personal situations daily.
If they can do it all, so can I. Breathe, smile, and keep on pushing.
In addition to my parents, there are several amazing women in San Antonio that I look to as sources of inspiration and strength whenever I am feeling tired or burnt out. Every time I see them accomplish something, I think, “If they can do it all, so can I. Breathe, smile, and keep on pushing.” Three of these special women who I am lucky to call friends are Asia Ciaravino, CEO of The Playhouse San Antonio, Xitlalt Herrera-Salazar, PR Manager of Neiman Marcus San Antonio, and Lori Houston, Assistant City Manager. They may not know that I consider them mentors, but I do.
Can you share something about you that most people don’t know?
I was the first baby raised on Alamo Plaza in 100 years! We lived in The Reuter Building, formerly owned by my father, until I was 3 years old. Another personal fact that I am very proud of is that my Great-Uncle was Henry Guerra. At the age of 21, he was the first Mexican-American TV newscaster when television came to San Antonio in 1949. His talent for journalism and his ability to connect with viewers had NBC studios in New York City calling his name for an anchor seat. He stayed in San Antonio because of his love for our great city. Even after his passing, he has served as a profound inspiration in my life.