Hometown Hero: Salisbury’s Leanna Lorden plays big role at Henniker nonprofit
Published: 01-01-2024 5:53 PM
Modified: 01-05-2024 5:27 PM
LLeanna Lorden has a diminished role when it comes to face-to-face meetings with students at White Birch Center in Henniker.
She was promoted to chief operating officer last summer, shifting to an administrative role filled with meetings and phone calls.
But don’t think for a moment that Lorden will simply disappear from the lives of individuals who have benefited from her caring nature, and, conversely, who have had a huge impact on her as well.
“Prior to this, I was more involved with the classrooms, with two childcare programs and early learning,” Lorden said. “Now I’m behind the scenes, but I make sure to see the kids each day and keep in touch with the teachers.”
Lorden, who lives in Salisbury, has been working at White Birch Center for 13 years. The nonprofit features before- and after-school programs, acting as a supplement to regular public schooling.
The nonprofit’s website describes the organization as being “dedicated to the well-being of individuals and families and to having a positive effect on the fabric of our community.”
It continues: “With an emphasis on Early Learning, Extended Education, and Active Living, White Birch Center is a cornerstone of our community and a hub for surrounding towns.”
Lorden has worked her way up the ladder at White Birch, advancing from invaluable classroom leader to second-in-command of the entire program, with a staff of 26.
That’s why White Birch’s development director, Will Chambers, nominated Lorden for the Hometown Hero award, citing her ability to manage day-to-day duties while always having her sights set on something bigger down the road.
“Leanna doesn’t just see the bigger picture; she helps create the vision,” Chambers wrote in his nominating email. “Her unique perspective and expertise truly make a difference. She is a leader and applies her empathy, encouragement, skills, creativity, to the cause of ensuring the success of students, teachers and colleagues like myself.”
Lorden taught fifth grade at Beaver Meadow School. She joined White Birch 13 years ago and began her climb with no intention of evolving into part of White Birch’s foundation.
“I thought I’d be at White Birch for a couple of months,” Lorden said. “I was waiting for another slot and it did not work out and I stayed. I had the opportunity to advance in my career and I can say I love what I do and I do what I love.”
She changed diapers and worked with pre-K children, middle-school-aged children and senior adults in the Active Living Program.
The school subscribes to a learning style called emergent curriculum, which relies on students’ interests to help create the subject matter, stressing what is socially relevant and personally meaningful to them.
She created lifelong bonds with some of her students. “I’m able to see them graduate from high school and they recall me and I recall them,” Lorden said. “I see them graduate and I see them in their first jobs. This is definitely more than a daycare for the younger kids.”
The numbers at White Birch are healthy, with more than 150 families enrolled last year for classroom education and summer camps. Also, more than 300 seniors participated in activities, focusing on flexibility, wellness and community engagement.
And, as second in command, Lorden oversees all facets of the program. She’s found her niche after years of wearing different hats at White Birch.
Still, she admits that her administrative duties have removed an important element from her career: quality time in the classroom and thus less time relating directly to children.
“The biggest takeaway is that it’s lonely at the top when you are in a leadership role,” Lorden said. “You no longer have the ability to connect and see the action happening, and that can feel isolating. You just have to believe you are part of that success, that this is a team effort.”
And while she once viewed her job at White Birch as temporary, that’s changed.
“I see myself staying,” she said. “No idea is a bad idea here. There are so many opportunities that are exciting and challenging.”