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February 28, 2023
Reach High: Stories of Leadership | Willonda McCloud
Willonda McCloud is a bold and brilliant example of the power of mentorship, using her computer science background to advance her career and empower multiple generations in her community.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Willonda is a straight-up truth-teller who isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo if it means the betterment of her community. Like many women—Black women in particular—who seek to advance in the corporate sector, Willonda faced the challenge of others viewing her directness and honesty as too assertive for the roles she wanted.
Instead of being deterred from reaching for those opportunities, Willonda sought executive experience to learn how to lead in new environments while staying true to herself. For a year, she even shadowed a vice president while also managing a full-time position to build on her leadership experience.
When Willonda saw that Bright Side Opportunities Center was looking for a CEO, she met with her mentor, Cindy Stewart, multiple times a week to prepare for this career shift.
“I knew I was a leader and always felt like a manager, but Cindy helped me think like a CEO,” Willonda said. “Directors and managers think about the process. CEOs think about the process, program, and how you’re going to pay for everything,” she adds, laughing.
Bright Side did a national search, but with her preparation and training, Willonda demonstrated the skills, knowledge, and grace that made her perfect for the role.
Nearly six years into the role, she has created a culture of mentorship at Bright Side Opportunities Center that is impacting generations of people in the community. A prime example is the STEM Girls Leadership Academy, which Willonda started through a national fellowship and the local STEM alliance. She designed the program to empower middle school-aged girls to explore the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.
“I’m sitting in my seat as CEO because of STEM and the mentorship I received, so for me, this program is a full circle moment,” says Willonda.
Mentors work on projects, and Willonda empowers her staff to do their best and develops their leadership skills as they serve the community. On the wall of the STEM lab with all the science kits and materials is a sheet of flip chart paper. It has the “norms of the group,” a set of social guidelines the girls created themselves to uphold during their time together, written in the form of “I…” statements. In bright blue marker, one of the girls wrote, “I will be kind.” Doodles accompany the numbered list, and the girls sign their names at the bottom, a solemn oath to live up to their full potential.
Willonda’s commitment to authenticity, integrity, and growth as a leader is a beautiful example for those girls, proving they can achieve anything.
Reach High is a series brought to you by High Foundation that introduces you to business and nonprofit leaders who are thoughtfully innovating with a spirit of servant leadership. Find out more about High Foundation’s mission to be a Bridge to Opportunity for the Lancaster community at highfoundation.org.