Celebrating Community: Lori Morris

The story of ACT isn’t complete without Lori Morris. An early founder of the organization, Lori’s strength of character and conviction that things could — and should — be done better helped to form the basis of what ACT would one day become.

A cornerstone who’s been with ACT since its inception, Lori knew she had to be part of something different. She was a member of other nonprofit boards (particularly those focused on early childhood), and she noticed something troubling. “Most of them were competing with each other,” she says. “It wasn’t very professional; it wasn’t very businesslike, and it wasn’t very productive. There were bright spots, but for the most part, they didn’t work together.”

Lori, along with other early players like Lauren Stack, began imagining a better way. “We thought, well, money is power. And if we could get a pool of money, then maybe we could push people to work together.” She connected with Lyles Carr, who’d been in conversations with Gene Steuerle who’d begun dreaming about a similar idea.

Immediately, a group of committed community residents began to brainstorm. “That’s really how it started,” Lori says. “We had no paid leadership.” Instead, everyone was working toward the same goal: “We could all work together and change how people work,” she explains. “We started looking for initial projects — what could we do?”

Their efforts began to build. Lori’s husband was a co-founder of Capital One, and Lori quickly connected with Jonelle Wallmeyer, Community Relations Manager at Capital One, who would eventually become ACT’s first CEO. “We had a community,” Lori says. People like Debra Collins, who was the Director of the Department of Community and Human Services at the time, began to join their efforts — a “breath of fresh air,” as Lori describes her. Together, the group founded the Center for Alexandria’s Children, a child advocacy center, in the wake of a tragedy in the city.

“That’s the glory of ACT,” Lori says. “The only skin in the game is that you want to make things better. We took very much a test and learn attitude,” she says. Throughout the years, ACT was able to grow, pivot, and move into a variety of spaces within the city as they united organizations and equipped them to do more good.

“You build trust as the neutral broker,” Lori says. “In the beginning, it was more insular, but now ACT’s reach is broad and deep. I think that’s incredible.” ACT began as a way to distribute one set of funds… but Lori knew it could be so much more. “I was super happy that it is sustainable,” she says. “It grew legs. It will live beyond me.”


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