Here, There, and Everywhere: Cynthia Suter

11 Jun, 2024

Here, There, and Everywhere: Cynthia Suter

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June 11, 2024

Written by Rhonnel Sotelo, Chief Executive Officer 

Building a talented, cohesive team and unleashing them with the flexibility and freedom to own and lead their work is one of the Rogers Family Foundation’s core values. This is the last in our series of celebration stories honoring our team members where we share our appreciations and reflections on their distinct qualities, accomplishments, and contributions. This piece celebrates Cynthia Suter, who joined the RFF in April 2012.

You don’t need to be the main character to drive the story. 

For more than 12 years, Cynthia Suter has been everything to everyone at the Rogers Family Foundation. As the longest tenured person on our team, she participated in the hiring of each member of the final Foundation team. When sitting in on our interviews, she asked us all the same question: if you could choose a superpower, what would it be and why? In time, we discovered Cynthia had many of her own such powers, including the power to heal and strengthen those around her. She leads by supporting and nurturing the inherent gifts in others. She demonstrates her passion through an unwavering commitment and advocacy for the students of Oakland. She bestows upon each of us camaraderie and kindness, while maintaining the institutional memory necessary for the Foundation to succeed and thrive. 

Cynthia can also see the future. For all the nuanced, critical elements that propel a workplace’s day-to-day, Cynthia is unparalleled in her capacity to anticipate needs and be one step ahead on tasks, deadlines, and emerging issues. Every member of our team has benefitted from Cynthia’s powers of perception and intuition. We have all been privileged to witness and grow from her greatness:

Greg Klein, Senior Director for Innovation and Learning: “No matter the task, Cynthia always brings her full self and heart, and leads others. She handles details with joy and love. When needed, Cynthia checks us when our conversations veer from our mission. She could bring her talents anywhere, but it’s being in service to kids and families that sustains her.” 

Sara Levine, former Senior Program Officer: “Cynthia carefully and quietly took care of all of us: everyone on our team, everyone who came to the office, all of our grantees. [She’s] fiercely loyal. Deeply invested in the successes of us all, she celebrates wins big and small with unbridled joy.” 

Kate Ray, former Program Associate: “Cynthia is determined, multi-talented, willing to try and learn anything that comes her way. Her biggest strength is her humanity and heart. She cares deeply about her team, and has always been the first person to step in to see how she can support us. It was an honor to be supervised by Cynthia at Rogers. She was so invested in my growth, made sure I had every opportunity to engage in my interests, and celebrated each accomplishment along the way.” 

Dana Wellhausen, former Deputy Director: “Cynthia is truly the heart and soul of our team. Don’t be fooled by that quick wit and sassy humor, underneath lies one of the most caring, nurturing, and understanding people I have met in my career. Cynthia’s sense of fun and adventure is both infectious and fear inducing. To know her is to don a helmet and ask, “what’s next?” I watched her continuously take on challenge after challenge. She has an impressive ability to adapt and grow, always meeting and surpassing the next hurdle placed in front of her. I am also convinced she is part mind reader – she has the uncanny ability to be in tune with the needs of others with impeccable grace and accuracy.” 

Amy Breshears, former Events & Strategic Communications Associate: “Cynthia is magnetic. It becomes almost instinct to turn to her for anything you might need: advice, comfort, encouragement. She is the cornerstone of the team and very little can be accomplished without her support. She is a leader in every sense of the word.” 

Bonnie Look, Director, Strategic Operations and Communications: “Cyn has an aura about her. When she’s around, rest assured, I’m on steady ground. I’ve always been impressed by her keen read on everyone she crosses paths with, and feel that I can trust her intuition more than my own at times. She pours her heart and soul into any task at hand, no matter the size and complexity. When she commits, it’s truly and wholeheartedly – you can count on Cyn being 100% in.”  

Brian Rogers, CEO Emeritus and Board Secretary: “Every office has a team member who holds the organization together. Part consiglieri, part Swiss Army knife, part Mama Bear – Cynthia Suter has an infinite number of skills for anything anyone on the Foundation team might need. No matter what is going on in our office and no matter how fast we might be moving, Cynthia is always a step ahead. Cynthia possesses the rare ability to completely read a room, the skill of listening for nuanced details, and the talent of delicately leading you in the right direction. The Rogers Family Foundation has only achieved our goals and experienced success in our grantmaking because Cynthia has been on our team. Her warmth, sense of humor and personal care for each of our team members is a cornerstone of our familial office culture and a source of energy that empowers each team member to ‘Go Out and Do Good!’”

Cynthia presenting at PEAK 2024 Grantmaking with grantee partners Charles Cole (left) and Jane Lee. Photo credit: Julie Harmsen

While Cynthia’s influence is felt deeply by our team, her impact also reaches far beyond the Foundation’s walls. She could be coordinating convenings for numerous grantees or preparing individual college hoodies for the seniors of Lighthouse Community Public Schools to don during their graduation ceremony. Cynthia’s support of Oakland’s students has been ubiquitous, but one contribution is unquestionably her most significant: managing fiscal sponsorship for long-time community partner, Energy Convertors. “I made sure I saw Cyn every time I came to the Rogers Family Foundation [office]. We talked and built a relationship long before our project together,” reflected Dr. Charles Cole III, Founder of Energy Convertors. “You have to have real trust; you have to build that type of relationship. The way our partnership worked, Cyn would always go beyond what a grantmaker might do.” Cynthia’s work focuses on the Foundation’s operations, and she executes this role with the ultimate objective of uplifting the students and families of Oakland. Centering the needs of grantee partners and building honest relationships based in trust are core to who she is.

As the Foundation concludes its two-decade run of investing in Oakland public education, the Rogers Family will continue to fulfill its final bequeaths by engaging in giving that continues to build on the legacy of its co-founder, T. Gary Rogers. Cynthia will stay on to support the family in this work as the Foundation Administrator. The Rogers Family has expressed its deep appreciation to Cynthia for agreeing to oversee the Foundation’s future operations and grantmaking, and looks forward to benefiting from her skills as a one-of-a-kind, multi-talented philanthropy professional.