Nonprofit CEO Traces Success to Rio Military Roots
By Mira Radovich
For all of Jackson Fonder’s career, whether it was military, corporate or non-profit, service and community have defined each of the stops along the way.
A native of Wisconsin, Fonder grew up in a working class family in Green Bay.
“My dad was a truck driver, and my mom stayed home with us,” Fonder said. “The rest of our family were all factory workers, very blue-collar types of jobs. I got a job after high school working in a stone yard and kind of figured I would work there a long time.”
To break out of the rut, Fonder joined the U.S. Air Force, and served 22 years while traveling the world and learning the power of discipline and collaboration.
During his military service, Fonder was keen to continue his education and learned of an opportunity to earn a degree through a military partnership with Rio Salado College.
“Rio Salado offered classes at the air force base where I was stationed,” Fonder said. “Back then the classes were held in person on the base. But over the years I’ve taken many classes online and enjoyed the experience.”
Fonder completed his associate degree in general studies in 1984, and credited Rio for getting his career on track.
“I’m a first-generation college graduate,” Fonder said. “Rio literally jump-started my career. They gave me confidence and a feeling of accomplishment.”
Fonder went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business management from Park University, and an MBA from the University of the Incarnate Word.
“Eventually, I did go to college,” Fonder said. “I spent 10 years going to night classes while I was still working full-time and paid for it all on my own.”
After the military, Fonder spent 15 years as the executive director of USAA’s Phoenix campus, where he led day-to-day operations and community outreach. But something was missing.
“Through my work in the corporate world, I started to get involved with various community efforts,” Fonder said in a recent interview with Social Television Network. “Everything from work with the United Way, to various other community tasks force groups. I really grew to like the community work that I was doing.”
His foray into the nonprofit sector began at Catholic Charities in Madison, Wisconsin, where he served as president and CEO, overseeing the organization’s work assisting vulnerable populations.
Today, Fonder is the CEO of UMOM New Day Centers, a Phoenix-based nonprofit that provides housing, shelter and services for the homeless.
“When any type of adversity comes up, the thing that keeps me moving forward is seeing all the people at UMOM,” Fonder said. “They all inspire me. These folks can be doing anything they want but they choose to work at UMOM, and they choose this kind of work, which is not an easy thing to do.”
Fonder is grateful for his colleagues, and for all the experiences, both personal and professional, that have shaped his life.
"I’m near the end of my career now,” Fonder said. “I have had a lot of success and a lot of failures. I would not change a single thing. All of those experiences made me who I am today.”