COMMUNITY GEMS: Oakwood woman promotes equity through volunteer work

Leigh Ann Fulford works on many issues, including suicide prevention, breast health and inclusion

Leigh Ann Fulford has many causes that are dear to her, including suicide prevention, breast cancer awareness, inclusion and the environment. Although at first glance they may seem disparate, the Oakwood woman says there is a common thread: Equity.

“I just feel the world needs to be more equitable for all,” she said.

Her volunteerism reaches youth. She founded the GEM Project Dayton Art Contest for Suicide Prevention, for example, to spread hope and help to students. Submissions to the contest, which is in its third year and is open to middle school and high school students, begin Nov. 1.

And she reaches adults too, such as with the CARE Walk that she organized for 20 years, raising thousands of dollars to fight breast cancer and support breast health throughout the Dayton area. The walk has ended, but she continues to support the cause as part of the board of the Breast Wishes Foundation.

Her efforts also have brought people together and helped them feel connected, through her work on the board of the Oakwood Inclusion Coalition and as a member of the founding committee of David’s Place, a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth located at Daybreak.

“I don’t like to be reactive. I prefer to be proactive,” Fulford said. “I feel like that makes a better outcome.”

Fulford, 63, grew up in Nashville, worked as a technical writer, editor and substitute teacher and retired primarily to focus on suicide prevention. Her sister died by suicide, and now Fulford helps others spark conversations and watch for risk factors.

“Anytime someone’s behavior changes drastically, that’s cause for alarm,” she said.

Sometimes youth are too scared to talk about suicide because of the stigma attached to the issue, she said. The art contest started as a way for students to reach other students, but it also has resulted in conversations between parents and their children, she said.

Fulford and her husband, Joe, also are involved in environmental issues, promoting electric vehicles and solar panels. In fact, it was at a solar event several years ago that Masha Kisel first met Fulford.

“If there’s something good going on helping others, Leigh Ann is there,” said Kisel, who nominated Fulford as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem.

Since then, their paths have regularly crossed. Kisel has seen how Fulford values others, spreads hope and remains optimistic. She brings a “certain light” and helps to create a happier, safer place for those who struggle, Kisel said.

“I feel inspired and encouraged to do more by her example,” said Kisel, also of Oakwood.

Fulford helps to fund many of the causes she is involved in with stained glass mosaic windows she creates in her South Park studio. She sells, donates and fulfills commissions for her artwork to support a variety of issues. Puzzling together broken pieces in order to make something of beauty is fulfilling and cathartic, she said.

The problems of the world can seem overwhelming, but Fulford knows that she can’t just ignore them.

“If I can get myself busy and work on the problems I know I can work on and make a difference, it makes me feel like I’m doing something that will help future generations,” she said.

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