Featuring Leo Ramirez, Jr., Social Entrepreneur

Of course, we are all about the mamas here at LiveMom, but we also like to get to know some of the great dads out there. We ran a story during the holiday season about Keep Austin Generous, a City of Austin-supported campaign to promote philanthropy. Keep Austin Generous is spearheaded by MiniDonations, an online platform to make giving easier and more affordable, which was co-founded by Austin dad Leo Ramirez, Jr. When we found out that in addition to having a background in technology and being a social entrepreneur, he also teaches a parenting class for dads, we thought you might want to learn more about Leo. Thanks, Leo, for answering our questions!

LiveMom: Where are you from originally? If you aren’t a native Austinite, how did you end up here?

Leo: I was born in McAllen, TX, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Stanford took me away for four years, but Trilogy, Inc. brought be back. I’ve lived in Austin since 1996.

LiveMom: How many children do you have and what are their ages?

Leo: One child, Leif – a 2 1/2 year old ball of energy and love.

LiveMom: After a career in technology, what led you to decide to become a social entrepreneur?

Leo: In the early 00′s, I felt that, while my technology career granted me tremendous success, it left me unfulfilled.

My brother, sister, and I grew up in a mobile home. My dad was a successful high school teacher (Texas Teacher of the Year 1993, http://thewizardmaker.com) and my mom hand-raised us. We were on food stamps, stood in line for cheese and bread, and had free, yearly checkups at the local clinic. Scholarships allowed us to attend college. My dad pawned his high school and college class rings to buy presents on two, separate, Christmases.

We weren’t blessed with money, but with generous parents. They sacrificed themselves for us and found ways to give back, including donating spare change at church every weekend and handing our old clothing in my mom’s neighborhood in Mexico every Christmas.

My grandfather, Andres’, passing in 2003 caused a tectonic shift in my life. He touched so many people in his community – directly and indirectly. His funeral made me wonder about my own: would it be attended by those whom I made materially wealthy, or filled with tens of thousands of people, many of whom I may have never met, who were touched by my life. I chose the latter.

I co-founded my first nonprofit, EDCO Ventures (http://edcoventures.org), in 2005 to address job creation in economically distressed regions. I then co-founded my second, MiniDonations (https://minidonations.org), in 2008 to make charitable giving easy, accessible, and transformative for people of all ages and income. Both companies have afforded the opportunity for me to flex my considerably diverse skill set while making a profound impact on the world.

To this day, through my nonprofits, board service, volunteerism, and other community involvement, I honor the lessons my parents taught me, while helping others experience the sheer joy of selfless generosity.

LiveMom: How do you balance being a dad with your business and civic pursuits?

Leo: First and foremost, my wife, Caroline, is an angel. She’s unbelievably supportive of my dreams and works with me to ensure those dreams become reality. Secondly, I office from home, so I’m able to close my door to work, then walk out and play with Leif and spend time with Caroline whenever I want.

Caroline and I take turns, every other day, waking up with Leif, our early riser. I also make it a point to be home for Leif’s bedtime whenever possible.

I’m also incredibly supportive of Caroline’s therapy practice. I take care of Leif several evenings a week so she can meet with clients. That gives Leif and me us a tremendous amount of quality time going to the park, reading, playing games, or rough-housing, which he absolutely loves.

We include Leif in work activities, whenever possible. I’ve carried Leif in an Ergo during fundraisers and taken him to meetings.

Leif is bought in, too. When I tell him that mommy is at work, he’ll say, “Mommy helping people.” “Daddy helping people” is uttered when I’m away. “Leif helping people” is often said soon after both phrases.

I’m driven to set a powerful example to Leif that family comes first. To me, work comes second to Caroline and Leif. That intention drives actions that allow me to be present and engaged, despite the craziness of my entrepreneurial, community-centric life.

LiveMom: How did your childbirth prep classes come about? How often do they occur, and how do dads stay informed about when and where they will be taking place?

Leo: Caroline and I were intent on having a natural childbirth. We took Bradley Method classes and hired a doula from GetBabied, a company run by one of our good friends, Ame Shillington. We had a great birth experience and our doula was a key part of that.

Weeks afterward, we spoke at a GetBabied “Meet the Doulas” get-together. Actually, Caroline spoke and I held Leif next to her. I practiced the “5 S’s,” changed him, and did my part to keep him comfortable, happy, and quiet. Afterwards, Ame approached me and jokingly suggested that I’d been such a superstar that I should help other dads. I laughed it off, then realized she was right.

Shortly after, I proposed “Cliff’s Notes for Dads” (http://www.getbabied.com/classes/cliffs-notes-for-dads): a crash course for first time dads. Guys have a short attention span. Guys also feel uncomfortable talking about childbirth around their partners. Cliff’s Notes for Dads gives them a safe environment in which they learn to prepare for and help in labor and delivery, then care for their child once born. They’re not meant to master anything, but the two hour class and resources given afterwards have helped dozens of dads immensely. By holding the class at Contigo – a bar – I give dads a safe and fun environment to discuss their fears, answer “stupid” questions, and gather insights from me and other dads.

I haven’t, yet, built a community of CNFD graduates but hope to in 2013.

Leo’s next Cliff’s Notes for Dads class will take place January 31st from 7-9pm at Contigo. For more information and to register, click here.

LiveMom: What do you think makes Austin special?

Leo: I love the diversity here, in all its forms. We are an unbelievably generous community, though current measures don’t qualify us as one. Keep Austin Generous (http://keepaustingenerous.org) will change that. I love the options that 300 days of sunshine per year give us to be active and enjoy our beautiful environment with families and friends. I love our entrepreneurial nature. I love the arts community and the cultural options afforded to us. I love our friendly nature.

LiveMom: What are your favorite family-friendly activities around town?

Leo: We enjoy going to our neighborhood park and Little Stacy off S. Congress; Locomotion Inflatable Gym (William Cannon and Westgate); splash pads throughout the city, including the one by The Long Center; hiking through the greenbelts; the park at The Domain or Barton Creek Mall, during inclement weather; hanging out at Waterloo on 360, Hat Creek in West Lake, Phil’s Ice House, and Austin’s Pizza in West Lake; playdates with friends and family; and swim classes at Emler’s.

LiveMom: What is one thing we would be surprised to learn about you?

Leo: I love music and, specifically, singing. I played the lead in my 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade musicals. I played Joseph in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and The Baker in “Into The Woods” in Stanford Dorm Musicals; I was a main character in a local musical, “Bitten: A Zombie Rock Odyssey”; and I get asked, without fail, to re-join my church’s choir every time I attend. When you see me around town, if I’m not singing or whistling, just wait a little while… I will.

A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 6-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau’s words, her mission is to “suck out all the marrow of life”, or in her son’s words, to cultivate in him a love of “advenchers”.