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  • Writer's pictureAlison Finstad

Notable Nonprofit Leaders: Arnold Smeenk and Michael VanLeeuwen from The Charles Finney School

The Charles Finney School has become one of the largest and most highly regarded non-denominational Christian schools in the Rochester, NY area thanks to the leadership of Arnold Smeenk (Board Chair) and Michael VanLeeuwen (President). Here we get to know them better and they explain the secret to the school's success.


How long have you been with The Charles Finney School and in what capacity?

Michael: I’ve been the President for 17 years.

Arnold: I became a Finney parent in 1995, joined the Advisory Board in 1997 and then the governing board in 1999. I’ve been the Board Chair for four years.


Tell me about The Charles Finney School.

Mike: We are a private Christian school in Rochester, NY that offers a rigorous, college preparatory academic program, a professional and caring faculty, a cultivation of service to the community, and a wide array of extracurricular programs. We are accredited by the Association of Christian Schools International and the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. We started as a high school in 1992 and now offer grades Pre-K through 12.


What is the biggest fundraising challenge The Charles Finney School has faced, and how did you deal with it?

Arnold: Funding financial aid for students has been our biggest challenge. Tuition does not cover the entire cost of educating each student, and additionally we offer multi-student discounts, scholarships, and various forms of aid to expand affordable Christian education for anyone who desires it. We have held fundraising events, received grants, and created a scholarship endowment and we continue to strengthen in this area.


What are you most proud of professionally and personally?

Mike: Professionally, I’m proud of the many changes we have made at Finney such as building the athletic facility about eight years ago, purchasing a new roof, and pretty much renovating the whole building to the tune of $2 million. We have also received multiple accreditations, solidified the academic program, and developed the international program where students from other countries attend Finney, sometimes for many years. This has led to an increase in diversity and appreciation of cultures as well as the opportunity to share the love of Christ. Personally, I’ve been married 37 years and have five kids, and they have done some great things.

Arnold: I’m proud of the legacy of the kids who graduate from Finney. Additionally, during my banking days I was the number one producer at my bank for five years in a row, and in 2006 was the number one Fannie Mae mortgage lender. I’ve been married for 47 years and we have six kids, one of whom recently received the “Teacher of the Year” award in his district.


What is something most people don't know about you?

Mike: In another life, I would be a surfer. I love the beach, ocean, palm trees … Florida beaches are the best.

Arnold: After I finished college and got saved, I got a degree in Theology.


What advice do you have for other nonprofit leaders who may be facing fundraising challenges?

Mike: You must be willing to lead, reach out, serve the community, share resources and collaborate with other organizations. We’re not just here to take care of our own but to be a light on a hill with a servant’s heart.

Arnold: If you walk in Godly principles and God is in the work you do, He will provide. Because of God’s faithfulness we have been able to bring in the right people in at the right time.


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