Vice President, Center for Civic Sites and Community Change
Ryan Chao joined Casey after many years of working on housing development efforts designed to improve “not just the physical environment of residents, but the people-based results” for families living in underserved, high-poverty neighborhoods.
“I spent a good chunk of my career focusing on how the affordability and stability of housing could be a platform to help serve people in a variety of ways,” says Chao, who sharpened his leadership skills and perspectives as a member of the Casey Children and Family Fellowship class of 2012. Leaving his previous position with Satellite Housing in Berkeley, California, in 2013 and moving his family to the Baltimore area to join the Foundation was “not an easy choice,” he recalls, but “I saw an opportunity at Casey to work across a variety of sectors to have a broader impact on multiple communities and the community change field as a whole.”
The Foundation’s Family-Centered Community Change initiative, which Chao helped launch, is one such vehicle. Building on the lessons of Making Connections and the Foundation’s other community change investments, Casey is partnering with established community organizations in three communities to infuse a two-generation approach into their work. That means linking supports that help children grow up healthy and succeed in school with services to help parents improve their earnings and savings potential and become more connected to their communities and schools.
Chao has helped oversee groundbreaking efforts to pilot these kinds of approaches in Baltimore and Atlanta, the Foundation’s civic sites. He is particularly hopeful about the completion of the first new community school in decades in Baltimore and the retooling of affordable housing efforts in Atlanta, which has also been a pioneer in establishing a high-quality early learning center and Center for Working Families.
Chao earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Washington University in St. Louis and an M.B.A. from the New York University Stern School of Business. As an ardent community volunteer, he decided he could have more impact with a career “working for change rather than just changing how things looked.” That decision was validated when his first friend and coworker in a job transforming New York City’s Bryant Park died. “It made me realize that life is fragile and that with the short amount of time we have, we have to make as positive a difference as we can,” he says.
Chao says he draws inspiration from working among so many talented and passionate colleagues, but he’s driven most by the “enormous challenges and opportunities to make a difference in the places we work.” An active dad of two young daughters, he strives to maintain a “solid work-life balance.” In his spare time you might find him playing the ukulele, fly fishing or working on becoming a serious bicyclist alongside his wife.