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Changemakers to Watch: Tom and Leanna McBride

By Elana Warsen

Much has been said about rural Minnesota’s “brain drain,” in which ambitious young people leave their quaint hometowns for metro areas. Less is mentioned about the brain gain that occurs when those same young people return several years later, bringing their college degrees, professional skills, and families with them. Tom and Leanna McBride, featured in this Changemakers to Watch, are two such young professionals contributing to Itasca County’s brain gain. Since their recent return to Grand Rapids after several years away, the McBrides have taken action to make our community the best it can be.


Who

Tom and Leanna met as students at Grand Rapids High School. Leanna graduated in 2005 and moved to Minneapolis to attend dental school at the University of Minnesota. Tom graduated in 2006 and enrolled at Itasca Community College. He, too, left Grand Rapids to complete a bachelor’s degree at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth. Eventually, the couple ended up in Charlotte, North Carolina for Leanna’s dental residency. 

“We wanted to see a community other than ours and gain some more experiences,” Leanna says.

As time went on, the McBrides were ready to start a family of their own. Desiring to raise their future children close to relatives, they decided to return to Grand Rapids in August 2015. Tom is settled in as a financial adviser at Clairmont Financial and Leanna as a dentist at Grand Dental Center.  

“Tom’s dad sadly passed away while we were in Charlotte, and that really made it clear to us that we wanted to be home, closer to family,” Leanna explains.

“It’s great to be back,” says Tom.


Why

The McBrides are young leaders who are taking action to strengthen our community for the benefit of all. Whether advising clients about the importance of applying for financial aid or administering scholarships as member of the ICC Foundation Board, Tom works to ensure that others have access to college education. Through his involvement in the Grand Rapids Area Basketball Association, Special Olympics, Elder Circle Board and the YMCA Youth Board, he expands access to healthy recreational opportunities for area residents of all ages, incomes, and abilities.

“I’m a big believer in teaching life skills, more than just basketball skills. It’s inspiring to see the players improve at sports and also become better people,” says Tom, who was a GRABA middle school boys coach and currently helps administer scholarships for low-income families to utilize YMCA services.

Community health and wellness are integral parts of Leanna’s job as a dentist as well.

“There are a lot of families that still struggle with meeting their basic needs,” she says. “We see it in our dental practice. I want everyone to have a good experience growing up here. That’s motivating to me.”

Along with her colleagues at Grand Dental Center, Leanna serves on the Untied Way of 1000 Lakes board of directors and participates in Give Kids a Smile, a weekend of free dentistry for children.

Every month, she joins roughly a dozen fellow Grand Rapids Area dental practitioners for a group discussion about difficult cases.

“At first I think some of us were apprehensive about discussing our challenges in the presence of other dentists, but now it’s clear that it’s a no-judgment zone,” she says, adding that collaboration has raised the quality of care for patients at all of the practices.


What's Next

As a member of United Way’s Community Investment Committee, Tom helped advise where the contributors’ gifts should be invested. He says that experience inspired him to want to do more.

“It’s inspiring…It’s been totally eye-opening,” he says, of becoming aware that “big-city” problems, like homelessness, also affect Itasca County.

Now, he and Leanna are among a group of young leaders supporting United Way’s work. They connect with businesses to encourage them to participate, and are organizing activities that will engage other young leaders in the works of United Way.

“My goal going forward is to get more people involved with United Way,” says Tom. “Even if you think you can’t give money, volunteering or giving continuous smaller amounts of money makes a difference.”

As for Leanna, she says her involvement in the community is just beginning.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” she says. “I’m impressed with everything going on in the community. I don’t know where I’ll go yet. There are lots of opportunities I’d like to explore.”


Good Advice

The McBrides have words of advice for other young leaders  unsure about how to get involved.

“My advice to others is just, get involved,” says Tom. “Donate your time. Don’t be afraid if you can’t give a lot, it’s still going to have an impact.

Leanna’s advice is similar.

 “Start small,” she says. “It will naturally grow. Don’t feel you have to take on the whole world.”

When it comes to describing the community contributions of young leaders like the McBrides, the phrase brain gain falls short. Their impact is greater than the sum of their knowledge and skills; it multiplies as they engage and inspire others.


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