New path in life puts Mike Leonard on a different course


Mike Leonard had it all figured out. He would retire from his successful dental practice and travel around the United States playing the top 100 golf courses. The former LSU defensive back was living the good life – or so he thought.

Almost 10 years before leaving his 24-year career in dentistry, Leonard met and formed a relationship with Mack McCarter, the founder of Community Renewal International. By the time 2005 rolled around and Leonard was ready to retire, his future had changed.

Changing the future is what it’s all about now.

On a gorgeous day, we meet for lunch on the patio of Querbes Golf Course, where both of us have enjoyed many rounds over the years. The variety of topics we discuss include golf, football, family, and relationships.

Relationships. That concept is key in Mike Leonard’s life. But, thanks to Mack McCarter and Community Renewal International, it has taken on new meaning.

“Before, I was singularly focused,” says Leonard. “I was going to make money, quit my dental practice, and play golf.”

So much for those plans.

In 1996, Leonard met McCarter, who a couple of years prior to that had created CRI, an organization whose goal is to “build safe and caring communities across the nation through the rebuilding of caring relationships.”

Its mission is to turn neighborhoods into safe havens of friendship and support through three primary strategies: Renewal Team, Haven House, and Friendship House.

Through weekly meetings with McCarter, Leonard began to grasp a new understanding of how important relationships are in all aspects of life – especially in the attempt to make our communities safer places to raise our children.

Leonard’s life would take on new meaning in the next few years. On New Year’s Eve 2004, he married Ann Graves and, upon returning from their honeymoon, he joined CRI and currently serves as its associate coordinator.

“It’s hard to quantify what we’re doing,” Leonard says of the success of Community Renewal. “When you are potentially building and gaining positive relationships, how do you measure that? That is our biggest challenge.

“If we get relationships right, we decrease the amount of dysfunction in our communities and we increase prosperity across the board.”

One aspect of the organization’s success can be measured – crime has dropped an average of 55 percent in Friendship House areas.

“Cities rest on a foundation of relationships,” says McCarter. “When relationships disintegrate, a city begins to sink.”

One of the things that made an impression on Leonard was something McCarter shared with him when they first began their friendship.

“He said, ‘I don’t want to be sitting on the porch and my grandkids ask why didn’t you do anything back when you could have?’” recalls Leonard.

Once he married Ann and became a stepfather and grandfather, Leonard understood exactly what McCarter was saying. “Now it’s about what I can do for someone else and the legacy I can leave for others.”

Before his involvement with Community Renewal, Leonard’s legacy was more about what he accomplished on the football field. After starring for Byrd High School — where he graduated in 1972 and was inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001 — he took his talents to LSU, where he played defensive back for the Tigers.

After graduating from LSU School of Dentistry in 1981, Leonard moved home and started the life he had planned (and thought he wanted) – practice dentistry, make money, retire, and play golf.

Best laid plans . . .

Mike Leonard is too busy these days to play golf. Most of his time is spent creating that legacy he wants to leave and he’s doing that through relationships – with Community Renewal and with family.

He and his younger brother Mark – who drives in from east Texas on the weekends — spend as much time as possible with their mother, who lives in Shreveport. “After everything we put her through growing up,” Mike says with a laugh, “it’s nice to spend this time with her.”

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CHANGE OF PLANS: Mike Leonard thought he would spend his retirement years playing golf, but his friendship with Mack McCarter led him to his current position with Community Renewal International.