Published 07/24/17

Richard and Bonnie Leto

Richard Leto ’73, right, and his wife, Bonnie, believe that a positive, preventative approach to health and nutrition can make a real difference for students who may be vulnerable to eating disorders.

New fund for nutrition, health education will promote healthy lifestyles for Bryant students

It’s a common concern among parents and college-bound students: Will students successfully manage the responsibilities and challenges they face when living away from home for the first time? Will the healthy habits they have acquired withstand the stressors that are sure to arise? 

Richard Leto ’73 and his wife, Bonnie, first became aware of the prevalence of eating disorders when their daughters were undergraduates at universities in Florida and North Carolina. “As we researched it and learned more, we saw that many more people than you want to image are affected by this,” explains Richard. 

The Letos felt this was a health issue that needed to be elevated in importance and considered what campus programs could be developed to address it. Believing that a positive, preventative approach to health and nutrition can make a real difference for vulnerable students, they made a $200,000 gift to Bryant University to establish the Richard and Bonnie Leto Nutrition and Health Education Endowed Fund.

An additional gift of $25,000 ensures that the initiative will begin immediately. A part-time health and nutrition educator will begin overseeing a range of holistic educational and awareness programs beginning in the fall 2017 semester. The goal is to create and sustain an environment at Bryant that promotes healthy lifestyles in which students maintain a wise and balanced relationship with food.

The Letos’ gifts were made in support of Expanding the World of Opportunity: The Campaign for Bryant’s Bold Future. They worked thoughtfully with Bryant leaders, including John R. Saddlemire, Ed.D., Bryant’s Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, to develop a meaningful initiative that would complement the student-centered objectives of the campaign.

Richard notes that, in addition to world-class facilities, academics, and scholarship opportunities, “Bonnie and I felt Bryant needed things to complete the circle of what a great institution has to have. We wanted to do something for the entire Bryant student body that goes hand-in-hand with academics and athletics – and that’s health and nutrition,” he says. “A healthy lifestyle prolongs your life and puts you in a better state of mind to achieve success, both in academics and athletics.”

The health and nutrition educator will collaborate with multiple campus offices and organizations to enhance community awareness about eating disorders and to create a knowledgeable, supportive peer community. A comprehensive education, outreach and referral process will be developed and implemented in partnership with the University’s student health and counseling services.

“The philanthropic leadership Rick and Bonnie Leto have demonstrated will have a transformative impact for Bryant students,” says Saddlemire. “Through this initiative, our students will understand how to incorporate healthy choices into their own lives and develop compassion for others who struggle with eating disorders. Their vision is a game-changer and will establish Bryant as a leader in creating a campus community that effectively supports students contending with this threat to their health and lives.” 

The Letos’ gift comes as Richard transitions from an executive leadership career with retail giants Macy’s, Kohl’s and Mervyns. “As I started to wind down a very busy career, I saw there were some debts to be repaid,” he notes. “I wanted to give back to Bryant - to step up and do something for my alma mater, because it did something great for me.”

In reflecting on how the couple determined this philanthropic priority, Bonnie notes the other universities their family is linked to have large endowments. “The focus has always been on where our gift would do the most good. We felt the money could go further and do more at Bryant.” 

Expanding the World of Opportunity: The Campaign for Bryant’s Bold Future is the largest fundraising effort in Bryant’s history. The $75 million campaign is generating the resources the University needs to achieve the transformative goals of Bryant’s Vision 20/20 strategic plan and rise to new levels of excellence and national prominence.