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Kennedy Loftin Retires from the Montrose Center

The esteemed fundraiser and advocate has made a lasting impact on Houston’s LGBTQ community.

Kennedy Loftin transformed fundraising efforts at the Montrose Center.

Kennedy Loftin, one of the most successful and compassionate fundraisers for Houston’s LGBTQ community, has stepped down from his position as chief development officer for the Montrose Center, where he has served for the past eight years. The Center empowers the community to live healthier, more fulfilling lives.

Loftin was recently diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and is now focusing on his medical treatments. He is also spending time with his partner, Charlie, and their Corgi, Taro. They are planning to travel throughout the summer and fall during the two-week windows in his treatments.

“A Dream Job”

Loftin began his career at the Montrose Center in October 2015. He quickly accepted their offer to become their first chief development officer and expand the Center’s funding.

“He is a pioneer and a visionary leader, especially in the nonprofit world. He knows how to make the impossible happen. For him, it’s not a show. He really cares about the people he is raising money to help.”  —Leah Loftin Halpern, Loftin’s twin sister

His twin sister, Leah Loftin Halpern, remembers that her brother thought this was “a dream job” that would allow him to use all of his professional gifts. “He is a pioneer and a visionary leader, especially in the nonprofit world. He can manage all the details for an event. He knows how to make the impossible happen. For him, it’s not a show. He really cares about the people he is raising money to help,” she says. 

Under his leadership, the Center’s budget has grown every year, allowing it to serve more and more LGBTQ Houstonians.

Career Highlights

Kennedy Loftin holds an award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals

Loftin increased private philanthropy 586% in his eight years at the Center, from an annual average of $300,000 to a sustainable $2 million.

Loftin also headed a partnership with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. The Center received a substantial seed-funding grant that helped launch the Center’s Youth Housing Diversion Program, which keeps the most vulnerable LGBTQ youth out of the dangers inherent in the shelter system by helping place them directly into apartments and independent living. Since 2017, the program has assisted more than 400 youth. 

As part of this program, Loftin conceived an annual fundraising event with Joakim “Kim” Gustavsson and his husband, Charles Caliva. The hugely successful “Empowering Our Future” event—high-camp, costumed, and themed—has been held for the past eight years, raising more than $1,750,000.

In 2017, Loftin organized the LGBTQ+ Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Fund, the largest LGBTQ natural-disaster relief fund on record at the time. The initiative raised $3.5 million in just three months and led the Center into disaster response and recovery efforts that continue to the present day.

Tori Williams, a leader in the lesbian community, remembers that shortly after Loftin began working at the Center, he invited her to lunch. “I was amazed at his enthusiasm, energy, dreams, and hopes,” she reports. “But I thought he might burn out in a few weeks.” Instead, when she met him in the hallway at the Center a couple of years later, his energy level was just as high. “He had been out the night before, and it was early in the morning, and I could hardly believe someone could be that fresh and healthy. He’s amazing.”

Meleah Jones, the Center’s director of development, reflects: “When Kennedy joined the Montrose Center’s development team, we were very small. Kennedy built our team and our processes into the robust department we are today. As our fundraising ability grew each year, so did our capacity to expand services for Houston’s local LGBTQ+ communities. Kennedy envisioned, launched, and mentored many small nonprofits. His dedication, talent, and charm have attracted thousands of new supporters to the Center.”

Enduring Legacies

Loftin’s skills and focus enabled the building of the Law Harrington Senior Living Center, the nation’s largest LGBTQ-affirming senior center. He successfully completed a $27.5 million campaign, and the center now has 130+ seniors in housing from two historic Houston communities facing gentrification: the LGBTQ seniors of Montrose and the African American seniors of the Third Ward.

Deborah Moncrief Bell says, “I was having to live with family or rent rooms in other people’s homes prior to being one of the first residents to move into Law Harrington. As a senior on a limited income, I had few options. Having my own apartment has boosted my quality of life. The SPRY (Seniors Preparing for Rainbow Years) program activities—such as bingo, exercise, music nights, and poetry readings—enhance our community. The food assistance programs help stretch limited dollars. Kennedy has often joined residents here for many of our fun activities—always with camera in hand to document.”

Loftin’s vision and mentorship also helped many smaller nonprofits get their start through the Center’s John Steven Kellett Nonprofit Incubator. He created the Incubator to assist under-resourced nonprofits with fundraising support, physical office and event space, media and public-relations support, and 501(c)(3) status. Success stories include Brazoria County Pride, The Normal Anomaly, Positive Living Houston, and the Trans Masculine Alliance Houston.

Ian L. Haddock, executive director of The Normal Anomaly Initiative, Inc., comments: “I met Kennedy through the Nonprofit Incubator at The Montrose Center. This program gave a chance to organizations small and large to be nurtured under the tutelage of the Center, and for many years it was almost exclusively run by Kennedy. We would spend many days on the phone with him listening to my dreams. So many crises were averted through his keen strategy and deep compassion. The Nonprofit Incubator has made our organization the entity that it has become, and a great deal of its success is because of our friend and hero Kennedy Loftin.”

Deep Roots in Texas

Kennedy Loftin and Leah Loftin Halpern, Loftin’s twin sister

Loftin’s family on his father’s side is a multi-generational family of Texans, with ancestors settling in Texas in the mid-1800s. They originally came from England to America in the mid-1600s.

Marshall Kennedy Loftin Jr. was born in 1981 and grew up in the Houston area. His twin sister, Leah Loftin Halpern, is four minutes younger than him. They learned about the dignity of hard work from their grandfather, who owned an East Texas farm. Their father was a certified public accountant, and their mother was a homemaker.

Halpern says of her brother, “He has been the same since day one. Kennedy would always be making friends everywhere he went. He was magical and charismatic. When he walks into a room, the molecules shift. He makes people feel like they are the most important person in the room.”

Halpern remembers that Loftin had a huge imagination. “He was always building forts and fantastical worlds. He built lots of structures with LEGOs. He had such a strong sense of self; he knew what he wanted and had strong opinions.”   

As a young boy, Loftin worked on his grandfather’s farm—bailing hay and managing cows and horses even in the hottest Texas weather.

Loftin’s name was recently passed down to his youngest sister Laci’s son, who was given the name Wyatt Kennedy.

A Popular Student

In school, Loftin’s exceptional leadership abilities emerged. In middle school, as president of the student council, he was so focused that he re-wrote the council’s constitution and bylaws.

Loftin was class president in high school and also involved in speech and debate. With a great sense of rhythm, he was the head drummer in the marching band. At graduation, he gave the salutatorian address.

Loftin chose the University of St. Thomas for college. During his time there, he was president of the student government and became the first out gay president in the school’s history. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in international studies, with a focus on nonprofit development, while successfully completing the school’s honors program and graduating summa cum laude. He began his career working with development for the City of Houston. Loftin is also a graduate of Rice University’s Leadership Institute for Nonprofit Executives.

Best Buddies International

Eventually, Loftin was invited to serve as the director of special events for Miami-based Best Buddies International, an organization that serves individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). The IDD community includes, but is not limited to, people with Down syndrome, autism, Fragile X, Williams syndrome, and other undiagnosed disabilities.

This position gave him the opportunity to liaise with celebrities, sports stars, reality-TV stars—along with the Shriver and Kennedy families—to develop unforgettable fundraising events.

At the age of 27, he became the youngest executive director to lead a state office (Texas) in Best Buddies’ history.

Interfaith Ministries

In 2008, Loftin was invited to become the chief development officer at Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston. The organization is an inclusive connector of people, faith communities, and resources that works to sustain healthy and respectful lives for vulnerable populations and to promote interfaith relations and volunteerism.

During his years at the organization, he grew its annual campaign by 30% and increased the donor base by 63%. Loftin was the fundraising lead for a “Many Faiths Building Together” campaign that secured $15 million to build the Meals on Wheels building on Elgin Street and the Interfaith Conference Center on Main Street.

Susan Boggio, who worked with Loftin at Interfaith Ministries, says: “I first met Kennedy while getting ready to plan an important fundraising event. He made such a positive impression on me, as he was beaming and joyful, with the biggest smile on his face. Interfaith Ministries sponsors Meals on Wheels (and Animeals) for home-bound seniors and their pets. They also help refugee families settle in our area and take on the tough topics of interfaith dialogue and cooperation. During my conversations with Kennedy he was a sponge for new ideas, and always warm and gracious, as he remains so to this day. He is always thinking of others first, and gives you space to be yourself.

“I find Kennedy to be the unique type of person who really listens when he interacts with you and wants to always make you feel relaxed and respected. He has such a universal love of folks in need, and is enthusiastic to make the world a better place for all. There is no one who can ever replace Kennedy, and he leaves his compassionate mark everywhere he goes. I have never found him to be disagreeable or negative, but always hopeful and optimistic about the future. He makes friends instantly and others are drawn to him for his warmth and caring.”

A Community Educator

Loftin has been a much-sought-after development educator and leader in the industry, with guest teaching at Rice University, the Glasscock School Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership, and the University of Houston.

He has been a judge for Mayor Sylvester Turner’s History Makers Awards program and was a presenter at the 2018 Leadership Houston Diversity Day. He was also selected to present “When Disaster Strikes: Urgent Needs for LGBTQ Communities” at the 2018 LGBT Funders Conference in New Orleans.

Loftin has also been active in numerous local LGBTQ organizations, including the Executive and Professional Association of Houston, the City of Houston Mayor’s LGBT Advisory Board, the LGBT Community Center, the Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus, and the Texas Pride Impact Funds Houston/SE Texas Regional Leadership Council. In 2001, he founded the Texas Queer Collegiate Alliance.

He has also been a board member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. He was the recipient of the 2011 Chamberlain Scholarship and Member of the Year award that same year. He is a graduate of Leadership Houston’s Class XXVII and the 2010 United Way Mentoring for Emerging Nonprofit Leaders Project, as well as recipient of the 2020 Outstanding Fundraising Executive Award by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Greater Houston Chapter. Then, in 2023, he was given the Diana Foundation’s Community Achievement Award at their 70th Annual Diana Awards presentation.

“A Splendid Torch”

Kennedy Loftin’s retirement party. Click image for more scenes from the party. (Photography by Dalton DeHart)

Avery Belyeu, the current CEO of the Center, pays tribute to Loftin: “For many years, Kennedy served as the face of the Montrose Center, and through his tireless efforts, he elevated the Center’s profile, increased our funding year after year, and helped ensure the success of our first major capital project in two decades—the building of the Law Harrington Senior Living Center. He will forever be a part of our legacy and we are humbled by the tremendous time, knowledge, and love he has given to the Center.”

“Kennedy is not only the reason many people, me included, became involved with The Montrose Center, but also why we stayed involved. His passion, knowledge of the community and its needs, and vision as to what could be accomplished have always been inspiring.” —Ed Holmstrom, Montrose Center donor

Ed Holmstrom, who is in the major donors group for the Center, often worked closely with Loftin, and says: “Kennedy is not only the reason many people, me included, became involved with the Montrose Center, but also why we stayed involved. His passion, knowledge of the community and its needs, and vision as to what could be accomplished have always been inspiring. I personally have learned so much from Kennedy, and his legacy at the Center is going to live on for decades to come.”

Tina Burgos, a board member at the Center, reports that “Kennedy and I have collaborated over the years to build up the development of the board and its committees. He is always so easily accessible. He gives the best tours of the Center and the Law Harrington facility. Kennedy is an ‘old soul,’ a powerhouse, and a great narrator of the Center’s past and present. In retirement, I hope I will get the chance to dance with him at Numbers disco and to ride a roller coaster together.”

Gustavsson and Caliva have worked with Loftin for years on fundraising events. Gustavsson believes that a quote from George Bernard Shaw’s play Man and Superman has been more fully embodied by Loftin than anyone he has ever met:

“This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have gotten hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

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Brandon Wolf

Brandon Wolf is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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