Part 3: Celebrating the life of Lolly Colombo, BDI’s Chief Client Officer

Watch our video tribute and read more about Lolly’s impact at BDI

“Divine intervention has brought many of us to BDI,” says Phil Stolberg, BDI’s Chief Operating Officer.

At times it certainly does seem that something bigger than ourselves is behind our incredible team of talented, smart, compassionate individuals. In fact, many would say divine calling is what drew Lolly Colombo, our beloved Chief Client Officer, to join the BDI team. 

The sudden passing of our dear friend and colleague has left a wound felt deeply across our agency and industry… yet, we are committed to carrying her legacy of kindness, courage and compassion at BDI and beyond. 

Watch the video our BDI team has created to honor Lolly and celebrate her life… and join us in remembering what a fearless, faithful and fiercely compassionate woman she was.

Read on for more about Lolly’s inspiring life in Part 3 of our tribute series… and find out how divine intervention led her to BDI!

As a young twenty-something, Lolly wanted nothing more than to make a difference in the world. In 1984, she agreed to go on the mission field with Food for the Hungry. Part of her training was to spend three nights on the streets of downtown Phoenix… dropped off in the middle of the city without any valuables or idea of where to sleep safely or find food.

“I was soon following an elderly man with a patch over one eye who led me to a very crowded emergency shelter,” Lolly once shared with our BDI team. That shelter turned out to be the Phoenix Rescue Mission.

Lolly Colombo, BDI Chief Client Officer - Picture of Lolly in High School

The ladies’ shelter was a large room with about 40 cots. There was a young woman with scars across her neck and arms who had glared threateningly at me across the room. I decided I needed to act just as tough to survive the night. 

Eventually that menacing girl from earlier slowly moved closer until she was sitting on my cot, looking over my shoulder. Her name was Linda. She was a runaway from Wisconsin, caught up in drugs and gangs, living on the streets since her youth. 

On the streets the next morning, my new friend Linda and I walked for miles and ate nothing all day. I convinced her to go with me to church – hopeful she would hear from God. I was conscious I hadn’t showered in days… I had never been to church like this.

My mission would soon be over. I knew I somehow had to tell Linda I was not who I seemed to be. She took the news in stride, and I scratched my name and phone number on a square of toilet paper. I hugged her, told her to go home, shed tears as my ride picked me up off the streets… 

Five years later, my phone rang. I knew instantly when she said, “It’s Linda.” She was calling to tell me that she’d found God and got her life on track. She wanted me to know… A homeless shelter had been the venue of a miracle.

We pick back up our story to trace the signs of divine intervention that ultimately led Lolly to BDI. Like many BDI stories, Lolly’s was interwoven with that of another staff member: BDI’s Chief Operating Officer, Phil Stolberg. 

“When I came to BDI, I called Lolly every six months to try to convince her to meet with our founder, Randy Brewer,” Phil remembers. After much convincing, finally Lolly agreed.

“The day she was scheduled to meet Randy, she called me crying. She had pulled over on her drive up the 210 freeway. She’d just received another call telling her she’d been laid off.”

A door had closed to Lolly at one agency… just as the doors of BDI swung open wide.

There was no formal interview… there wasn’t even a job description. “I didn’t even talk to Lolly about salary,” Phil remembers.

“It was most important to Lolly that she was going where God wanted her, to do work that mattered.”

– Phil Stolberg, BDI Chief Operating Officer

Coming on board in 2015 as BDI’s VP/Client Service Lead, Lolly inherited a small yet mighty team of five people, who together served a roster of 15-20 nonprofit clients. Under her leadership, BDI expanded our service to 56 client partners at the end of 2023.

Serving a network of Rescue Missions, Lolly’s career at BDI brought her full circle to her early experience staying overnight at the Phoenix Rescue Mission’s shelter for women. Not only did she serve with a deep level of empathy and understanding… but also with a sense of urgency and a passion to save lives.

Most notably, one of Lolly’s greatest achievements during her career at BDI was serving as a trusted advisor throughout Wheeler Mission’s awareness campaign, which received two 2020 ANA Echo Awards. Through this campaign, Wheeler Mission set a goal to raise $1.25 million in 125 days to fund the expansion of their Center for Women & Children – which they far exceeded, raising $2.3 million in 125 days… and $11.7 million in 12 months!

In January 2023, Lolly was announced as BDI’s Chief Client Officer, becoming a key voice and decision maker – and the first woman – on BDI’s Executive Leadership team. Although she served in this new position for less than a year, Lolly’s leadership helped develop BDI’s unique value proposition and operational plans for growth, which will continue to guide our agency for years to come. 

No tribute to Lolly would be complete without sharing a few of the special messages of love and support BDI received upon announcing the news of her passing. Here are just a few that touched our hearts…

“Lolly’s impact is deeply ingrained in every area of BDI and is forever imprinted on me.  Her light, her positivity, her hope, her maturity and wisdom, her deep faith and her authentic love for people transcended every challenge we’ve faced as an agency. Her sacrificial commitment to clients and colleagues, and to her friends and family cannot be underestimated and will never be forgotten.”
– Michael J. Tomlinson (“MT”), CEO and President, BDI

“She had the joy of the Lord each time I interacted with her. People were drawn to her and wanted to work with her.”
– Bram Begonia, President/CEO, Bay Area Rescue Mission

“Lolly’s spirit was bright and eternally optimistic. I will miss working with her. She’s got a front row seat to God’s glory in heaven.”
– Karen Moyer, Director of Marketing, San Diego Rescue Mission

“Lolly had a warm, loving, winsome heart, strong faith and beautifully developed talent. I am saddened not to see her again in this world but look forward to the Day!” 
– Robert Gehman, President Emeritus, Helping Up Mission

Lolly Colombo, Former BDI Chief Client Officer, visiting a client-partner

Click here to read more kind words about Lolly >>

Thank you for celebrating our beloved Lolly’s life with us over the course of this tribute series. It is through the lives of compassionate individuals like you that her bright light and legacy can continue to live on!

“In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord determines their steps.”

– Proverbs 16:9

Click here to read more about Lolly’s inspiring life and legacy >>

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