When the infamous Columbine shooting occurred, Joe Franco Jr., vice president of grassroots for LeadingAge, was attending high school just 10 minutes away. The massacre not only affected Franco on a personal level — he knew the victims — it also shaped the course of his professional life.

“I felt like I had to be part of the solution after Columbine,” explains Franco, who, at 16, successfully ran the campaign of the mayor of Lakewood, CO, and did the same at 17 for a state representative. He says he’s had the political bug ever since.

The congenial Franco grew up on a horse farm and was named “One of 20 Teens Who Will Change the World” by Teen People Magazine in 2001. 

Prior to joining LeadingAge, he honed his skills in grassroots lobbying for various groups, including the Alzheimer’s Association and American Diabetes Association. As a grassroots lobbyist, he works to help constituents tell their stories, which he calls “the secret sauce” in loosening tight political logjams in Congress.

Among his accomplishments in the two years he has been with LeadingAge is the launch of Advocacy Champions, which offers simple tools and ideas to help members advocate on behalf of aging services and work with local officials to make change happen.

There’s also Coffee Chats With Congress, a campaign that encourages members to set up informal conversations with lawmakers. After all, “Who can say no to coffee and cookies?” he points out.

This advocacy effort, he is pleased to note, recently resulted in Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) sponsoring a bill that would repeal current certified nursing aide training lockouts.

His success at LeadingAge has not gone unnoticed. Late last year, The Hill newspaper recognized him as a top lobbyist in the “Grassroots” division of its annual “honor roll.”

 “I think Joe takes a very complicated process and makes it very user-friendly,” observes Dana Parsons, vice president and legislative counsel at LeadingAge Virginia.

Ginny Helms, president and CEO of LeadingAge Georgia, who worked with Franco on public policy at the Alzheimer’s Association, agrees: “He has a great mind, great insight and knows how to be effective in advocacy and public policy.”

Franco, who has discovered through his day job that he loves being a teacher, firmly believes that anyone can participate in the political process. It is not a surprise that one of his heroes is President Franklin Roosevelt, who fought for everyday Americans and believed in the ideals of the United States during one of the country’s darkest times.

When he is not working the advocacy channels, Franco enjoys reading about and watching politics (his favorite book is “Amazing Grace” by Jonathan Kozol and he’s a fan of Netflix’s “The Crown”). His other passions include being a dad to infant son Daniel and traveling. He and wife Amanda took particular delight in taking baby Daniel to Costa Rica. 

At work, he’s looking forward to helping inform more advocates about the political process and how they fit into it. 

“I’m really excited because of the election and educating members about the important voice they have in the discussion and getting big issues across the finish line,” he says.

Resume: 2004, Receives B.A. in political science from the University of Colorado at Boulder; 2010, Earns master of professional studies in political management degree from George Washington University; 2010, Named associate director of advocacy for the Alzheimer’s Association; 2013, Becomes manager of grassroots for Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association; 2014, Begins as vice president of grassroots and internal advocacy for the American Diabetes Association; 2017, Joins LeadingAge as vice president of grassroots affairs; 2019, The Hill newspaper names Franco as a Top Lobbyist.