Rita L. Soronen
President & CEO
For more than 30 years, Rita Soronen has worked on behalf of abused, neglected and vulnerable children, providing leadership for local, state and national efforts, working to improve the juvenile justice and child welfare systems while striving to assure safe and permanent homes for North America’s children.
Leading the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, a national nonprofit public charity, since 2001 and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption-Canada since 2003, Ms. Soronen works to find permanent families for the more than 140,000 waiting children in North America’s foster care systems. Under her leadership, the Foundation has significantly increased its grant-making while developing strategic initiatives that act on the urgency of the issue. In 2023, the Foundation dedicated more than $32.8 million to grants and award-winning programs, such as Wendy’s Wonderful Kids®, Adoption-Friendly Workplace and National Adoption Day. Additionally, through public service announcements, social media campaigns, articles, events, sponsorships and more, the Foundation is building awareness around the growing need for foster care adoption.
Under Ms. Soronen’s leadership, the Foundation created Wendy’s Wonderful Kids in 2004 with seven pilot sites as a platform to engage more partners to transform failing child welfare practices and, most importantly, to aggressively find the right families for children waiting much too long to be adopted. In 2011, a rigorous, five-year national evaluation by Washington, D.C.-based Child Trends revealed that a child referred to the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program is up to three times more likely to be adopted. In 2017, with the support of the Blue Meridian Partners, the Foundation launched an aggressive, multi-year business plan to take Wendy’s Wonderful Kids to scale in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. With support from the Foundation’s partners and generous donors, more than 500 Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiters have helped to find forever families for more than 13,000 children in foster care and counting across the U.S. and Canada.
Prior to joining the Foundation, Ms. Soronen served as the executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Franklin County. During that time, she also served as the president of the Board of Trustees of the Ohio CASA/GAL Association and led the passage of specialty license plate legislation benefiting CASA programs throughout Ohio, as well as the design and implementation of model program standards assuring the consistent application of effective advocacy for children involved in court proceedings at the local and state levels.
Ms. Soronen is a nationally recognized child welfare advocate. She has testified before the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth on the importance of foster care adoption. A requested national speaker on the topics of children, the child welfare system and social innovation, Ms. Soronen has been a featured presenter at events for the Center for Adoption Support and Education, Children Need Amazing Parents, National Association of County Commissioners, the National Council for Adoption, North American Council on Adoptable Children, the Philanthropy Roundtable and at While House adoption events, among others. Ms. Soronen serves as a member of Barco’s Nightingales Foundation’s advisory board. She is also a founding board member and past vice president of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute as well as a current member of the advisory board. In addition, she served on the National Court Appointed Special Advocate/Guardian ad Litem (CASA/GAL) Association for Children’s board of trustees.
Ms. Soronen is a recipient of the Angels in Adoption Award from the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, the National CASA Association Kappa Alpha Theta Program Director of the Year Award, the Ohio CASA/GAL Association Statewide Leadership Award and was a 2013 recipient of WSNY’s 20 Outstanding Women You Should Know. She is a fellow of the Jefferson Fellowship for Executive Leadership; was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Community Leadership from Franklin University in 2016; was named a YWCA Woman of Achievement in 2017; was named a National Number One by the Columbus Foundation in 2018; and was honored with Smart Business Network’s 2019 Smart 50 Program Award for Impact, Giving Back to the Community.
A graduate of the University of Louisville, Ms. Soronen resides in Columbus, Ohio.