2015 Nonprofit Excellence Award Finalists

Each year, MNN honors the passion and impact of organizations and leaders in the local nonprofit sector through the Nonprofit Excellence Awards.This year, we received almost 200 nominations and our committee of judges pored over each inspiring story and amazing statistic. We learned about an innovative jacket that comforts cancer patients and a local collaboration that connects young girls in public housing developments to mentors. We were wowed by the amazing leaders who have shaped the sector with their decades of experience, and a couple of 20-somethings who are making their own waves. We were touched by the tireless advocacy that reframed the conversation on college sexual assault. And we were impressed with the small nonprofit using brain over brawn to prove you don’t need to be big to make a big change.
The 2015 Excellence Award winners were announced at the State House on June 8th before a crowd of 250 nonprofit, corporate and community leaders. Read below for full descriptions of all finalist organizations and individuals.
Congratulations to the 2015 Nonprofit Excellence Award finalists and winners:

MNN-logo bullet


    Excellence in Advocacy

cfjjbillsigning002Citizens for Juvenile Justice: The only independent nonprofit working statewide to improve the juvenile justice system, Citizens for Juvenile Justice’s (CFJJ) mission is to advocate for a fair and effective juvenile justice system to promote the healthy development of children and youth. In 2013, CFJJ launched it’s Justice For Kids campaign, a multi-year effort to change the state law designating 17 as the age at which adolescents face the adult justice system. This incredibly comprehensive and effective campaign included well-documented research which was widely disseminated to many audiences, forming a broad coalition of organizations supporters. This included a total of 83 organizations as well as over 80 legislators who cosponsored the related legislation. Because of these coordinated efforts, decision makers at every level of government became supportive of moving kids under 18 to the juvenile system and as a result the laws were amended.

WINNER! Massachusetts Communities Action Network: Since its inception in 1985, MCAN has been instrumental in advocating for economic and racial justice across Massachusetts. In 2014, MCAN led efforts to raise the state-level minimum wage to $11 an hour and grant up to 5 days of sick time for all workers, the strongest state-level sick time policy in the country. In order to achieve these amazing results, MCAIMG_3346N played a pivotal role in creating and leading the Raise Up MA coalition, which brought together faith, community, and labor organizations, as well as thousands of volunteers, to advocate for the cause. Thanks to the coalition’s strong community and voter engagement efforts, MCAN activated a diverse audience to support the campaign, and helped to pass Ballot Question 4 in 2014, increasing the state minimum wage and earned sick time laws.

Victim Rights Law Center: The Victim Rights Law Center’s (VRLC) mission is to provide legal representation to victims of rape and sexual assault, and to promote a national movement committed to seeking justice for these victims. The VRLC is the first nonprofit law center in the country solely dedicated to serving the critical legal needs of sexual assault victims, and remains the only organization in Massachusetts providing free, comprehensive legal services to victims. In efforts to change the way college campuses respond to sexual assault, in 2010 VRLC submitted a White Paper and met with the Obama administration to articulate the legal obstacles encountered by campus sexual assault survivors. Since then, the organization has led the local and national dialogue on the topic, increased public awareness through earned media efforts, and helped change policies at colleges and at the federal level.

MNN-logo bullet


    Excellence in Board Governance

Actors’ Shakespeare Project: Founded in 2004, Actors’ Shakespeare Project (ASP) was created by a group of actors and teaching artists to promote accessible, resonant, text-focused, and actor-driven Shakespeare productions and programs. In 2011, the Board of Directors recognized the opportunity to increase ASP’s effectiveness, visibility, and funding, and worked closely with the organization’s staff to implement a three year strategic plan. Through systematic and consistent efforts led by the board, ASP was able to better meet its mission through: more robust, multi-year funding sources; a space for ASP’s artists and youth program participants to work; and an increased investment in staff, artists and teaching artists. Through their creative thinking and stalwart guidance and support, the ASP Board made it possible for the organization to thrive artistically, as well as from an educational and organizational standpoints.

WINNER! The Theater Offensive: By presenting the diversity of LGBT lives in art, The Theater Offensive (TTO) breaks through personal isolation, challenges the status quo, and builds thriving communities. After identifying the compelling need for more input from young participants in development of TTO youth programming,  the Board of Directors worked with youth leaders to create the Leadership and Inclusion Council—a group of youth TrueColorsImageleaders who are involved in all design and evaluation decision-making for TTO youth programming. The Board of Directors continues to work closely with young council members, incorporating their feedback into their decision making and organizational governance. TTO Board members have gone above and beyond to engage with youth leaders, introducing them to the functions of the Board, and involving them in subcommittee meetings and discussions. Through their hands-on approach and inclusive attitude, the TTO Board of Directors is successfully grooming the next generation of influential leaders in the LGBT community.

The Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum: The museum is dedicated to preserving the birthplace and raising public awareness of the 19th century pioneering feminist and suffragist Susan B. Anthony. The fourteen members of the Board of Museumphoto2Directors recognize the importance of honoring and protecting the great legacy of this American heroine and social reformer, and work tirelessly to ensure that the museum accurately embodies all that Susan B. Anthony achieved in her lifetime. The highly engaged and active Board worked together to identify a clear and compelling need and consequently started the accreditation process for the Alliance of American Museums. This incredible honor is only achieved by 6% of the museums in the US.

MNN-logo bullet

    Excellence in Collaboration

MNN.CollaborativePhotoBig Sister Association of Greater Boston: For the past four years, the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston, which provides girls with positive mentoring relationships, has collaborated with the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBS) to improve life outcomes of girls who reside in Boston’s public housing developments. Through this strong  collaboration, Big Sister has been able to leverage BHA’s relationships to improve community outreach, recruit and refer girls living in the public housing developments to mentoring programs, and facilitate communication with their families. And by partnering with BCBS, Big Sister has been able to participate in the company’s annual community service day, during which they plan and execute renovation projects to improve the housing developments where the girls they serve live. So far, 110 girls living in the public housing developments have been served by this collaboration, and expansion plans are underway.

Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation: The Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation (BCSF) applies a team mentality and relies on key partnerships with New England-based nonprofit organizations to provide programs that directly benefit children in need. In a recent collaboration, the foundation worked with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston to decrease drowning among inner city youth by teaching the young members how to swim. Through coordinated efforts, the collaboration effectively utilized what each partner had to offer, including engaging Boston Celtics player Brandon Bass who took swim lessons with the children and encouraged them to succeed. The collaboration received international recognition and was covered widely in local media. But most importantly, because the groups worked together, 874 youth at Boys & Girls Clubs across the city learned how to swim and the program is now at work in Lawrence.

Mystic Valley Elder Services: Founded in 1975, each year Mystic Valley Elder Services (MVES) assists more than 15,000 individuals across eight communities. Through it’s Senior Nutrition Outreach Program, the organization collaborates with community food pantries to provide free groceries to older adults and adults living with disabilities who have limited mobility or access to transportation. MVES identified Bread of Life as an ideal partner for their work, identifying closely with the organization’s commitment to bring food to those in need, and recognizing the ability to leverage their existing relationship with the Greater Boston Food Bank. MVES and Bread of Life work together to determine the most efficient way to select and order appropriate foods from the greater Boston Food Bank; deliver the food to the sites; set up the on-site food pantries; and supervise the delivery and distribution of the food items each month. Through their partnership, more than 775 low-income older adults are able to access 2.5 bags of free food each month, helping them to eat more nutritiously and take better care of their health.

WINNER! One City, One Library: A dynamic government-private partnership focused on improving literacy skills citywide, One City, imageOne Library (OCOL) breaks down barriers across city departments by focusing on a common goal: providing access to literacy resources for young residents in Worcester where 72% of students live in poverty and 62% of children fail to read at grade-level. Founded in 2013, OCOL is a collaboration among the Worcester Public Schools, the Worcester Public Library, the City of Worcester, and the Worcester Education Collaborative. This collaborative model encouraged the group of diverse entities to address a variety of areas for improvements including the reconfiguration of the city’s transportation routes, literacy-focused summer program offerings, and altering Family Health Center services in low-income communities to coincide with library hours at nearby OCOL branches.

PrintUnited Way of Massachusetts Bay & Merrimack Valley: In 2010, the United Way of Massachusetts Bay & Merrimack Valley identified a clear and compelling need in the local community: they decided to tackle the learning loss that low-income children experience at a much higher rate than their middle-class peers during summer vacation. The Summer Learning Collaborative, a partnership between the United Way and Building the Out-of-School Time Network, focuses on integrating fun, engaging literacy-based activities into existing community-based summer programs. Through the effective definition of roles, and by leveraging the expertise of each partner, United Way and BOSTnet, along with the 22 program sites, have created a unique model that builds capacity and enhances existing summer programs that already enroll large numbers of low income students. In the summer of 2014, the Summer Learning Collaborative reached more than 2,500 children in Greater Boston, Greater Lynn, Lawrence, and Lowell.

MNN-logo bullet    Excellence in Communications

Fenway Health: Founded in 1971, the mission of Fenway Health is to enhance the well being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities through access to high quality health care, research, education, and advocacy. After identifying areas that needed improvement within the organization’s website, Fenway Health developed and executed a comprehensive fenway_team_mdcommunications plan to better position the organization’s online presence as Boston’s largest organization with a specific mission to serve the LGBT community and reflect the vibrancy and vitality of the communities they serve.  Fenway’s in-house redesign team followed a rigorous process to understand their digital needs, which were then translated into features built into the new and improved website that went live in January 2015. Since the updated website is a fully responsive site that balances patient and organizational information, educational resources, advocacy tools, and marketing support, Fenway’s marketing and communications team now has the bandwidth to create and execute a robust content and social media strategy to further bring the organization’s mission and brand promise to life.

kathyandCharlieWINNER! Lovelane Special Needs Horseback Riding Program: Lovelane’s mission is to provide high-quality therapeutic horseback riding to achieve occupational, physical, speech, cognitive and other therapeutic gains, focusing on children with special needs. In order to prevent donor fatigue for their two annual events, Lovelane implemented a new communications strategy to deliver its mission to the next circle of potential supporters, known as the “friend-of-our-friend” circle. Through the use of mail, e-news, earned and social media, the organization targeted new-to-Lovelane audiences to significantly increase attendance numbers at events and exceed fundraising goals. The communication strategy included clear, compelling and creative messaging aimed at different audiences. The innovative approach proved effective, as 54% of the attendees at the most recent Hoedown had no prior relationship to Lovelane yet contributed $102,635 in donations.

Urban Edge Housing Corporation: Established in 1974, the mission of the Urban Edge Housing Corporation is to develop UrbanEdgePhotoand sustain healthy and diverse communities in Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and surrounding neighborhoods. In order to better communicate available resources to their constituents, Urban Edge built a robust 5 year communications strategy. The plan included the hiring of a Communications Manager, implementation of social media tools, and an upgraded website as well as a revamping of their materials. Just one of the positive outcomes was that the organization’s newly created Facebook page proved to be a great success, attaining an organic reach of over 25,000 potential first-time homebuyers.

MNN-logo bullet


    Excellence in Innovation

Jacki-Inside-Pockets-BlackWINNER! A Little Easier Recovery: A Little Easier Recovery’s mission is to empower breast cancer patients to regain their dignity and control, and lead a better quality of life during their cancer treatment. Through the Jacki Program, A Little Easier Recovery takes an innovative approach to meet the crucial needs of patients that undergo these treatments by teaching them how to best manage the pain and discomfort of post-surgical drains. The Program’s patented “by a patient for a patient” design, use of a dedicated oncology network for one-on-one care planning with patients, and ability to recycle gently used Jacki’s (recovery jackets) through the Pay-it Forward Program, demonstrate the true innovative nature of the nonprofit sector in its ability to address an unmet need in our community.

Fitchburg Art Museum: The Fitchburg Art Museum serves as a vital engine for creativity, education, and community building in Central New England. Recognizing the need to adapt to Fitchburg’s changing economy and demographics, the FAMentrancemuseum developed a strategic plan to increase outreach, collaboration, and partnerships. Through the innovative “community-as-client” approach, all museum programs are imagined, prioritized, and evaluated by their ability to serve the community in ways large and small. In addition, the museum has instituted the Community Gallery, which hosts 10-12 exhibitions/annum organized by local schools, community groups, and artist organizations. The Museum has also instituted a number of changes to engage the Latino population, which makes up 40% of the total population in Fitchburg. Within two years of adopting the community-as-client philosophy, museum attendance rose 50%, particularly among students and Latino visitors from its immediate neighborhood.

ash_foodLovin’ Spoonfuls: Since 2010, Lovin’ Spoonfuls has been a leading innovator in the food rescue movement. While 40% of all food produced in the U.S. goes to waste each year, in Boston, a staggering one in five people are food insecure. Lovin’ Spoonfuls connects community resources and links grocery stores, produce wholesalers, and farms to local meal programs and social service entities serving those in need. Their direct-distribution model provides a local, sustainable, scalable solution that bridges the inevitable overflow of food production, and the ever-growing need for fresh, healthy food in our communities.

Sociedad Latina: Recognizing that Boston’s latino populations are disproportionately affected by chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, Sociedad Latina knew they needed an innovative approach to break through the linguistic, cultural, and structural barriers preventing latino residents from receiving effective healthcare. To address these issues, Sociedad Latina implemented an evidence-based Promotoras de Salud (Health Worker) model to reach Boston’s Latino community where SociedadLatina-PromotorasdeSaludthey live, work, worship, and play. Through this model, Sociedad Latina has been able to implement a variety of activities into the community including bilingual nutrition workshops, grocery tours, cooking classes and fitness activities for 1,200 low-income Latino parents and families. Further outreach has been conducted through events, social media, as well as individual case management with parents/guardians to provide ongoing support in adopting healthy lifestyle changes.

uAspire: uAspire is a national nonprofit with a mission to ensure that all young people have the financial information and resources necessary to find an affordable path to- and through- postsecondary education. After recognizing that many high school graduates, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, encounter a range of obstacles during the summer after graduation that can lead them to change or even abandon their college plans, uAspire developed an innovative solution to address this phenomenon, know as “summer melt.” uAspire partnered with Harvard researchers to design, implement, and test three different interventions aimed at reducing summer melt: proactive professional advisor outreach, peer mentoring, and a texting model in which text messages are sent to students with personalized information and reminders related to tasks they must complete prior to college enrollment. After testing, it was found that text message support increased fall college enrollment by 7.1%, compared with 4.5% via peer mentoring. uAspire’s success with text messaging as a cost-effective way to assist students on a large scale has generated interest and excitement in national media and among funders.

MNN-logo bullet

    Excellence in Leadership

BarryDym photoBarry Dym: Eight years ago, Barry Dym leveraged his background in teaching and created the Institute for Nonprofit Management and Leadership (INML) in response to several community-wide needs, including the need for better skills among nonprofit leaders and the detrimental lack of diversity among top leadership. INML aims to transform communities by equipping the most promising nonprofit leaders with the skills, confidence and resources they need to make their organizations, innovative and sustainable. Much of what Barry has been able to accomplish with INML is credited to his long-cultivated relationships as well as his teaching style. Over the past 8 years, INML has graduated 600 nonprofit leaders from 270 difference organizations; strengthening the nonprofit sector in the Commonwealth.

PauloheadshotGala2013Paulo Pinto: As Executive Director of the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers (MAPS), Paulo is responsible for overseeing the agency’s finances, operations, and health and social services, ensuring that their mission of improving the lives of Portuguese-speaking individuals and families across Massachusetts is met. Under his leadership, the the agency has expanded many of its programs, most notably the HIV/AIDS/STI Prevention, Screening and Referral Services, Elder Services, and Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Services. Paulo’s passionate leadership has allowed the agency to help thousands of individuals and families each year, empowering and strengthening Portuguese-speaking communities across the Commonwealth.

WINNER! Jean Ford Webb: In 2012, Jean, the founding Executive Director of Mother Brooks Arts and Community Center, wrote a proposal to the Town of Dedham for the re-use of a decommissioned elementary school. Jean’s letter led the transformation of jean2a 39,000 square foot abandoned building into an engine of neighborhood revitalization and a thriving center for the arts and education. Recognizing the many challenges a startup organization faces, Jean assembled a group of neighborhood activists tasked with tackling the organizational needs and goals necessary to successfully implement the new arts center into the community. Her dedication to seeing the center flourish is unwavering, and as the only person on staff she takes on a breadth of responsibilities, such as key fundraiser and grant writer, as well as building superintendent. Her vision and commitment to building a strong and lasting foundation, combined with her charismatic, compelling, selfless and welcomingleadership personify the center.

Jessica Brayden: As Executive Director for the past six years, Jessica is committed to raising RESPOND’s visibREACHility and reach within the community, enabling the organization to fulfill its important mission of supporting victims of domestic violence. During her tenure, she has formed valuable partnerships with local businesses, donors, and police, and become a strong leader in Somerville. Jessica’s impact is felt in every facet of the organization, including her personal support of survivors, development of cutting edge programs, fundraising and the hiring of talented and compassionate staff. Because of her advocacy and passion, RESPOND now has an inclusive shelter that allows men- a unique concept for this type of organization.

WINNER! Catherine D’Amato: As president and CEO of the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), Catherine focuses her time and OfficialPortraitattention on raising over $29 million in annual private and public support that allows GBFB to deliver much-needed relief to individuals and families fighting hunger. Now approaching her 20-year anniversary at GBFB, her primary goal is to ensure the organization accomplishes its main strategic objective: Providing One Meal A Day to every person in need in easter MA. In the last 20 years, Catherine has taken the organization from distributing 8 million pounds of food in 1995 to an annual distribution of 51 million pounds today. Further, her tireless efforts have raised the overall visibility of GBFB, attracted more food, financial and other strategic partners, and helped to attract strong talent.

MNN-logo bullet


    Excellence by a Small Nonprofit

PhotoCollageEasthampton Community Center: Despite having only one paid employee and an operating budget of $150,000, Easthampton Community Center has made an incredible impact on the community, distributing 626,000 pounds of food through its Food Pantry Programs in 2014, and offering a wide range of programs including a Clothing Closet, Community Care Kitchen, Alcoholic Anonymous groups, weight loss and exercise classes, and much more. Supporting the Center are numerous dedicated volunteers, without whom the Center would not be able to achieve the great impact it has on the Easthampton community.

Extras for Creative Reuse: Since 1981, Extras for Creative Reuse has provided more than 600 educators and 50 ILOVEEXTRASorganizations with reusable, recycled, and surplus materials to reach 150,000 students with creative learning. The organization recently reevaluated its operations, recruited new board members and volunteers, and improved their database. Extras for Creative Reuse has grown substantially in recent years and built its capacity to increase revenue, memberships and attendance, and triple the amount of materials sent to its members. With a budget of less than $100,000, their impact is worth $1.5 million in savings to their members each year, plus the 250,000 pounds of materials no longer dumped in landfills each year.

Provincetown Arts Press: Founded in 1985, Provincetown Arts exists to promote, sustain, enhance, and preserve creativity in the nation’s oldest art colony, located at the tip of Cape Cod.  With a full-time staff of four, a board of directors, and a board of advisors, the nationally distributed publication works tirelessly to publish reviews, essays, fiction, interviews, journals, performance pieces, poetry, and more, drawing upon a century-long tradition rich in art, theater, and writing. With a circulation of 6,000, Provincetown Arts strategically works with various other organizations to expand their reach and leverage resources.

WINNER! Southeast Asian Coalition of Central Massachusetts: SEAC’s mission is to assist new Southeast Asian immigrants, refugees and long-term residents in Central Massachusetts, so that they can become strong contributors to the greater community while maintaining their unique cultural identity. The organization’s approach serves the clients ESLclassSept2014withElena“whole-person development” to make sure more than just their basic needs are met. The organization is constantly developing its staff and volunteers so that are equipped to serve more people. Despite its small budget and only two full time staff, for more than 15 years SEAC has consistently met the high demand for culturally-sensitive service among the Asian community and provides assistance to almost 8,000 individuals and families each year.

MNN-logo bullet


     Excellence by a Young Nonprofit Professional

RobbieBergquistwithsoldiersatFortLewisMcChordWINNER! Robbie Bergquist: In 2004, Robbie co-founded Cell Phones for Soldiers, which provides free communication services and emergency funding to troops and veterans, with his sister Brittany at the ages of 12 and 13. Now 23, he serves as director for the national nonprofit, handling the day-to-day operations of the charity and serving as a spokesperson promoting its mission nationally and internationally. Through his leadership and tireless efforts, over the past 10 years Cell Phones for Soldiers has been able to provide more than 213 million minutes of talk time for military members to connect with loved ones, fulfilling approximately 3,000 calling card requests each week.

Vanessa1Vanessa Aguirreche Snow: Vanessa has been involved with the Hyde Square Task Force since she was a youth leader at the age of 14. Today, at 28, she serves as Manager of Organizing and Policy Initiatives, a position that allows her to merge her passion for art and social activism. Vanessa has made it her mission to support her local community and her efforts have made a clear impact: she led the fight to have the Blessed Sacrament Church bought by a community-based nonprofit, rather than a luxury condo development firm; created the Youth Arts Advocacy initiative, which brings together 15 youth arts groups in Greater Boston; and supported efforts to have the Latin Quarter recognized by the City of Boston as “Avenida de las Americas.”

Scott Bailey: As Managing Director of MassChallenge Boston, Scott, 27, manages 12 employees and oversees all operations, partnerships, and impact across the New England area to ensure the organization is meeting its mission of supporting high-growth, high-impact startups.  Scott began as an intern at MassChallenge and has held various roles within the organization over four years. Skilled at identifying and creating high-value connections across many partners and stakeholders, he is credited with fundamentally changing the organization and making a dramatic impact on the company’s effectiveness and long-term success.

Sara Bartolino: Since co-founding Transforming Education, in 2009, Sara, 27, has served as the organization’s Executive LinkedInPhoto_hiresDirector. Leading one of the first organizations to do development and measurement around socio-emotional learning and cognitive development, Sara is responsible for securing organizational partners; hiring of staff; resource development and fundraising; and meetings with elected officials. She works relentlessly to support educators and education systems, and to equip students with the mindset, essential skills, and habits to succeed in college, a career, and life. Transforming Education works with 1 million+ children through school districts and 5,000 students in Boston through the organization’s research collaborative.