Leaders Who Push for Change And Reach Out Are Applauded

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 6, 2008

F ive directors of area nonprofit groups are being honored today as winners of the 2008 Exponent Awards, one of the Washington region's most prestigious prizes for nonprofits that honors visionary community leadership.

The awards, presented by the District-based Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, are designed to help nurture talented leaders and raise the visibility of some of the best managed grass-roots nonprofit organizations. The awards program, now in its third year, is the centerpiece of the foundation's local initiative to combat a growing leadership crisis that has many nonprofit groups struggling to recruit and retain talented staff.

Julie L. Rogers, president of the Meyer Foundation, said the awards program spotlights the "best and brightest as a way of saying these people matter in our community."

"We meet these people every day. They are fabulous," Rogers said. But, she added, "they're on the skinny branches, because the fundraising pressures are such that they are for the most part raising every dollar every year."

The foundation, which was started by former Washington Post publisher Eugene Meyer but is not affiliated with the company, will give each winner a $100,000 cash prize, with loose rules governing how that money should be spent. Winners said they are considering using the money to expand career development for their staff, hire additional staff or invest in upgraded technology.

Here are profiles of the five winners:

Mary Brown

Executive director, Life Pieces to Masterpieces

w hen Brown, 45, sees young men running through alleys in Anacostia or playing with needles in a park, she sees opportunity.

"You think, 'Oh, there's another one,' " Brown said of the children in that neighborhood who are often considered lost. "But those are my boys. Those are the ones that we want."

Brown co-founded Life Pieces to Masterpieces 13 years ago. It is an apprentice organization that mentors troubled boys and young men in the District, many of whom are not in school and are growing up without fathers in families plagued by poverty and substance abuse. At a facility in Ward 7, Brown and her staff teach the apprentices how to express themselves through sketching and painting and how to sell their artwork.

"We tell them, 'You're Renaissance men,' " Brown said. "They're gentlemen, scholars, artists, athletes."

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