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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."

Over the past three years, Brown said, all of the boys graduated from high school and most have gone on to college, some with prestigious scholarships.

"Isn't that pretty amazing?" Brown asked. "These are boys that society might ordinarily just write off."

Julie Chapman

President , NPower Greater DC

O n her application to Columbia Business School, Chapman, 54, wrote that she wanted to bring her corporate skills to the nonprofit world. But upon graduation, Chapman set off for a string of lucrative jobs on staff or as a consultant at such blue-chip technology companies as MCI, AOL and Verizon.

Then, after the dot-com bubble burst, she had a mid-career change of heart. "I was interested in trying to see how technology could do something that would make the world a better place," Chapman said.

So she became executive director of NPower Greater DC, which distributes software and computer equipment and provides technology support at a discounted cost to local charities. Many nonprofit organizations run on shoestring budgets, so high-quality, low-cost technology support is crucial to their operations, Chapman said.

"We really make it possible for nonprofits to work smarter, serve more people and have greater impact," Chapman said. "We take care of the technologies so they can feed homeless people, provide health care to people without insurance, teach kids to read or even keep the Potomac River clean."

Anne Corbett

Executive director, Cultural Development Corp.

C orbett, 38, cuts an unusual figure in the local arts scene.

"I have no artistic training whatsoever," she said. "Put me in a room with a bunch of curators and I really don't know what I'm talking about."

But that's exactly the point, said Corbett, an urban planner who helped create the Cultural Development Corp. Her role is to be a deal broker and matchmaker for arts development projects in the District.

Founded 10 years ago this week amid a downtown development boom, Corbett's group has helped build affordable housing for artists and steer the renovations of numerous performing arts spaces, including the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street NE and the Tivoli Theatre in Columbia Heights.

More recently, Corbett led the campaign to save the Source Theatre Co. on 14th Street NW from being sold and redeveloped into a restaurant and instead renovate it to the tune of $3.5 million.

"We make space for art," Corbett said. "We do that physically, in developing venues and facilities, but we also do that ethereally in that we're trying to create that nurturing environment."

Steve Galen

President and chief executive,

Primary Care Coalition of Montgomery County

A fter 26 years as a hospital manager at the Bethesda-based National Institutes of Health, Galen, 63, knew something that not everyone did: Montgomery County, one of the nation's most affluent suburban jurisdictions, was home to tens of thousands of families without health insurance.

"If you think about it, it actually becomes fairly obvious: [It's] the people who do the part-time jobs, the day care, driving the buses," Galen said.

So when he retired from NIH, Galen took charge of the fledgling Primary Care Coalition, which highlights the plight of approximately 80,000 uninsured Montgomery residents. In his seven years as executive director, the coalition's budget grew from $500,000 to $13 million.

Galen has helped steer millions more private and public dollars. In 2000, there were just four clinics in Montgomery serving 2,000 uninsured patients. Now, there are 10 clinics serving about 20,000 uninsured patients.

"Montgomery County is a very good community to respond to articulated needs," Galen said. "It's thrilling that 20,000 people have access to health care, and we're going to drive that up to 40,000 or more."

Veronica Nolan

Executive director, Urban Alliance

N olan, 33, happened upon a career in education as a senior at University of Virginia, when she saw a flier advertising jobs with Teach for America. Placed at Eastern High School in Northeast Washington in 1998, Nolan fell in love with the job.

"I was always the crazy teacher that changed conjugational verbs into rap music and used games to prepare for tests," Nolan said. "I would stand on my head if I thought it would make a student learn."

But during the school system's budget shortfall four years later, Nolan was let go. To stay connected to the students, whom she said she "felt in my DNA," Nolan took a job at Urban Alliance, which helps underperforming students prepare for college and careers through paid internships and mentoring opportunities.

Within a year, Nolan was named executive director. She has expanded the program from one high school to 16 schools, placing more than 500 D.C. youths each year at such institutions as the World Bank and Morgan Stanley. Almost all graduate from high school, she said, and 90 percent enroll in college.

"Students who never would've had this opportunity, most of whom live across the [Anacostia] River, work in professional settings," Nolan said.

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