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Five Leaders Honored for Perseverance in Downturn

By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 5, 2009

Demand for food nearly tripled this year at Martha's Table, which provides meals, clothing and a variety of support services to low-income families in Washington, even as funding cuts forced the nonprofit organization to slash its budget.

The group's president and chief executive, Lindsey Buss, had multiple contingency plans as the economy worsened. "Uncertainty," he said, "is the hardest thing right now."

Buss is one of five winners of the Meyer Foundation Exponent Awards, which honor exceptional local nonprofit leaders with a two-year $100,000 leadership development grant.

Julie Rogers, president of the District-based Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation that presents the honors, said the awards are meant to encourage leaders to remain in demanding jobs that pay little. "Managing in this kind of climate is particularly stressful, as they go through layoffs and reductions, constantly worried about cash flow," Rogers said.

The foundation, which was started by former Washington Post publisher Eugene Meyer, is not affiliated with the company.

Other winners include:

-- Kelly Sweeney McShane, executive director of Community of Hope, which provides housing, medical care and other services. In her eight-year tenure, she has doubled the number of people the organization can help, made changes that ensured that the clinics could get a steady infusion of federal dollars -- and last week learned that they would receive dramatically less from the District than expected.

-- David Andrew Snider, who found new funding sources when he took over as chief executive and producing artistic director of D.C.-based Young Playwrights' Theater. The theater annually teaches 850 low-income youths to write and produce plays. One musical sold out for three weeks at the Kennedy Center and is scheduled for a national tour this year.

-- Community Bridges Executive Director Ana Lopez, who built partnerships with local schools and nonprofits and nearly doubled its budget in three years. The group, which works with girls from immigrant families in Silver Spring and Takoma Park, emphasizes leadership.

-- Jonathan M. Smith, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, who has expanded legal services as he watched gifts from lawyers and law firms drop 15 to 20 percent in the past year even as the caseload spiked.

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