1. Lyndia Downie, president, Pine Street Inn While waiting to get into law school one summer, Lyndia Downie happened across a magazine article about Pine Street Inn founder Paul Sullivan. Intrigued, she later applied for temporary work at the homeless shelter.
“After a year, I said, ‘Oh my God, I’m smitten with this place,’’’ said Downie, 52, who now has spent nearly 30 years at Pine Street.
Downie said she immediately began noting things she wanted to change. The biggest: Pine Street’s chronically homeless guests used the most resources, but weren’t really getting the help they needed to leave the inn.
“Shelter had become, for a lot of people, home,’’ said Downie, who became president of Pine Street in 2000.
Downie and her staff began reducing the number of emergency beds in favor of providing the shelter’s most vulnerable clients with long-term housing and support. Today, about half of Pine Street’s beds are in permanent housing. That initiative has helped contribute to a roughly 30 percent drop in Boston’s homeless population in the last five years.
Downie said Pine Street’s guests are her inspiration. “They still put one foot in front of the other, and they hope that life is going to be better,’’ Downie said. “The opportunity to walk with them side-by-side — I think that has kept me here.’’
– Erin Ailworth
2. Michael Brown, chief executive, City Year The Boston phenomenon City Year has been transformed into a national education sensation since it was founded in 1988 as a program for young people seeking to serve their communities for a year.
Now, the nonprofit's founder, Michael Brown, is using City Year to tackle high dropout rates. One million kids drop out of school every year in the US, he said, and there can be warning signs: Numerous absences, unruly behavior, and failing English and math are the best indicators that a student is in danger of leaving.
So Brown, 50, instituted a program to provide City Year volunteers in schools as tutors, mentors, and role models for potential dropouts. The volunteers remind students to come to class; watch their academic progress; and even greet them at school entrances in the morning to provide support they might not receive elsewhere.
"At nine o'clock in the morning, every mentor in every City Year school gets a list of every kid who is absent and calls them to say, 'If you are not sick, you need to come in,' " said Brown.
It's a sign of how the nonprofit world holds keys to saving American education, he said, at a time when it's becoming clear that problems outside the classroom present some of the greatest impediments to learning.
– John Dyer
3. Bill Walczak, president, Carney Hospital Before joining Carney Hospital in February, Bill Walczak was chief executive of the Codman Square Health Center, which he co—founded in 1979 in Dorchester — after he returned from helping to organize a nationwide lettuce boycott in protest of working conditions on farms. The health center now serves 20,000 patients a year, proving quality medicine can be delivered sustainably in one of Boston's most deprived communities.
Key to the Codman Center's success is its engagement with its neighbors, said director of operations Vanessa Meisner. The center has become a place for children to learn about nutrition and exercise, for example, not just an office to see a doctor.
While he was at Codman, Walczak, 56, continuously pushed the idea that the nonprofit center needed to engage the community rather than view itself solely as a business. "Why would people look to corporations to solve all their problems? Look at these community members who can help each other. It's just the way he talks and the way he thinks," said Meisner.
Walczak's legacy at Codman includes a grand new facility. Last year, the federal government awarded the center an $8 million grant, most of the $14 million needed to build the Codman Square Health and Education Center, a new wing for the organization's Washington Street building.
– John Dyer