Greenlights' Nonprofit Excellence Awards nominees announced

From bringing the creative arts to low-income schools to providing basic necessities to the homeless, the nonprofit groups nominated for the Greenlights' Nonprofit Excellence Awards vary in size and mission.

However, the 12 Central Texas nonprofits and nonprofit leader nominees are similar in that they exhibit excellence and have a significant effect on the community, Greenlights' Development and Membership Manager Kate Smallwood said. Greenlights, a nonprofit that provides consulting and strategic planning to other local nonprofits, has given out annual awards to nonprofits since 2009.

"We really feel like it's our job, in addition to helping nonprofits with strategy, to call out these examples of excellence so that other nonprofits have something to look up to," Smallwood said. "It's a way for us to call attention to the extraordinary work that some of these local organizations are doing."

Greenlights received a record number 80 nominations for the nonprofit excellence awards this year, she said. A selection committee narrowed the nominees down to 12 finalists.

"We can't stress enough what great work these nonprofits are doing," Greenlights' spokeswoman Evelyn Galante said.

The nonprofit of the year nominees are divided into categories based on their annual operating budget. A separate category awards the nonprofit executive of the year.

The winners will be announced at a Nov. 12 Party for Good at Four Seasons Hotel Austin. The winners each receive a $2,000 unrestricted cash grant.

"Central Texas is strong in large part because of our robust, but often unrecognized, nonprofit sector," said Greenlights' Executive Director Matt Kouri. "Greenlights' Nonprofit Excellence Awards allow us to showcase nonprofits and individuals making a truly exceptional impact in Central Texas."

The Party for Good also serves as a fundraiser for Greenlights. Fundraisers and grants allow Greenlights to help other nonprofits for free or at an affordable cost, Smallwood said.

And the finalists are...

Nonprofit Executive of the Year

Ellen Jefferson, Austin Pets Alive!

Ellen Jefferson has been the executive director of Austin Pets Alive! since 2008. Before joining APA, which works to stop the euthanizing of pets, Jefferson founded EmanciPET, a spay/neuter clinic.

"Dr. Jefferson's sweet, introverted personality and mild manners make her an easy leader to follow, inspiring volunteers to take charge in developing these programs."

— APA staff member Kristina Jakstas

Brent Fields, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas

After working with the American Heart Association for nine years, Brent Fields joined Big Brothers Big Sisters in 2008. Fields has more than 25 years of management experience.

"Brent is a natural leader who inspires his team to do their very best. He leads by example, and while setting strategic direction and goals for his staff, allows them to do their work without micromanagement." — Kyndel W. Bennett, executive board chair of BBBS

Susan Eason, The Arc of the Capital Area

Susan Eason has been the executive director of The Arc of the Capital Area since 1991. Eason, a past chair of the Basic Needs Coalition of Central Texas and the CAN Developmental Disability Planning Body, is a parent of a daughter with disabilities. The nonprofit provides programs and services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"As a true leader of a nonprofit organization, Susan sees into the future: diversification of the funding streams, self-sustaining programs, helping clients attain skills for self-sustainability and opportunities to lead the most meaningful lives possible." — ACA staff member Rachel Mallernee

Nonprofit of the Year (Large)

Meals on Wheels and More

Meals and Wheels and More provides food and other services to people unable to leave their house or who are in need. MOWAM celebrated 41 years of service to the greater Austin area in 2013. MOWAM has nearly 7,000 volunteers and serves more than 5,000 Austin-area residents.

"A recent survey of the people we serve revealed

92 percent say that MOWAM has improved their quality of life; 77 percent say their health has improved as a result of receiving our meals; 91 percent say the social contact from our volunteers is a beneficial aspect of receiving our hot, nutritious meals." — MOWAM staff member Thad Rosenfeld

The Junior League of Austin

The Junior League of Austin, which formed in 1934, is a women's nonprofit that promotes volunteerism. JLA members serve as trained volunteers with programs such as Food in Tummies and Coats for Kids.

"This year alone, volunteers of the JLA will distribute more than 46,000 backpacks of food to hungry children. They will provide at least 32,000 children with a warm winter coat, and through partnerships with more than 25 community agencies, volunteers will support needs within Central Texas." — JLA President Kelly Breeden

Mobile Loaves & Fishes

Mobile Loaves & Fishes provides basic necessities to the homeless in Austin. The Christian nonprofit takes catering trucks out nightly to provide food, basic clothing and hygiene products to the homeless.

"MLF's volunteer program is transforming the way people view the stereotype of the homeless." — MLF staff member Elizabeth Hunt

Nonprofit of the Year (Medium)

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas provides monitored matches between adult volunteers and children ages 6–18. Volunteers this year will provide 90,000 hours of mentoring to 1,500 children.

"Over the past five years, BBBS has demonstrated a pattern of continuous distinction and outstanding quality of service, culminating in 2012, a year of across-the-board organizational excellence." — BBBS staff member Gil Levy

Creative Action (formerly Theatre Action Project)

Creative Action, previously known as Theatre Action Project, brings creative arts such as theater, film, dance, music and visual art to low-income schools. Four graduate students in the University of Texas Drama and Theatre for Youth program founded the nonprofit, which has since grown to employ more than 75 people.

"[Creative Action is] a dedicated community member, not only thinking about your own organization but thinking about the larger community." — City of Austin recommendation letter

E3 Alliance

E3 is a regional, data-driven education collaborative that aims to improve education and in turn drive economic prosperity. The nonprofit was founded in 2006 by the Austin Area Research Organization, The University of Texas at Austin and Austin Community College District.

"In the last seven years, E3 has produced ground breaking research and analysis about education outcomes and trends, engaged the community in unprecedented ways, and created aligned pathways to help thousands of students reach higher educational goals." — E3 Alliance volunteer Martha Smiley

Nonprofit of the Year (Small)

I Live Here, I Give Here

I Live Here, I Give Here aims to elevate the level of personal philanthropy and engagement throughout Central Texas. The nonprofit was the organizer of Amplify Austin, an online day of philanthropy in March that raised more than $2.8 million for more than 300 local nonprofits within 24 hours.

"For me, I Live Here I Give Here has become synonymous with the word 'impact.' Whether it's through their education programs, The Big Give or Amplify Austin, I Live Here I Give Here has moved the needle for giving in our community like no other." — Board Vice-Chair Cindy Work Abell

Ecology Action of Texas

Ecology Action of Texas offers recycling drop-off centers in Austin and three other cities. The nonprofit also provides recycling services for special events and music venues in Austin.

"EA worked with over 3,000 community service restitution volunteers, logging 15,000 hours of green-collar job training at the downtown recycling center." — EA staff member Brent Perdue

Colin's Hope

Colin's Hope promotes water safety for children, adults and lifeguards through educational outreach and special events. The nonprofit was formed after the death of Colin Holst, a 4-year-old boy who drowned in Austin.

"Each year, we choose target areas based on what the drowning incidence data shows. We know this program is creating impact and raising incredible awareness. Some of our target ZIP codes have gone from the highest number of drownings to zero after receiving our water safety information." — Colin's Hope Executive Director Alissa Magrum

Greenlights helps community by aiding local nonprofits

Although Greenlights is highlighting other nonprofits with its Nonprofit Excellence Awards, the nonproft also contributes to the community in other ways, including assisting other nonprofit organizations in achieving their individual goals.

Evelyn Galante, a spokeswoman for Greenlights, said there are multiple ways for individuals to get involved in the nonprofit community through Greenlights. Two particular avenues offered through Greenlights are the 501 Council and serving on a nonprofit board.

"[501 Council] is perfect for people who are interested in learning more about the nonprofit sector while supporting local causes," Galante said.

Galante said the 501 Council allows participants to gain experience in the grant-review process and distribute funds to qualified nonprofits.

"It's a great way to get involved in Greenlights," Galante said.

Another way where the community can connect with area nonprofits through Greenlights is board service. Galante calls board service "leadership volunteerism" and said a nonprofit's board is an essential piece in having a successful organization.

"One of the key things we work on is making that connection between people who want to serve on nonprofit boards and nonprofits looking for board members," Galante said.

Greenlights offers a website,, as a resource to connect those interested in board service with openings.

For more information on how to get involved through Greenlights or to donate to the nonprofit, visit


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