Earlier this year the American Red Cross of Northeast Massachusetts, along with community members and honorees, came together to honor a number of local heroes who embody the mission and spirit of the Red Cross. The event, the 16th annual Northeast Massachusetts Community Heroes Breakfast, was moving and inspirational—so much so that we wanted to continue to spread awareness about three of this year’s honorees.
Dawn Marie Corneau is chair of the Board of Directors for the Northeast Massachusetts chapter of the American Red Cross, and she couldn’t speak highly enough of this year’s honorees. The Red Cross has a mission to be there “during worst-case scenario” circumstances, to be an “immediate effort that also supports long-term recovery efforts,” and this year’s honorees are reflective of this mission, says Corneau. “Regardless of the organizations they may be involved with, we are able to find a way to work with them. It’s a true partnership between us and the groups we work with,” and a structure that fosters a real sense of coming together and helping out in times of need, she explains.
To speak with Hannah Finn is to feel as though you are in the presence of someone with a big-picture view of the world—a notable distinction given that she is a student at Andover High School. Honored at this year’s breakfast as a Youth Hero, Finn started the One Wish Project with the hopes of providing meaningful and happy birthday memories to children and young teen residents of the Lazarus House in Lawrence. Since then, Finn and her mission have only gained traction, expanding the organizations they work with and giving Finn’s baking skills a workout in the process. Inspired by happy memories from her own birthday celebrations, Finn wanted to provide similar experiences for children without a traditional home. Along with a custom homemade cake and party decorations, the children receive gifts, which are often in keeping with the theme of the cake (recipients fill out a questionnaire and Finn’s imagination and creativity take over from there).
Finn’s cakes are made from scratch, and it seems there is nary a theme she cannot tackle. She has created cakes in the likeness of Elmo and characters from the hit movie Frozen and often decorates with favorite colors as well as fruit, flowers, and more.
Not one to seek recognition for her work, Finn says that learning she would be honored at the Red Cross breakfast was “definitely a big shock, and meant a lot because I don’t do what I do for recognition; I do it to make people feel special on a day that should feel special, like a birthday.” Finn hopes to inspire people to serve others in a way that somehow aligns with their natural talents or interests. For Finn, baking was a natural fit. Her spirit is contagious, and her mission, well, there’s no denying it’s sweet.
Bill and Joyce Cummings
Honored as “Visionary Heroes,” Bill and Joyce Cummings are no strangers to philanthropy. In fact, their commercial properties are operated for the benefit of the Cummings Foundation. Their giving is vast; they have given more than $200 million to Greater Boston nonprofits since the Cummings Foundation was formed in 1986. The Cummings Foundation is “now awarding more than $25 million annually to nonprofits based in Essex County and two other eastern Massachusetts counties,” says Bill of the work that he and Joyce “look forward to continuing.”
While many are aware of their years of dedication and generosity toward local communities, no one tires of hearing about the spirit of giving they have dedicated much of their lives to. For Bill and Joyce, being honored by the Red Cross, an organization that is “not only a vital, well-respected nonprofit but also an American institution,” was nothing short of a true honor, Bill explains. The distinction was made all the more special because fellow honorees were “people who are making a meaningful difference in the community, and in some cases, actually saving lives,” he says.
Bill and Joyce have made a commitment to the Giving Pledge (founded by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet), which asks those who take it to commit to dedicating “the majority of their wealth to giving back.” As admirable as that is, Bill says that “joining the Giving Pledge did.not really change our giving philosophy, as we had already committed to donating about 90 percent of our assets by the time we joined. The great benefit for us has been the opportunity to talk with and learn from luminaries like Warren Buffet, Bill and Melinda Gates, and others who give on a much larger scale than we do and who have had formal grant programs longer than we have.”
Looking ahead, Bill plans to devote much of his time to “getting out into the community to talk to groups about philanthropy,” as well as about the successes he’s had in business that allow for these opportunities. His new memoir, Starting Small and Making It Big: An Entrepreneur’s Journey to Billion-Dollar Philanthropist, has “led to an unexpected book tour that has allowed me to connect and have engaging conversations with thousands of students, business leaders, and community members of all types,” he shares.
As for his advice to people who want to give their time or resources (or both) but aren’t sure how to begin, Bill says, “Don’t worry about the amount, and just get started. There are so many wonderful nonprofits that would welcome new volunteers and donors at any level. Identify a cause that speaks to you, and you just might find that you end up feeling richer by giving something away.”
“Enduring Hero” isn’t exactly a one-size-fits-everyone title, but when it’s a designation given to Stuart Meurer, it is more than appropriate. Meurer personifies the category, which is awarded to a “person who has made a difference in the community by engaging in many different activities over a long period of time.” As a resident of Newbury and president of Windover Construction, Meurer has found opportunities to help others in many areas of his life. And as a dad of three sons, he has coached soccer and basketball for 15 years and made his children a part of his volunteer efforts at Wellspring House in Gloucester. At his church, the Immaculate Conception Parish in Newburyport, he is president of IC Haiti, an organization founded by parishioners in 2008 that operates a school and aids residents in a rural section of Haiti, which he has visited several times. He is also instrumental in setting up one of Newburyport’s most popular holiday events, the annual North Pole Express put on by the Immaculate Conception School, which raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for the school.
It doesn’t take more than a few minutes of conversation with Meurer to see the depth of his passion and his level of commitment to the causes he serves. Whether he is discussing his work with Wellspring’s annual Holiday Store, which provides low-income parents with the opportunity to shop by appointment for toys, gifts, and books for their children during the holiday season, or Windover’s commitment to service (the company has a Social Sustainability Committee that focuses on community engagement and green building), it is difficult to overstate his dedication to helping others.
Through Windover, Meurer works with the North Shore Community Development Coalition, making building improvements and helping out on many projects. “It only makes sense to use your professional skills whenever possible with community outreach opportunities,” says Meurer, who believes that one of the keys to being an impactful supporter is not to stretch yourself too thin. “Although it is a difficult balance, being consistent with organizations is helpful for you and for them,” he explains, as is becoming involved with annual events throughout the year so you know where and how you are allocating your time. Through IC Haiti, Meurer has helped fund both healthcare and education projects that serve not only 200-plus local students but their families as well, and he has plans for a return visit early in the new year.
Hopefully these inspired individuals have shared some reasons for giving that will, in turn, inspire you.