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Madelyn Lazorchak, Communications Writer04/25/2022

The work of NeighborWorks America started with visionary leaders who set out to pave a new path forward against redlining, disinvestment, and marginalization of people and communities. ThoseMargo Kelly in a pink turtleneck leaders were driven to build organizations in partnership with residents to strengthen their neighborhoods. Their legacy is NeighborWorks America and their values – equity, inclusion, integrity, and service – remain at the core of the organization. 

Throughout the years, leaders have embraced these values to impact transformative change as part of their own work on behalf of NeighborWorks and its network of organizations. The NeighborWorks Founders Award was established to recognize these champions of change and their contributions to housing and community development.

When Margo Kelly was beginning her career, NeighborWorks America was just beginning, too. Through her years working with the field, helping create the NeighborWorks charter system and more, Kelly helped shape the national nonprofit into the organization it is today. She was recently recognized as one of the recipients of the inaugural Founders Award.
Margo Kelly at a meeting."I was one of the early ones," Kelly  says of joining NeighborWorks. "When I started, there was only a handful employees." But NeighborWorks set out to create big opportunities to help residents strengthen communities. During Kelly's 25+ years at the organization, she held 13 different positions, including chief operating officer and acting executive director. 
By the time she left in 2004, more than 200 employees worked at the national nonprofit. What made her stay so long? "The primary thing was that I truly loved and respected the people I worked with," she says. "And the job kept changing." 
Kelly describes herself as an introvert, which she believes helped in every position she held. "Like a lot of introverts, I listen and watch carefully," she says. "I came to understand the network. One of my earliest lessons at Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp. was how challenging it could be to be a CEO of a network organization. They are incredibly hard-working and deserve the best we can give them." 
Because of her knowledge of and relationship with network organizations, Kelly became instrumental in establishing the chartering system. She led the committee outlining the system, considering items like who should be on the board. The committee reached the decision that resident leaders should be a large portion of each. Kelly's work championing resident leaders is one of the attributes cited by those nominating her for the ward. "It was an important issue to me," Kelly explains. "Serving residents first – it was an important touchstone in what the network is all about." The silver Founders Award.

Joanie Straussman Brandon, regional vice president, Northeast Region, wrote in nominating Kelly for the award, "Throughout Margo's time at NeighborWorks and in her work since, Margo has painstakingly reminded all of us to never lose sight of why we exist, who we are here to serve, and how to best do that through partnership, innovation, and compassion." 
After leaving NeighborWorks, Kelly stayed involved with the organization by working as a coach and a lead coach with the NeighborWorks Achieving Excellence Program.
As she finishes her last round as lead coach, Kelly says she's always willing to listen to a NeighborWorks colleague when one calls to discuss a problem or strategy. "What I've learned throughout my career is that listening carefully provides the best opportunity to find common ground," Kelly shares.  
When Kelly talks, people are quick to listen to her, too. "There are people with 'What Would Margo Do' signs, people who regularly quote some of her favorite lines, like 'Don't let perfect get in the way of good,'" says Christina Deady senior director, Leadership and Workforce Development Programs. "Her wisdom absolutely lives on." 
Jeanette Duncan, former president and CEO of People's Self-Help Housing, also received a Founders Award and will be featured later this week. Alan Arthur, former president and CEO of Aeon, and Chris Krehmeyer, president and CEO of Beyond Housing, received honorable mentions. 


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