The people at the heart of West Virginia’s community development work do not often have the time or the inclination to congratulate themselves as individuals or celebrate their achievements.
It’s one of the reasons we created the Jean Ambrose Champion of Community Development Award; to give credit where credit is due, but also to inspire others to follow in the footsteps of West Virginians making real strides to build a better future for our communities and the people who live in them.
On Thursday, following a day of infectious energy and idea sharing at Hubapalooza, we proudly announced Mary M. Hunt, Senior Program Officer of the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, as the recipient of the Jean Ambrose Champion of Community Development Award for 2015.
We had 16 nominations for this award this year, all of them very deserving. But when we considered the state-wide impact of the various nominees and the broad and long-lasting legacy of their work, Mary was without peer.
There are few, if any, nonprofit or community development organizations in West Virginia that have not been helped by Mary’s guidance and support over the past 34 years.
Her career in this space extends back to the Harrison County Department of Housing and Community Development in Clarksburg, where she worked as director in 1981, and the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Community Development in Charleston, in the late 80s and early 90s.
She joined the Benedum team in 1999. Since then, Mary has made 279 grants totaling $21.2 million to organizations in West Virginia, all of them inspired by her belief in the people of this state and her constant challenge to them to think deeper, work harder, and be more effective.
As Jean Ambrose said as she presented the award named after her: “The community development advances we have been making in West Virginia wouldn’t have been possible without Mary’s fierce intelligence and her persistence in asking the tough questions that, frankly, make us squirm, but force us to admit that what we have been doing isn’t good enough.”
Mary is a strategist, guide and mentor for many of us in the community and economic development realm. It was moving to hear Mary speak of where she found her inspiration for building a better West Virginia: her father.
“Rex Hunt, who planted so many trees that he knew he would never see grow,” she said.
What a terrific metaphor for a poignant truth behind much of the work we all do.
Congratulations, Mary Hunt. It is our great joy to stand with all of those people and organizations that you have stood behind, to applaud you for your passionate commitment to community development in West Virginia.