Five Years and a National Award

In late March 2023 Rick Guzman, executive director of The Neighbor Project, received the Emerging Leader Award from the National NeighborWorks Association in a ceremony in Washington D.C.  The 6:30 video below shows the announcing of this award, Rick’s acceptance, and Brian Schrader’s nomination video.  Schrader is The Neighbor Project’s board chair.

It’s been five years since The Neighbor Project was formed on April 1, 2018 through the merger of Joseph Corporation and Emmanuel House (read the founding story here). In that timespan, it’s gone from 7 employees to 20, partnered with the City of Aurora to co-launch Illinois’ first Financial Empowerment Center, and is equipping record numbers of neighbors to achieve financial well-being, build wealth, and become the primary drivers of growth in their neighborhoods.

On top of that NeighborWorks America* has issued two successive “Exemplary” ratings to The Neighbor Project—making the organization one of the few to ever move from the lowest national rating (its pre-merger rating was “Vulnerable”) to the highest possible rating in just over three years.

In his acceptance speech Guzman thanked his board of directors at The Neighbor Project, his family, and his “amazing, talented, diverse” staff. “No one person moves an organization from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘exemplary,’” he said.  In the nomination video that followed his speech, board chair Bryan Schrader noted that Rick would be the first to give credit to his staff, but it’s his great leadership and guidance that also deserves praise.  Schrader noted Rick’s leadership in creating the Financial Empowerment Center and his commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.  In the beginning the board was super-majority white male. Now it’s nearly 50/50, the staff is 80% minority, 60% bilingual, and 50% female.  The Neighbor Project now also has a chief equity officer at the COO level to which all programs report.

Rick ended his acceptance speech by returning to the ideas he first articulated at the 2021 Neighbor Project gala.  There he urged us to “Flip the Hero Script,” positioning the people The Neighbor Project helps as the real heroes and the real drivers of community regeneration.

* The Neighbor Project (TNP) is a chartered member of NeighborWorks America, which is a Congressionally chartered Intermediary that provides critical training, funding AND organizational audits/assessments for TNP and nearly 250 similar organizations in all 50 states, plus D.C. and Puerto Rico.  Go Here for news and history of The Neighbor Project and its relationship to Emmanuel House and Bryan House. The latter is where it all began: a living memorial to Bryan Emmanuel Guzman started by Rick and Desiree Guzman.

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