The Ruth Mott Foundation in 2017 debuted a new award designed to recognize the exceptional leadership of someone making a difference in the lives of Flint residents.
“We know Flint is home to innovative individuals working side by side with the community and who are taking a stand on matters that are important to Flint residents,” said Maryanne Mott, chair of the Ruth Mott Foundation Board of Trustees. “These leaders, with their bold ideas and deep commitment to community service, are helping to make Flint a more caring and equitable place.”
The Ruth Mott Foundation Leadership Award was created to celebrate leaders who embrace community engagement, develop authentic relationships with Flint residents and who possess leadership qualities that go beyond professional qualifications. The winner of the Leadership Award chooses a qualified nonprofit organization that will receive $25,000 to advance the winner’s work serving or advocating for the people of Flint.
In its inaugural year, the award committee chose Greg Gaines of the Mr. Gaines Gardening Program PLUS as the first winner. Gaines chose Catholic Charities of Shiawassee and Genesee County, which operates the Mr. Gaines Gardening Program, to receive the $25,000 and use it toward the 2017 program.
To be eligible for the Ruth Mott Foundation Leadership Award, nominated individuals must perform their community work in the city of Flint, and the work must address one or more of the resident-identified priorities adopted by the Foundation: youth, safety, economic opportunity, or neighborhoods.
The award honors leadership that takes place in and with the Flint community. As such, individuals must be nominated by one or more community members. The nominator must be able to show evidence of the impact of the individual’s work to improve the quality of life in the Flint community.
“This new award highlights the essential role that community leaders play in improving the quality of life for Flint residents,” said Handy Lindsey, who was president of the Ruth Mott Foundation when the award was created. “It is our hope that this award will not only celebrate the leaders of today, but also inspire and help to grow the leaders of Flint’s future.”
The Mr. Gaines Gardening Program PLUS (People Learning Useful Stuff) provides Flint teens with job training, culinary skills, personal finance lessons, nutrition information and summer employment. Gaines, previously employed by General Motors, has been leading the program since 1990, when it began as the Mr. Rogers summer jobs program.
Gaines won the award as he was about to embark on his 27th year of leading the celebrated teen employment program, which was renamed after Gaines in 2016 to honor his dedication to mentoring young people and teaching them important life skills.
He was chosen by the Leadership Award Selection Committee from a pool of 49 individuals who were nominated by community members for their outstanding work in Flint.
The ad hoc advisory committee included five distinguished community members led by Harriet Kenworthy, then-vice chair of the Ruth Mott Foundation Board of Trustees. Also on the committee were: Karen Aldridge-Eason, Foundation Liaison to the Governor’s Office; Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Duncan Beagle; Carma Lewis, President of Flint Neighborhoods United; and George Wilkinson, President of NorthGate and a Flint pastor.
“It is so fitting that Greg Gaines is the first honoree of this award,” Kenworthy said. “Greg has been a positive role model for a tremendous number of young people and he is a phenomenal leader who is building other future leaders in Flint.”
The Leadership Award Selection Committee members said they were impressed with Gaines’s longevity with the program and his ability to connect with young people in a respectful and genuine way.
“His students come back to Flint. To me, that’s real leadership and that’s building a community,” Aldridge-Eason said. “He is always about what is positive in this community.”
The youth leave the 12-week program with the skills needed to obtain a variety of entry-level jobs, and the ability to cook a meal for their family. In addition to timeliness and communication, they learn money handling, salesmanship and food preparation – knowledge that could be applicable in a variety of careers.
Some of the program alumni have come back over the years to work with the program. Others graduate from high school and move on to gainful employment elsewhere.
Over the years, Gaines estimates thousands of young people have been through the program.
“I thank God about this program being in kids’ lives,” Gaines said. “Every fall when it’s over, I hate to see them go because I grow so attached to them—but I know I can’t stand in their way.”
Gaines was honored by the Ruth Mott Foundation at a ceremony and check presentation in June at Applewood: The Charles Stewart Mott Estate.
The Leadership Award nomination process will be opened periodically by the Ruth Mott Foundation Board of Trustees.