Owning Greatness, Part 3 – Heather McMann
Women Leaders of the Merrimack Valley Seek to Innovate and Transform
There are many leaders throughout the Merrimack Valley, including five exceptional women we’ll highlight during the coming weeks. They are leaders in their industries, respected by colleagues and the public, and at the forefront of changing the landscape for women in their fields.
Executive Director, Groundwork Lawrence
Heather McMann has been working in the nonprofit sector since graduating from Smith College in 1994.
The work is important to her. She sees it as a meaningful way to make a difference.
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities to do different things in the nonprofit sector,” McMann says. “It’s a way to make an impact.”
It’s that sense of civic engagement that drives McMann each day as the director of Groundwork Lawrence, a nonprofit focused on environmental improvements, fresh food programs, youth education, employment initiatives and community engagement.
McMann is in her 15th year at Groundwork Lawrence, where she has served as executive director since 2009. That same year, she enrolled part-time in an MBA program at Brandeis University. In 2012, she received her MBA in social impact management from the university’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management.
“The support I received from the GWL staff and board, my husband, and from Heller, to be able to do both and complete my MBA in 2 1/2 years was brutal, amazing, and really supported both my professional growth and the growth of Groundwork Lawrence,” McMann says.
Another highly satisfying personal accomplishment was completing a four-day kayaking trip with the Merrimack Valley River Voyagers in the summer of 2019. “I’m still glowing with pride,” she says.
McMann arrived at Groundwork Lawrence as a consultant. She was drawn to the organization by its overall commitment to the environment and to environmental justice in particular.
What keeps her there is the wide focus of programming in a tight geographical location. The group helps to improve environmental education, employ young people, grow food, improve access to healthy food, and plant trees.
“There are not many places you can say you do all that,” McMann says.
Each day she sees the impact Groundwork Lawrence has in terms of economic development, health and education in Greater Lawrence.
The nonprofit employs 15 regular full-time employees, with many more joining in seasonally or for special initiatives.
“I think nonprofits really understand — fighting for a living wage for community members, we have to make sure we are doing our part as well,” McMann says. “We integrate internally what we are advocating for externally. You have to value your staff.”
A source of pride is seeing the reach of Groundwork Lawrence extend beyond its main city. While the organization will always be committed to Lawrence, McMann says, it’s important to remember that neighborhoods and rivers don’t have municipal boundaries.
Groundwork Lawrence has contributed to tree plantings in Haverhill and work on rail trails in neighboring communities, McMann says. By broadening the regional focus, Groundwork Lawrence helps continue its growth.
And for McMann, who lives in Haverhill, it’s nice to see the group’s impact in her own town.
She’s happy to see the growth of the nonprofit under her leadership, McMann says, which was greatly propelled by the receipt of a $2.6 million state grant in 2011 to build a network of trails that will connect six parks.
Does she have advice for young women working to become the nonprofit sector’s future leaders?
“Be open to mentors,” McMann says. “Be open to learning, and support others.”
And for those who cannot swing a full-time commitment, there are other ways, McMann says, to make an impact in the nonprofit sector.
“Volunteer on a nonprofit board,” she says. “That’s a great way to really help support things you are passionate about, whether you can do it full time or not.”
McMann is one of five exceptional women featured in the Sept/Oct 2020 issue of Merrimack Valley Magazine. Click here for more info. >>>
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