ARAMARK Building Community Innovation Awards Provides $100,000 in Grants for Innovative Local Community Solutions

Inaugural awards program recognizes Houston Neighborhood Centers Inc. CEO and three leading community centers for innovative and successful health and wellness, workforce readiness and communications campaigns

PHILADELPHIA--()--ARAMARK, a global leader in professional services, today announced that Angela Blanchard, president and CEO of Neighborhood Centers Inc. (NCI) in Houston, Texas, was recognized as the ARAMARK Building Community Innovation Award 2011 Leadership honoree. The award comes with a $40,000 grant to Neighborhood Centers Inc., in recognition of Blanchard’s innovative and pioneering work in center-based community development that focuses on the human, social and cultural strengths of vulnerable populations.

Blanchard has been at the forefront of community investment and transformation in the Greater Houston area for more than two decades. Under her leadership as the CEO of Houston’s 103-year-old Neighborhood Centers Inc., the organization has evolved into a network of 59 service sites that provide comprehensive services for 250,000 individuals and families in southeast and central Texas.

“Community centers are really where change occurs and how it’s sustained,” said Blanchard. “We must turn our attention to what’s right with the world, what’s right with the neighborhoods, and what’s right with the people in them, and then build from there.”

ARAMARK worked with national nonprofit networks United Neighborhood Centers of America (UNCA) and the Alliance for Children and Families (Alliance) to create the ARAMARK Building Community Innovation Awards to identify and share the most innovative community-based solutions developed by community centers. Community centers address some of the nation’s toughest challenges, especially during difficult economic times, and are experts in tailoring their programs to respond to ever-changing community dynamics. The awards recognize programs that address specific obstacles, focus on solutions that work, and promote the power of collaboration among neighborhood groups to support families and thriving communities.

In addition to the ARAMARK Building Community Leadership Award, three additional competitive awards were made to: Gary Comer Youth Center in Chicago, IL, recognized for its Farm to Table wellness and nutrition program; Northern Virginia Family Services of Oakton, Va. recognized for its Training Futures workforce development efforts; and Pathfinders Milwaukee, Inc. of Milwaukee, WI, recognized for a communications campaign to raise awareness about homeless and runaway teens. Honorees in those categories will receive $20,000 grants to support the growth and continuation of their effective programs.

“Improving the life chances of the most vulnerable families and children is as difficult as it is rewarding,” said Ralph Smith, Executive Vice President of The Annie E. Casey Foundation, and one of the Leadership Award judges. ”Through these awards, ARAMARK , UNCA and the Alliance lift up the examples of exemplary work to encourage, support and enable families to produce better outcomes for children.”

Bev Dribin, Vice President of Community Relations for ARAMARK noted that while community centers are experts at strengthening local communities, their work is often difficult to identify and share.

“Community centers tailor their programs to respond to ever-changing needs so ultimately, families thrive and succeed,” she said. “ARAMARK is recognizing and investing in these centers, so that we can support their success and share their best practices with other community centers across the country.”

The ARAMARK Building Community Innovation Awards are part of ARAMARK Building Community, the company’s signature philanthropic and volunteer program, which enriches the lives of families and communities by enhancing the environments, experiences and programs provided by community centers.

The relationship with the Alliance and UNCA is a collaboration that started three years ago and focuses on strengthening the capacity of community centers by providing grants, volunteer programs and other ongoing support. The ARAMARK Building Community Innovation Awards is the newest component of this comprehensive partnership.

Peter Goldberg, CEO of the Alliance and UNCA, indicated that with funding for basic services decreasing, and with more people in need, it’s more important than ever to apply innovation and urgency when solving critical social issues.

”Through our partnership with ARAMARK, we are able to raise the visibility of exceptional leadership and of high-performing organizations among our 470 member agencies. The number of values-driven, performance-driven, cutting edge examples ARAMARK had to draw upon for these awards is impressive,” Goldberg said.


Blanchard, who won the Leadership Award has helped guide the creation of customized programs for community centers. Her approach and leadership have been recognized by multiple organizations, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Neighborhood Centers Inc.’s Gulfton Promise Project was one of only 21 organizations to receive a Promise Neighborhood Planning grant, awarded in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Education under Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s leadership. Nominees for the Leadership Award came from more than 20 current and past community center movement leaders from across the country. An independent panel judged applications, and the awards process was supervised and managed by UNCA and the Alliance for Children and Families.


More than 70 programs competed for the top awards in three additional categories. The applicants submitted examples of initiatives that experimented with new ways to address social challenges, leveraged community opportunities, or scaled successful elements of proven programs. A panel of independent judges selected three outstanding programs:

  • Innovation Award for Wellness and Nutrition, for a breakthrough approach to fighting obesity

    Farm to Table, a program by the Gary Comer Youth Center in Chicago, created to address obesity, earned the Innovation Award for Wellness and Nutrition. Gary Comer Youth Center’s Farm to Table program creates a multi-generational approach to addressing the obesity epidemic that involves urban farming programs, culinary and nutrition education, and youth-led entrepreneurial activities to promote local food production, increase healthy eating and physical activity, and improve health literacy.
  • Innovation Award for Workforce Readiness, for a high-impact program to prepare youth and adults for the workforce and connect them to jobs

    Training Futures, a job-readiness project of Northern Virginia Family Services of Oakton, Virginia, received the Innovation Award for Workforce Readiness. Training Futures is an intensive 25-week job readiness program that prepares unemployed and under-employed youth and adults for jobs in local health care institutions and businesses. Since 1996, the program has helped more than 1,000 low-income, unemployed or underpaid individuals enter or re-enter the workforce.
  • Innovation Award for Communications Excellence for inspiring communications campaign that uses media in new ways to raise awareness and increase motivation.

    The Homeless and Runaway Teen Awareness Project, a campaign of Pathfinders Milwaukee, Inc. in Milwaukee, WI, was honored with the Communications Excellence Award for its creative approach to raising awareness about the area’s hundreds of homeless teenagers. Pathfinders Milwaukee, which provides support to homeless and runaway youth, called their awareness project “a call to action.” They used non-traditional techniques, such as sleeping overnight in cardboard boxes, using beds instead of tables for fundraising events, and displaying life-sized decals of homeless youth throughout the city to generate more than 5 million media impressions and double their donor base.

In addition to the four winners, several applicants received honorable mentions for their work. More about the awards and the winning programs can be found at


ARAMARK is a world leader in professional services, providing award-winning food servicesfacilities management, and uniform and career apparel to health care institutionsuniversities and school districtsstadiums and arenas, and businesses around the world. ARAMARK has been recognized as the industry leader in FORTUNE magazine's "World's Most Admired Companies," and as one of America's Largest Private Companies by both FORTUNE and Forbes magazines. Headquartered in Philadelphia, ARAMARK has approximately 255,000 employees serving clients in 22 countries. ARAMARK seeks to responsibly address issues that matter to its clients, customers, employees and communities by focusing on employee advocacy, environmental stewardship, health and wellness, and community involvement.

About United Neighborhood Centers of America (UNCA)

UNCA is a national advocate for social justice, neighborhood-based progress, and community building that is inclusive, multi-generational, family-oriented, asset-based, opportunity-driven, and rooted in the rich tradition of the settlement house movement. UNCA’s members comprise a voluntary network of nonprofit community-based organizations including settlement houses, neighborhood and community centers, and similar community-building institutions. UNCA builds neighborhoods with neighbors. Learn more at

About Alliance for Children and Families

The Alliance for Children and Families, celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2011, is a nonprofit national membership association of private, nonprofit human service providers in the United States and Canada. Motivated by a vision of a healthy society and strong communities, the Alliance strengthens the capacities of North America’s nonprofit child- and family-serving organizations to serve and advocate for children, families, and communities. The nearly 350 members of the Alliance provide an array of community-based programs and services to all generations, serving close to 3.4 million people each year. Learn more at


Mary Rucci
Director, CSR Communications


Mary Rucci
Director, CSR Communications