Brooklyn Community Foundation Spotlights Borough’s Nonprofits at Inaugural Spark Prize Celebration

Ceremony Honored Recipients of $100,000 Spark Prize, Featured Tribute to Brooklyn Philanthropist Robert Catell

Brooklyn Community Foundation honored five Brooklyn nonprofits with its first annual $100,000 Spark Prize at a ceremony held Thursday morning, February 16th, at 501 Union in Gowanus. The Spark Prize is the only honor of its kind celebrating excellence and impact in Brooklyn’s nonprofit sector, and was awarded to The Audre Lorde Project, Common Justice, Make the Road New York, MoCADA, and Neighbors Together.

More than 150 guests attended the Foundation’s inaugural Spark Prize Celebration breakfast, which featured Brooklyn-born actor Jamie Hector (The Wire), City Councilman Brad Lander, and poet Mahogany Browne. The event is the culmination of a nine months-long process, through which a distinguished committee of Brooklyn civic, business, and neighborhood leaders selected 20 finalists and ultimately five organizations to each receive the $100,000 Prize from a competitive applicant pool of over 150 Brooklyn nonprofits.

The event also paid tribute to Brooklyn civic and philanthropic leader Robert C. Catell. Mr. Catell is the former U.S. Chairman of National Grid and a founding Board Member of Brooklyn Community Foundation. The Foundation’s Chairman Alan Fishman joined Cristo Rey Brooklyn President William Henson and Cristo Rey High School student Ohsafa Harding in saluting Mr. Catell for his generosity and decades-long commitment to giving back in Brooklyn and beyond.

“Today really is about celebrating the greatness of Brooklyn’s nonprofit sector and the inspiring changemakers who never stop innovating and never stop fighting for fairness and justice in our communities,” said Brooklyn Community Foundation President and CEO Cecilia Clarke, who served as the event’s MC. “We are so proud to shine the spotlight on the five outstanding Brooklyn organizations receiving our $100,000 Spark Prize, who have truly sparked lasting change for our communities. And we are also so honored to pay tribute today to one of the giants in Brooklyn philanthropy—Bob Catell. Brooklyn born and bred, Bob spent his career here in Brooklyn at National Grid, and along the way made an indelible impact on so many nonprofits in our borough. We are so proud that Bob has been part of our team, and we thank him for his service and continued support.”

The Spark Prize Celebration was sponsored by TD Bank, with additional support from National Grid, Kirkland Ellis, Cleary Gottlieb, Brooklyn Nets Foundation, and EY. Guests included Spark Prize Committee members Diane Steinberg, Lizanne Fontaine, Martin Dunn, Tupper Thomas, Leslie Marshall, Mamie Kanfer Stewart, Merle McGee, Judilee Reed, Shaheen Rushd, and Erica Nijenhuis. Notable Brooklyn nonprofit and civic leaders in attendance included Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna, Brooklyn Botanic Garden President Scot Medbury, Prospect Park Alliance President Sue Donoghue, and Brooklyn Youth Chorus Artistic Director Dianne Berkun Menaker.

"TD is proud to join Brooklyn Community Foundation in celebrating these exceptional organizations, as well as the philanthropic legacy of Bob Catell. Congratulations to all! We are honored to spotlight their achievements through our support of the Spark Prize." said Peter Meyer, Market President, TD Bank.

About the Spark Prize Winners

Common Justice is a restorative justice program of the Vera Institute of Justice that works with responsible parties and those harmed by violent crime in Brooklyn. “We are so deeply grateful for the Spark Prize committee’s faith and investment in our vision. At this critical moment in our country’s history, this support will enable us to prove in Brooklyn what we know is true for America—that our safety is built not on rage, separation, and easy pessimism, but on justice, connection, and hard-won hope,” said Danielle Sered, Executive Director of Common Justice.

Make the Road New York is an immigrant-led organization that develops grassroots leadership to mobilize Latino and working class communities. "We are honored to receive Brooklyn Community Foundation's Spark Prize, a ‘no strings attached’ grant which allows us to escalate our work at this critical moment," said Deborah Axt and Javier Valdés, Co-Executive Directors of Make the Road New York.

Neighbors Together is a dynamic soup kitchen, social service provider, and community center committed to ending hunger and poverty in Ocean Hill, Brownsville, and Bedford-Stuyvesant since 1982. "Neighbors Together is so thrilled and honored to be selected as a 2016 Spark Prize recipient alongside four other outstanding organizations! Our deepest gratitude to the Brooklyn Community Foundation for this incredible support of our work to end hunger and poverty in central Brooklyn," said Denny March, Executive Director of Neighbors Together.

The Audre Lorde Project is an inter-generational organizing center for LGBT people of color that promotes community wellness and progressive social and economic justice in New York City. "This is without a doubt, one of the most exciting gifts to our work and legacy in Brooklyn community. We are so honored to be selected with the other awardees, by Brooklyn Community Foundation, and have this as a resource towards our collective liberation," said Cara Page, Executive Director of The Audre Lorde Project.

MoCADA is a “museum without walls” that serves the African Diasporan community through art exhibitions, education, and community programs to promote African diasporan art, racial equity, and social justice in Brooklyn. “MoCADA is honored to be a Spark Prize awardee. This support will allow us to continue to provide free and low cost programming as we expand our facility and our reach in the coming years,” said James Bartlett, Executive Director of MoCADA.

About the Spark Prize

The Spark Prize is named for Brooklyn Community Foundation’s mission to spark lasting social change in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is home to over 2,000 nonprofits, yet less than 5% of New York City’s charitable giving goes to organizations based in the borough. Brooklyn Community Foundation created the Spark Prize to drive support to its nonprofit sector and showcase local solutions to local challenges.

The Foundation has awarded over $600,000 in the first year of the Spark Prize, including a $100,000 match on Giving Tuesday that helped raise over $271,000 for the 20 finalists in 24 hours.

The Spark Prize application launched in May 2016 with an open call to Brooklyn nonprofits to submit a 1,000-word essay demonstrating their deep history in Brooklyn and continued service to the borough; commitment to equity and racial justice for all Brooklynites; strong organizational values; and vision for the future of their work in Brooklyn and beyond. To be eligible, organizations had to have annual operating budgets over $350,000 and be in operation for at least five years.

The Spark Prize is a signature program of the Foundation’s Brooklyn Accelerator, a hub for building capacity and resources in Brooklyn’s nonprofit community. Through the Brooklyn Accelerator, the Foundation also offers free workshops for nonprofits, Board matching and governance training, and an Incubator that hosts start-up nonprofit enterprises. Reaching a diverse cross-section of Brooklyn nonprofits, the Prize will also strengthen the Foundation’s services to its donors who depend on the Foundation’s expertise and knowledge of the borough’s nonprofits to help guide their local giving and philanthropy.


About Brooklyn Community Foundation

Brooklyn Community Foundation is on a mission to spark lasting social change, mobilizing people, capital, and expertise for a fair and just Brooklyn. It is the first and only public foundation solely dedicated to Brooklyn’s charitable community, working in partnership with generous donors and community leaders to bolster vital nonprofits, strengthen neighborhoods, and increase opportunities for youth. Since its founding in 2009, the Foundation and its donors have provided over $25 million in grants to more than 300 nonprofits in Brooklyn and beyond. Learn more at


Media Contact: 

Liane Stegmaier, Director of Communications