Heller Profiles

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

skip to content

Heather McMann

USA • Executive Director, Groundwork Lawrence

MBA '12

Citizen Leaders Building Stronger Communities

Heather McMann heads Groundwork Lawrence, recognized as a 2013 Social Innovator

Heather McMann is helping the city of Lawrence, Mass., reimagine itself with a bright green future. You’ll see the results of her influence everywhere — in the newly planted trees, the thriving community gardens, the bustling farmers market and in the happy healthy faces of the city’s children.

McMann began consulting with the nonprofit Groundwork Lawrence (GWL) in 2005. She joined the staff as operations director in 2006 and became executive director in 2009. “I learned so much on the job,” she says, “but I didn’t have any of the theory or structure behind it.” That’s what prompted McMann to enroll in the Heller MBA. She went to school part-time and continued to work. “Heller was the only MBA that took the nonprofit and social policy piece seriously,” she says. “I was literally drawing on it from day one. Redesigning our budget process came from Tom McLaughlin’s class. My first fundraising plan came from David Whalen’s class. Carole Carlson’s Social Entrepreneurship class helped me with a project involving low-income neighborhood grocery stores.”

There are 76,000 people in Lawrence, and about 70 percent of them are Hispanic or Latino. According to the 2010 census, the city has the state’s lowest median income. Despite past difficulties, Lawrence is coming together to make a comeback. GWL and McMann are helping the cause with environmental and open space improvements, fresh food access programs, youth education, employment initiatives, and community programming and events. “We’re helping people talk to each other,” she says, “building trust, knowing we can do a lot more together than we can do separately.”

With McMann at the helm, GWL transforms formerly vacant and contaminated open spaces into attractive and productive community gathering spots. An orchard they planted in 2011 will provide the community with fresh apples, pears and cherries for decades. The community gardens and farmers' markets they support have become lively gathering places for the whole community, with free entertainment, family activities and educational exhibits. To make fresh, local food more accessible, GWL runs a fruit and vegetable prescription program, in partnership with Greater Lawrence Family Health Center, which lets physicians give their patients scripts they can fill, free of charge, for fresh fruits and vegetables at the farmers markets. The markets also accept SNAP (food stamps).

For Lawrence high school students, GWL started a Green Team, which offers 10 part-time, paid positions every year. The teens learn about and lead local environmental and healthy community initiatives, conduct research, raise awareness, challenge their peers to do community service, and participate in hands-on improvement projects throughout the city.

“Environmental conditions are inextricably linked to the economic and social health of a neighborhood,” says McMann, whose success is getting recognition. The influential nonprofit research and consulting firm Root Cause recognized GWL’s good work, naming the group a 2013 Social Innovator.

Knowledge Advancing Social Justice

Copyright 2017 • Brandeis University • All rights are reserved