Community Leaders
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Community Leaders
Henry Barr West End House
Like any American urban center, Boston experiences ongoing issues of poverty, illiteracy, funding for education, and youth violence. We feel a great responsibility to play a role in combating these important issuesand we recognize the gutsy leaders who go above and beyond in their commitment to make Boston a safer and healthier place to live.

Here, we recognize a selection of the community leaders who have significantly changed people's lives in the community through their great entrepreneurial spirit and leadership.

Robert Lewis Jr., Vice President for Programs, the Boston Foundation
Henry L. Barr, Board of Directors, West End House Boys & Girls Club
Karen Peluso, Executive Director, Neurofibromatosis Inc. Northeast

Robert Lewis Jr., Vice President for Programs, the Boston Foundation 

When he was just a year old, Robert Lewis' family moved from the Deep South to East Boston, Massachusettswherrobert lewise they were the only black family in their public housing development. Growing up here, Robert witnessed the court-appointed desegregation of the Boston public schools in the 1960s and 70s. He easily could have succumbed to the negativity and tension of the timewhich, for many of the youths around him, manifested in thrown stones, tipped buses, and firebombs. But Robert's mother raised him from a young age to accept and appreciate life under all its circumstancesso instead, Robert considered his experience a valuable education in race relations and social change. He has been making a difference in Boston since the age of 21, working for numerous community and nonprofit organizations including the Boston Housing Authority, City Year, and the Boston Centers for Youth and Family.

Today, Robert serves as the Vice President for Programs at The Boston Foundation, an ambitious community foundation that funds numerous initiativesamong them a program called StreetSafe, which Robert personally oversees. StreetSafe aims to combat gang violence by deploying street workersmany of them former gang members themselvesto reach out to the young residents of Boston's most dangerous neighborhoods.

For the past two years, Alan and Harriet Lewis have worked closely with Robert on the StreetSafe program. "I value leadership and moral courage," says Alan, "and Robert is a role model of these traits. He is the real deal … an outstanding agent for change on behalf of young people."

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Henry L. Barr, Board of Directors, West End House Boys & Girls Club
Recipient of the 2007 Lewis Changing People's Lives Award
Henry Barr

"You might say I was born into the West End House Boys & Girls Club," says Henry L. Barr. Henry represents the second of three generations of the Barr family to benefit from the organization, which has provided a positive place for Boston youth for more than 100 years. Now the senior partner of a law firm and president and director of a real estate investment company, Henry nevertheless has found time to serve on the Board of Directors of the Boys & Girls Club for 25 years.

In the 1990s, the future of the West End House was in jeopardy. Roughly $10 million was needed to construct a new building and hire staffing to provide much-needed youth services. "Sometimes you have to step up and be willing to withstand criticism and significant public failure in order to get things done," Henry says. "You have to take a risk. But if you believe in a cause and have a passion for it, that's what will cause others to respond."

Others did respond to Henry's effortsincluding an old friend from West End House Camp, Grand Circle Corporation Chairman Alan Lewis. Today, West End House Boys & Girls Club is thriving, and in honor of his achievement, Henry received the 2007 Lewis Changing People's Lives award.

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Karen Peluso, Executive Director, Neurofibromatosis, Inc. Northeast
Recipient of the 2006 Lewis Changing People's Lives Award
 

When Karen Peluso and her husband Bert discovered that their daughter Mia suffered from neurofibromatosis, they banded together with other families touched by the disease to create Neurofibromatosis, Inc.an organization dedicated to finding a cure for this genetic disorder of the nervous system by promoting scientific research, boosting public awareness, and supporting families living with neurofibromatosis every day. "What started out as something so terrible has become a blessing," Karen says. "I'm fortunate to have something I can feel so passionate about."

Karen earned the 2006 Lewis Changing People's Lives award in recognition of her tireless work with the organization over the past 22 years. Though less familiar to the general public than cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy, neurofibromatosis actually afflicts more people than those two diseases combined, so raising public awareness of the disease is central to working toward a cure. "We began raising funds to promote research," Karen says. Today, "We're fortunate that some very elite specialists have been brought into the field." She also lobbies Congress to ensure that funding is allocated for neurofibromatosis research.

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