PBHA Executive Director Dominguez Gray Awarded National Community Engagement Award

Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) is thrilled to announce that Class of 1955 Executive Director Maria Dominguez Gray received the Nadinne Cruz Community Engagement Award on December 10, 2020. This national award by Campus Compact recognizes “an exemplary Community Engagement Professional who has demonstrated collaboration with communities focused on transformative change, a commitment to justice-oriented work, and an impact on the larger movement to build ethical and effective community engagement locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.” 

Dominguez Gray was nominated by Rakesh Khurana, the Danoff Dean of Harvard College, who writes of Dominguez Gray’s joining the staff of PBHA in 1999, “PBHA was emerging from a period of intense turmoil and its relations with community organizations were strained. One of her first goals was to rebuild community relationships and to create systems that would contribute to the long-term health of PBHA’s community partners. While continually improved, these systems still ground the organization’s programs in community interests.” Khurana continues, “PBHA has a dual mission – preparing Harvard students to be leaders and addressing the needs of people in the communities surrounding Harvard. Maria recognizes that these two aims can be in tension and she has a simple way of addressing that: she insists that community needs come first.”

PBHA is the oldest public service organization at Harvard College and Khurana notes, “with Maria’s leadership, it is the most vital and relevant of our public service programs. If Maria was looking over my shoulder, she would insist that I point out that PBHA’s good work is due to the efforts of many, many people. While this is certainly true, as an organizational scholar, I know leaders set the direction of their organizations and Maria directs PBHA’s sights squarely on the welfare of the community and the development of future leaders committed to creating a most just society.”

One of PBHA’s greatest accomplishments under Dominguez Gray’s leadership was the 2015 opening of Y2Y, a Harvard Square youth homeless shelter created by college students identifying and addressing a community need. In a letter of support from Y2Y leaders, many of whom are alumni of PBHA, they write of Dominguez Gray, “Starting Y2Y was a feat of community organizing, which Maria led, developing buy-in and excitement for the initiative across Greater Boston. While she was bringing together community partners, the police, the business association, and service providers, she also had to create space within Harvard to allow for such a risky project. Maria has a gift for making others feel heard, and for helping people see the program’s possibility for impact.” Five years later, Y2Y has opened a second shelter in New Haven, CT and this year has provided a particularly important lifeline to 27 young adults in the Boston area experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. 

The Y2Y leaders write that they can think of no one more deserving of this award, sharing, “over the past decade, we have witnessed the widespread impact that Maria has had on the Harvard, Cambridge, and Boston communities. They would not be the same without her.”

Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) is an independent student-run, staff-supported nonprofit based on the Harvard campus. For more than a century, PBHA has offered vital experience to generations of leaders in service while strengthening partnerships between students and local communities. Prior to joining the staff of PBHA in 1999, Dominguez Gray worked as the Service Director at City Year.