“We Can Bridge the Gap”: Congressional Award Foundation Hosts Nonprofit Leadership Panel for Gold Medalists


Rachel Mallory, Manager of Corporate Partnerships


October 7, 2020

Washington, DC

Last Saturday, The Congressional Award Foundation hosted an interactive “Nonprofit Leadership” Panel as part of the first-ever virtual Gold Medal Ceremony, which honored 478 incredible young leaders with the highest recognition bestowed by Congress.

The panel was moderated by Ray Kerins, Senior Vice President and Head of Communications, Government Relations & Policy for Bayer Corporation, who led a thoughtful discussion with experienced government and industry leaders, including:

  • Congressman David N. Cicilline, Representing Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District
  • Merrill Eisenhower Atwater, People to People International
  • Depelsha McGruder, The Ford Foundation
  • Adan Gonzalez, The Puede Network
  • Deborah Rutter, The John F. Kennedy Center

The panel discussed the value of nonprofit organizations in the United States, along with the challenges and opportunities that arise when in the nonprofit sector.

“Make sure your voice is heard loudly in the democracy that you are a part of,” expressed Congressman David N. Cicilline. The Congressman also spoke to the value of nonprofits when he served as Mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, expressing that many of his accomplishments during this time were because of “efforts from intense partnerships with nonprofits.”

Merrill Eisenhower Atwater, great-grandson of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, serves as the Chief Executive Officer of People to People International. “We can bridge the gap and promote cultural understanding through tolerance and diversity,” says Atwater, who also shares that education, cultural exchange, and humanitarian work around the world are crucial to their success as an organization.

Adan Gonzalez developed the Puede Network as a way to meet the needs of his community. In the panel, Gonzalez explained how his nonprofit organization started with only seventeen students tutoring in his backyard, but has now grown to reach over 5,000 families in a recreation center. “It is my responsibility to create opportunities that don’t exist in my neighborhood – we are successful when we are no longer a need.”

Depelsha McGruder is the Ford Foundation’s Chief Operating Officer and Treasurer. “The nonprofit world is not without financial pressure,” she explained, encouraging youth to learn valuable business and financial management skills.

How can young people get involved with the causes they care about? Deborah Rutter, President of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, spoke of her own experiences, “I am doing what I do because I am emotionally drawn to this work. Stay focused and explore opportunities, and you will have success.”

The virtual Gold Medal Ceremony, usually held in person at The Capitol Visitor Center, is one of several steps taken by The Congressional Award Foundation to support and celebrate America’s youth during the pandemic. To learn more about some of the other ways The Congressional Award has responded to the pandemic and upcoming programs and updates, visit us at our website.

For reporters working on national stories and/or members of TV, radio, new media broadcasting:

Bethie Woodall, Director of Events & Strategic Communications


Erica Heyse, National Director


For reporters working on local stories, partner organization/congressional staff inquiries, or general information:

Matt Tick, Program Director