HONORING BOB: Cambridge Community Foundation’s Bob Hurlbut earns HEP award

On May 12, 2015, the Homeless Empowerment Project, publisher of Spare Change News, held its 23rd Annual Fundraiser and Gala at the beautiful Microsoft NERD Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Supporters, friends, board members, staff and volunteers all came to the event to support HEP and its mission of empowering the economically disadvantaged in Greater Boston.

They came, as they do each year, to provide financial support, to discuss and celebrate the work of HEP, and to hear the featured speakers at the Gala while enjoying good food (provided by iCater), musical entertainment (provided by classical guitarist Raley Beggs) and participate in the event’s live and silent auctions and raffle.

Those who attended the event were fortunate to hear from master of ceremony State Representative Marjorie Decker and keynote speaker renowned humorist and social commentator Jimmy Tingle, as well as view the photographic exhibit, The Homeless are not Faceless, portraits of Spare Change News vendors by world-renowned photographer Len Rubenstein, who donated his work to produce the exhibit.

HEP also wishes to express gratitude to those who could not attend the event but sent in generous donations to support the work of our organization. A special thanks is owed to the event’s co-chairs, board of trustees president Cheryl Jordan and board of trustees secretary Andrea Aaron-Burke.

Perhaps most importantly, this year they also came to participate in HEP’s presentation of the Homeless Empowerment Project Award to Bob Hurlbut, the remarkable Executive Director of the Cambridge Community Foundation, who announced his retirement earlier in the year.

While Hurlbut, Decker and Tingle all have fought to improve the lives of the homeless and people living in poverty, this article focuses on the life and work of Bob Hurlbut, for which he was given the Homeless Empowerment Project award.

Hurlbut was appointed executive director of the Cambridge Community Foundation in 1994. Under his leadership, the foundation’s endowment has grown from $4 million to approximately $32 million. The foundation is now able to distribute over $1 million annually, serving as a resource to over 180 human service agencies that help people at risk in Cambridge.

bob hurlbut

Bob Hurlbut speaking at the Homeless Empowerment 23rd Anniversary Gala before receiving his award.

Hurlbut is an outstanding and innovative leader, a gifted and tireless advocate and a brilliant facilitator of partnerships. In his role as executive director of CCF, Hurlbut has built a remarkable legacy. He has had unparalleled success in attracting and advising donors with annual giving, establishing endowed trusts for the benefit of the citizens of Cambridge, funding grants, providing advice and assistance to human service agencies and not-for-profits dedicated to aiding the neediest members of the Cambridge community.

One of Hurlbut’s greatest achievements was building partnerships among agencies with common interests, universities, banks, corporate and private foundations, municipal agencies and knowledgeable Cambridge donors and supporters. Hurlbut’s collaborative approach encouraged funders, human service agency representatives and executive directors of not-for-profits to, in Bob’s words, escape their “insular silos” and meet to discuss issues and problems that need to be addressed and potential solutions. The success of this collaborative effort, known as “Cambridge Funders,” is reflected financially in the growth of the foundation’s endowment and the amount of funds distributed annually.

Over the years, Hurlbut and the Cambridge Community Foundation have been strong supporters of the work of the Homeless Empowerment Project and Spare Change News. Hurlbut and the foundation help to support many of HEP’s initiatives. Perhaps most importantly is that through their support, we were able to establish a writers’ fund. The fund helps to provide us with money to pay vendors and low-income writers for articles and art that is published in Spare Change News.

Hurlbut has personally served as a great source of information and advice to our organization. Since I was first appointed executive director of HEP in 2012, Hurlbut has been an invaluable source of guidance and wisdom to me personally. He has given unselfishly of his time in helping me in my work as executive director. He’s a remarkable man, extremely intelligent, dedicated, compassionate, caring and empathetic.

I consider him a mentor and an inspiration. It’s my hope and goal to do my job following the incredible example that he has set at the Cambridge Community Foundation.

Bob Hurlbut is a son of Cambridge, where he was raised and schooled, with the exception of attending high school at St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H. He received his A.B. from Harvard College in 1959 and a certificate of advanced graduate studies from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education in 1968. Before joining the Cambridge Community Foundation, Bob was a career educator, teaching at Newton High School and serving as headmaster of the Park School in Brookline for 25 years. In 1994, with Beverly Cassara, Hurlbut co-founded the Cambridge Senior Volunteer Clearinghouse. The establishment of the clearinghouse reflects his passionate belief that the seniors of Cambridge offer an invaluable resource in helping meet the needs of these agencies. At present, the clearinghouse matches volunteers to the needs of some 110 human service agencies.

Hurlbut’s life story is a remarkable one. His father, a surgeon at the MGH, joined the U.S. Navy in 1941. Tragically, he was killed in 1945, when Bob was eight years old. His father was survived by his wife, his son, Bob, and Bob’s three younger sisters. In addition to his biological family, this gifted young boy was fortunate to be surrounded by people who realized his limitless potential, and worked hard to ensure Bob’s stay on the “straight and narrow.”

He tells of the many hours that he spent at his grandmother’s knee, listening to her read poetry. Her husband, his grandfather, was the first dean of Harvard College. These influences flamed the young man’s interest in learning and his enjoyment of interacting with older people. He speaks warmly of Harvard Square shopkeepers who insisted that he come by several times a week after school, and fostered his growth both as a person and as a student.

Hurlbut fondly remembers Mr. and Mrs. Sloan, owners of a mom-and-pop grocery store, whom he visited several times each week, and Nick at the Brattle Street Florist, to whom he reported every other day. They became surrogate “fathers” and helped a young man achieve the great work that he has accomplished. Bob also speaks lovingly of summers at his family summer home in Marblehead, where he learned the value of hard labor from Clifford Homans.

Outside of work, he enjoys spending time with his family: his wife Nancy, his three children and their spouses and their eight grandchildren. He credits the love and guidance of his extended family for his success in life.

Although the spotlight of the evening was on Hurlbut’s receiving the Homeless Empowerment Project Award, the work of Decker and Tingle should not go unnoted.

State Representative Decker, a former seven-term member of the Cambridge City Council, who grew up in public housing in Cambridgeport, has never forgotten her roots and has spent her remarkable career as a champion of the homeless and poor.

Representative Decker is currently one of the co-sponsors of a Homeless Bill of Rights. Tingle, also a native of Cambridge, has spent his career as a renowned humorist and social commentator, while demonstrating a long-standing interest in social justice. He is the founder of Humor for Humanity, a blend of entertainment and activism aimed at raising funds and awareness for non-profits and charities fighting for social justice.

Both Decker and Tingle have been dedicated supporters of HEP. We all honor these two remarkable humanitarians.

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