April 22, 2019
John Drew Is New President/CEO at ABCD; Robert Coard Dies

John Drew
November 5, 2009 — Action for Boston Community Development, Boston's premier antipoverty agency, has named John J. Drew as its new president and CEO, replacing Robert Coard, who served in the post for 41 years. Coard died two days after the change in leadership took effect on Nov. 1.

Drew, a national figure and acknowledged leader in the community action movement for more than 30 years, has served as executive vice president at Action for Boston Community Development (ABDC) for more than 20 years.

“We are extremely fortunate to have John Drew, who has served on the front lines at ABCD for many years and through extremely challenging times, to lead ABCD at this time,” said. Juliette Mayers, ABCD board chair. “John has the leadership skills, political acumen and community support in place to bring ABCD to even greater heights in fulfilling its important mission of providing Boston’s low-income people and neighborhoods with pathways out of poverty and opportunities for better lives.”

Drew had been in charge at ABCD, which serves more than 100,000 low-income, disadvantaged individuals and families, since Coard was hospitalized in July. (See more about Coard further in this article, or click here.)

Coard was honored at ABCD’s 35th annual Community Awards Dinner, held Oct. 30, and was hailed as a “giant” of community action in Boston and the nation. More than 1,500 people, including Gov. Deval Patrick, attended the event, which featured a film featuring that highlighted Coard’s anti-poverty work that was based on increasing social justice and education. Nineteen community volunteers were also honored.

“I am very grateful to Board Chairperson Juliette Mayers and the entire committed Board of Directors for their dedication to ABCD and the important work of the agency,” he said. “It is both humbling and inspiring to be their choice for President/CEO of this very significant organization. At ABCD, we will continue and expand the all-important services and opportunities that enable low-income Boston-area residents to have hope and opportunity in their lives. We are ready to be creative and to move forward to continue to make a difference in people’s lives!”

Drew , who grew up in Charlestown, experiencing the beginnings of the antipoverty movement as a resident of public housing and a Head Start parent. He graduated Bentley College and completed his MBA at Suffolk University, and is a certified public accountant. In addition to being ABCD’s executive vice president, Drew has served as budget director, deputy director and chief operating officer.

In addition to helping guide the growth of ABCD, Drew is the founder and former president of the National Association for Administrative Excellence (NAFAE), an association that helped make significant advances in the business management of nonprofit agencies. He lectures frequently to national audiences in the community action network and serves as an adjunct professor at local colleges and universities including the Urban College of Boston.

Robert Coard: Builder of Social Institutions

During his 45 years at ABCD—41 of them as president/CEO—Robert Coard built the organization into the largest independent, nonprofit human services agency in New England, which today has an operating budget of $150 million and a staff of almost 1,000.

"He taught us that we should help people who couldn't help themselves," Drew told The Boston Herald. "As long as there's something called community action and people having opportunity and the will, Bob will be remembered. That was what he was all about."

Established in 1962, ABCD today serves more than 100,000 disadvantaged persons annually – from pregnant mothers, infants and toddlers to teenagers to senior citizens throughout the Boston area.

Renowned as a builder of social institutions, Coard founded the National Community Action Foundation (NCAF) in Washington, D.C. in 1981 to provide nationwide leadership and impact legislation affecting America’s poor and the 1,100 community action programs that represent them.

In 1989, he created “CAPLAW,” a highly effective national program to provide legal support to community action programs and their low-income constituents.

Coard also championed the building of senior affordable housing complexes in four Boston neighborhoods with $28 million from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, state Department of Housing and Economic Development, City of Boston, and several local banks. Under his leadership, ABCD also acquired property to carry out programs in several Boston neighborhoods as well as downtown.

In addition, he founded the Urban College of Boston and continued to serve as board vice chair. Fully accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), the now-independent Urban College serves more than 700 students each semester and has been recognized as a nationally important model for providing low-income, inner-city students with access to higher education

Among other career highlights, Coard served on federal Judge Arthur Garrity’s 15-member coordinating council to advise on school desegregation during the school busing crisis of the late 1960s and successfully sued President Richard Nixon in federal court over the president’s efforts to dismantle the federal Office of Economic Opportunity that funded all antipoverty programs at that time.

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