2008 Awards Recipient: $100,000
For nearly 30 years, Michael Woodard has lived and worked among the poor, first in the United States and for the past 15 years in Nicaragua. Working with teams of community members and supporters, he implements change from the ground up, helping create self-sufficiency from poverty.
“We are very strong supporters of grassroots organizing,” he says. “The basis of any successful project has to be based on a community being organized and devoted to finding a solution. ... We believe life is sustainable within communities.”
“I think a lot of people say they want to make a difference but they spend so much time trying to figure out how to do that and they turn around and they are old and haven't done anything.”
Ordained as a Presbyterian minister, Woodard began his humanitarian efforts while living in North Carolina. In late 1978 he formed an ecumenical community of service workers called the Jubilee House Community, dedicated to addressing some of the most pressing problems of the region's poor. They created shelters for the permanently homeless, people with temporary housing needs and battered women, and later started a local soup kitchen, provided legal advocacy and built a Habitat for Humanity project. Through his work, Woodard traveled to Nicaragua as a member of the Witness for Peace delegations in the 1980s.
In 1993, after 10 years of running programs directed at domestic issues, the Jubilee House Community formed a separate nonprofit, the Center for the Development of Central America (CDCA), and relocated to Nicaragua at the request of the local community. There, Woodard and a staff of 12 began work in Ciudad Sandino, a densely populated and abjectly impoverished city that had become a dumping ground for victims of natural disasters.
After spending a year assessing needs and meeting with the residents to determine opportunities to achieve sustainability, Woodard and his team organized initiatives responding to their findings, particularly in the areas of health care, education, micro-credit loans, agriculture, sustainable economic development and technology.
From the start, Woodard and his staff have helped organize and reinvigorate lagging economies through niche markets. In one instance, an organic produce-exporting business had closed its doors, but CDCA helped reorganize the small farmer suppliers of the enterprise into an organic cooperative and found new buyers in the United States for the farmers' organic coffee, sesame and cashews.
Important strides have also been made in addressing the shortcomings of healthcare in the region. In partnership with Bucknell University, the CDCA built and operates a health clinic equipped with its own lab and pharmacy and, in response to patient demand, opened another facility devoted to women's health, installed a dental clinic and lab, and has provided care for more than 11,000 patients to date.
“I don't have any magic answers on how to do that or where to do it. If you want to make a difference then go do it,” Woodard says. “I think a lot of people say they want to make a difference but they spend so much time trying to figure out how to do that and they turn around and they are old and haven't done anything.”
Learn more about Woodard's work with Jubilee House Community and CDCA and visit the Opus Prize foundation website to learn more about the award.