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2018 Liff Spirit Award

Kelsey Wirth

Founder, Mothers Out Front

Social activist and entrepreneur Kelsey Wirth is the driving force behind Mothers Out Front, a five-year old non-profit that has mobilized scores of women in eight states, most notably here in Massachusetts, to address the threat of climate change.

With plans to expand across the country, MOF has already had victories including its campaign to persuade elected officials and utility companies to work together in greater Boston to cap the biggest methane gas leaks from aging pipes. This initiative, which will be completed in two years, will help reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, a major cause of climate change.

MOF teams in cities like Ithaca, NY, Norfolk, VA and San Jose, CA are pushing legislators and business leaders to work aggressively to make a transition from fossil fuel to clean and renewable energy sources. The groups hold informational house parties; testify at public hearings; raise money; and rally friends and neighbors to the cause.

Volunteer-led and volunteer-driven with a small paid staff, MOF relies on community organization to empower women to step up and speak out as passionate advocates for children and the future. The organization provides structure, training and tools needed to develop and win local and statewide campaigns.

Some ask why mothers? Although the MOF mission statement includes “grandmothers and other caregivers” and welcomes male participation and support, the organization contends that mothers’ voices can be especially effective on issues like the environment and drunk driving since concern for children can bring women together and bridge political, social, racial and economic divides.

As co-founder of Align Technology, the company that developed the Invisalign orthodontia system and went public with a multi-million dollar offering, Wirth transferred skills from the corporate world to this grassroots effort. But she would be first to say that MOF is anything but a traditional top-down enterprise.

After she left the company as president and moved to New England, Wirth was motivated to “do something” about the environment after reading a picture book about coral reefs to one of her two young daughters. Struck that her daughters might never get to see the reefs that are dying as the oceans warm, she convened a group of like-minded women in her living room and those women connected with other women who connected with other women who have led MOF’s growth from there.

And grow it has. Since its founding, MOF has increased its budget from $350,000 to nearly $2 million last year with plans to almost double that in 2018. Supported by the Barr Foundation, the Rockefeller Family Fund, and individual donors. Mothers Out Front was also was awarded a $1 million grant from the Gordon and Llura Gund Foundation to support organizational development and expansion.

Wirth, a graduate of Harvard College with an MBA from Stanford, lives in Cambridge with her daughters and husband, a physician and researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health. She is the daughter of environmentalist and former Colorado Senator Timothy Wirth and has served on several corporate and non-profit boards.

Liff Spirit Award

The Liff Spirit Award, named for Justine Mee Liff, Boston’s Commissioner of Parks and Recreation from 1996 to 2002, honors the vision, wisdom, humanity and joy that Justine brought to her work as a champion of the open, green spaces that are so vital to our daily life. It is presented annually at the Emerald Necklace Conservancy’s Party in the Park to an individual or individuals whose leadership, commitment to cities, passion for public places, dedication the democratic ideals fostered in urban parks, and ability to inspire public servants and private citizens to join together in common cause best reflects Justine’s spirit and legacy.

Past Recipients

2017
Whitney Hatch
Chairman, DCR Stewardship Council

2016
Ropes & Gray
Celebrating 150 Year Anniversary

2015
Mark Volpe
Managing Director, Boston Symphony Orchestra

2014
Elizabeth Barlow Rogers
Founder, Central Park Conservancy

2013
Thomas M. and Angela Menino
Mayor and First Lady, City of Boston

2012
Malcolm Rogers
Ann and Graham Gund Director,
Museum of Fine Arts Boston

2011
Valerie Burns
President, Boston Natural Areas Network

2010
Charles Ansbacher
Conductor and Founder,
Boston Landmark Orchestra

2009
Michael and Kitty Dukakis
Former Governor and First Lady,
Commonwealth of Massachusetts

2008
Joan and Ted Cutler
Philanthropists

2007
Agnes “Diddy” Cullinane
Founder, Black and White Boston

2006
Henry Lee
Founder, Friends of the Public Garden

2005
Eugenie Beal
Founding Chair, Boston Conservation Commission
Founding Member, Emerald Necklace Conservancy

Norman Leventhal
Founder, The Beacon Companies