Amanda Nguyen photo by Kate Warren courtesy of the Heinz Awards.

An outspoken advocate for rape survivors. A social entrepreneur changing lives in struggling Appalachian communities. A nonprofit leader blazing trails in environmental conservation and diversity. A nurse helping senior citizens live with dignity and independence. And an artist who has made more than 170 films exploring issues impacting working-class communities.

These five people are recipients of the 24th annual Heinz Awards, announced today by the Heinz Family Foundation. Each will receive an unrestricted cash award of $250,000 for their achievements.

“The recipients of this year’s awards are creating opportunities for individuals to access the foundations of a healthy, free and just society ‒ well-paying jobs, a just legal system, equity of opportunity and a life of dignity when we are not able to care for ourselves,” said Teresa Heinz, Chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation. “These awardees have demonstrated not only innovative thinking, but also persistence, courage and an inspiring compassion for others. We are grateful to them for their contributions, which so beautifully exemplify the spirit of the Heinz Awards.”

Created in memory of the late U.S. Senator John Heinz, the awards honor achievements focused on the arts, the environment, the human condition, public policy and economic opportunity. The winners will be honored in Pittsburgh on October 17. To date, the Heinz Family Foundation has recognized 144 individuals and awarded more than $28.75 million to Heinz Award honorees.

Here are details about this year’s winners:

Amanda Nguyen is the founder and CEO of Rise, a coalition of sexual assault survivors and allies. After publicly sharing her own experience as a victim of sexual assault, Nguyen has fought for legal protections for victims of sexual violence. Her work led to the enactment of the national Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights of 2016 and similar legislation passed in more than 20 states across the country. She has also launched Rise Justice Labs, a civil rights accelerator that provides a model for community organizing.

Brandon Dennison. Photo by Annie O’Neill. Courtesy of the Heinz Awards.
Brandon Dennison. Photo by Annie O’Neill. Courtesy of the Heinz Awards.

West Virginia native Brandon Dennison is founder and CEO of the nonprofit Coalfield Development Corporation, a collection of social enterprise organizations dedicated to rebuild Appalachia’s economy and environment by helping unemployed young adults and former coal miners find work and improve their skills. Dennison’s initiative provides jobs, community college tuition, technical certification training and life skills coaching.

Rue Mapp photo by Bethanie Hines. Courtesy of Heinz Awards.

Rue Mapp is the founder of the national conservation network Outdoor Afro, a nonprofit that connects African Americans with the outdoors and trains them to become leaders in conservation advocacy. Mapp’s work builds a more diverse community of voices committed to effective natural resource stewardship locally and nationally, and offers opportunities to experience the healing power of nature.

Sarah Szanton photo by Tyrone Turner. Courtesy of Heinz Awards.

Nurse and researcher Sarah Szanton, PhD, has developed the Community Aging in Place Advancing Better Living for Elders (CAPABLE) program, which helps older adults maintain their homes and offers nursing and occupational therapy to improve mobility and independence and decrease healthcare costs. Going beyond seniors’ medical needs to help them age in place with dignity, CAPABLE offers home repair services to remove barriers to safe living and therapists who assist with needs such as bathing and cooking.

Kevin Jerome Everson photo by Tom Daly. Courtesy of Heinz Awards.

Kevin Jerome Everson is a prolific filmmaker and visual artist whose films portray the intimate lives and experiences of working-class African Americans. His numerous films range from less than one minute to eight hours in length, and include original, experimental filmmaking and found footage. His work has appeared at museums including the Tate Modern and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Melissa Rayworth

Kidsburgh Editor Melissa Rayworth specializes in stories about culture, gender, design and parenting. She has written for a variety of outlets in the U.S. and Asia, and is a frequent contributor to The Associated Press. Find a selection of her work at