November-December 2021

A purposeful life

Philanthropist of the Year Kevin Beverly learned as a young boy that we all need help to succeed. He’s made it his mission to invest in others the way others invested in him.

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Beverly packs bags for Manna Food Center with (from left): Catherine Dickstein, Grayson Foa and Henry Kruuse. Photo by Lisa Helfert

Five years ago, Kevin Beverly was assigned to mentor Simegne Mamo through a scholarship program at The Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville, where he serves on the advisory board and she was studying public health. Mamo, a first-generation college student from Ethiopia, was busy taking classes and working full time, so she didn’t return his initial emails. She didn’t know how a mentor could help her.

But Beverly did, so he tracked her down on campus to explain.

Then president and CEO of Social & Scientific Systems (SSS) Inc., an international public health research company based in Silver Spring, Beverly started by asking Mamo what she needed. He told her that as a mentor, he could offer a bridge to the professional world and give her an idea of what life would be like after college. Later, he invited Mamo to his office to meet some of his colleagues. He brought her to networking events, challenging her to strike up a conversation with at least four people each time.

“He said: Don’t be shy. Everyone in that room was where you are right now. They all had to break out of their comfort zone,” Mamo recalls.

Beverly with Simegne Mamo, a first-generation college student, at a networking event at The Universities at Shady Grove in 2016. Courtesy photo

Beverly says he saw potential in Mamo that she didn’t yet recognize. She started to find her voice, and when she got her degree from the University of Maryland, he hired her as a research assistant. “Kevin really changed my life,” says Mamo, 33, who has kept in touch with Beverly. He visited her at the hospital last year after her daughter was born and supported her recently when her mother died of COVID-19. “He’s like my American dad.”

Beverly learned the value of a helping hand early on. He was 10 when his father left, he says, but he found support in his tight-knit Eastern Shore community and knows the trajectory of his life changed because of the people who encouraged him along the way.

“I had help. Boy, did I have help,” says Beverly, 64. “With all these people who invested time in you, it seems only fair—if you’ve got an opportunity to give back, you should.”

For 39 years, Beverly has lived in the same house in Greenwich Forest, the Bethesda neighborhood where he and his wife, Diane, raised their two sons. He’s the kind of neighbor who shows up with firewood when the power goes out in a snowstorm or organizes a group bike ride to support a friend battling colon cancer.

In the community, he has a heart for causes that help young people thrive. “My mother was a consummate giver. She said, ‘Nobody does it alone. Everybody needs help,’ ” he recalls, adding that her priority was always: “Children first. People next.”

No volunteer job is too big or too small for Beverly. The recently retired executive provides strategic guidance through leadership roles with nonprofits such as CollegeTracks, which helps students navigate the college process. He also picks up groceries at Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg to assemble weekend food bags for elementary school students.

“That man wears so many hats,” says neighbor Wendy Feldman Block. “He’s this quiet operator. He’s never looking for limelight and attention. Yet on the other hand, he is the embodiment of somebody who lives this purposeful life.”

Recently retired, Beverly has continued to volunteer with Manna Food Center, packing food bags called “smart sacks” for children who may not have enough to eat over the weekend. With help from middle and high school students, Beverly picks up the groceries at Manna, assembles the bags at his home in Bethesda, and delivers them to an elementary school in Silver Spring. Photo by Lisa Helfert

It’s Beverly’s commitment to service that led him to be named the 2021 Philanthropist of the Year by The Community Foundation in Montgomery County. “Whenever you look around the community, you constantly find his name. He’s co-sponsoring, chairing, and on the board of so many different organizations,” says former Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett. “He gets other corporate leaders to participate through his example, so not only are they providing resources, but they are engaged as active participants in the community.”

Solving big problems takes cooperation among all sectors, Beverly says. He embraces the model of collective action and is a leader with Montgomery Moving Forward, an initiative that brings together stakeholders from business, government and nonprofits to address issues such as workforce development.

As chair of the CollegeTracks board since 2012, Beverly was instrumental in convincing county leaders and Montgomery County Public Schools administrators to increase the reach of its college counseling services from two high schools to five, says Nancy Leopold, the organization’s co-founder and former executive director. Rather than focusing on the constraints of a nonprofit, he’s known for conveying a strong sense of possibility and building powerful relationships. Last year, when the organization needed to raise money to transition to virtual services, Beverly secured $135,000 in a matter of days. “It’s because people love him and they believe in him,” Leopold says. “He is committed to using every resource he possibly can to the service of Montgomery County.”

Beverly’s community involvement spans several organizations. He is vice chair of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corp., chair emeritus of the Montgomery County Advisory Board for the Greater Washington Community Foundation, and chair of the steering committee of the Children’s Opportunity Fund, a public-private impact initiative. He also serves on the boards of CareFirst of Maryland and Wrestling to Beat the Streets DC, and was a past board chair of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase YMCA and vice chair of Passion for Learning, a nonprofit that provides after-school programs for low-income children in Silver Spring.

Hugh Panero, who has served on boards with Beverly, says Beverly comes into meetings with a list, probes deeply to understand problems and tries to bring people together. “He’s bridged all sorts of conflicts between various bureaucracies—be it in a school system or a municipality—and he knows how to do it with facts, a smile and congeniality,” says Panero, a co-founder and former CEO of XM Satellite Radio. “He brings his experience from the business world to the philanthropic world and does it with a lot of grace.”

When The Universities at Shady Grove crafted an equity vision statement last year, Beverly led the conversation, says Shirley Brandman, chair of the USG advisory board. He shared some of his own story to make the point that disparities hurting minority students aren’t “ancient history,” she says. “He helped us come to a commitment that is not just words on paper, but something we refer to often, truly trying to use our equity lens as we offer guidance to the institution,” she says of Beverly, who serves as a vice chair.

Beverly continued his work with Manna during the pandemic, packing “smart sacks” from home with his wife. His company had been filling the food bags for children in need every week for several years. When Manna CEO Jackie DeCarlo lowered the number of bags assigned to SSS a few years ago, Beverly hopped on the phone with her to reiterate his company’s commitment and tell her they wanted to do more. “That’s just his can-do attitude,” says DeCarlo, whose organization honored SSS with one of its 2018 Heroes Against Hunger awards, “and feeling like he’s a partner.”

In his 19 years at Social & Scientific Systems, Beverly strengthened ties with the communities where the company operated, providing financial resources and volunteers. He joined employees and their families at East Silver Spring Elementary School to clean up the grounds, plant flowers and read to students. When SSS had an office in Uganda, where they managed a research network for HIV therapeutics, the company supported an orphanage for babies with AIDS. It donated food, money and time to the orphanage—and twice a year for nearly 15 years, Beverly traveled there to work as a volunteer. He’s never forgotten the time the company bought a trampoline for the orphanage, thinking it would be something for the kids to play on. He was surprised to see the staff laying babies on the trampoline instead, using it as a place for them to sleep. It was a reminder to listen more intently to the needs of others, he says: “We think we know what people want, and we do [things] without asking.”

Beverly packs his car with boxes from the Manna Food Center warehouse in Gaithersburg. Photo by Lisa Helfert

As a young boy, Beverly attended a one-room school where students brought in logs to stoke the potbelly stove. His older brother, Larry Ellis, a retired four-star general in the U.S. Army, was the first in the family to go to college and set the expectation for Kevin to follow. “I was being guided by somebody who had a North Star. He was focused and trying to keep his younger brother in order,” Beverly says of Ellis, who started giving him extra homework packets when he was 8. To get a better education, Beverly says, his family pushed him to attend a predominantly white junior high school and high school in nearby Cambridge, Maryland, and he later became senior class president.

When Beverly was a teenager, he got a job at Sears as the assistant to the janitor, cleaning toilets (something he didn’t have at home) and scrubbing floors. Motivated by his mother to do the best job he could no matter what the position, he was promoted to the sporting goods department by the assistant manager. “You never know who is watching or paying attention,” he says. “It had nothing to do with what I was doing. It had everything to do with whatever tenacity he saw in me doing it.”

Beverly went to the University of Maryland to study criminal justice and struggled at first to get his footing academically. After his first semester, he returned home to work on an oyster boat. On a cold January day, he fell overboard (a rope was tied to his body because he couldn’t swim) and had to be hauled back. It was a wake-up call of sorts, he says. He realized he didn’t want to do that kind of work and returned to school with a new mindset.

During his second year of college, he got a student job in the mail room at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, where he continued to work until his graduation in 1979. Beverly’s work ethic caught the eye of his supervisors, and he was hired to stay on-site at the library in a new role with the World Health Organization. Beverly went on to get his master’s degree in library science and information services from UMD and worked at various companies before joining SSS in 2003. The 500-person, employee-owned company was sold in 2019, and Beverly stayed on through July 2021 to help with the transition.

An avid cyclist who logs about 100 miles a week, Beverly has organized group bike rides near his childhood home on Taylors Island in Dorchester County. “It has such a rich history. Some of it wonderful, some of it tragic. But it is a part of the history,” he says. “And the African American history is really quite extraordinary.

“People see me at my peak, as a successful businessperson in the community, but most have no sense of what it took to get there. Sharing where I grew up and some of the history—the churches and schools—gives them a different perspective,” Beverly says.

To honor his mother and pay it forward, Beverly established the Mildred Beverly Memorial Family Fund in 2005 to provide about five $1,000 to $1,500 scholarships for students from Cambridge-South Dorchester High School. This past July, while attending the opening of that area’s first Boys and Girls Club, the mother of one of his scholarship students told him that her daughter had graduated from college and was the only African American vet technician in the area. On his way home, Beverly stopped by the veterinary hospital where the woman worked and waited to talk to her. He was overwhelmed by her gratitude and transformation: He’d met her when she was a quiet high school senior; now she was a working professional talking about going to veterinary school. “She was so proud,” he says.

Caralee Adams is a freelance writer in Bethesda.