Will Rogers Humanitarian Award
An award-winning writer from The Indianapolis Star has been chosen to receive the 2015 Will Rogers Humanitarian Award at the annual conference of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Marisa Kwiatkowski, an investigative reporter covering social services, will be recognized for her outstanding work on behalf of children.
In nominating her for the award, the Star’s executive editor, Jeff Taylor, said: “She writes of children abused and neglected, beaten to death or left starving, and of failures in the protection systems in place for children and adults. Marisa takes on this responsibility with compassion, tenacity and enormous skills as a storyteller, producing some of our most emotionally evocative, thought-provoking and noble journalism.”
Taylor added that Kwiatkowski’s stories “have resulted in significant change.” “Two years of reporting on day care issues resulted in legislation in 2014 that tightened the rules governing day-care operations.” For this achievement she, as part of a reporting team, won an award for best overall news writing from the Indiana Associated Press Managing Editors in 2014.
In April 2015, she was named Journalist of the Year by the Indianapolis Professional Chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists “for her stellar reporting on behalf of children in need.”
At 31, Marisa is the youngest recipient in the 16-year history of the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, created to recognize writers whose work has positively affected readers’ lives and produced tangible benefits, said Robert L. Haught, coordinator of the award program.
“She has compiled a remarkable record at an early age of using her public forum to help others, as Will Rogers did,” he said.
The award presentation will be made on Friday, June 26, at a dinner in the Indiana State Museum as part of NSNC’s 39th annual conference. Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry, great-granddaughter of the popular “cowboy philosopher” of the 1920s and ’30s, is expected to represent the Rogers family at the event.
Kwiatkowski already has earned more than 30 other awards in her journalism career. At the 2015 state APME awards ceremony, Marisa — who was the keynote speaker — won two first-place awards: for feature writing and feature series.
In 2013, before coming to the Star, she was the winner of two national awards for her series on the difficulties of children with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities to receive appropriate services under Indiana’s fragmented system. As a result of her reporting, state officials pledged up to $25 million per year to close the funding gap.
Kwiatkowski joined the Star in July 2013 after almost seven years at The Times of Northwest Indiana. Following graduation from Grand Valley State University in Michigan she also was a reporter with the Grand Haven (Michigan) Tribune and the Florence (South Carolina) Morning News.
She serves as a board member for the SPJ Indiana pro chapter, board vice president for Girls on the Run of Central Indiana and co-leader of the GVSU alumni-Indianapolis Club. Kwiatkowski previously held active roles in Northwest Indiana volunteer organizations including Meals on Wheels and Junior Achievement.
Taylor praised her involvement as a newsroom leader in the Star’s public service effort, Our Children/Our City. “Through that effort, we have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of charitable causes for children,” he said.
One article well worth reading defines her philosophy of humanitarian service. Here is an excerpt:
“People often ask me how I can cover social services — a topic that focuses on some of the worst life has to offer. Child abuse and neglect. Poverty. Homelessness. Human trafficking. Elder abuse. The struggles of people with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses to get needed services.
“When people ask, I usually shrug and say ‘someone has to do it.’ The whole truth is a bit more complicated.”
She gives examples, then writes, “The circumstances of those situations are terrible, but they aren’t what keep me awake at night.
“What grips me is the pressure to share those people’s stories in the most accurate, comprehensive way possible. And to do so with sensitivity and respect.
“There are easier jobs, that’s for sure. But I wanted this one because I believe that people — particularly those who can’t speak for themselves — deserve a voice.”
The Will Rogers Humanitarian Award is a desk-size replica of the Rogers statue in the U.S. Capitol. It carries a $500 stipend. The award is co-sponsored by the non-profit Will Rogers Writers Foundation and the Will Rogers Memorial Foundation.