by Sue Tomchin
“If I wasn’t a builder, I think I would have ended up in the nonprofit world,” says Mimi Brodsky Kress.
Indeed, Kress, JWI’s 2017 Sondra D. Bender Community Leader, has had an outsized impact on an array of non-profit organizations in the Washington area, at the same time as she has forged a highly successful career in the building industry. A third-generation Washingtonian, she is the co-owner and COO of Sandy Spring Builders, a custom home builder based in Bethesda, Md.
After their family experienced struggles with mental health issues, she and her husband worked to educate others about how to navigate the mental health care system. They took a Family-to-Family class at NAMI-MC (National Alliance on Mental Illness of Montgomery County). “Before the class was over I was asked to be on their board of directors,” says Kress, “and two years ago I was asked to be president of the board.” She feels that she has “helped shape the organization into a true community leader in mental health awareness in our county” and often makes presentations to students in both public and private schools on suicide prevention and ending the silence about mental illness.
From an early age, Kress saw her family members deeply involved in community organizations. Her mother Lois Badt Brodsky (now almost 90) and grandmother, Jennie Yudelevit Badt were both strong, independent women who worked diligently for the Hebrew Home and other organizations. Her late dad, builder Albert Brodsky, led by example and was deeply committed to such causes as JSSA, Israel Bonds and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and would often take his daughter along on his volunteer activities.
Kress continues the family tradition of supporting organizations benefitting Jewish causes and Israel. She is the incoming co-chair for the D.C. BBYO board. “My daughter was very active as a high schooler in BBYO and it had a lot to do with making her the leader she is today,” Kress says.
The co-chair of the local JNF Women for Israel campaign, Kress is a longtime member of the organization’s Sapphire Society. Active in Israel Bonds for 25 years, she also has been involved with JSSA, which honored her several years ago, with JWI, her synagogue, and other organizations.
And, for the past decade, she has been dedicated to Habitat for Humanity, believing deeply in its mission to help low-income individuals achieve home ownership. Each May, for the past several years, she has captained a team of 10 women for Women Build, an initiative that raises funds for Habitat and gives women a chance to learn construction skills while helping families in their community.
“My community involvement is incredibly fulfilling and a very important part of my life,” Kress says. “My family knows that. My business partner knows that. My business associates know that. It’s just part of who I am.”
"You need to have confidence in what you know and not let the fact that mostly men are in the business stop you from doing what you love and what you want to do."
Kress describes herself as a “take charge person,” and she needs to be. Sandy Spring has 45 employees and builds roughly 15 custom homes and a dozen major renovations annually. Kress oversees acquisitions, contracts, and the company’s administration and finance. She also runs Brodsky Group, a family business where she built warehouses with her late brother, Joel, and manages them with her brother, Neil.
Kress learned the building business from the ground up. She attended Colby, a liberal arts college in Maine, but after graduation wasn’t sure what career direction to take. Her dad encouraged her to explore the building industry by undertaking an apprenticeship program. She fell in love with the field and was soon out on job sites in a hard hat working as an assistant superintendent. She worked with a couple of other companies before joining forces with her partner Phil Leibovitz at Sandy Spring in 1997.
“It was a very male-dominated field in the 1980s. It still is, though there are many more women now than when I started,” she says. “It was something I had to learn to deal with. You need to have confidence in what you know and not let the fact that mostly men are in the business stop you from doing what you love and what you want to do.”
COO. Business owner. Volunteer leader. Mom. Wife. Somehow Kress manages to do it all. “Having boundaries is really important,” she notes. “Life is short. You need to have time for yourself and your family.”
It helps that her husband, Michael Kress, a photographer who annually shoots dozens of events, including many for non-profit organizations such as JWI, shares her values. “He gives back to the community through his work,” she says. And their children Max (27) and Jenna (22) are also committed to helping others in the community.
“I’m sure it’s not easy being married to someone who likes to do everything for everybody,” she says, laughing. “But I think we’ve struck a very good balance.”
“It can be stressful, but I love what I do in my work and volunteering. It’s different every day.”