On an early spring morning, approximately 50 executives from various sectors gathered at a prestigious law firm located at the Reston Town Center. They were participating in a community leadership program entitled “The Hidden Faces of Fairfax County.” It was not lost on the participants that high above the restaurants and retail stores, the conference room overlooked the Embry Rucker Community Shelter located in the other direction. Despite being a thriving community with highly-educated and highly-paid residents with access to the best public schools, attractive parks, and cultural activities, Reston, as well as the broader Fairfax County region, has significant challenges – homelessness, food scarcity, public safety, digital divide, and more.
Solving these community challenges is a tremendous task; it requires collaboration between government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and corporations. Since 1987, Leadership Fairfax has been the catalyst for this collaboration. This organization assembles diverse leaders, across sectors and experiences, to increase their knowledge and perspectives on key local and regional issues. Leadership Fairfax accomplishes its mission through three signature programs – Leadership Fairfax Institute (LFI), Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI), and Lifetime Leaders Program. To date, Leadership Fairfax counts more than 1700 community leaders as graduates. However, the work doesn’t stop at graduation. Graduates continue to serve the community, racking up volunteer hours each year. In the words of President & CEO Karen Cleveland (LFI ‘05) “There is still much work to do.”
Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Leadership Fairfax has broadened its mission to provide an environment for challenging and strategic conversations, what Cleveland calls Leadership Fairfax 2.0. Already, Leadership Fairfax has brought leaders from all sectors to the table to build and maintain the strongest community possible. One example is the Opportunity Neighborhood in Reston which launched last fall. Leaders from a variety of organizations such as Cornerstones, Reston Community Center, Reston Association, and YMCA Reston as well as many County departments, including Fairfax County Public Schools, came together to assess need, identify priorities, review existing resources, and determine strategies for filling the gaps, all with the intent of enhancing the quality of life for local underserved families and children.
One of the participants at the table was South Lakes High School PTA President Andy Sigle (LFI ’14). He credits Leadership Fairfax for preparing him for his role as moderator of the initial public meeting because “the LFI program emphasized how imperative it is for government, nonprofits, and businesses to work together to enable a community to thrive.” Further, as a Cornerstones volunteer, he is sees the impact of creating an environment where all children have the resources they need to succeed. YMCA Reston Executive Director Joseph Crawford (LFI’15) agrees. “One of the most impactful pillars of the Y is youth development. Opportunity Neighborhood is the best collective partnership the Y has to serve our children in Reston and we support it wholeheartedly.”
If learning about local issues, sharpening your leadership skills and engaging in community conversations interests you, then apply for a Leadership Fairfax program and take a seat at the table. There’s still much work to do to maintain the strongest community possible … for all!