Dorothy Fonow, new executive director of Western Fairfax Christian Ministries (WFCM), has a big job on her hands. But she's approaching it with gusto and is already hard at work.
"I'm not easily daunted, so I tend to rise to challenges," she said. If she has a particularly tough problem, said Fonow, "I go home and sleep on it and come up with an idea."
Helping local families in crisis situations, WFCM provides those in need with food, clothing and transportation to and from doctor's appointments. It's Kids in Crisis program aids families with seriously ill children.
Fonow took the reins in April, replacing former executive director Jan Welch, who retired. WFCM has 26 member churches and more than 200 volunteers and, so far, Fonow likes what she sees.
"Our social worker, Gail Hoffman-Komro, and the volunteers are wonderful," she said. "In the short time I've been here, I've been very impressed with them. They genuinely live the mission of the organization as an expression of God's love and a witness to their churches."
Born and raised in London, Fonow and her family came to the U.S. 17 years ago, spending three years in Pittsburgh and the past 14 years in Oak Hill. She and her husband of 28 years, Bob, have a married daughter, Nia, 23, of Oak Hill, and a son, Jay, 18, who attends college in New York.
Fonow was a social worker for 10 years in Great Britain and also worked with charities and churches. And she was a secretary for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. In the U.S., she was office administrator, for five years, for the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston.
The past four years, she was administrator and then associate executive director of the Fairfax Bar Association. And she comes highly recommended by local attorney Jim Hart.
"I've known her several years, and she's a wonderful person," he said. "I was impressed with her at the Fairfax Bar Association because of her people skills. The FBA was sorry to lose her, but it's nice to hear that she's working for the community — she's a real asset."
Fonow said the attorneys taught her the use of language in a "watertight way," plus procedures, policies and how to run an organization. She applied for the WFCM position because of her previous experience — "my work with churches and my social-work beginnings," she said. "It just all seemed to fit together."
At WFCM, she oversees the operation of the various ministries, connecting with the county and reporting to WFCM's board of directors. She also supervises the application for and expenditure of grants.
"I'm really enjoying every aspect of it," said Fonow. "I'm visiting the various member churches to introduce myself and also to make them aware of what's needed and volunteer opportunities."
She's also seeking a coordinator from each church for the Fannie Mae Walk for the Homeless, in October. Said Fonow: "I really want to get the members to come out for that event to help support the ministry, raise funds and also meet members in the other churches."
And there's lots of work to do because the need for WFCM's services is greater than ever. In August 1999, it provided 432 bags of food/month; now, it's 950 bags/month.
"Our food pantry is open three days/week and, I imagine, if we were open another day, we'd see an even-greater increase," said Fonow. "In August 1999, we were helping 103 families/month; we're now helping closer to 200."
Even before Sept. 11, she said, the dot.com collapses impacted local residents. "WFCM helped with mortgage payments, last year, for the first time," said Fonow. "It was always rent before. The on-call workers were shocked. People with mortgages don't expect to find themselves in that position."
But Fonow and WFCM are rising to the occasion. "I really like working with people," she said. "And I like the idea of an organization that gives back to the community."
To volunteer, call Pam Ryan at 703-830-8940. To donate food, personal-care items, cleaning supplies or clothing, call 703-815-3238. For help, call the hotline, 703-378-3045; press 1.