(This article is part of a series spotlighting the 2002 Best of Reston award winners.)
When she was a young girl Ann Rodriguez’s father died, leaving her mother to raise four children while working a full-time job. Even so, Rodriguez’s mother held several volunteer positions, including a stint as president of the local Parent Teacher Association.
"I grew up in a family with an extraordinary mother," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez now realizes how hard it must have been for her mother to fit volunteer work into her busy schedule. But when Rodriguez was growing up, it just seemed normal for her mother to be involved in the community.
"She just did it," Rodriguez said. "She had this great sense of humor. I learned that you just keep doing things."
TAKING A CUE from her mother, Rodriguez has been an active volunteer throughout her 27 years as a Reston resident. And, in recognition of her work, Rodriguez is receiving one of this year’s Best of Reston awards. The annual awards, presented jointly by Reston Interfaith and the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce, honor individuals and businesses who have made extraordinary contributions to the community.
"I was embarrassed. I was very surprised," Rodriguez said, describing her reaction to the announcement of the award. "Through the chamber I’ve been involved in the Best of Reston process. Every year they announce the winners I always say, ‘Wow, they are terrific.’ I don’t consider myself on that same level."
Rodriguez was president of the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce during the mid-1990s. She is currently on the board of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and hosts "Business Focus," a television show on Comcast cable access channel 28. Rodriguez pursued an early career in broadcasting, as associate producer of a television talk show. She also spent four years as a radio DJ.
Now Rodriguez runs her own Reston-based company, Corporate Products, which helps other companies put corporate logos on items like coffee mugs and t-shirts. Rodriguez said a lot of her volunteer work has grown out of her professional life.
"I am a businesswoman," Rodriguez said. "I have a business in Reston. The business community and the residential community go hand in hand. One is part of the other. You really can live and work here."
Rodriguez disagrees with some of her friends, who lament Reston’s rapid development.
"I have friends who see this as bad, who see the congested roads," she said. "But I don’t see it that way. It’s growth. I live on a wooded acre. I have fox in my backyard. In two minutes I am at the Reston Community Center and in four minutes I am seeing clients."
Some of her volunteerism has grown out of her personal life, as well. Twelve years ago her son told her that he was gay. Initially, Rodriguez was taken aback. "There were a couple of weeks where I sought the wise counsel of some good friends," she said. But then she took action.
"I did what many parents do," Rodriguez said, "I said, ‘This is something I need to know more about.’"
She joined Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), a national organization that offers support and education to those who have recently learned a loved one is gay. PFLAG also advocates on gay and lesbian issues.
Rodriguez has been a board member with the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Chapter of PFLAG and is a member of the speaker’s bureau. As a member of that bureau, she speaks at government agencies and private corporations to acquaint employees with sexual orientation issues. She said hearing from her audience is one of the benefits of being a PFLAG speaker.
"I was downtown recently at a jazz night," Rodriguez said. "A young man came out of the crowd and said he was an employee at the Patent Office, where I had given a speech. He said it meant so much to him to see a mother speak out for gay rights."
Since her son came out, Rodriguez said enrollment in PFLAG support groups has declined. She sees this as a positive comment on the acceptance of alternative lifestyles in the United States.
"Twelve years ago, when my son came out, it was before Ellen," Rodriguez said. "There wasn’t the visibility. Now, when a kid comes out, the parent says, ‘OK.’"
Rodriguez comes from a family that has always valued the "cultural life." She paints porcelain in her spare time, she is a fan of National Public Radio and she describes herself as a "movie freak."
"I can walk 10 minutes and get to the Reston Community Center to see David Sedaris and Terry Gross," she said.
Because of her love of the arts, Rodriguez has become a member of the Greater Reston Arts Center Board of Directors. She said Reston’s politically liberal tenor fosters a thriving artistic community. Her son, an artist currently finishing a Fulbright Scholarship, was discovered as a student at South Lakes High School.
"Reston is a pocket of advocacy," she said. "You can stand on the Plaza at Lake Anne and pontificate. When my son was at South Lakes High School he exhibited artistic talent early on. Two of his teachers saw something we didn’t because we’re not artists."
Cathy Vivona, who nominated Rodriguez as for the Best of Reston award, has been friends with Rodriguez since 1979.
"She’s a great friend," Vivona said. "I remember lots of times we’ve laughed together. We’ve enjoyed each other in the good times and supported each other in the difficult times."
Vivona said it is Rodriguez’s style that makes her effective as a volunteer.
"It’s her ability to listen to people," Vivona said. "She appreciates other points of view and helps everyone come forward with everyone feeling like they positively participated in the process."
The Best of Reston Award Dinner will be on April 25 at the Hyatt Reston. At the dinner Rodriguez and six others will all recieve Best of Reston awards. Proceeds from the dinner will go to Reston Interfaith. For ticket information on the dinner, call Reston Interfaith at 703-787-3126.