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Commission Praises Women's Volunteerism

Twice a week, 75-year-old Jessie Chambers gets these women tapping.

"I see them grow with it. I see them getting younger. I see them getting more vibrant," said the Sterling woman, who is proud of her age. "I'm proud every day I can get up. I'm happy to keep going."

Chambers teaches tap dancing to 45 women through the volunteer Gotta Dance Troupe she helped start in 1990. The oldest member is 92 and the youngest is 55. They told her they had wanted to nominate her for the Outstanding Women of Loudoun Awards, but it took new member Mary Lou Heath to make the move.

"If one of the 'girls' becomes ill, Jessie and the troupe members make sure that she is looked after — gets her to doctor appointments," gets her groceries and helps with other needs, Heath said in her nomination letter.

Chambers was one of eight women recognized Monday by the Loudoun County Commission of Women. She received the Cultural Affairs Award.

"The one underlying quality of these women is their generosity with their time and talents," said Adrienne Marra, legislative aide for state Sen. William "Bill" Mims (R-33), about the "act of giving."

FOR CHAMBERS, the dance troupe was a chance to teach again. She took tap lessons from ages 5 to 18 and assisted her teacher during the last three years of her lessons until work, marriage and a family pulled her away. In 1989 after retiring, she joined a line dance group that disbanded a year later. She and a fellow dance member started a new troupe with about six members. The troupe grew in membership over the years and expanded to beginning, medium and advanced levels taught within the same class.

Now, Chambers teaches tap at the Sterling Annex Community Center with the assistance of Judy Searle and Louise Gillen. "I always loved teaching. That was my only thought when I took dance lessons. It was amazing to me I got a second chance," she said. As for the students, "A lot of them say it gives them a reason to get up in the morning. It gives them something to look forward to. They don't want to miss class," she said.

Men are allowed in the troupe, but the members as of now are all women. The troupe performs for other seniors in retirement homes, churches, senior centers and hospitals in Loudoun and the metropolitan area. "I get so excited about the group. I'm so thankful I got this dance group," Chambers said.

CHAMBERS is one of those women who work hard and quietly in the community, said Supervisor Eleanore Towe (R-Blue Ridge) of the award winners at the annual awards luncheon. "Every year you manage to reach out and find these extraordinary ladies in our community," she said to the commission.

Each spring, the commission gives out the awards to raise awareness of the many contributions of women and to thank them for their talents, strengths and leadership, according to a statement from the commission.

"Traditionally, in history women's contributions have been overlooked and sometimes they still are," said Brenda Davis, commission chair. "We want to be sure that we appreciate all of the contributions of women in our community."

The women who are recognized "often are the women who do a lot of the work. They are the glue of the community. ... It's just that hidden work that is being done that a lot of people don't realize," Davis said. "These women who go unsung are the reason why we do this."

Judy Scaggs of Sterling received the Leadership Award, nominated for her leadership to improve the community. Scaggs, a 1993 graduate of Leadership Loudoun, chairs the Sterling Foundation, which cleans up Sterling Boulevard; serves on the Eastern Loudoun Regional Library Advisory Board; is a charter member of the Zonta Club of Loudoun County; and from 1992-96 served as a member of the Commission on Women.

"If you want to make something better, you ought to do something about it," Scaggs said. "If everybody would just do a little bit, it would make it so much better for the entire community."

THE OTHER AWARD winners are:

* Julie Carlson of Leesburg, Women's Advocacy Award for her work as coordinator of the Loudoun County Victim Witness Program, which aids victims of crime with emotional support, practical aid and advocacy, and for working with a number of Loudoun agencies to improve women's well-being.

* Priscilla Godfrey of Philomont, Youth Advocacy Award for her work with The Growing Stage Theatre Company, where she has served as president for the past four years, and for her volunteer work at Loudoun Valley High School.

* Cheryl Bacak of South Riding, Education Award for her volunteer work with schools in the Dulles South area.

* Mary Kate Ryan-Griffith of Lovettsville, Community Services Award for her support of the Lovettsville Community Center and as a board member and participant in Very Special Arts of Virginia-Loudoun County.

* Betsy Murphy of Middleburg, Community Health Award for her work as a hospice nurse practitioner and effort to improve the quality of care for county residents with life-threatening diseases.

* Brigitta Toruño of Sterling, Business Award for running two businesses, UNO Communications and Don Tango Foods and for providing Spanish-to-English interpretation for Loudoun County students and their families.