When Lovettsville resident Andy Johnston got laid off from the Loudoun United Way earlier this year, he thought he would have to leave Loudoun to find work.
That changed last spring when the board for Loudoun Cares, Inc. sought Johnston out to serve as executive director. In July, he started working for the nonprofit organization, which plans to create a one-stop human services center and an information and referral line of organizations that serve Loudoun residents.
"I'm thrilled to find a position that enables me to stay in Loudoun, doing what I love, helping these agencies," Johnston said as he sat in a office the Loudoun Healthcare Foundation provided free to the organization beginning on Aug. 1.
LOUDOUN CARES plans to turn that office, which is tucked in the Jewell Building in Leesburg, into a center large enough to house 10 to 15 local nonprofit organizations and agencies, either by rehabilitating an existing building or finding land to build a new facility. The center will reduce the overhead costs of participating organizations by allowing them to share office space and equipment and pay a lower rent. In turn, the organizations will be able to use more of their funds on programs and services and avoid duplicating services. They will be able to address residents' needs more efficiently by giving them one place to receive several services and to get their questions answered.
"The more efficient we can become in delivering the services nonprofits provide, the more that service can go around," said Peter Burnett, board president and an attorney with Burnett & Williams, P.C. in Leesburg. "The overriding factor here is the government can't do everything, and for the tasks they're undertaking now, they have restricted resources."
The idea for a human services center came about when Loudoun Interfaith Relief, Inc. had to close the Daily Bread soup kitchen in 2000 and needed a larger building with an industrial-sized kitchen to serve an increasing client base. The board for Loudoun Interfaith Relief convened a group of organizations to assess the feasibility of housing several organizations under one roof instead of simply finding a new building for Loudoun Interfaith Relief. The organizations began seeking nonprofit status in 2002.
"This is something other communities have done," Burnett said. "I think [they] have been very, very pleased with these co-located centers, and there's no reason ours can't be the best in the county."
THE LOUDOUN CARES center will be built in two phases. For the first phase, Johnston is tasked with helping build a directory of human service organizations and agencies for an information and referral line. The line, which will be up and running possibly by June 2004, will be available for those needing help or wanting to donate items and volunteer their time and services. Loudoun residents will be able to call the line instead of calling several numbers if they are not sure where to call or are seeking multiple services.
"We all get these calls and stop what we're doing to help. That takes from our productivity," Johnston said about getting calls concerning services that other agencies might provide but not the United Way.
While phase one is underway, Johnston will help seek a site, most likely in Leesburg close to other county human service agencies, to build the center, along with fund-raising the center's costs. He expects the center to take three to four years to complete to provide office, training, educational, meeting and kitchen space for participating organizations.
So far, Loudoun Cares includes the county Department of Social Services and eight nonprofit organizations, including Brain Injury Services, Friends of Loudoun Mental Health, The Good Shepherd Alliance, Legal Services of Northern Virginia, Loudoun Interfaith Relief, Loudoun Literacy Council, Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers and MotherNet Healthy Families — Loudoun.
Johnston is already familiar with several of the county's nonprofit organizations, according to Susan Snyder, Loudoun Cares board member and former board president for Loudoun Interfaith Relief and now a volunteer. "Andy knows all of the nonprofits and the social services and the business players. He knows everyone," she said. "We're thrilled to have Andy on board, because we think he can carry this whole idea across beautifully with the one desk and one roof."
Johnston said, "I have great respect for the work these agencies do. They are out working in the community to make it better, and Loudoun Cares is an opportunity for me to do that."
JOHNSTON DESCRIBES himself as "a helper type." "I believe in giving back to the community. It's not religious reasons for me. It's a weird thing," he said.
Johnston, who was born and raised in Logan, W.Va., originally wanted to be a school counselor. He attended West Virginia University to earn a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1983, followed by a master's degree in psychology and counseling in 1985.
A year later, he started working as a youth counselor at an emergency shelter in Elkins, W.Va. The next year, he worked as an elementary school counselor for one year until he was laid off. He returned to the shelter in 1988, the same year he started fighting forest fires during his vacations with the National Forest Service, liking the open space and camaraderie he found with a 20-person crew.
In 1992, Johnston moved to Charleston, W.Va. to conduct research on mental health services for children and families, funded through a federal grant. The project ended two years later, so he took a position with the Community Council of Kanawha Valley in Charleston, leaving the counseling field for community development work. He worked under a grant to develop family resource centers and social service programs that students and their parents could assess in school.
"It was then that I got hooked on community work and the whole concept of collaboration," Johnston said. "Rather than treating the symptoms, this was an opportunity to strengthen families and hopefully prevent those kind of problems."
Johnston moved to Philadelphia in 1996 and in 1997 to Loudoun with Tamar, his wife of nearly six years. There, he worked for Eco Village of Loudoun County, and in 1999 after Tamar saw a job posting, took a job with the Loudoun United Way. He served as assistant director for community services and developed several community improvement initiatives until February 2003.
"I got a real sense of community needs working at United Way," Johnston said. And at Loudoun Cares, "The beauty for me is I get to help a lot of nonprofits, which I like."
BURNETT is glad to have Johnston at Loudoun Cares. "I just think we are tremendously fortunate to have Andy. He has a wealth of experiences in the human services sector," he said. "He's a committed and compassionate person, and he's smart and hard-working. What more could you ask for?"
"Andy is very well-respected in the community," said Nancy Sutton, director of Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers, A Faith in Action Program in Leesburg. "He has integrity, and he is really passionate about seeing nonprofits provide the services they were formed to provide and not have to worry about the administration."
In 2002, Johnston was named Loudoun's Outstanding Human Services Professional by the Loudoun Human Service Network.