Dr. Janet Kerr-Tener's call to public service came to her at an early age.
"My first volunteer experience was a muscular dystrophy fair when I was 5," said Kerr-Tener, the Oakton resident who, as of March 25, became the new director of Volunteer Fairfax.
Kerr-Tener was inundated with a social ethic by her parents, who "were very involved with the community." Social activism was "what you were supposed to do," and it was very much a part of her childhood.
Her experience in public service continued to grow at Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, where "joining a service club was a real important part of the high-school experience," said Kerr-Tener. "It’s very much a part of the ethic of this area."
Mother of three, Kerr-Tenner has gained a perspective about service, and not only because of her parental involvement in youth sports.
"You learn about youth issues in a lateral exposure, as opposed to looking at the community through the perspective of someone who runs a nonprofit organization," she said. "It gives you a slice of what the community does, and how important volunteers are in providing programs we take for granted — Scouts, Little Lague, are all volunteer driven."
KERR-TENER brings a great deal of nonprofit experience to her new post, utilizing skills honed during her time on the board of grants for the Clark-Winchcole Foundation from 1996-2003. She served as president of the Junior League of Northern Virginia from 1994-95.
However, Volunteer Fairfax remains very different from the Junior League of Northern Virginia. "At the JLNV, our activities were limited to specific areas like the homeless and the children of the homeless," said Kerr-Tener. "Here, the organization looks at the total picture. We have 700 nonprofits that we have a direct relationship with."
In 2001, she was elected to the Fairfax County Library Foundation as board director. She is currently vice chair, and Kerr-Tener's most recent efforts at the Foundation involve a child literacy outreach program called “Mother Read, Father Read,” for at-risk populations in the area.
"She really understands that literacy is the cornerstone to a child's education," said Roberta Longworth, executive director at the Library Foundation. "She has made great efforts over the past two years in securing the grants that make 'Mother Read, Father Read' possible." Kerr-Tener is up for a July 1 nomination as chair of the Library Foundation.
VOLUNTEER FAIRFAX helps to mobilize people and resources to meet regional and community needs. Kerr-Tener's experienced is invaluable as she "brings an understanding of how nonprofits can work with businesses and government agencies towards maximum effect for outreach," said Longworth.
"We enhance the resources that they have," said Kerr-Tener. "We add value to their existing resources. We build their capacity by identifying volunteers.
"The worst thing is to want to volunteer, but not know how to do it, where to go, where to start," said Kerr-Tener. "To address those issues, at the community level, the corporate level, or the individual level, is really unique."
Volunteer Fairfax acts as an intermediary between volunteers, both individual and corporate efforts, and community needs. It's an effort that is "really mission-oriented, very community-oriented," said Kerr-Tener. "So, it's a different ethic, and it informs everything we do."
"Because we have such a vibrant nonprofit community here, there are always lots of ideas out there that we ought to be doing," said Kerr-Tener. "There's a balance between initiating new programs, and responding to others’ ideas of what our agenda ought to be."
Kerr-Tener is currently working on the annual Fairfax County Volunteer Awards, coming up April 22, at the Tysons McLean Hilton, "where we honor people who have done so much for our community," said Mary-Litton Thornton, marketing and outreach manager at Volunteer Fairfax.
"You hear the stories of people who saw some kind of a need in the community and said, 'I've got to do something', and they perform miracles," said Kerr-Tener. "They feel that higher calling, and I admire that so much."