In the month since Judy Downer stepped down from the Planning Commission, she has used her designated "free time" to benefit the community.
The move to her new house meant she had to find someone to donate the old dishwasher and furnace to and she recently befriended and helped a new Hispanic family from Texas to obtain a business license and insurance to start their own business.
"I think I need to give back to the community," said Downer. "There's about 6,000 people on a waiting list for housing, and that's section-8 or lower income housing."
It's because of her selflessness and continual community involvement that the Herndon Town Council has scheduled a resolution for its Tuesday, Sept. 14, regular session to honor Downer and offer an official expression of appreciation.
"She really puts the community first and her personal actions second," said Mayor Michael O'Reilly, who added that when Downer was presented with the offer to be re-appointed to the commission she declined because she knew there were other people wanting to get involved with the town.
"The interest in the town and what's going on has picked up," said Downer. "It's time to get the younger blood, the newcomers, involved in the town process so they know how the town works ... I want to start grooming some of them."
Downer admitted that when she first joined the Fairfax County Planning Commission in 1992, she thought she knew enough about the planning process.
"Unless you are serving, you have no clue," she joked. "I thought with a real estate background ... I thought I knew a lot, but I didn't know anything."
DOWNER SERVED on the Fairfax County Planning Commission for eight years, attending meetings two nights a week, getting to know the residents in her designated area and the concerns they had with proposed developments and land use.
She then took her knowledge from the county to the Town's Planning Commission, a transition that commissioners say offered a different insight.
"She brought a Realtor's perspective to some of the things we were looking at," said Bill Tirrell, Planning Commission member. "Her experience from the Fairfax County Planning Commission was beneficial because there were some similarities and some differences to how the county acted in planning and how the town acted."
Added to her experience on the county commission, Downer has also lived in Herndon for almost 40 years.
Carl Siversten, chair for the commission, and Tirrell agreed her knowledge of the town's history was not only interesting to hear during work sessions, but also very helpful in the decision-making process.
"She has a great sense of the history of the Town of Herndon," said Siversten, who has known Downer for more than 20 years. "She always has anecdotal history ... she added those adventures of the old days of downtown Herndon."
BECAUSE OF HER love for the town, and her experience serving on both planning commissions, as well as many other town organizations, Downer has begun thinking about how she can use her free time to further benefit the town.
"As a planning commissioner, I can't go out and start up a group," said Downer of the conflict of interest. "So, now that I am free, maybe I can be the driving force for getting more citizens involved and educated."
Although the purpose of stepping down was to get other interested members of the community involved, Downer admits she is not slowing down.
"I think at this point in my life I can be more valuable to the commission and staff by having more energy and getting excited about issues," said Downer. "I have my energy back, I am running around being active again — I'm doing things for me now."
Yet, every topic Downer covers somehow ties to the town and includes ways to incorporate possible solutions to pertinent issues.
"She was always concerned about what was best for the community and she came through with what she said," said Siversten. "I know she'll be watching us on Monday nights ... I anticipate her coming back and testifying before us."
Although Downer said she has a full schedule from now to the end of the year, she recently fell in love with the serenity of her screened in porch, something she hopes to enjoy in the free time she can find.
"I now have this wonderful environment," said Downer. "I sit outside and calm my nerves, I am feeling really rejuvenated."