Part of a series of profiles of Volunteer Fairfax award winners and nominees from the Reston area.
Andrea Foley has never shied away from an opportunity to help others.
“I’m a great believer in that God puts a lot of doors in front of us and all you have to do is be willing to walk through them,” said Foley, a Reston resident of 18 years.
The doors Foley has walked through in this community, to help others, are too numerous to count. She has volunteered her time, her expertise, her compassion, and even her family to make a difference in peoples’ lives.
In April, Foley walked through yet another door at the 13th Annual Fairfax County Volunteer Service Awards, where Volunteer Fairfax honored her with the Direct Service in Arts and Humanities award.
“She’s a wonderfully warm and talented leader and mentor by good example,” said Chuck Berlin, mentoring coordinator for Fairfax County’s Child Abuse Prevention Programs. “She has done so much really in bringing us to another level in our community partnering collaborative contributions, and they really address well the risk and protective factors.”
Foley, who received the award, in part, for her work as a mentor with the county’s BeFriend-A-Child Mentoring Program, has always been active in the community, from volunteering with Meals on Wheels or with local schools.
HER ROAD to becoming a mentor, though, was a winding one.
“I was doing some management training with Fairfax County adult education, teaching courses,” said Foley, who along with her husband, Gregory, raised their 14-year-old son, Palmer, in Reston.
Then in 1994, Foley began teaching parent-child courses. “Palmer came along as my assistant – he was just starting to read,” she said.
After that she was asked by Fairfax County Family Services to teach a course in its Nurturing Parenting Program, which works with parents and their children in reducing dysfunction and building positive interactions. The program, Foley said, often helps families with a history of abuse or at-risk for abuse.
“They asked if I would teach the five- to eight-year-old portion of that,” said Foley, who has now been teaching part-time for the program for five years.
“We meet them once a week for 15 weeks to learn to be better families,” she said.
“So when I started teaching these kids and learning about BeFriend-A-Child Mentoring Program, I identified kids that would benefit from the program,” said Foley, who’s also certified to teach sex abuse prevention for children.
But Foley’s commitment did not stop there. It wasn’t long before she became a mentor, which she’s done for the last four years.
“I guess I’m somebody who never does something a little bit,” she said.
Berlin said that Foley has been on the cutting edge of family strengthening mentoring.
Foley, describing her approach, said, the idea is to be not just a mentor, but a support to the family.
“We took [the child] under our wing, so my husband and son were very involved,” said Foley.
Foley explained that the BeFriend-A-Child Mentoring Program has two parts: an individual part that involves one-on-one mentoring and group events that include all the mentors and their mentees.
FOLEY HAS TAKEN the lead on many of the group events, putting to use a knack for creating partnerships and collaborations.
“She has greatly expanded our volunteer mentoring partnerships,” said Berlin, who nominated Foley for the award.
“I wanted to provide better experiences for the kids,” Foley said, referring to the group events of the mentoring program. To do so, she created two long-term partnerships with Flint Hill School in Oakton and Lopez Performing Arts Studio in Reston.
The partnership Foley created with Flint Hill has since produced workshops, book drives, and sport clinics.
“We just did a baseball clinic,” Foley said. “Parents donated old equipment, so the kids all went home with a glove and bat.
“We’ve helped kids hit a ball with a bat for the first time,” she said.
The partnership with Lopez Performing Arts Studio has given the children in the program access to the arts, including a drama workshop and scholarships for some of the children to go to music and drama summer camps.
“Andrea’s great contribution was emphasizing hobbies and interest of the children and reducing stress on the parents and the children themselves, and increase access to community resources,” said Berlin about the group events.
Berlin credits Foley’s hard work, and the work of other volunteers, for two awards the BeFriend-A-Child Mentoring Program received recently. The Virginia Mentoring Partnership gave the program its Outstanding Mentoring Program Award, and Stop Child Abuse Now of Northern Virginia gave the program its Allies in Prevention Award.
ALWAYS LOOKING for ways to get more people to become volunteers, Foley said that this area needs more volunteers, especially more men volunteers because of the many kids who are growing up without fathers.
“I truly believe that people want to help, but they just don’t always know how or when, so if you give them an avenue, they jump right on it,” Foley said.
Her dedication to serve has not only meant a lot for the child that she mentors, but her own son, who won a service award of his own from Flint Hill School for his work.
In October, Foley will be celebrating another achievement: her 28th wedding anniversary.
For more information about Be-Friend-A-Child Mentoring Program or to become a mentor, call 703-324-7874 or visit www.fairfaxcounty.gov/service/dfs.