Engaging the Community

Engaging the Community

Tonya McCreary encourages volunteerism.

Transplanted from the Buffalo area to Burke, Tonya McCreary is not only Volunteer Fairfax's development director, she is an avid sports fan. With husband Matt Bryant, McCreary has supported the George Mason Patriots for 10 years. She brings the same dedication to her job at Volunteer Fairfax, encouraging a sense of volunteerism and community engagement for Fairfax County residents. Recently, she answered some questions about herself for this week's People Profile.

How long have you lived in the community and what brought you here? I moved to Northern Virginia in the fall of 1995 and I’ve been in Fairfax County probably since ’97-’98. When I was in college, I interned downtown for a nonprofit and after trying to find a job in upstate New York and not having any luck, I finally decided to pick up roots and move down here. And of course two weeks within coming here, I got calls for interviews from two universities in upstate New York for development positions but had already committed to being here and had actually already found a job within a couple weeks of moving down here.

Education: I went for two years to SUNY Buffalo but transferred then graduated from Ithaca College. I have a B.S. in corporate communication, and then I went to grad school at George Mason and I have an M.S. in conflict analysis and resolution.

Family: I’m married. My husband is Matt Bryant, and we’ve been married for over six years now but we’ve been together for about 10, and so I’d like to say those first four years count for something. We met at church.

What has been the most memorable thing you’ve done at Volunteer Fairfax in your time here? I think probably our response to the Huntington flood. We organized a clean-up day, we had about two days’ notice to pull it together. We recruited 200 volunteers, set up a volunteer mobilization center at Edison High School where we had to do intake and processing of volunteers, train them on safety and brief them, just to provide orientation. We worked very closely with all sorts of agencies in Fairfax County ... people had water up to the ceilings of their basements in this neighborhood in Alexandria and so our volunteers were able to go in and shovel out mud, remove furniture, remove dead appliances, hammer out drywall, pick up carpet, and haul trash to the curb, which the county picked up for disposal and we really saw first-hand the power of volunteers, how people who may or may not know the victims of this flood but who came out and helped their neighbors.

Describe your current job. I work with companies in the area and their employee volunteer programs to help connect them to the nonprofits that we work with. So while you have other staff members — for example we have a programs called Volunteers for Change — while those folks are looking for projects on nights and weekends, I’m looking for projects that company teams can go out and do. Sometimes during the workday, if the company’s going to give them paid time off, sometimes it’s a weekend thing where they can bring their significant others and kids, but it’s really helping to develop the corporate volunteer community.

Volunteerfest is coming up on Saturday, Oct. 28. Anything different about the event this year? In the last couple years, we’ve opened it up so that all nonprofits regardless of their mission can participate, so what’s happened is you have a wide variety of volunteer opportunities available on Volunteerfest. I think we have 50 agencies, and we’re looking for at least 700 volunteers to come out and help that day. And what’s special about these projects is they’re things that nonprofits can’t stop their work to do every day, but it really helps their work environment and it helps them serve their clients or whatever the case may be ... and what’s nice is, the projects take place all throughout the county and so it really allows you to learn about the need that may be right in your own backyard and you might not know about it, but with all the locations you can definitely volunteer close to home. You can meet your neighbors, bring your friends, and definitely have a good time.

What are your community concerns? From the volunteer center perspective are the barriers to volunteering. You have things like transportation. I think that the general awareness of giving your time locally, that there are so many different organizations that rely on volunteers to provide their services and meet their mission that you can take a few hours of your day, or your week, of your month, and really make a difference. So trying to build up that culture of giving and engagement so that it’s not a special thing but an expected and a normal thing that we all give back to our community.

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you “grew up?” A sports journalist.

What is the last book you read and the last movie you watched? I read two books this week. It’s cyclical; some weeks I’ll read, and some weeks I’ll play Sudoku. So this week I read “Tuesdays with Morrie” and this chick-lit book called “Bedrest.” It’s about this attorney who’s in her last trimester and she’s this high-powered, go-get-‘em attorney, and her last trimester she gets put on bedrest ... I was talking with my husband about our meeting this morning and thinking, “What was the last movie we saw?” and decided it was “The Da Vinci Code” over at University Mall. We’ll go see the b-runs, because it’s right in our backyard.

If you were to take a road trip anywhere, where would you go? On our next vacation, we’re going to Asheville, N.C. We like the mountains and the mountain air. And we’re hoping to go to the French Open next May. We’ve gone to the U.S. Open the last couple years, and I have a girlfriend who lives in Paris and she may be wrapping up her business in Paris and coming back to the States soon.

Personal goals? At Volunteer Fairfax, I’m the second development staff person that they’ve had. So, I think, leaving the agency in better than when I joined it, whether that means being in a healthier stated financially, finding other income possibilities, diversifying, finding a revenue base, finding more sponsors, creating more relationships for the agency, and also leaving behind records so that someone can step in after me, because I had to take a few months to make sense of what I inherited. So, having clear reports and capturing the history as best I can as we’re making it is very important to the well-being of this agency. And also, meeting more of the corporate community, especially those organizations that are thinking about volunteering but aren’t sure how to get started, we can help them with that.