Reston's business and residential communities came together on Thursday to honor the 2007 Best of Reston Award recipients. The honorees were selected based on their community service efforts.
"Best of Reston is a tremendous highlight to the Reston community," said Joe Ritchey, this year's Best of Reston Fund-raising co-chair. "It was very difficult to choose [the winners]. They demonstrate commitment to a cause that has tangible results," he said.
Seven winners were announced at Thursday's Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Reston. The chamber and Reston Interfaith partner each year to produce the awards luncheon and the annual gala to honor the winners. Access National Bank, Frank Bensinger, Jennifer Blackwell, Wendell Byrd, Georgia Graves, Fran and John Lovaas and NII Holdings were selected as the individuals, businesses and organizations committed to community service and improving the lives of others in 2007.
The awards do more than just honor those who spend time and energy giving back to the community. Best of Reston is a fundraising campaign, and the proceeds go to Reston Interfaith. Ritchey said that the first Best of Reston fund-raiser, in 1992, brought together roughly 360 people, and raised $28,000. Last year, he said, roughly 700 people contributed to raise $133,000. Those who help raise funds for Best of Reston know the tremendous cause it serves to the community, said Ritchey,
Karen Cleveland, former president of the Reston Chamber as well as one of the founders of Best of Reston, said she held it near and dear to her heart. "It is so much a part of the fiber of what we are," said Cleveland. She added that when she suggested that Reston's business and residential communities come together to raise funds for Reston Interfaith, the idea was met with a lot of skepticism. "It was a little controversial, because the chamber needed the money," she said. People at Reston Interfaith were also skeptical because they thought the chamber, as an organization of businesses, might have ulterior motives in raising money for a non-profit organization. Cleveland said she invited Donald Beyer, then lieutenant governor of Virginia, to be the speaker at the first Best of Reston ceremony. According to Cleveland, Beyer laughed at the idea of bringing the two communities together for such an event, but accepted the speaking engagement.
Former winner of the Best of Reston Award, Patrick Kane, said there is discussion on forming a group consisting of former award winners. The Society of Best of Reston Winners would provide public comment on issues affecting Reston. Kane said he has received a positive feedback about the idea from most of the past winners he contacted.
THE SEVEN WINNERS of 2007 were honored because they went above and beyond the call of community service, said Reston Chamber Chairman Marion Myers. Ritchey said the winners all put in tremendous effort to improve the lives of others. "They work selflessly without seeking recognition of their own," said Ritchey.
Jen Sterling, this year's Best of Reston Fund-raising co-chair, announced the winners.
* Access National Bank was selected for its leadership and support roles with a number of charities. While sponsoring events and donating time and money with Reston Interfaith and Brain Injury Services among others, the bank also promotes participation of businesses in local chambers.
* Frank Bensinger, the principal of Forest Edge Elementary School, was honored for his work in educating his students. His colleagues have described his dedication to working with his students as contagious. While encouraging the community to partner with the school, Bensinger has been credited with helping the school become a model of technology.
* Jennifer Blackwell, the current president of the Reston Association Board of Directors, volunteers a tremendous amount of time to the community in concurrence with motherhood and a demanding career. She is credited with taking a leadership role in rewriting Reston Association's outdated governing documents for the first time since 1984.
* Wendell Byrd, famous for his role as the head coach of the South Lakes basketball team that produced stars such as Grant Hill and Michael Jackson, was honored for other services in the community. Byrd developed opportunities for Reston's teens when his efforts helped create the Teen Center at the YMCA. He also offered scholarships for the summer basketball programs he ran, and created a club to provide financial support for players who could not afford the equipment to play basketball.
* Georgia Graves was described as an innovative business leader, but also a friend of the arts. A member of many different area chambers, she is credited as a source of inspiration and a mentor to many area businesses. She also performs as drum major for the American Originals Fife and Drum Corps.
o Fran and John Lovaas are said to embody the ideal of community spirit. Together, they volunteer at the Embry Rucker Community Shelter and the Herndon Official Workers Center among other places, but they also do a lot of community work individually. Fran Lovaas is the co-president of the American Association of University Women and a mentor to girls at Forest Edge Elementary School. She also coordinates the Girls Excelling in Math and Science program at Dogwood Elementary School. John Lovaas has served in leadership positions with many Reston organizations. As a producer and host of a weekly program on Channel 28, he contributes to discussions about issues important to Reston and its residents.
* NII Holdings encourages its employees to get involved in community service projects. The employees answered, which was evident in the lives of four families who were Hurricane Katrina survivors and relocated to Fairfax County. NII Holdings volunteered in other projects as well, including Habitat for Humanity and Kids R First projects. Annual donation drives have supported events and programs at the Ronald McDonald House and Race for the Cure among others.
The winners will be formally honored at the 16th Annual Best of Reston Gala, to be held on April 19 at the Hyatt Regency Reston. To view sponsorship opportunities visit www.restoninterfaith.org.
The Connection will profile each of the winners over the next seven weeks.