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A Little Light Reading

Blackwell led the effort to make complicated documents user-friendly.

This is the first in a series of articles about the Best of Reston Award winners.

Jennifer Blackwell was in a tough place at a tough time when she got a hold of some good news. While in the hospital tending to her infant daughter diagnosed with pneumonia, Blackwell found out she was selected as a Best of Reston Award winner.

"The news threw me away," said Blackwell. "I was always inspired and awed by people who have won the award," she said. "I am just so honored and privileged and humbled to be among the people I look up to," she said. To make matters truly joyous, her daughter recovered after a week-long hospital ordeal.

Blackwell was selected as one of the seven winners of the prestigious award, thanks in large part to her efforts to help the Reston Association pass its revised governing documents. Blackwell, president of the RA Board of Directors, took the leadership role in a two-year process to revise the documents for the first time since 1984. According to the RA CEO, Milton Matthews, the governing documents, after the revision, are written in a language that is a lot easier to understand, and reflect the current needs of Reston.

"She was the driving force," behind the revision of the documents, said Matthews. "She is very thorough and her legal training helped a lot [in the process]." Matthews added that Blackwell took a leave of absence between jobs, and revising the documents became a full-time job for her.

"It was really tough. I couldn't believe what a full-time job it was," said Blackwell. After learning the Department of Justice had accepted a job application from her, Blackwell resigned from a job in a law firm, and decided to focus on the governing documents. "It was a lot of pounding the pavement to meet with local leaders, a lot of canvassing and a lot of one-on-ones with folks [in Reston]," said Blackwell. Once she started working for the Department of Justice, she often found herself rushing from work straight to RA meetings and workshops on the documents.

RA Director of Communications, Karen Monaghan, said she worked with Blackwell on the governing documents referendum campaign. "The referendum campaign for the governing documents was by far the most complex and labor intensive referendum campaign conducted by the Association," said Monaghan. "[Blackwell] not only donated hundreds of hours of her time to the campaign, but she put her heart and soul into it as well."

BLACKWELL SAID NO single event motivated her to get involved in the community. Instead, she said, it was an accumulation of facts. "My parents always instilled in me the value of giving back to the community," she said. Blackwell decided to run for a RA director seat when she saw a call for candidates. "I thought it was something that would appeal to me," said Blackwell.

"The first thing is, she is passionate about her job [as a director]," said Matthews about Blackwell. "She puts a lot of time into it." Matthews described Blackwell as one of his nine bosses, but, since she is the president of the board, added that he spends more time with her than with other directors. "She is one of those individuals who wants to hear concerns of all individuals. She is a good listener," said Matthews.

Monaghan said: "She truly cared about hearing from the community to find out what mattered most to them and how we could improve upon the final revisions on the documents."

WITH THE REVISION of the documents out of the way, Blackwell is looking forward to new challenges for her and the RA board. "There is no lack of issues hitting the Reston community," said Blackwell. She said the RA needed to continue reaching out to its members and other people in the community to hear their views on the complicated issues that are evolving in and around Reston.

"As the president of the board, she provides the direction for Reston Association," said Matthews. "It is very important to have a person there to bring nine different individuals together." Matthews added that he appreciates being able to express his opinions and concerns to Blackwell, and that she is always straight forward with him.

"I have so much admiration for [Blackwell]," said Monaghan. "She is one of a kind and certainly one of Reston's best."