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Making State History

Herndon resident and businessman Danny Vargas to become first Hispanic chamber leader in Virginia.

Whether it be in service to his community, his country or his clients, when Raul "Danny" Vargas is introduced to a new task, he immediately begins to exude a creative energy on a level that is rarely seen, according to Dulles Regional Chamber president Eileen Curtis.

"He’s one of those wonderful people who has just a head full of creative ideas and just an absolute talent of bringing those ideas to fruition," Curtis said. "He has just infused the chamber with so many new ideas and so much energy, it’s hard to imagine what it would be like without him."

And even though he has been involved with the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce for slightly more than three years, Vargas has been elected by the board to become its new chairman later this month. It will be the first time that a "traditional" chamber of commerce in Virginia has been led by a Hispanic American, according to the chamber.

And it is an opportunity that Vargas says he is happy to take on.

"I’ve never been accused of doing the things that I do in life timidly," he said with a laugh. "I tend to gravitate towards the things where I think I have an opportunity to make a difference … and I’m just looking forward to having more of an opportunity to do that with the chamber."

A HUSBAND AND father of two young children, Vargas, 41, has lived in Herndon since the early 1990s after being decommissioned from more than seven years as an intelligence analyst with the United States Air Force. A native New Yorker of Puerto Rican heritage, he is the owner of a marketing and public relations consulting firm, Varcom Solutions.

But Vargas’s rise to the position of one of Virginia’s most prominent Hispanic business leaders did not happen over night and was definitely not an easy one, he said.

Vargas was raised by a single mother with virtually no formal education after his father left his family while Vargas was still a child. He remembers some Sunday nights when he and his siblings were forced to eat ice cubes because they could not afford food.

"No, a little bit of salt and it feels like you’re actually eating something," Vargas said with a smile. "Whatever doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger, isn’t that what they say?"

Often raised on welfare and left to fend for himself on many nights, growing up poor was an experience that Vargas said has made him into the man he is today.

"I came to know that somebody who is born here [in the United States], even someone like me can make it, if you work hard enough and put forth enough effort," he said. "That’s just one of the things that is so great about this country."

VARGAS’ RISE to lead the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce is a tribute to the changing demographics and the infusion of Latino business leaders in the state and, in particular, Northern Virginia, said Michel Zajur, president of the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

"Hispanic leaders are starting to emerge all over and have proven themselves very successful in business," Zajur said. "I think it shows that Hispanic residents are becoming more a part of the mainstream community and as the economy continues to grow, Hispanics are realizing more and more that they have become a big part of that."

According to 2000 U.S. Census figures Fairfax County’s population is made up of 11 percent residents of Hispanic descent while Herndon’s Latino population has reached to more than a quarter of the total population.

Helping the chamber to adapt more to the growing needs of the Hispanic community in Northern Virginia, Vargas was one of the founding members three years ago of the Hispanic Committee of the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce, a sub-category of Hispanic-owned or frequented businesses in the community.

"It’s obviously a reflection of the times and the area and really the realities of this country," said Curtis. "It’s a tribute to the mainstreaming of the Hispanic community in the business world."

VARGAS HOPES to use his connection with the Hispanic community to help inspire and educate people to achieve more out of their experience as Americans.

"After growing up the way I did … the reason I’m not dead or in jail is because I was instilled with this sense of hope and opportunity," Vargas said. "I want to project a really positive image of who the Hispanic community is and what the Hispanic community is capable of."

It’s an opportunity that Vargas will definitely have as chamber chairman, Zajur added.

"He is in a position where people can see him not only as a Hispanic leader, but as a community leader," he said. "I think he has a unique opportunity to give back to the community and we need more Hispanics to take leadership roles like Danny."

Serving the community as best he can, regardless of their ethnicity, is the ultimate objective that Vargas will have in his time as chairman.

It’s a challenge that Vargas lives up to daily, according to Mary Agee, president of Northern Virginia Family Service, an Oakton-based non-profit where Vargas has served as a board member for two years.

"He’s always thinking about what is in the best interest of the community, and he’s very focused on the families that we serve," Agee said. "He’s not someone that will be on a board and that will be as far as that effort goes. Engaged is the best word that I know to describe him."

Utilizing the chamber to provide more connections with businesses and their community and governing officials will be the main way that Vargas will bring his efforts as chairman to the best benefit of the community.

"We’re talking about an organization that has almost a half century of serving this community," he said. "And I think there is a great foundation there to do what I can to make the lives of the people in our community better."