These are the people that build communities with their bare hands. They give up whatever free time they may have to protect their pristine streams, cut their neighbor’s grass, set up outreach programs for children and much more. They do all of this, yet because they choose to remain behind the scenes, their work never receives recognition.
Fortunately, the Best of Braddock Awards take care of that.
Presented annually by the Braddock District supervisor and the Braddock District Council to district residents who have a positive impact on their communities, the awards were handed out at the Braddock District Office Tuesday, July 13. This year, awards were given out to 15 individuals and one group across nine categories.
"This event is a great way to come together as a community to recognize the people who build our communities who are every day citizens that take time out of their day to serve," said Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock). "When people like these do that, Fairfax County is a better place to live."
This year’s top honor, Citizen of the Year, was awarded to H. Duane Murphy. Murphy was originally nominated in the Neighborhood Enhancement or Beautification category, but after examining his lengthy resume, the Braddock District Council’s Award Committee decided that he was the easy choice for the Citizen of the Year award.
Murphy, currently the district’s tree commissioner, applied for and received a $5,500 environmental grant for the Southport HOA to monitor his community’s stream water quality, remove invasive species, remove trash and more. In addition, he founded the Friends of Accotink Creek, an all-volunteer group that aims to create awareness for restoring the creek, is a board member of Northern Virginia Trout Unlimited and is president of the Southport HOA.
"I’m humbled," Murphy said. "I couldn’t have done all I have without the leadership of Supervisor Cook and especially the help of his Neighborhood College. I learned so much from it, and it made me feel immersed in the community."
The Young People of the Year Award went to rising seniors Kelsey Rose of West Springfield High School and Melissa Sbrocco of Robinson Secondary School. Rose was nominated for her extensive efforts in suicide prevention. Rose, according to the Committee, helped a friend who was contemplating suicide, and was so moved by the experience that she has since written, choreographed, directed and performed in an event to raise awareness of teen depression.
Sbrocco was honored because of her dedication to community service, the committee said. Sbrocco has worked for several years with children with mental disabilities, and in another project, mentored elementary school students. In addition, Sbrocco has worked with the Heart to Honduras Foundation by assisting Honduran students trying to overcome difficulties in education.
"It feels so great to win this award," Rose said. "You don’t do things for the attention, but it is nice to know that there are people out there who recognize it and appreciate it."
The Burke/West Springfield Senior Center Without Walls, though only in its first year, accomplished enough in that time to be recognized as the Club or Organization Making a Difference in the Braddock District. Founded in 2009 by Corazon Foley, the club is a public-private partnership that provides wellness support to the area’s senior citizens through physical exercise, mental stimulation and social interaction.
The center does not have a central location and therefore stages its activities, including tai chi, yoga, karate and more at several sites. In its first year, all three classes were filled to capacity, and this year, due to overwhelming demand, the center has expanded to several more sites and has already filled this summer’s classes.
"I think that the group really deserved the award," said Sam DiBartolo, a center volunteer. "The center has been a great success so far and all of our classes have been very popular."
This year’s winner for the Most Outstanding Business People went to Jules and Nicky Verster, former owners of Great Harvest Bread, for their support of community charities through food and monetary donations. Mike McMahon won the Most Can-Do Public Employee for his work during his 11-year term as district tree commissioner and other efforts as an employee of the National Park Service. The District Neighborhood College coordinators Norma Lopez, Janet Hubbell, Tilly Blanding, Paulette Whiteside, Sarah Allen and Jackeline Reyes won the local version of McMahon’s award, and Michael Walsh of the Woodwalk HOA won in the Commercial Enhancement or Beautification category.
Fernando Restrepo won for Neighborhood Enhancement or Beautification for purchasing a dilapidated property and working extensively on it to turn it into a showcase instead of an eyesore. In addition, Restrepo maintains common garden areas and waters plants around the Canterbury Woods community.
Tommy Salvi, winner of the Special Achievement Award, rounded out the lineup. Salvi, a deaf sixth-grader at Canterbury Woods Elementary, was recognized for his dedication to helping other deaf children by revamping the youth activities for Cue Camp Virginia and other efforts. Salvi also went before the Board of Supervisors and School Board last year to speak about his life experiences.
"Tommy is a delightful, polite, articulate and respectful kid who is a great ambassador for our program," said Linda Levine, a teacher of the deaf.
Each of the winners received an engraved plaque, a commendation from the House of Delegates from Del. David Bulova (D-37), and a copy of a congressional record in which U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11) gave a statement to the House of Representatives recognizing the winners.
"It impressed me so much to be able to read through all of the bios of these winners and see that there are so many amazing people who have done so much for the community," Cook said. "I hope it’s an example to all of us."