In 2020, the Fairfax City Commission for Women established the Women of Influence Award to celebrate outstanding women who live in the City and have made a significant difference in the lives of its residents. Last Tuesday, March 28, at Fairfax City Hall, it honored longtime School Board and City Council member Janice Miller and A Place to Eat Director Katy Malesky as the 2023 Women of Influence.
“Awardees are nominated for their inspiring leadership, active and ongoing community engagement and level of positive impact within our City,” said awards-committee member Filomena Crawford. “They’re chosen from nominations submitted by the community.”
In her 10 years on City Council, Miller advocated for redeveloping the Willard Health Center and the Sherwood Center into one destination for health, fitness, children’s programs and arts. She also pushed for dedicated pickleball courts at the City’s senior center and improvements to Van Dyck Park.
“One of the components of our award is instilling equity within Fairfax City, and Janice helped initiate Fairfax City for All, which spearheaded changing the City seal and some of the monuments and street names,” said Whetzel. “She also supported affordable-housing development, the purchase of open space and expansion of the Economic Development Office to both retain and attract City businesses.”
In presenting Miller the award, Mayor Catherine Read noted, “There are so many things she’s done that’ll never make a list. Janice has been a part of so many people’s lives – generations with fond memories of things she’s done for them, personally, as well as what she’s done for this City. So she’s every bit deserving of this recognition as a Woman of Influence.”
Thanking everyone, Miller said how honored she was to receive this award. She said that, when an opening came up on the School Board in April 1977, a friend said she should apply for appointment to it. “I had four small children then and wanted them to have the best educational opportunities,” explained Miller. “I also wanted to improve our school buildings and our community to be known as a place for really good schools. So that’s what started it.”
Still, she said, “I was only 32 then, and the other Board members were older men who wondered, ‘Why isn’t she home, taking care of her kids?’ But I thought, ‘Well, I’m here to stay.’” And indeed she did, for almost three decades, including serving as chairman.
During Miller’s time in office – either appointed or elected – she’s worked with nine mayors, four city managers, eight school superintendents and, she said, “more School Board and Council members than I can possibly count. What I didn’t realize until I was about to retire was that, when I was appointed to the School Board in 1977 – and it had begun in 1962 – I was only the fourth female [on it]. What’s even more remarkable is that, when I was elected to City Council for the first time, in 1992, I was only the sixth female to serve on it.”
Miller then listed what she learned during her many years of public service:
* “Governing is a team sport. “You can’t do anything alone.”
* It’s important to listen to everyone – your neighbors, constituents, colleagues and staff members.
* You need to do your homework, work hard and stick until the very end.
* Understand that adults disagree; and just because someone doesn’t agree with you doesn’t mean their ideas are not valuable.
* Learn to make new friends and new colleagues. Fairfax City has an election every two years, and we have turnover.
* Be kind, appreciative and say thank you.”
She then expressed appreciation for her family, former colleagues, all the City staff members “who work hard to provide the City with excellent information, and all the wonderful people who live in this community. I’m full of gratitude, appreciate all of you coming, this evening, and thank you so much.”
She served on the Daniels Run Elementary and Katherine Johnson Middle School PTAs and remains a Fairfax High PTSA member. A city resident since 2001, she coached FPYC soccer and, on evenings and weekends, she’s at Fairfax High, rooting for its soccer and baseball teams. But she was honored, most of all, for her work with the nonprofit, A Place to Eat, dedicated to supporting food-insecure students in Fairfax City.
“Katy is currently its director, and she’s devoted to assisting the poor and hungry families in and around her community,” said King. “Before the pandemic, she was working with all four City schools and provided food pantries for students to take home backpacks filled with food for the weekends.”
Then during the pandemic, said King, “Katy really showed her dedication and commitment to the City students. She organized massive food donations and deliveries to them, once she realized they wouldn’t be returning to school and wouldn’t have access to food.
“Each month, Katy and A Place to Eat would donate thousands of food products and deliver them to students’ homes. She organized hundreds of volunteers and worked with social workers within the schools to ensure each child got the food they needed. Katy worked in the rain, cold and heat, throughout the year.
When students returned to school, Malesky helped create food pantries in the middle and high schools and now manages donations and pickups for them. Said King: “Katy truly is a hometown hero, and we’re excited to award her this evening as a Woman of Influence.”
“Women do many things, but what they do best is realize where the unmet needs are,” said Mayor Read. “And they don’t wait for someone to ask them – they step up and do the thing that needs to be done. And that’s what Katy has demonstrated and continues to demonstrate – and not just for her own children, but for everybody else’s kids, too.”
Then, directly addressing Malesky, Read said, “You are a hometown hero and what makes our City and community so wonderful. Thank you, Katy, for being a Woman of Influence here.”
Next, Malesky said how grateful she is to be working with Fairfax’s school community. “Thank you to the Commission and the mayor – I am humbled beyond words,” she said. “And while the personal recognition is appreciated, to me, it’s more important that this provides me the opportunity to continue to draw attention to the food insecurity occurring in our own community.
“Volunteering has genuinely strengthened my connection to the community and [enabled] me to meet so many kindred spirits. And this will help us broaden awareness to promote financial giving to our most vulnerable – the students who really rely on additional support. A lot of us tend to take for granted that we’ll have regular meals in the evenings and on weekends.”
Maleskey also praised the Fairfax community for continually looking for ways to help her organization do its job. “We’re 100-percent volunteer, so everything given to us is directly given back to your students,” she said. “I’m grateful we’re able to [do that] so no student goes hungry. You have to teach young individuals why it’s important to get involved and give back to their community. And until the food-hunger crisis is eliminated, organizations like us will have to continue to exist. From the bottom of my heart, thank you; I’ll share this award with everybody.”