Each October, The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia raises money and awareness for the local needs of the region through its Sweet Home Virginia Gala. At this year’s event, to be held on October 25th 2013, the Community Foundation will welcome over 600 business, philanthropic and community leaders at the Sheraton Premiere in Tysons Corner with a black tie dinner, and live and silent auctions.
WashingtonExec spoke with the President of the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia, Eileen Ellsworth, about the mission of the local nonprofit, Gala honoree J. Hamilton Lambert, and new initiatives at the foundation. We also spoke with Tom Davis, Director of Government Relations at Deloitte LLP, who will present the 2013 Community Leadership Award to Lambert on the 25th. Davis is a former Virginia Congressman and Chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. Lambert is the former Fairfax County Government Executive and current Executive Director of the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation.
“No matter whom we speak to in the region, when we tell them that we are honoring J. Hamilton Lambert, they always use the same word – he was a ‘visionary.’ He understood what was going to be needed from the Fairfax County perspective of the1970s. He laid that fertile ground and infrastructure for the region and then grew it into the economic engine that has become and will continue to become Fairfax County. He was a behind-the-scenes consensus builder,” said Ellsworth.
Since 1990, Lambert has overseen the assets of the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation as Executive Director, and expanded the Charitable Foundation’s efforts from $19 million to approximately $300 million.
“Because of his success in managing the assets of the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation, the Foundation has been able to provide more than $60 million in grants to support education across all of Virginia. It is not just what he accomplished in the 1980s to help build Fairfax County and the region; it is what he is still doing in the philanthropic sector to support the quality of life here in Northern Virginia that makes him a deserving candidate of the Community Leadership Award,” Ellsworth added.
Tom Davis agrees that Lambert was a key pioneer in carving a successful path for what Fairfax County is today. Originally a Loudoun County representative, Lambert soon became the County Executive for Fairfax in 1980 and served on the Fairfax County Board before retiring in 1990.
“People look for cause and effect in politics and so often the effects are twenty years down the road; that is certainly true of J. He made a lot of unpopular decisions; building the new courthouse, moving the county government center out of Fairfax City to its complex now, implementing the new sewer system, the Fairfax County Parkway, and so on. J was instrumental in helping make these decisions 30 years ago and then laying the groundwork for where we are today,” Davis told WashingtonExec.
“As I look back over where Northern Virginia is today, J was really one of the visionaries that made it an economic success story. No one individual can be attributed to Fairfax County’s success, but there are certain people that played a huge role a generation ago from which we are now reaping the benefits from and J is one of them,” Davis went on to say.
Through $450,000 in discretionary grants, the foundation supports community development in five areas: child and youth development; poverty relief; health, mental health and aging; education; and members of the military and their families. Last year the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia launched the Innovation Fund, to include a $25,000 grant to the Graduate School of Management at George Mason University (GMU) that supports the new Mason Innovation Lab. The Lab, scheduled to launch in 2014, will foster future entrepreneurs, both undergraduates and graduates, to determine the commercial viability of participant’s ideas.
“The economy here in Northern Virginia is changing. Government contracting, as an industry, is changing. There is a need to retain and retarget the workforce, so the business community is asking ‘What’s next?’ The purpose of the Innovation Fund is to help shine a light on innovation and help inculcate a culture of innovation in our region,” said Ellsworth.
As for Loudoun County, the Community Foundation runs the Loudoun Impact Fund, a giving circle that invests in education for the arts and the environment, and also supports the needs of Loudoun’s families, children and youth. Corporations donate $5,000 and individuals pay $1,000. These contributions are then pooled to be given as larger grant awards. In 2013, the Foundation has already awarded $50,000 in grants to six non-profits in Loudoun County from the Loudoun Impact Fund.
“All of the research shows that giving circles really engage donors in ways that other kinds of philanthropic giving do not. For example, a recent study by the Forum of Regional Associations of Grant Makers and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University found that donors in giving circles give more, give more strategically, and are more engaged in their communities than donors who go it alone,” Ellsworth commented.
At the Sweet Home Virginia Gala, the Community Foundation plans to raise $470,000 through ticket sales as well as silent and live auctions. This year’s Gala will be a little different with a spotlight on Linden Resources, Inc. for its “Veterans Ready2Work” program.
“It is a unique, holistic empowerment program for veterans with service-connected disabilities, primarily traumatic brain injury and/or PTSD. The “Veterans Ready2Work” program integrates training, employment, and support services. It is a wrap-around work program that facilitates true economic independence. One of Linden Resources service recipients, a wounded veteran who has received life-changing services from the program, will be the testimony speaker at the Gala,” stated Ellsworth.
Tickets, which are tax deductible and available online, start at $300 for individuals and $1,500 for sponsors.
The night of the event, the foundation will also present data to help supporters understand what and where the community needs are, from poverty, to aging and returning veterans.
“It’s not just our job to give money,” Ellsworth said. “It is also our job to help raise awareness and help educate the general population about the critical needs in our region, so that whether individuals do their philanthropy through us or directly they will make a more informed choice.”