Heroes among us …
Written by Hilary Adleberg, Matt Basheda, Lorin Drinkard, Natalie Kaar, Lindsey Leake and Lynn Norusis / Photography by Jonathan Timmes
Heroes among us …
While Northern Virginia is often recognized as a hotbed for movers and shakers, certain NoVinians really shoot for the stars, not on their own behalfs but to better the lives of their neighbors. From a 7-year-old racing to eradicate cancer to a retired couple helping underserved high school seniors continue their education without drowning in debt, here are a few fine examples.
As executive director of FACETS, a nonprofit that connects vulnerable area families with resources for housing and other basic needs, Amanda Andere works tirelessly to help erase a problem that many misunderstand—or aren’t even aware exists.
Andere says, “In Northern Virginia, and specifically in Fairfax County and other wealthy counties in Northern Virginia, people don’t think about poverty and homelessness … don’t understand that there is a real need in our area.” She further explains, “A lot of folks are the working poor, and, you know, we want them in our community as well.”
Of her leadership at FACETS the past three years, Andere says she is proudest of not only helping to reduce Fairfax County’s shelter wait list but providing services to break the cycle. In her first year at FACETS, 18 people moved into housing; the second year, nine; and the third, six. “Every year we’re kind of chipping away at the numbers of people who need that housing,” she says.
The trifecta vital to FACETS’ and its partners’ success comes in the form of access to: education, employment and affordable housing. Looking to the future, Andere anticipates, “If we are increasing access to those three
things, we know we’ll have a more stable community.”
Giving back—at FACETS, on the Reston Association board, through Reston’s Martin Luther King Jr. Christian Church, as an adjunct professor at Mason, a member of Nonprofit NoVa, etc.—comes naturally to Andere who always saw her immigrant parents give greatly, thankful to those who had helped them. She says, “That’s why I’m inspired to make sure that we have a community that does that.”—Natalie Kaar
President of Alcalde & Fay, a government relations and public affairs firm, McLean resident Kevin Fay has devoted 19 years of volunteer work to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) National Capital Area Chapter. “Back in 1993 a friend asked if I wanted to get involved … So I agreed,” Fay recollects nonchalantly. Though Fay’s family is not directly affected by cancer, Fay’s efforts as chairman of Washington D.C.’s Annual Leukemia Ball have raised more than $3.5 million. In 2001 he founded the Congressional Honors Program with the goal of advancing blood cancer advocacy on Capitol Hill by educating members of Congress about issues, success rates, challenges and research advancements to emphasize the need for research funding.
LLS is just one of the many organizations to which Fay contributes his time. Fay has been a member of the Fairfax County Park Authority, representing the Dranesville District since 2003. He has also served as a liaison to the Fairfax County Public Schools, assisting in providing schools with new athletic fields, fully accessible playgrounds for children of all abilities and improved county trails. Raised in Northern Virginia, as a child Fay participated in some of the organizations he rejoined as an adult. “My first memory of moving to McLean was the Little League Parade in April 1965,” Fay reminisces.
When asked how he finds time for all his projects Fay doesn’t hesitate to share credit. He says, “I have been blessed with a very supportive family,” going on to elaborate, “I owe much credit to my organized wife.”—Hilary Adleberg
Verle & Eleanor Hammond
Growing up black in the segregated South, Verle and Eleanor Hammond learned to appreciate the value of a good education at a young age. Each had multiple family members in education who tirelessly supported them throughout their schooling.
“We could not have gotten that basic education without a lot of help,” Verle says, citing family encouragement.
Eternally grateful for the jumpstart they were given, the Hammonds, who met in college, vowed to one day give back to young students.
“There were a lot of obstacles we had to cross, in particular segregation,” recalls Verle, adding,”When we initially started our journey … we ran into some wonderful people that I call ‘angels’ who helped us physically get started. … The idea in our heads was that when we got an opportunity, we would do something the best we could to help young kids who are trying to get started.”
And that they did. In 2002, Eleanor, a retired teacher, and Verle, a retired Army colonel and entrepreneur, created The Hammond Foundation, a nonprofit that enriches the lives of minority students. The foundation currently serves Loudoun County, where the couple’s seven grandchildren attended school, and St. Johns County, Fla., where Verle grew up, but the Hammonds would like to expand coverage to other NoVA counties in the future.
The foundation administers and supports a variety of programs, but its key endeavor is helping underserved, college-bound seniors through the Mind Wide Open Scholarship. Each spring, along with the United Negro College Fund, it awards numerous $2,500 scholarships to high-achieving, financially struggling minority students. These scholarships amount to $142,000 since 2004.—Lindsey Leake
Timmy “Mini” Tyrrell
When you first spot Timmy “Mini” Tyrrell Jr., a small-framed 7-year-old, it may seem difficult to believe that one kid can make such a difference. But after talking with him, there is no doubt that Mini is on a personal mission to raise money for kids with cancer, one go-kart race at a time.
“I would watch my dad race every time we went down to Summit Point …” recalls Mini, who found his own gas pedal at the tender age of 4 and hasn’t let up since. When his friend Ella Day developed a brain tumor, Mini knew something had to be done. “I talked to my dad one day and said, ’This isn’t good. Maybe I can figure out a way to help other people and [Ella].’”
And that’s just what he did.
In late 2010 Mini’s Mission Burn Rubber to Help Another was created through the nonprofit InspiredAthletes.org, which collected donations for The Jeffrey Virostek Memorial Fund. As Mini continued racing his go-kart at local tracks, word of Mini’s fund-racing has spread throughout Manassas and far beyond—from customers at the family’s Convenience Car Care shop all the way to NBC Nightly News, CNN.com and even beloved NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon, who showed his support by donating $7,000 to the cause.
Mini presented a $24,310.99 check to the Jeffrey Virostek Memorial Fund this May, and plans to continue racing karts (maybe one day, cars) to help reach his new goal: raising $250,000 for the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation.
“If he could race every day, he would,” says Tina Tyrrell, of her second-grader son.
“I just want one day, even the whole world, to not have one single human being on Earth to have cancer …” says Mini. “One day that would make me super happy.”—Lorin Drinkard
A great teacher inspires students, initiates an idea, and helps the student bring it to fruition—not by doing it for them, but by asking the questions of “What do you think you should do now?” or “How does this play into the bigger picture?”
Erin Sikes-Thurston embodies these characteristics, and has used them to facilitate Herndon High School students’ love for science by bringing back the science fair in 2010 (allowing for two Herndon students to take 3rd place in the international fair) and during the 2011/2012 school year had students bring 21 projects to the regional fair, and six projects to the state fair.
But her intent has reached beyond grand prizes and accolades. Sikes-Thurston has doubled science Advanced Placement classes at Herndon in just two years (quadrupling the number of students in AP science classes), incorporated electives, and has developed Spring Break trips continuing to hone students’ interests—just this past spring Sikes-Thurston took eight students to Costa Rica, researching leatherback turtles and doing bird monitoring research.
“Being there for these kids is a mentality,” Sikes-Thurston told us, as she was shopping for supplies for a research project some students were currently working on. “Kids need to be called to the carpet and told, ‘Your project is good enough.’ ‘You are good enough.’ ‘You are going to do this.’”
Her passion has spread beyond the classroom as well, with her being sought out by students to coach the Powder Puff game and to be the 2012 National Honor Society’s induction speaker. “When kids ask you, how do you say ‘no’?”—Lynn Norusis
Jonathan Kinney helps ensure Arlingtonians have an affordable place to live.
As an attorney with Bean, Kinney & Korman, PC, he provides legal counsel for affordable housing developments in Arlington. But his generous work is not enough for him. He volunteers with numerous community improvement organizations in Arlington County.
“To me,” he says, “[affordable housing] just makes sense. … I think the community’s better when the police actually live here, if our teachers not only teach here but live here.”
He serves pro bono with Community Residences, a group home provider, and the Clarendon Alliance, a partnership that seeks to enhance Clarendon from the ground up, starting with local businesses and farmers markets.
He also serves on the Arlington County Retirement Board, again voluntarily. Kinney advises the county on investment and other financial decisions to help them make the most of the pension fund for county employees.
Furthermore, Kinney volunteers with the Arlington Community Foundation, a scholarship and endowment fund. Grants include not only college scholarships but money for community improvement projects.
However, Kinney’s mission continues to face challenges. “The problem with affordable housing in this area is it takes a huge amount of resources,” he says. “It takes private resources, it takes county resources, it takes nonprofit … and bringing them all together … can be a job in itself.”
Yet the humble helper is quick to praise NoVA’s overall benevolence. “This community has been extremely good to me,” he says, adding, “And I think people in [my] situation should be putting back in the community. And I think most people do.”—Matt Basheda