Hometown Heroes 2021

Hometown Heroes

For more than 100 years, our attorneys and staff have been inspired by those in the community who make Virginia a great place to live and work. That’s why each year, we share the stories of the Hometown Heroes that generate positive change in our community or in the lives of others.

A community is so much more than just a group of people: it’s the spirit we create when we work together with our neighbors to help one another. Everywhere in Virginia are individuals who are driven to volunteer, motivate, create, and donate to their hometowns. We call these special people Hometown Heroes.

“We find our lives in spending them in the service of others.”
-George Allen Sr., founder of the Allen Law Firm.

After careful consideration, these 20 nominees were chosen to be the 2021 Allen & Allen Hometown Heroes because of their commitment to making a difference during these unprecedented times.

Our Heroes

Morgan Astrin

Dr. Morgan Astrin is a pharmacist in Charlottesville, at a small pharmacy serving psychiatric and Region Ten patients. While her job during normal times can be tough, Morgan and her team stepped up during the pandemic to help administer COVID-19 vaccines on-site and around the Charlottesville area.

Morgan’s goal is to help her patients live the healthiest life possible. As such, she and her team had to think outside the box, both to provide care to their patients virtually and to administer vaccines to the Charlottesville community.

“It was a stressful time, but being patient and understanding helped us take things as they came and figure out a solution,” Morgan says. For example, she created a stand-by list for vaccines so not a single dose went to waste.

While helping in vaccine administration, Morgan continued the day-to-day operation of the pharmacy, serving the daily customer needs. Seeing people succeed when sticking to their regimes motivated her to continue her work.

She hopes that she can be a voice to those who need more help. “Mental health got a nice spotlight during the pandemic, but it hasn’t always. It’s important to help those with mental health issues and recognize there is no stigma,” said Morgan.

Art Blankenship

Art Blankenship has always felt called to serve his community and has done so for many years. And when COVID-19 hit, he knew he could not stop.

Through the Virginia Baptist Disaster Response , Art and a team of volunteers went to the Richmond Raceway to prepare meals for those working to give out vaccinations. They served over 500 hot meals a day to the volunteers for 17 weeks through a portable kitchen.

Additionally, Art has been helping pack lunches for two local elementary schools. For four years, he has packed 50 lunches a week for low-income students to take home over the weekends. During the pandemic, Art and his team were able to pivot to pack lunches and deliver them to the children directly.

Art has also been instrumental in holding a Benefit Oyster Roast, which has been held annually for 36 years. Since its inception, it has raised over $1 million for others in their community.

He says his community work has helped him develop relationships with people across the state, as well as help change the lives of others. “I hope others will see opportunities to join in through my story. There are a lot of ways to get involved in the community and I hope people will see that,” says Art.

James Burrell

James Sidney Burrell has dedicated a great portion of his life to public service, and has certainly made New Kent County, Virginia a better place to live.

A veteran who served his country in the U.S. Army, he also spent 47 years as a Master Shipbuilder in Newport News. Even with these responsibilities, he found plenty of time to serve his community, and still does to this day.

Since 1989, he’s been an active member of New Kent Sheriff’s Office Auxiliary and was honored as New Kent Sheriff’s Office Member of the Year in 2018. This is an unpaid and voluntary position. He was also a member of the Providence Forge Rescue Squad.

A family man, he’s been married for 55 years and loves to take care of his grandchildren. He’s also been an active member of his church for over 60 years. He has led many youth projects and continues to serve as a member of the St. Luke Missionary Circle.

He’s also provided adamant support for King & Queen High, via mentorships, sponsorships and fundraisers. He provided students with computers, technical support, transportation and scholarships. This was through his work as a deputy district manager for the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge. He spearheaded their “Adopt a School” program, which helped King & Queen High School get back on its feet after they lost accreditation.

Burrell currently serves as vice chairman of New Kent County’s Transportation and Highway Safety Committee. “I’ve always been a volunteer—done it since the 70s. We should all give back and stop complaining. There’s lots of good to do,” said Burrell.

Burrell believes that people should dedicate 1/5 of their lives to giving back; a lofty goal we should all aspire to!

Elvira De La Cruz

Thanks to Elvira De la Cruz, Spanish-speaking Virginians needn't have to hear, “Sorry, I don’t speak Spanish” when seeking services.

She’s the chief executive officer for the Latinos in Virginia Empowerment Center , and she addresses issues that are prevalent in the Hispanic community: domestic and sexual violence. One in three Latinx (primarily women) experience domestic violence, and less than 50% ever report it. Elvira works tirelessly to ensure that the Latinx community has access to quality, trauma-informed and culturally appropriate services.

“In 2008 a group of Spanish-speaking immigrants were seeing that there weren’t services for our community. We were isolated from things such as making appointments,” De la Cruz said.

Due to her efforts, the Greater Richmond Area now has an Interpreters Bank, a free and shared resource, created to lower the language barrier experienced by Spanish-speaking victims. The Interpreters Bank helps victims navigate access to services designed to help stabilize their lives.

She was instrumental in the creation of the first 24/7 Virginia statewide hotline for Spanish-speaking victims of violence, through the Latinos in Virginia Empowerment Center. No matter where a Spanish-speaking victim of crime is, they will have access to phone services provided by a bilingual and bicultural-trained victims' advocate.

Many people are hesitant to discuss sensitive issues such as domestic or sexual violence, which is all the more reason why De la Cruz made this her mission.

“Our culture matters. Diversity is important. We want to break the language barrier - but this is just one barrier. Understanding where you come from and what you’re going through - it means that there is a willingness to understand.” said De la Cruz.

Diann Dickenson

When Diann Dickenson was a single mother short on cash, she vowed that if God took care of her, she would take care of others. Diann kept her word.

When she’s not working at her full-time job, she is campaigning for the shoe and clothing drive, Soles 4 Souls, which clothes the needy. She also started a drive to collect backpacks for the homeless, who often have to tow their belongings in tattered grocery or trash bags. The benefits for both charities are two-fold. In addition to helping communities in need, they are also repurposing used goods. This keeps additional waste out of our over-taxed landfills, and helps our planet.

Diann started a Facebook group called The Village, comprised of everyone from high school friends to strangers who came across her good deeds on the web. She rallies friends and family for donations to various organizations quarterly, but if the need is greater, sometimes monthly.

She credits her employer, Shamin Hotels, for the flexibility she’s granted to carry out her philanthropic efforts. “I work for a company that believes in helping people. Shamin Hotels allows me to have time to help others. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without my company.”

When asked if her efforts were slowed down during 2020, she noted that mental health was a top issue. Many people who contributed to her causes needed a purpose during that time, and they in turn felt a sense of purpose by helping out.

“I see the amount of people that love caring for and helping others. I've seen so many people change, and they get addicted to helping. It’s a chain reaction,” she said. “I hope more people will come and help us and realize that helping doesn’t always involve money.

Marian Dixon

Marion Dixon had just moved to Nelson County from the Tidewater area when her sister passed away. New to the region and having just experienced a loss, people encouraged her to get involved with her community.

Dixon is now one of the founders of the Nelson County Pantry , a non-profit, privately funded food bank. Through Dixon’s leadership, this program has grown from a food closet operating out of a church basement to the primary food bank in Nelson County, with its own 1,500 square foot building.

The Pantry provides sustenance to nearly 300 households each month. Donations and purchases average more than 15,000 pounds every month, and the operation is still fully run by volunteers. Dixon is the Pantry’s president, serving in nearly every capacity, from writing grants to cleaning the facility. She has been serving for over 30 years. Her connection to the community has spanned decades, and these relationships have fostered major benefits for those in need.

“One farmer called up and had to slaughter his prize cow. He wanted us to distribute it to people. We had around 700 pounds of meat for that donation,” said Dixon. “Another farmer grows sweet potatoes for us, a couple thousand pounds. We receive donations from businesses that run food drives, Devil’s Backbone has been a partner - Steve Crandall of Devil’s Backbone paid our rent for a year! “

When COVID-19 hit, the Pantry had to switch to a drive-through style distribution, to lessen points of contact with others. She admits, “It’s not quite as personal. I’ve watched their children grow up. We are so efficient, but I do miss the personal contact. I like to give hugs and you can’t do that anymore.”

No matter the changes have taken place over the 30 plus years of service, Dixon wouldn’t change the experience for the world. “I think volunteering is one of the best things that anyone can ever do. The rewards outweigh everything,” said Dixon.

Chuck Eley

When Chuck Eley’s wife was sick, he had to stop working to help take care of her. What surprised him most about that time was how much the community stepped up to help their family in a time of need.

Chuck learned to give back at a young age, when he and his mom gave a pair of shoes to neighbor who didn’t have any to wear during a snowstorm. Since that day, he has made it his mission to give back. Drawing from his love of helping others and the support his family received during his wife’s battle with cancer, Chuck founded the Lisa Pitts Eley Cancer Foundation in 2016, two years after his wife’s passing.

Working over 80 hours a week, Chuck has worked with over 100 families since he founded the nonprofit organization. Currently, they are working with 24 families to help provide whatever assistance they need. Chuck spearheads fundraising efforts, in Fredericksburg, by partnering with local businesses and larger corporations. One hundred percent of the money raised goes to the families, whether that’s paying their electric bills or helping to feed them.

“I know what these families are going through and don’t want to let them down,” says Chuck. “They desperately need the help and I love doing it.”

For more information on the Lisa Pitts Eley Cancer Foundation, click here.

Ronnie Gerber

Ronnie Gerber has worked as a janitor for over 25 years at Hermitage Enterprises. Despite having a mild intellectual disability, Ronnie works hard and always has a smile on his face.

When he is not working, Ronnie enjoys finding various volunteer opportunities. He has been volunteering for as long as he can remember around the community to help spread joy to others. He can be found stuffing Easter eggs at Maymont Park, packing meals at Atlantic Outreach, and packing mailers for Sports Backers.

If there are no formal volunteer activities he is participating in, Ronnie enjoys walking around his neighborhood with his trash picker picking up trash.

“The health community has inspired me to give back,” says Ronnie. His nominator writes: “Ronnie is cheerful and always willing to help others in need however is needed.”

Josh Green

Josh Green, Vice President of Youth Development Operations at the Greater Richmond YMCA , has been working with the organization for over 20 years. When the pandemic hit, he knew the YMCA could continue serving the community during unprecedented times.

Under his leadership, the Greater Richmond YMCA formed Camp Hope two weeks after schools had shut down due to COVID-19. Camp Hope provided childcare at five sites to the children of essential workers, so they did not have to make the impossible choice between working and caring for their children. When the school year ended, Josh and his team quickly pivoted to create safe summer camps for the families that needed them. The camps served over 1,000 children per day.

But Josh and the YMCA did not stop there. When school started virtually in fall 2021, they partnered with three school districts to create Student Success Centers, supporting virtual learning. Operating from 7am-6pm, they were able to offer full day virtual support in a safe space. They worked closely with principals and schools, so that the children were receiving the support they needed to be successful. Additionally, they found that staying open until 6pm ensured these young children were not going home alone.

Throughout his tenure at the YMCA, Josh has helped thousands of children. And when it was needed most, their team was able to stand up to adversity, allowing thousands of essential workers in central Virginia to keep working in the height of the pandemic, by creating safe spaces for their children.

“Looking back in several years, I will be very proud of how our team stepped up during the pandemic. Doing this work is not a job, it’s a passion,” says Green.

James Harris

James Harris understands that mental illness is a pervasive issue in our society. What’s more, is that he understands the dated ideas of masculinity that prevent many men from expressing themselves or seeking help.

Harris grew up as a ward of the state, and though therapy was required, it was not a good experience. The counselors were unrelatable, older and he didn’t see anyone that looked like him. After aging out of the system, he served in the military through two deployments. It was then that Harris decided he needed therapy to work through trauma. Unfortunately, he was still met with older, white counselors that he had trouble connecting with.

He saw a need for black mental health professionals that were familiar with his cultural background. Now Harris is an entrepreneur, and his mission is to help men in crisis. He published a book titled Man, Just Express Yourself , which serves as a guidebook for men of all ages. “With more men being home and around their family more often, there was more opportunity to get angry, be aggressive, have confrontations and lash out. I try to help them channel their anger and energy better,” said Harris.

He started “Men to Heal”, assisting men to focus on their overall wellness, which includes mental and physical health. The Men to Heal YouTube channel provides insight on wellness topics for the whole family.

Harris also provides community-based services in inner city schools, working with the Department of Social Services and sitting in on FAPT (Family Assessment and Planning Team) meetings to offer guidance.

Speaking engagements also keep him busy, and he’s spoken via Skype to five different countries. Harris also owns The HEALing Hub (Instagram: @the_healing_hub-rva) which offers outpatient therapy, massages, yoga, mindfulness and feeds the less-fortunate in their community every third Saturday of the month.

HEALing Hub offers a plethora of seminars built to uplift the community, teaching financial literacy, first-time homebuying, voter education, restoration of rights, and LGBTQ+ issues. “Young people need proper guidance - they need role models in other professional fields. Not just sports and entertainment. I want to show young people there are many paths you can choose,” said Harris.

For more information, visit their website at mentoheal.com or https://linktr.ee/men_to_heal .

Allie Hill

Virginia is getting a little healthier thanks to Allie Hill. Not tied to a single cause, she’s helping farmers bring local produce to Virginians and advocating for increased trails through Virginia’s countryside.

Hill remembers cooking for her three young children and getting most of her produce from local farmers’ markets. She realized that her pantry lacked local options, such as canned goods and jars of sauce. In 2012, she acquired an under-utilized commercial kitchen and opened a non-profit called Virginia Food Works.

In 1933 during the New Deal, Roosevelt had opened canneries across the country for farmers and small towns. Though most of these canneries have closed, Hill believed it was important for her community. Farmers could preserve excess produce from bumper crops and take it to market, cutting down on food waste, helping local farms and allowing more Virginians to eat local.

Hill also volunteers with Rivanna Trails Foundation, maintaining a 25-mile trail that’s accessible to all. Another project she’s passionate about is the Three Notched Trail, a proposed greenway similar to Richmond’s Capital Trail. It would be 25 miles long and a boost for the economy, not to mention an opportunity for residents to exercise outdoors. Safety is also a motivator. “We had a cyclist die recently on a busy road, and that didn’t need to happen.” Hill was also once hit by a car on her bike, which inspired her to get involved with the project.

Perhaps not surprisingly, she has an even bigger vision for this greenway: working with the Captial Trail Foundation to make a trail that extends from the mountains to the sea. “If we can simultaneously work to connect all the pieces, it would be a 200+ mile trail. It could help commuters too, connecting many small towns and neighborhoods. It helps the environment, and during gas shortages like we recently experienced.”

“One of the other projects I'm working on is with UVA Law School. Five law students are trying to change Virginia policy and figure out how to legally allow trails beside railroads, called ‘rails with trails.’ People want to be outside in nature for physical and mental health, “says Hill.

Learn more about Virginia Food Works here and the Rivanna Trails Foundation here .

Teresa Lopez

When it comes to Teresa Lopez, nothing is lost in translation. In addition to working tirelessly to connect the Latinx community to resources, she built an initiative to help the needy in the midst of a global pandemic.

She had been working for the YMCA when COVID-19 took over daily life. When services became limited, her immediate concern was for local families who may not have had access to resources.

She took a stack of red and green paper, and headed to the Sedgefield mobile home community in Ashland, Virginia. In order to put people at ease with social distancing, she left residents a note telling them that if they needed help, to leave out the red paper. If they didn’t need assistance, to leave out the green paper. “It helped us find people in need, and we created a really close community here. We gave out almost 700 papers around Sedgefield and Ashland, and they kept their papers in the windows. They had my number and were able to text me if they needed anything.”

With the support of YMCA and a local church, families in need of food and water were given deliveries on Tuesdays and Fridays. She also rallied to get over 40 children registered for free summer activities through the YMCA. “Those kids would otherwise be home alone,” said Lopez. “The YMCA asked me what the Spanish-speaking community needed. I asked, and they said affordable healthcare and bilingual services. We now have translation services and a mobile clinic in Ashland too,” she said.

Lopez helps with many of the translation initiatives in the Ashland area. In addition to her work with the YMCA, she helps the Ashland Police Department on calls, letting Spanish-speaking residents understand that the police are there to help. She partners with the town manager to translate various forms into Spanish. She also spends a lot of time helping schools with translation services, both in the classroom and at events. She went from being the vice president of the PTA at a local school, to the HPI Chair in Hanover County.

As if she wasn’t busy enough, Lopez also started a YouTube channel to further her reach. She covers topics such as how to get your GED, and teaching ESL classes.

Luckily, her example was an inspiration for other parents, who have joined in her efforts. Lopez is a busy mother of three, and appreciates the help. “All you need is a good heart, and do what you love. I want the Spanish-speaking community to know they can do anything here. The sky is the limit!” Lopez said.

Click here to see Teresa’s YouTube channel.

Steve Martin

When Steve Martin learned about Boys to Men Mentoring Network in 2002, he was hooked. As someone who is in recovery from addiction himself, he knew the importance of the program and drove to Washington, D.C. on weekends to give his time to the organization.

Eventually, Steve began taking a young man to the weekly meetings who needed their services. Steve and that young man were so impacted by the program, which helps provide good role models to young men who do not have them, they decided together to start a chapter in Richmond.

In 2007, Steve left his full-time job and launched the Virginia Chapter of Boys to Men Mentoring Network. Their goal is to nurture and support these young men, giving them emotional support and guidance in a circle of trust. He began mentoring 8 or 9 boys and it has grown into a nonprofit that has served over 800 young men.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Steve and his team were able to pivot, hosting 18 virtual circles weekly. The organization also raised more money and picked up more volunteers than ever.

He and his team are excited about the future, but also hope one day they are out of business. “We want to grow in maturity,” Steve says. “We want to become a technicolor of mentors, representing everyone from all backgrounds.”

“I don’t want them to go through what I did,” Steve says. “It’s ok to be emotional, that you have a voice, and that you are passionate, and have a platform to express those things. I wish I had it when I was young.”

Cristina Ramirez

Cristina Ramirez has a list of accomplishments that could fill volumes. And her focus on ensuring that Virginia’s Latinx community has a seat at the table is nothing short of impressive.

She credits her dedication to her parents, whom were both teachers. She understands how education can empower vulnerable people, and thus became a branch manager for the Henrico County Public Library. She pushes for materials to be distributed to underserved communities.

She also joined the Asian Latino Solidarity Alliance of Central Virginia, helping these communities access economic and social programs that can enrich their lives. In addition, she serves on the board of directors for the Richmond Chapter of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities.

She also was appointed by Mayor Stoney to serve as a commissioner on the Richmond Human Rights Commission, and is a member of the board of trustees for the Science Museum of Virginia. She is in hopes that black and brown children can see themselves grow to achieve a career in science, by helping to make it more accessible.

In addition to Hometown Heroes, her efforts were recognized upon receiving the 2020-21 Excellence in Virginia Government Award as the Unsung Hero who helped to connect Latinos with resources and information through her work as a library manager.

She admits that advocacy can be tiring, but adds, “Sometimes you're trying to move the needle, and you don’t see change overnight. The need doesn’t diminish. When you see someone who succeeds, go to college, find a career and provide for their family, you contribute to build the community up. You help to create pathways.”

She is in hopes that being named an Allen & Allen Hometown Hero can give her a platform to promote more change. “I definitely want to draw attention to some of the organizations I'm working with, and what they're doing in regards to access to education and empowering Latinos. If you have a homogeneous group in leadership, you’re not drawing voices from everyone in the community. We should be looking at diversifying positions of leadership to include more voices.”

Rob Reid

Rob Reid and four friends started talking about how big of an impact sports played in their lives and their children’s lives. They wanted a way to “level the playing field” for individuals and organizations by providing the resources and volunteer assistance to underserved organizations and individuals involved in athletics in central Virginia. From that idea, Cover 1 Foundation was formed.

Started in April 2020 with sports shut down, Reid and his team could take time to set the focus and mission of the organization. Since then, they have donated equipment and time to several schools and programs throughout central Virginia.

First targeting schools, the board members made connections with coaches who were passionate about changing children’s lives through sports, but don’t have the resources. Some examples of what they have provided are travel and warm up gear for a local high school track team and cleats for a soccer team in Petersburg. Since their first donation in August 2020, they have donated to 13 organizations and helped over 200 children.

They also have raised funds to present scholarships to student-athletes in the Richmond area, so that they may continue their passion for sports in an academic setting.

“Every time we do a donation, we see the sheer gratitude and the smiles we bring to the kids’ faces,” Rob says. “We hope to grow our program to continue with donations and recruit a group of volunteers to help coach.”

For more information on Cover 1 Foundation, visit their website: https://www.cover1foundation.org/ .

Michael Robinson

After becoming a Superbowl champion, many players avoid going back to their hometowns. But Michael Robinson could not wait to come back to Richmond to serve his community, and help to bring up the next generation.

In 2010, Michael founded the Excel to Excellence Foundation, Inc. to help transform the community with innovative programs for kids in the Richmond area. Team Excel is their signature program, which uses “reverse fantasy football” to help motivate students to succeed both in the classroom, and in life. Recently, Henrico County gifted the old Varina Library to the foundation, and they plan to transform it into a learning center.

Michael then founded the Excel to Excellence Football Foundation in 2014, which uses the sport to affect change in the community. Teaching the skills of the sport, children can find their strengths. The camps serve children ages 8-16 and provides opportunities for students to have coaching from professional athletes and area coaches.

Although he works as an analyst for the NFL, Michael enjoys being hands-on with the children so that they can see how much he cares about what Excel to Excellence does. He wants young people to see him as an example.

“I encountered bad things as a kid,” Michael says. “I want to reduce the disparities in Richmond and the surrounding counties - that is what motivates me to continue.”

Nancy Ross

Nancy Ross is making Ettrick in Chesterfield County a better place to live. Through her work with the Ettrick Neighborhood and Business Foundation and the Concerned Citizens of Ettrick, she is fostering change.

Nancy obtained a master’s degree in clinical social work, and she uses her passion for loving people, wanting to help others, and giving back to her community in several ways.

Through the Ettrick Neighborhood and Business Foundation, Nancy has received grants to bring projectors and printers to the Matoaca Library and replace rusty playground equipment at Ettrick Elementary School. After completing these projects, she realized that she needed additional support to continue serving the needs of the community. In talking to citizens, she realized that there were several other issues facing the community such as food insecurity, lack of access to medications, transportation, and technology.

Working with the Chesterfield Food Bank, Nancy was able to establish the Ettrick Food Distribution, which delivers food to the community every third Saturday. Through a grant, they also partnered with Appomattox Drug Store and Chesterfield Social Services, distributing medications to those who need them the most. This has helped reduce behavioral issues in local schools.

Through these acts, Nancy was able to meet many people who gave feedback about other services that their communities needed. Based on feedback, Nancy formed the non-profit Concerned Citizens of Ettrick in 2018. Their mission is to empower citizens, provide education and foster economic development.

Nancy continues to create initiatives via the Ettrick Neighborhood and Business Foundation, such as a summer food kitchen for kids when they’re not in school. Additionally, the group opened an early childhood learning center, exposing young children to a classroom setting before going to kindergarten.

Nancy says, “Serving this community is my ministry. I love bringing about positive change and empowering others.”

Sally Sylvester

Sally Sylvester was working with a pod of children during the pandemic, providing them with crafts and activities after school. Little did she know, under her guidance, these 11 children would make over 21,500 butterflies to bring a smile to the faces that needed it most during the pandemic through Butterflies 4 Smiles.

On August 17, 2020, Sally had the children make beautiful butterflies as an activity. She told the children about how sad it was that the people in assisted living facilities couldn’t see their families, so they decided to make 170 butterflies for the residents to brighten their day. One thing led to another, and the kids began making butterflies for hospitals, assisted living facilities, meals on wheels, underground kitchen, and more.

Sally says, “These children have the biggest hearts and love bringing smiles to their communities.” She says that they realize that everyone needs a smile – not just during COVID-19, or in Richmond, but all the time and around the world.

The children have started making butterflies for people across the United States. They have also started sending supplies around the world to have kids in other communities spread kindness and smiles. They even have started a “Flat Flutter” -- a take on Flat Stanley, who has traveled from Kansas, to Dubai, and Bora Bora, among many other locations.

In addition, the kids also have started a “cause of the month”, helping support the causes to which they have sent butterflies, such as running a canned food drive for Meals on Wheels.

“I hope that people learn the importance of doing something positive in their communities. Simple acts can really change a person’s day,” says Sally.

Margaret Thacker

When she was just four years old, Margaret Thacker’s mother brought her to Cedars Healthcare Center in Charlottesville to volunteer for the first time. That experience stuck with her.

Margaret continued to volunteer with Cedars Healthcare Center throughout the summers when she was in high school, and began working there in college while on summer break. Upon graduation, Margaret returned yet again as the activities coordinator. That was 41 years ago.

“Someone recently asked me if I ever woke up in the morning and didn’t want to go to work,” Margaret says. “I can’t imagine a day I wouldn’t want to go. It’s my heart.”

As COVID-19 tore through communities across the country, Margaret did not waver in her commitment to the residents of Cedars. Although they went from 100 volunteers to just 2 staff members, they were able to adapt and keep the residents entertained with activities, such as calling out Bingo numbers over the intercom system, doing in-room crafts, and broadcasting church services.

“COVID-19 was devastating, but loneliness can be just as bad,” Margaret comments.

Now that the world is returning to normal, Margaret is thrilled to be seeing volunteers returning and residents being able to participate in small group activities again.

She hopes her selection as an Allen & Allen Hometown Hero will encourage others to volunteer at a senior facility. “They're still the same person they were 50 years ago,” she says. “They are not just old people that need assistance, they are people with stories to tell. They have so much to offer.”

Shreyaa & Esha Venkat

From People magazine to the Today Show, people all over the world are buzzing about Shreyaa and Esha Venkat. Lucky for us, these powerhouse sisters are based in Virginia.

Volumes could be written about the recognition they’ve received, such as the George H.W. Bush Points of Light Award, or being named L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth honorees, but their main focus is on NEST4US , their 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to providing volunteer solutions to the community. These sisters are on a mission to make the world a better place through kindness.

NEST4US has many facets. NEST Nurtures focuses on food waste and feeding the hungry. According to their website, half the world wastes enough food to feed the other half. They rescue surplus food from companies such as Starbucks and Panera Bread, and deliver it to the homeless community.

“We love seeing the people that we serve and serve with. It is all about the connections and experiences, we treasure those so much. The feeling you get when you serve others, the joy is unparalleled. We want our community to feel that feeling,” they said.

NEST Tutors is a volunteer-run tutoring service, with global capabilities! They aim to transform communities with education and emotional support for kids aged pre-kindergarten through high school.

NEST Kares is an initiative to provide care packages to disadvantaged communities, school supplies to students in need, relief for disaster victims, and kindness note for community heroes.

NEST Buddies is a program that ensures no child will have to go without a birthday celebration. Birthday-in-a-box packages are delivered to underprivileged children.

NEST Inspires offers motivational support to the public through interactive workshops, public speaking engagements, and more.

“It’s simple. Thirty seconds of kindness can change someone’s day or even life for the better. Small acts add up. If you do it with love in your heart, that’s what matters.”

Our Community

Allen & Allen proudly demonstrates our commitment to community through continued patronage of programs and organizations that educate and enrich the lives of those within our area.

Visit Community Page