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Women Bisnow
March 18, 2008

Keeping the Faith

This issue of Washington Women is presented by
Reznick Group:
"Building Business Value"


By Karin Tanabe for Bisnow on Business

Remember those days when people channeled their inner Parisians smoking at sidewalk cafés? Or even on airplanes? Your lungs can thank Kerrie Wilson, who for 16 years helped build the American Cancer Society’s government relations program up from a staff of three.  A founding member of the Breast Cancer Coalition and former staffer of Senator Birch Bayh, Wilson is now CEO of Reston Interfaith, an NGO promoting self‑sufficiency for those in need of food, shelter, and childcare.


Wilson with some future firefighters at the Laurel Learning Center in Reston. “Eighty percent of the slots are reserved for working families receiving subsidies from Fairfax County but there also full-fee children whose parents love the diversity the program offers,” says Wilson.


Wilson, who took the position to spend more time with her three children, says coming to Reston Interfaith in 2001, after having worked only with big non-profits, was very different. “I was sure I could do this job but it’s the toughest thing I’ve ever done.”  She says her itinerant childhood as a Navy brat helped her embrace the change.


Wilson in the food pantry of the Emergency & Self-sufficiency Services Program. Earlier this month, she presented a 10-year plan to end homelessness to the Fairfax Board of Supervisors. “We’re one of the most affluent communities in the nation—it’s time to end homelessness. We run damn good shelters in Fairfax County but I think we’ve become too accustomed to saying ‘the shelter is the answer.’”


Reston Interfaith garnered much press attention when its Herndon Official Workers Center was shut down by the city in September 2007, after almost two years of operation. The HOW Center served as a formal day-labor hiring center, and, Wilson says, much more: “The workers had taken leadership roles, we held ESL classes every day, the faith community and businesses were involved. Over 10,000 employment transactions happened there rather than on the streets.”


The Reston Interfaith team.


Wilson says that in the end, government conditions on funding made it impossible to go on. “We were going to have to stop serving food, to check documents to determine legal presence. But we weren’t an employer—we said we wouldn’t do that. Now workers are back on the streets.”  Wilson, a Herndon resident since high school, says the HOW center worked because it provided a sense of community for people who worked hard and were trying to provide for their families. “We haven’t walked away. If down the road the town of Herndon and Fairfax County decide to support it, we’ll be there.”

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