Human Rights Awards to be Presented on May 20

Fairfax County Office of Public Affairs
12000 Government Center Parkway, Suite 551
Fairfax, VA 22035-0065
703-324-3187, TTY 703-324-2935, FAX 703-324-2010

May 13, 2004


Human Rights Awards to be Presented on May 20


The Fairfax County Human Rights Commission will present its 27th annual Human Rights Awards at a banquet on Thursday, May 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the Sheraton Premiere at Tyson’s Corner, 8661 Leesburg Pike, Vienna. The guest speaker will be Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.

The Human Rights Awards recognize outstanding accomplishments in the area of human rights in Fairfax County. Accomplishments may represent a single significant activity or long-term commitment displayed through various activities. The winners are selected from nominees representing three categories: individual citizens, nonprofit organizations and businesses.

For more information or tickets for the awards ceremony, call the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission at 703-324-2953, TTY 703-324-2900. Tickets are $50 per person and may be paid in advance or at the door. Reservations, however, need to be made by noon on Monday, May 17.

The Human Rights Commission was established in 1974 by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to eliminate discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, marital status, age or disability, in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, credit and education.

The 2003 Human Rights Award recipients in the individual category are:

Don and Mary Lee DiSpirito
Don and Mary Lee DiSpirito have acted tirelessly for years in addressing the needs of residents in Central Fairfax who need a helping hand. Over the past 17 years, Don and Mary Lee have been ambassadors for the Bailey’s Crossroads Shelter, coordinating the intake of donations of usable furniture, food and clothing and information about grant opportunities. Both have been active in outreach efforts for the shelter on committees with the Fairfax Falls Church United Way, the Fairfax County Community Services Board, Meals on Wheels and others that address human service needs. Their commitment to serving all of the community, especially those families who are struggling to achieve the American dream, has made them role models for others to emulate as community volunteers.

Colonel J. Thomas Manger
As former Chief of Police for Fairfax County, Manger promoted human rights programs within the department, which not only enhanced our community, but improved it. Even though caring for the rights and protection of our citizens is part of the chief’s job description, Manger initiated programs expanding those rights and protections and made our police department a model for other departments around the country. One program which the Human Rights Commission has been particularly involved, has been the establishment of the Bias Crime Policy and a bias crimes coordinator, recognizing that Fairfax County will not tolerate crimes motivated by bias and the potential harm that such crimes and incidents have on the community. Because of this program, the Police Department received the 2000 Fairfax County Human Rights Award. Manger also initiated community policing where the Fairfax County Police Department developed a partnership with citizens in our community regardless of the ethnic, social or religious make up of the community. He also developed a variety of outreach programs that recognized the diversity of the area and he supported and promoted women and minorities within the department.

Robert E. Frye Sr.
Among Bob Frye’s many achievements was his change in the method used to determine how each of the over 200 Fairfax County public schools is funded and staffed. His approach was based on academic needs, rather than the total number of students in the school. This led to assigning more teachers and resources to schools which had special needs due to their high numbers of poor/and or non-English speaking students, ensuring that they are not underserved in our community.

Frye worked tirelessly to eliminate discrimination against students or staff based on race, gender, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability or other factors. He has been outspoken about his own experience growing up as a boy in segregated Washington, D.C. He has spoken about how important it was, and the comfort he took from the words inscribed in the Jefferson Memorial, “All men are created equal.” He said, “Whether it is done for racial reasons or religious reasons, discrimination is wrong. I think our [school] board needs to take a stand and say it is wrong and we will not allow it.” Frye realizes that all people should have and experience the basic human right of being treated with dignity and as equals in our schools, in our jobs, and in our lives. He has been one of the people making our community a better place and helping to build a better region.

Jose Vanegas
Sometimes doing the right thing isn’t easy, but those who are committed follow through despite the challenges. At the corner of Alabama Drive and Elden Street in Herndon, Hispanic men gather every morning and wait, hoping that someone will offer them construction or landscaping work. Reston Interfaith Inc. hired Jose Vanegas in the fall of 2002 as site coordinator to work with these men. He visited the workers every day to bring donated food and clothing; referred them to other services where they could get health care, legal aid and other necessities; helped establish a code of conduct for the site, a soccer team and coordinated leadership for the group of laborers; and was able to put a human face on an otherwise invisible and marginalized population. Vanegas has done a great deal of outreach to businesses and other community members to establish a day laborer site, which may soon become a reality.

He has also worked with Latino youth to prevent substance abuse, youth violence and gang activity and organized Latino students to engage in social and community services activities.

The 2003 Human Rights Award recipient in the nonprofit organization category is:

Sacramento Neighborhood Center
The Sacramento Neighborhood Center serves as a “hub” for residents in the Sacramento and surrounding neighborhoods. SNC affects the lives of all who live in the community. Utilizing the talents, gifts and strengths of the community, SNC provides community stakeholders a safe place to meet and address emerging neighborhood challenges and issues, and support community development activities. SNC is a place where residents of the community plan special events. Through SNC, families also have opportunities to meet with school faculty and develop strong working partnerships. It is a place where residents can develop leadership skills and represent the community in local affairs. It also provides the Fairfax County Neighborhood Patrol with an established presence in the community, facilitating the development of positive relationships between youth and police.

Most importantly, the problems and activities addressed by SNC foster the development of a healthy community where persons of many different cultural backgrounds come together to develop and promote solutions in a growing neighborhood.

The 2003 Human Rights Award recipient in the housing category is:

Virginia Peters
Virginia Peters is the founder of Alexandria-based Wesley Housing Development Inc. She started the not-for-profit provider of housing for low- and moderate-income residents of Northern Virginia in 1974. “After meeting a mother who slept with the lights on so rats wouldn’t bite her children, I helped the church build housing for poor people,” she told the Washington Post in 2001. The corporation grew from a cardboard box in the back seat of her car to a multimillion-dollar enterprise that has purchased or developed 18 communities and serves more than 9,000 low- and moderate-income households.

She retired as executive director of the organization in 1997, but continued to serve as chairman of the board of Agape House, a subsidiary of the housing organization for people living with HIV/AIDS. She remained on the Wesley Housing Development Board of Directors until her death in March 2004. She also served on the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission, the Fairfax County Fair Housing Task Force and the Affordable Dwelling Unit Advisory Board. In 1993 she received a Fairfax County Human Rights Award and in 1987 the Virginia General Assembly adopted a joint resolution of commendation for her work. Her daughter, Susan Dennis, will accept the Human Rights Fair Housing Award for Virginia’s lifetime of work helping people find affordable housing.


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