Josette hoped she would escape domestic violence once she left the Congo. Cesar came here to flee a dictator in Venezuela. Connie came to find some place to escape the bipolar disorder plaguing her mind.
It would take years of hardships for them and their families, but all three found life — and prosperity — through charitable services in Loudoun County. They are just samples of a group that is sharing their stories of struggles in a larger initiative to prevent anyone else from having to do the same.
On March 1, the Community Foundation of Loudoun and Northern Fauquier Counties launched its Faces of Loudoun campaign. The program features the stories of 10 Loudoun residents — including Josette, Cesar and Connie — that have overcome problems few in one of the nation’s richest counties have ever thought about, let alone dealt with. The Community Foundation, a group that collaborates and promotes charitable organizations in the area, wants these stories to increase giving in a county that, despite its wealth, donates comparatively less than much of the rest of the country.
That’s in large part because many Loudoun residents don’t know the challenges many in their community face.
Josette, who like the rest of the participants in the Faces of Loudoun program asked to not give her last name, was abused by her husband for more than 10 years. The abuse carried over to her children, and one of them threatened to kill himself in fourth grade. Unlike in her native Congo, she didn’t realize she could get help. After seeing the signs of abuse, her doctor referred her to the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter. Pregnant with her third child, the shelter took her and her two children in, helping to change her life.
With help from the center, she was able to get a job with United Airlines and earn her MBA. Her oldest son is now in the Air Force, and her two younger children are at Virginia Commonwealth University and Christopher Newport University, respectively.
Cesar fled the socialist takeover of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez nine years ago. He lost 29 friends in government purges and had to abandon his successful law practice.
“You don’t really know what you have here,” Cesar said. “(In Venezuela) you wake up in the morning and you need a gun to go outside your house because you don’t know if you’re going to come back.”
Though Loudoun proved safer than his home country, life was not easy. Unable to speak English, he struggled to find work. With community support, he learned to speak English fluently and provide for his two sons, who Cesar said are both doing well in school. He said he started crying with joy when his youngest told him he one day wanted to be president of the United States.
Connie battled relationship problems, eating disorders and depression before coming to a better understand on how to best live with bipolar disorder, which she said has had the biggest impact on her mental health. She benefited from Loudoun Adult Medical Psychiatric Services as well as her church and is now helping her adopted son in his struggle with ADHD.
Connie, Cesar and Josette are also all active in Loudoun charitable causes, which they say is motivated by all the county gave them.
The Community Foundation is hoping their stories will inspire more to do the same. Loudoun’s giving is “lackluster” said Executive Director Amy Owen, in large part because many of Loudoun’s most disadvantaged go unnoticed in the county with the highest median household income. That’s why the Community Foundation partnered with a steering committee of business, community, education, faith and government leaders to put together a profile of giving in Loudoun.
That helped develop Faces of Loudoun, which will feature a web site, social media engagement and a traveling display highlighting stories of Loudoun residents that benefited from charitable giving and services. Along with an increase of volunteer hours, Owen said the program’s aim is to put Loudoun’s giving percentages in line with other jurisdictions. If Loudoun raises its current donation rates of 1.98 percent of discretionary income to the national average of 3 percent, Owen said Loudoun charitable groups will see an annual increase of $70 million dollars.
“This is not a campaign about poverty. It’s not even necessarily a campaign about the working poor,” Owen said. “It’s a campaign for our neighbors who need the support and the non-profits who are helping those individuals who also need our support.”