Loudoun First Responders Foundation President and CEO Ed Williams (right) and Major John Fraga of the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office.
Ten days before Christmas, a Loudoun County first responder, his wife and four daughters were displaced after a house fire caused major damage and forced them into temporary housing. No one was injured but all their household items were damaged or destroyed and all their clothing had to be sent away to be cleaned. While their insurance company eventually repaired the house, the family needed immediately financial support to help them buy winter clothes, bedding and replacement Christmas presents.
The Loudoun First Responders Foundation helps families like this one who needed immediate financial assistance. In 2016, the foundation paid $23,000 to injured first responders for support and $5,000 in college scholarships to children of first responders or high school seniors who are themselves volunteer first responders. The foundation awards up to 12 scholarships annually but only received five applications in the past year.
President and CEO Ed Williams said 2016 was a record year in that the foundation was able to give our more money than in the last seven years combined.
“We started the year by recruiting several key people to add specific skill sets to the board. New fundraising strategies were implemented which increased our reserves to new levels,” Williams said. “We streamlined our application process and modified our mission statement to ensure we could support first responders in areas of need that were previously overlooked.”
Loudoun First Responders Foundation was founded by Stuart Plitman in 2006. Williams was brought on board three years later and within a month was vice president of the board of directors. Within a year, he was acting president.
As the foundation raises and gives out more money, it needs to run more like a business, Williams said. This next year will be focused on administrative changes such as creating new bylaws and organize financial records.
Six new members have joined the board of directors in the past year, which is complemented by an advisory board. Lt. Brian Rourke of the Leesburg Police Department and Major John Fraga of the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office serve on the advisory board and Loudoun Fire and Rescue Public Information Officer Laura Rinehart serves on the board of directors. Williams said he’d like to add a representative from the Purcellville Police Department too.
Williams said advisors have helped better align the foundation with first responders, and cited Fraga in particular for playing a key role in helping the board understand how to better serve Sheriff’s deputies. Originally, the application process required personal information so that Loudoun First Responders Foundation could vet applicants. However, the foundation didn’t receive many applications because some first responders weren’t comfortable giving the level of personal information requested.
Now, the vetting is done by the head of the agency, so applications are easier on the first responders.
Another change was to the foundation’s mission. The foundation had one first responder come to them whose wife died and he was struggling to pay for a special formula his sick daughter needed. But because he wasn’t the one that was injured, the foundation couldn’t help him at that time.
This inspired the foundation to add to its mission, so that first responders who were affected by a change in a family dynamic could also be covered, Williams said.
There are 200 to 300 first responders in Loudoun who are eligible for aid from the foundation at any given time, Williams said. Typically, the foundation awards $1,000 to $2,000 to first responders but depending on circumstances, first responders may be eligible for more money, he said.
In addition to writing checks, the foundation also hosts events for first responders, like a golf tournament last fall, where the foundation paid the first responder’s entrance fee.
“We made it more of an appreciation day for first responders than a golf tournament because what was happening was that a lot of people were coming to play golf but the first responders couldn’t because it was expensive,” Williams said.
Williams hopes this next year will be one of growth for the foundation. He’d like to see the bylaws updated and raise more money to be able to write more checks to help more first responders.
“Because if we can’t do that, then why are we here,” he said.