An executive director who oversees approximately 400 workers — for free — is this year’s recipient of the prestigious Herb Hunter Citizen of the Year.
Meg Brantley, this year’s recipient, is executive director of the nonprofit Ecumenical Community Helping Others (ECHO).
Brantley was one of six award recipients at the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner on Thursday, Dec. 14, which also featured the swearing in of 2018 Chamber Chairman Kathleen McDermott of Alliance Law Group, and entertainment from two West Springfield High School guitar ensembles.
Others recognized by the Greater Springfield Chamber for their community dedication were Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Master Technician Michael Guck, Public Service Award; April Pinch-Keeler, Business Person of the Year; Andrews Federal Credit Union, Corporate Citizen of the Year; David Druitt, Veteran Community Service Award; and Rachel Kopfstein, Military Spouse Community Service Award.
After having served as a co-chair of ECHO’s clothing services for 10 years, Brantley accepted the challenging job of executive director in 2009. Since then, she has guided ECHO’s mission of providing food, clothing and emergency financial help to people in need. Because ECHO is staffed entirely by volunteers, Brantley’s full-time job has been without remuneration.
Along with a penchant for hard work, Brantley has brought a commitment to the ideal that clients, donors and volunteers be treated with dignity and fairness. She works with and supervises approximately 400 volunteers whose tasks include everything from packing bags of food, to sorting thousands of donated clothing items and household goods, to making sure the physical plant works properly. Directing the work of volunteers requires a measure of grace and tact, qualities Brantley possesses in abundance. In addition, Brantley works closely with the ECHO board and community and government officials. Her outstanding organizational abilities are matched with a great sense of humor and touching personal warmth — qualities that have helped ECHO increase its volunteer staff and its number of donors during her tenure and qualities that earned Brantley this year’s prestigious Herb Hunter Citizen of the Year award.
Guck, the Public Service Award recipient, has been the driver/operator of Franconia Tower Ladder 405 since June of 2014, is the master technician on B-shift and takes the lead on most of the training at the station. He is an EMT-Intermediate and a Hazardous Materials Technician on the county’s Hazardous Materials Response Team and holds instructor certifications in multiple disciplines. Within the past three years Guck has been involved in the technical rescue of trapped riders on a roller coaster at Six Flags Amusement Park in Prince Georges County, MD, assisted in the fire suppression and rescue of trapped occupants at a garden apartment fire on Mary Caroline Circle, and assisted in the delivery of two babies as a Firefighter/Medic on both Tower 405 and Medic 405.
Under Pinch-Keeler's leadership, MVLE has forged partnerships with more than 125 business, government and community organizations across our region to support individuals with disabilities, expanded to three Community Centers and launched countless new programs and business lines. Among her many accomplishments, Pinch-Keeler’s vision, energy and persistence resulted in MVLE becoming the first nonprofit accepted into the national Department of Defense Mentor Protégé Program, with Northrup Grumman Corp. as MVLE’s mentor. MVLE’s participation in the DoD Mentor Protégé Program is trailblazing as it is the first-ever acceptance of a nonprofit into the program. By accomplishing entry into the Mentor Protégé program, Business Person of the Year Pinch-Keeler has opened the doors for the national AbilityOne Program and all non-profits to secure employment for people with disabilities within the DoD.
Founded in 1948, Corporate Citizen of the Year recipient Andrews Federal Credit Union has gone above and beyond to be involved in and support the Greater Springfield community since it opened its first branch in the Springfield Town Center in 2014. Andrews staff is encouraged to participate in civic organizations and support community causes — and they do. Among their community involvement is partnering with the Friends of Richard Byrd Library to lead free, financial education seminars; volunteering with Lorton Community Action Center service projects; volunteering for Fairfax County’s Summer Lunch Bunch program; and scraping, cleaning and repainting 12 fire hydrants along King Street in Alexandria. In addition, Andrews was the presenting sponsor of Springfield Days 2017, our community's all-volunteer run and supported annual festival. Andrews also served as a community sponsor for the Tots2Tweens Back2School Bash at the Springfield Town Center.
Veteran Community Service Award recipient Druitt is a Vietnam veteran who turned to trouble and drinking when he returned from war. He worked for a national security team for 25 years — until his PTSD flared up in a way that pushed him to seek a spiritual solution. A near fatal auto accident in 2001 finalized his decision. Soon his life revolved around church, prayer groups, prison ministries and Alcoholics Anonymous. With his military background and struggles with PTSD and alcohol, Druitt was an immediate hit with the men he met in prison. Since he could no longer work in an office due to his own extreme anxiety, Druitt went door-to-door offering painting services. Little by little, he asked some of the ex-convicts he met to join him. Then, in 2012, he started DreamCoat Quality Painting, a home improvement company that employs male and female ex-convicts. He and his wife, Kathleen, lost their house to fire recently and then Druitt suffered a paralyzing stroke. But through it all he has been a rock for his family, for the veterans and convicts he works with and ministers to, and for all with whom he comes in contact.
Kopfstein, the Military Spouse Community Service Award recipient, is a military spouse of four years. She joined Strategy and Management Services (SAMS) in 2016 as a marketing coordinator. Her husband, Blair, is a 2nd lieutenant currently assigned to the Virginia National Guard. He also works at SAMS as a business research analyst. As a marketing coordinator, Kopfstein often communicates with the local community to help promote the business and to drive recruiting. One of her favorite programs is providing resume review assistance for transitioning veterans with the Veteran Staffing Network at the annual Association of the United States Army conference. Many of the individuals contact her in the weeks after the conference to make additional edits as they prepare for job interviews. Another major part of Kopfstein’s responsibilities is promoting and coordinating outreach events for SAMS Cares, the charitable sector of SAMS. Under the umbrella of SAMS Cares, SAMS and other members of the Greater Springfield Chamber will participate in Wreaths Across America tomorrow at Arlington National Cemetery.
Incoming Chamber Chairman McDermott spoke of the changing role chambers of commerce play in today’s world.
Chambers can no longer rely on businesses to just simply join the chamber as their one-stop connection to and source of information about the business community. "As our constituency has changed, our business model has evolved, and will continue to evolve. Over the past few years we have begun to co-brand events with other chambers, charities and other businesses. This results in increased exposure for our Chamber and increased attendance at events."
Companies don’t have to join the chamber to find value for their business in the chamber. “At our fall business summit, 45 percent of the revenue came from sponsors and participants who were not Chamber members,” she said. Whatever the future brings, the Chamber will evolve to continue to service businesses and the community, McDermott promised.