The Centreville Virginia Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints honored Deputy County Executive of Fairfax County Patricia Harrison; the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia, and the Rev. Dr. Eugene Johnson of Mount Olive Baptist Church with the 2011 Family Values Award at a ceremony held on Saturday, May 21, at the Church's meetinghouse in Centreville, Virginia.
The award honors community leaders of other faiths who have made outstanding contributions to the family. The Church teaches that the family is the most important unit in time and eternity and that families can best find happiness and success in life through the principles taught by Jesus Christ.
President Jon Dionne, a counselor to stake President Steve Hilton who was overseas, shared opening remarks from President Hilton, who wrote, "When we see the worthy and exemplary efforts of others in our communities to strengthen and support the family, and when we see those efforts making a positive difference in strengthening marriages and families, we gratefully applaud those efforts."
In a video tribute, friends and associates commented on the character, leadership and exemplary service that each recipient has demonstrated. Then the recipients were recognized for their extraordinary commitment to advancing the importance of the family in today's society.
U.S. Congressman Gerry Connolly, who presented the award to Ms. Harrison, noted that all three individuals and organizations being honored, "understand that family values are more than something we say, but something we do something about."
Ms. Harrison's efforts during her tenure with Fairfax County have translated into a better quality of life for at-risk youth, battered women and others. Discussing the impact of youth sports programs she has championed, Congressman Connolly noted that gang membership and activity within Fairfax County high schools had dropped 50 percent in four years. "She's willing to work outside the box if she thinks it will have a positive effect," he said.
Her exceptional record of leadership has earned her the respect of thousands who have benefitted from her commitment to serving families. Upon accepting the award, she said, "I believe, really believe, strongly, that families are the foundation of healthy societies, of healthy communities." She offered her own warm tribute to her parents and family, whose service and example she credited with contributing to her decision to enter public life.
Virginia State Sen. Charles Colgan presented the award to Sister Cecilia Dwyer, prioress of St. Benedict Monastery in Bristow, Va., on behalf of the sisters, who have helped numerous families through the Transitional Housing BARN (Benedictine Aid and Relief to Neighbors) and other community services, including mental health counseling and the BEACON (Benedictine Educational Assistance Community Outreach to Neighbors) literacy program.
"The idea of BARN is to keep the family together," Sen. Colgan said of the shelter, which provides up to two years of housing and job-skills training to homeless women and their children. Speaking of the tremendous role the sisters have played within the community, he added, "How they do what they do, I don't know."
Sister Dwyer, said, "I stand on the shoulders of women who have come before me for hundreds of years," referring to the centuries of nuns who have devoted themselves to the service of others while following the Rule of St. Benedict. Welcoming members of the Centreville stake into the sisters' wider family, she added, "Our charism (divinely conferred power or talent) is to seek God in community through prayer and ministry, not just with the 34 sisters we live with, but with all our local area."
Fairfax County Supervisor Michael Frey, presenting the award to the Rev. Johnson, stated that "It is well deserved." Rev. Johnson, he said, "sees the church as a place of rest, a place of comfort, a place of support for families," and that "Rev. Johnson believes that the church is an extension of the family, and that the community is an extension of the church."
Rev. Johnson, pastor of Mount Olive in Centreville, has focused on the importance of family life and has emphasized the inclusion of parents and children as a family unit in faith-based ministries that develop men, women and families into Christ-centered disciples who can lead and serve effectively in their homes, communities, church and nation.
Rev. Johnson asked those gathered, whom he addressed as "his beloved," why supporting the family was something so unusual that those who do so would be recognized for it, saying of the award, "I receive it for something that I believe is a core of humanity — to do good on behalf of families." He summed up the hope of all in attendance stating, "When families become our ultimate concern, no matter who we are … we stand on common ground."
The award recipients and presenters each spoke of the need for partnership among faith groups and the community to promote the family.
A children's choir performed several songs during the event, beginning with "I Am a Child of God," a favorite Mormon hymn that captured the theme of families and their central place in society.