Leadership Fairfax recognized five people for their contributions to the community with Northern Virginia Leadership Awards on Thursday.

RESTON, VA — Leadership Fairfax hosted the 2024 Northern Virginia Leadership Awards Thursday at the Reston Community Center-Hunter Woods

“It’s important that we celebrate our leaders throughout the community, more importantly community that we serve,” Kia Cole-Hines, Leadership Fairfax’s president and CEO, told Patch before the ceremony. “These awards serve to celebrate from different categories, whether it’s nonprofit for profit.”

Part of Leadership Fairfax’s mission is to bring together the nonprofit, for-profit and government sectors to help build a better community, according to Cole-Hines. The awards are the organization’s way of recognizing that.

“This is one of the hallmarks of living in Fairfax County,” Leadership Fairfax Board Chair Dominic Bonaiuto said. “This really is a community that cares. People looking for a connection don’t have to look very far to get engaged in the organizations in our community that are doing so much for so many.”

In addition to recognizing the good work of the award winners, Bonaiuto hoped that the ceremony would inspire others to volunteer in their community with these organizations.

Educational Leadership Award

Principal Shawn DeRose has collaborated with students, staff, families and community members to foster a diverse and inclusive community at Annandale High School.

“In addition to my staff, our students are absolutely amazing,” DeRose said. “The backgrounds they have, what they bring to our school, and the stories that they can tell and the way that they come together. What you read in the papers or on your phones every day about what this world is with conflict, that all washes away the minute you step foot into Annandale High School.”

Nonprofit Organization Leadership Award

SPARC provides essential day programs for adults with disabilities, providing a supportive structure and educational opportunities similar to those the adults depended on when they were in school.

“Thank you for giving your time, energy and wherewithal to ensure Fairfax is the best place to live, work and play for all people,” SPARC Executive Director Debi Alexander said, when she accepted the award on behalf of the nonprofit. “Thank you for recognizing the work that we do at SPARC. Most of all, thank you for your humanity.”

Corporate Leadership Award

Tarika Sethi is the founder of and an instructor at Evolution Martial Arts. Primarily serving families and empowering women, the school emphasizes inclusivity, creating a family atmosphere and honoring its students’ efforts.

Sethi told the audience that she was a martial arts student when realized there weren’t that many women in martial arts. The reason was that there were so few women instructors. Sethi decided to change that and started Evolution Martial Arts.

“As a result, I’ve recognized that my school is 90 percent female, and my highest ranking students are female,” she said. “That isn’t to say that men and boys can’t come, because I also wanted a family connection. I have kids with Down syndrome. I have kids with learning disabilities. And I have kids who just want to learn confidence.”

Nonprofit Individual Leadership Award

Taralyn Kohler, former CEO of the CORE Foundation, has led more than 50 charitable projects, including COVID-19 relief and youth empowerment.

“I dedicate this award to the memory of my late mother, whose commitment to giving back serves as my guiding light,” Kohler said. “She was so thrilled when I became part of the Leadership Fairfax family in 2020. Her philanthropic spirit is with me always. To Leadership Fairfax, I am humbled and I thank you for this award.”

Trustee Leadership Award

Saly Fayez is director of the Fairfax County Police Department’s Victim Services Division.

“The collective efforts of victims specialists, detectives, officers and department leaders have led to my achievement,” Fayez said. “Our collaboration, our empathy and our innovative approaches to victim services have enabled us to raise awareness, improve access to resources and advocate for policy changes on behalf of the victims. It is the courage and resilience of the victims and survivors that we work with that inspire me every single day.”

From left, Dominic Bonaiuto, Tarika Sethi, Saly Fayez, Taralyn Kohler, Shawn DeRose, Debi Alexander and Kia Cole-Hines pose for a photo following Thursday’s Northern Virginia Leadership Awards Ceremony in Reston. (Michael O’Connell/Patch)

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