News & Politics

2009’s Washingtonians of the Year: Mary Agee

A compassionate powerhouse for Northern Virginia

Photograph by Matthew Worden

Mary Agee has seen lots of changes since she started as a counselor at Northern Virginia Family Service in 1972.

The end of the Vietnam War brought a flood of refugees from Indochina to the Virginia suburbs, and most didn’t speak English. Partnerships needed to be created with organizations that spoke their languages—linguistically and culturally. NVFS worked with George Mason University to train people from the local refugee community to help the immigrants. “To reach people, we had to knock on doors,” Agee says. “Who knocked on the door made all the difference.”

Agee has been NVFS’s president since 1988. Says Meyer Foundation president Julie Rogers: “Mary has built one of the premier social-service providers of our region. She’s a trusted community partner, an innovative leader, and a passionate advocate for children and families.”

Agee believes partnership is the only way to get the job done. That means bringing in the business community. NVFS holds trainings in the Booz Allen building in McLean, and the company provides mentors for the trainees. Capital One is helping NVFS develop its marketing.

Agee has a personal mission to serve those who are lost or forgotten in the system: “When we started, there were no private providers for foster care for people with developmental disabilities. They were shifted from home to home and left to languish.” She started the first private foster-care program to focus on people with special needs.

Following 9/11, NVFS led a project for the Community Foundation’s Survivors’ Fund, helping more than a thousand people with everything from emotional support to vocational assistance.

Agee believes community service is delivered and supported one person at a time: “I’m signing 1,700 donor letters. Anybody who gives us a dime deserves recognition. I’m thankful for the funds, the time, and the talent we get.”