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An Interview with Harmonie Taddeo, Executive Director of Western Fairfax Christian Ministries
Poverty and despair in the midst of economic prosperity is a theme that’s all too common across Northern Virginia, including Fairfax County. For many residents, the high cost of living makes it difficult to make ends meet, even for those who work multiple jobs.
Fortunately, the area also flows with compassion and generosity. Knowing how to channel the abundant goodwill of those who want to share directly toward the residents who are in need requires skill, insight, and business savvy.
Harmonie Taddeo, executive director of Western Fairfax Christian Ministries (WFCM), sits at the helm of an organization devoted to helping people who, for various reasons, experience a financial crisis. Taddeo leads an eightwoman staff to reduce hunger and the risk of homelessness in the communities of Chantilly, Centreville, Clifton, Oak Hill, Fairfax, and Fairfax Station.
Formed in 1987 by members of 12 Chantilly and Centreville churches, WFCM provides emergency financial assistance for rent, utilities, car repairs, and other basic needs, as well as food assistance through a well-stocked “client choice” food pantry. Supported by a powerful network of local business and community volunteers, WFCM also provides financial counseling, budgeting classes, spiritual support, and a school backpack program so no child goes to school without the tools necessary to learn.
“Our clients range from veterans and seniors to female heads of households, typically living paycheck to paycheck,” said Taddeo. WFCM currently serves nearly 3,000 individuals per year, including more than 1,160 children.
Posh Seven: Tell us a little about your background and how it led you to becoming WFCM’s Executive Director.
Taddeo: While majoring in Social Work at James Madison University, I worked at a credit union during summer and winter breaks. Fast forward 18 years: I was Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Northwest Federal Credit Union when I was asked to develop a corporate giving and volunteerism program under the direction of the Executive Team. I became involved in volunteering with WFCM, and I really loved the work the organization was doing in the community. As a mother of two growing boys, 15 and 11, I couldn’t imagine my cupboards being bare and them being as hungry as they are each day after school and sports. When the position at WFCM opened, I took the opportunity to apply.
Posh: Take us through your typical day.
Taddeo: I watch the news while on the treadmill each morning and then bring my younger son to school on the way to work. I typically arrive in the office at 8:15 and knock out the administrative items such as paying our bills, reconciling accounts and running reports. The rest of the day varies, which I love. Sometimes I meet with the Client Services team to review cases and sign checks for clients’ rent and utility bills; other times I give tours of our facility or communicate with our volunteers and supporters/donors.
Posh: Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
Taddeo: Besides staff, we depend on more than 70 volunteers each week to help stock shelves, bag groceries, handle client intake at the front desk, assist with administrative housekeeping tasks, and even teach budgeting classes. We also have a great volunteer board of 12 members who represent diverse backgrounds in the community; they provide support and oversight for our mission. Last, we have volunteer committees who are instrumental in carrying out events such as our annual dinner.
Posh: What apps, gadgets, or tools do you rely on every day?
Taddeo: We use Salesforce, Network for Good, and Constant Contact. These systems are easy to use and affordable for our nonprofit.
Posh: What woman has inspired you the most, and why?
Taddeo: Maya Angelou. The poem she wrote and read at Bill Clinton’s inauguration, “On the Pulse of Morning,” is so powerful. Angelou encouraged us: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
On a personal note, I was inspired by the SVP of Marketing and Communications at NWFCU, Victoria Gillespie, who is a mother, professional and mentor. As a leader she taught me these lessons:
1. You are only as strong of a leader as the uncomfortable conversations you are willing to have.
2. Set expectations, goals and the tone, and those who don’t want to meet them will choose another path. You won’t have to “fire” anyone.
3. Accept 90% — determine when extra time won’t lead to better results.
4. Always do an after-action report and learn from anything that could have gone better. A mistake is fine — just don’t make it twice. Update procedures/practices once you learn, so you only learn once. 5. Be flexible with what you can for those who prove they can.
Posh: What do you like best about your role as WFCM Executive Director?
Taddeo: I love the opportunity to be part of the solution to end hunger and homelessness in our community. Our work makes a difference in the lives of our clients.
Posh: What is the most difficult part/biggest challenge of your job?
Taddeo: Drawing a line about what we can do and what we can’t do. We have been asked to help with Christmas gifts and many other types of giveback to the community, and though our hearts want to help, I have to be realistic and focused about our mission, resources, and impact.
Posh: What has been your most memorable moment as Executive Director?
Taddeo: Many small moments have touched my heart, such as a business partner sharing that she used to be a client here during a tough divorce, a hug from a client’s child during our recent Thanksgiving luncheon, cards from clients thanking us for helping them through tough times. Recently we received a donation and card from one of the Centreville Forest Glen fire victims (2018) thanking us for help during that difficult time and now wanting to pay it forward.
Posh: Happiest moment?
Taddeo: I was overjoyed when Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative (NOVEC) agreed to partner with us to provide funds to WFCM through their Operation Round Up program. We use these funds to help clients pay their NOVEC bills when they are past due or in disconnect status.
Posh: Saddest moment?
Taddeo: There are so many cases where our clients face medical challenges and struggle to make decisions about whether to pay bills or seek treatment. Often, they cannot afford their medications. We see families struggle to pay bills because they do not have paid leave and need to take time off because they or their children are ill. We also recently lost a client to cancer.
Posh: Most rewarding moment?
Taddeo: Sometimes we can really see the impact of what we do. One wheel-chair-bound client finally got the call that he was off the wait list for an ADA-compliant apartment, but he didn’t have the funds for the security deposit. We were able to quickly help him with the funds so that he could secure the apartment.
Posh: What is your favorite way to decompress when away from your job?
Taddeo: I like to walk and read. I joined a new women’s Bible study that I am enjoying.
Posh: Do you take Posh timeouts?
Taddeo: Yes. My favorite is to walk my dogs with my husband. It is a great way for us to connect while getting fresh air and exercise.
Posh: What advice do you have for anyone wanting to enter the field of charitable service?
Taddeo: You need to plan for rainy days, personally and professionally. We have to raise all of our funds, so we need to stay focused on the present and future to ensure our operations are funded and our clients are served.
Posh: If you had three wishes, what would you wish for?
Taddeo: I hope and pray that one day our vision will be reality – that all in our community will 1) be housed, 2) be fed and 3) experience God’s love. As Rodney Bullard, VP of Community Affairs at Chick-fil-A, shared in his book, Heroes Wanted, by striving to change the world three feet in front of us we can start to make a difference, and then it will grow from there.
Western Fairfax Christian Ministries Team
Executive Director: Harmonie Taddeo
Director of Development: Mary Ellen D’Andrea
Director of Client Operations: Pamela Montesinos
Food Pantry Assistant Manager/Volunteer Coordinator: Debbie Culbertson
Food Pantry Supervisor: Kristine Hurt
Client Services Specialist: Dolly Bonta Reavis
Client Services Specialist: Lillian Diaz
Client Services Program Specialist: Emily Brubaker
4511 Daly Drive, Suite J Chantilly, VA. 20151
Hours of Operation:
Clients by appointment.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Tuesday and Thursday 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.