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'Spirit of Community' honorees saw needs, worked to meet them

Andres Tobar, Dr. Tsehaye Teferra and John Foti join a pantheon of civic leadership
2023 Spirit of Community honorees Andres Tobar, Dr. Tsehaye Teferra and John Foti are flanked by Arlington Community Foundation founder Judge William T. Newman Jr. and the organization's president/CEO, Jennifer Owens.

Though preaching to a crowd that knew well the value of civic engagement, Tanja Castro told a Nov. 17 gathering that the annual William T. Newman Jr. Spirit of Community Awards was a chance to “renew your pride in our county and the people who make it such a special place.”

“I use it as an opportunity to reconnect myself,” said Castro, board chair of the Arlington Community Foundation, which hosted the event.

Held at the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel in Crystal City, the luncheon serves as a gathering spot for several decades’ worth of community leaders. The Spirit of Community Awards, now in their 30th year, in 2023 honored:

• Andres Tobar, for civic leadership in a host of arenas, including his support of the economic empowerment of immigrants and forging connections between the immigrant community and law enforcement.

• Dr. Tsehaye Teferra, for parlaying his own experience as an immigrant from Ethiopia into supporting the resettlement and integration of immigrants into the community.

• John Foti, for his support of youth sports and for establishing the After-School Enrichment Matters program, which provides students with access to activities ranging from cooking and sports to dance and robotics.

The honorees “saw a need, felt that there was someone left out, and did something about it,” said Jennifer Owens, the foundation’s president/CEO. (The year brought a record number of nominations for the awards, Owens said.)

Retired Circuit Court Chief Judge William Newman Jr., who conceived the idea of a community foundation in the early 1990s and whose name is now on the annual honor, said each of the honorees in his own way helped to make Arlington “a place full of possibilities for everyone.”

“It takes commitment and a willingness to put in the work . . . [to] make sure each member of our community feels connected,” Newman said. “We have always been a place that has made space and welcomed all people.”

Like similar programs, the Newman accolades moved to an online format for the first years of the pandemic, but came back in person in 2022 and had a capacity audience of nearly 500 this year.

“This is such an eclectic group in this room,” Owens said, noting that it ranged in age from young professionals to several centenarians.

In her remarks, the foundation’s president acknowledged the deaths, in the past year, of foundation stalwarts Ronald Gordon, Don Manning, Joseph Wholey and John Benton.

“Tomorrow is not promised to us,” she reminded those in attendance.

The community foundation currently manages more than 165 funds that each year provide millions of dollars of support to social-safety-net agencies and finance student scholarships. For information, see the Website at

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Previous recipients since it first was bestowed have included (in chronological order starting in 1993, with some years having multiple honorees) Joan Cooper, H. Paul Mount, Anna Barber, Elizabeth Campbell, Walter Tejada, John McCracken, Julia Connally, Charles Overby, Jennie Davis, Jean Berg, Eric Schaeffer, Ralph Johnson, the Woman’s Club of Arlington, Preston Caruthers, Rich Doud, Karen Darner, George Varoutsos, Mary Ann Nirschl, Meg Tuccillo, John Andelin and Ginger Geoffrey, Lola Reinsch, Mary Ann Moran, Jonathan Kinney, John Milliken, Emma Violand-Sánchez, Alfred Taylor, Arlington’s front-line public-health workers, Lucy Bowen, Portia Clark, Mark Riley and Dr. Mike Silverman.