Alexandria, A Community that Truly Cares:
Friends of Guest House is Bestowed with Community Compassion & Support from Jack Taylor, Alexandria Toyota
By Melinda Sigal
Fairytales can come true, and this is a story of the community getting behind a non-profit and empowering a dream be granted.
Del Ray’s Best-Kept Secret: 40+ Years Ago Founder Betty McConkey Began a Big Dream
Betty McConkey, a Federal parolee, founded what is now Friends of Guest House in 1974. Released from incarceration in the early 1970s, she returned home to Alexandria and saw the insufficiency of services for women like her, so she decided to do something about it. Their first name was Friends of Women Prisoners, and their first services included counseling and referrals.
Celebrating its 40th-anniversary last year, Friends of Guest House has evolved as a 501(c)(3) charity that helps Northern Virginia women make successful transitions from incarceration back into the community.
Addressing the root causes of the vicious cycle of crime, the facility gives their clients the most efficient help, so they do not re-offend given a proven program that focuses on core issues ranging from trauma and addiction to housing and employment.
At its helm is Executive Director Kari Galloway, who is very compassionate about helping her women. She explains, “Without re-entry support, 70% of ex-offenders nationwide re-offend within two years. Among Guest House graduates, fewer than 10% re-offend. Focusing on Northern Virginia, Guest House is the only group serving female ex-offenders both comprehensively (including a 24/7 residential component) and in ways that meet women’s unique needs. “
State and local government agencies, foundations, religious groups, businesses and individuals fund their work. Guest House is also a member of United Way of the National Capital Area.
A Trusted Advisor Who Cares About Her Clients
Friends of Guest House is client of Jennifer L. Ferrara, VP Business Officer at BB&T Branch Banking & Trust Co., and she prides herself on quarterly visiting her customers and learning more about their businesses and how she can help them, not only with banking needs but with other kinds of problems too. Ferrara is also a board member of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, is a connector, and passionately likes to link people with other people, businesses, and opportunities.
When Ferrara sat down with Kari Galloway, they talked about and viewed the video that Friends of Guest House just finalized to raise money (“I Want a Van” can be seen at https://youtube/GLzzPp13068). Kari explained how badly they needed a multi-passenger vehicle, and how crucial it was so they could drive residents to jobs, and back and forth between their two resident locations. Categorically touched by the video, Ferrara shared that she knew that Jack Taylor was very community-focused and that she had a contact she would try to involve. Ferrara then sent her letter to Erica Grooms, Jack Taylor’s Executive Assistant.
A couple of weeks later Ferrara got a personal call back from Jack Taylor, who said he wanted to help and was interested in giving them a van if they still needed it. The rest is magical.
Truly a Living Legend
Jack Taylor is known for his philanthropy, and he definitely walks his talk. As a 2011 Living Legend of Alexandria, he acknowledged, “Life doesn’t always give you what you want, it often gives you more. Maybe I can’t change the world, but I can better the community.” He considers himself a lucky guy who really cares, and added, “Friends of Guest House is a noteworthy organization, and we are proud to be able to assist in providing these women a second chance, when oftentimes they wouldn’t get one.”
A 2015 Sienna Van
Friends of Guest House gave the dealership about $5000 they raised from the video along with a $3500 trade-in van contributed by a friend of Guest House, and Alexandria Toyota donated the rest, more than $22,000, and a dream quickly became a reality. It had taken less than three months since the video was produced.
August 26 couldn’t arrive soon enough, and everyone gathered at Alexandria Toyota for the official unveiling of the new Toyota 2015 Sienna covered with Friends of Guest House graphics.
Kari Galloway’s first words out of her mouth as she entered the showroom and spotted the new Toyota Sienna, ”OMG!” As she glowed with excitement, she added, “We are so delighted about the donation! The community support has been just been overwhelming – it’s heartening to see, and it’s great for the women because it hasn’t been their experience – that people that don’t know them – want them to be successful and don’t want anything in return. That has a huge impact on people – who have felt marginalized and abused by people who should care for them and help them.”
Everyone gathered around the Sienna to watch to watch Executive Director Kari Galloway accept the keys from John Taylor, Jack Taylor’s son at the showroom.
Attending the presentation were Friends of Guest House residents Melanie Ibrahim, Tammy Harry, Monica Moore, Deanna Bounds, April Puckett, Friend & Video Producer Paul Haire who owns Your Dog’s Best Friends, a full-service dog daycare, Erica Grooms, Alexandria Toyota, and Jennifer Ferrara.
As the Friends of Guest House banker, Ferrara was gratified that she was able to connect her client with Jack Taylor and Alexandria Toyota and make a positive impact. Grinning ear to ear with a passionate smile she added, “This day we are picking up the van, I’ve been so excited about sharing in the celebration, and getting to meet these women of Friends of Guest House.”