By Dominique Clayton
Alexandria, VA – Passionate. Dedicated supporters. Generous. Inspirational. Humble. These are just a few words to describe Tom and Magaly Hirst’s philanthropic efforts to give back to Alexandria through the Mason Hirst Foundation. Tom and Magaly met in 2007 at a Wolf Trap event. They married soon after and moved to Alexandria, where the Hirsts began contributing to nonprofit organizations whose missions support early childhood education, mental health, juvenile delinquency, family health, homelessness, rehabilitation, workforce skills development and related issues. So, who are Tom and Magaly Hirst?
As the son of a real estate broker and political activists, Tom Hirst was destined to become an agent of change in his community. Hirst was born and raised in still-rural Fairfax County. He worked on the family farm in Annandale, along Little River Turnpike. Tom completed his secondary education at St. Stephen’s School, then went on to Princeton and Harvard, where he studied urban history and wrote his thesis on changing concepts of the ideal community.
In graduate school, Hirst studied urban and regional planning. Soon after, he started in the real estate business and, in 1972, founded the Mason Hirst Company. In 2007, Tom started the Mason Hirst Foundation and dedicated time and effort to helping as many nonprofit organizations as possible in Alexandria and beyond.
Magaly Galdo-Hirst was born in Bolivia. She spent her youth learning from her mother’s activism in a variety of causes that supported the less fortunate in their community. After high school graduation, Magaly moved to the United States to attend American University and Catholic University. In the 1960s, Galdo-Hirst relocated to the Mount Vernon area.
Following her passion for bringing equal care to diverse communities, Magaly pursued a career with the Pan American Health Organization, the American Office of the World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO). Her 30-year career working with people in need throughout the Americas further strengthened her desire to work with missions that improve the health and well-being of all. In 2010, Galdo-Hirst joined the board of ACT for Alexandria, a community foundation striving to increase charitable investment and engagement in Alexandria.
Through ACT, the Hirsts became familiar with the work, goals and effectiveness of many amazing nonprofits. They began by supporting organizations that matched their philanthropic mission. This included visits to facilities, studying the strategies and most important needs, becoming acquainted with the people served, and learning about the successes.
Organizations serving and advocating for disadvantaged, abused, and/or at-risk youth received many of the Mason Hirst Foundation’s grants. Examples include: Campagna Center, Casa Chirilagua, the Center for Alexandria’s Children, Child and Family Network Center, Community Lodgings, the Dream Project, Just Neighbors, RunningBrooke, SCAN, and Space of Her Own.
In 2011, ACT launched Spring2ACTion, a 24-hour day of giving to Alexandria nonprofits. The Hirsts saw an opportunity to grow the impact of their investments through matching grants. With matching grants, every dollar contributed to an organization would be doubled by the Mason Hirst Foundation grant. The goal was to encourage more individuals to contribute some amount, no matter how big or small.
Upon seeing the nonprofits’ impressive success in doubling or even tripling their gifts, the foundation expanded the matching grant program expanded to over 30 nonprofits by 2019. Perhaps inspired by this example, other foundations and individuals began to set up matching grants, which has had great impact throughout the city.
Countless volunteers and donors, led by the dedicated staff of ACT and board members, worked to make Spring2ACTion a success. The amount raised for Alexandria’s charitable organizations grew from $105,000 in 2010 to over $2.08 million in 2019, when some 9,000 donors supported 162 local nonprofits.
In 2019, the Center for Alexandria’s Children awarded the Hirsts the Champion of Children award. This award is given to local citizens who advocate for the children and families of Alexandria. A quote from the Center for Alexandria’s Children:
“Tom and Magaly with their Mason Hirst Foundation have had a profound impact on Alexandria’s Children. With their thoughtful grant making, a passion for progressive causes, as well as a desire to improve the lives of the most vulnerable members of their community, Tom and Magaly exemplify what we all appreciate about Alexandria…. A deep sense of community and accountability to each other. They have profoundly changed the City and the quality of life of Alexandria’s Children.”
While Tom and Magaly are very glad to help in this way, they feel the real heroes are those who work in these organizations – staff, board members, and especially the volunteers. They encourage everyone to get involved in their community’s activities and recommend volunteering to understand the needs and provide in-kind contributions. Of course, they urge everyone to participate in making the community better by offering a small donation during Spring2ACTion.
Tom and Magaly reside in Old Town. When asked what Alexandria means to them, the response was “It is a community that has an open and welcoming feeling.” They are impressed with the leadership and generosity of so many individuals who work to make this a better place. They continue to work quietly through the foundation. As Living Legend honorees, they say “It is a privilege and honor to be included among this year’s honorees. It encourages us to do more. There is still so much to do.”