"I wholeheartedly believe that for us to be at our best as a society we must meet people where they are and make space for all voices in the conversation." - Darr Jenkins

On April 20, Volunteer Fairfax hosted the 29th annual Fairfax County Volunteer Service Awards. The event recognizes volunteers across the community for their dedication and service. In a year filled with uncertainty, fear, and loss, volunteers rose to the occasion through their service to others, proving that we are indeed stronger together.

Every year we receive dozens of compelling nominations for the Fairfax County Volunteer Service Awards, and as you can imagine, choosing the winners is a near-impossible task. Every year we ask a select group of community leaders and volunteers to select the winners in each category. Historically, when choosing our judges, we ask a nonprofit executive, a volunteer coordinator, a past volunteer winner, a corporate partner, and an active volunteer in the community. By bringing these leaders together, we attempt to create a balanced mix of perspectives from those who understand the value of volunteerism.

One of these judges, Darr Jenkins, is a Corporate Responsibility Specialist at Leidos. We had the pleasure and opportunity to talk to Darr and learn more about him and his experience as a Volunteer Service Awards judge. We hope you enjoy our conversation:

Amplify: Can you tell us a little more about you? Are you from the DMV? Recent transplant?

Darr: At my core I am a Midwest farm boy from Kansas City, MO, leaving to pursue my undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln (GO BIG RED!).  After receiving my degree, followed by a stint in California and then back to Kansas City, I landed a role with Leidos that brought me to the DMV area just over two years ago, which I have quickly grown to love.

Amplify: What would we be surprised to know about you?

Darr: People are often surprised to learn that I, along with my high school choir, had the opportunity to sing with Kenny Rogers in a live holiday show.

Amplify: How long have you been volunteering?

Darr: Shoveling snow from the sidewalk of the local nursing home as a child to directing a week-long summer camp as an adult, volunteering has always been a significant part of my life. When I reflect on my past, I find my fondest memories are those that include opportunities to give back.

Amplify: What causes are you passionate about? Where do you volunteer in the DMV?

Darr: I am passionate about serving and creating equity for both underserved and underrepresented populations. I wholeheartedly believe that for us to be at our best as a society we must meet people where they are and make space for all voices in the conversation.

My passion for these causes stems from my time volunteering with Royal Family Kids, a summer camp for foster care children who experienced some type of abuse and/or neglect. I volunteered at the camp for twelve years, five as director, and during this time I witnessed children in terrible situations at no fault of their own. This led me to focus both my career and personal efforts on being a voice for those who are often not heard.

Specific to the DMV area, I volunteered on the national leadership team of the Leidos PRIDE Employee Resource Group. While in this role, I assisted in completing the guide to creating new chapters, set up fireside-chats with executives, planned the PRIDE parade, and spent an afternoon painting one of the Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders (SMYAL) youth houses.

Amplify: What is your greatest strength? How does it help you volunteer?

Darr: I would say my greatest strength is the ability to easily adapt. When volunteering, situations can often change whether that be the task you are doing, inclement weather, or in the case of a children’s camp, it can really be anything. I find that regardless of the situation the ability to easily adapt allows me to “roll with the punches” and complete the task at hand.

Amplify: Of the many acts of service that you reviewed as one of the VSA (Volunteer Service Awards) judges, were there any that stood out to you, and can you share why?

Darr: Each individual and group nominated were impressive making it very difficult as a judge to pick just one for each category. What did stand out to me the most was the number of individuals and groups who stepped up to fulfill needs that were COVID-19 related. In a year with so much uncertainty, it was inspiring to see people spend countless hours creating virtual programs or putting their own health at risk to help their fellow community members. Without warning, the pandemic created various needs almost immediately and so many rose to the occasion to tackle the challenges.

Amplify: What was it like working with the other VSA judges? How did their perspectives influence your review of the nominated volunteers, if at all?

Darr: I was honored to be a judge for the Volunteer Service Awards, not only was I able to work hand-in-hand with a great community partner in Volunteer Fairfax, but it was also a joy working with the other judges. The judging panel consisted of individuals of various backgrounds and demographics with each person bringing their unique experience.

Every category required discussion with so many outstanding nominations. As I heard other judge’s opinions and perspectives they certainly influenced my review of the nominees whether that be in solidifying my choice or leading me to champion another nominee to be selected.

Amplify: Can you share a bit about the volunteer culture at Leidos?

Darr: The volunteer culture at Leidos strives to enrich our communities, helping to tackle some of the world’s most significant challenges.  From increasing the availability of STEM education at all levels to supporting our men and women in uniform and their families to helping end the stigma surrounding opioid addiction to providing basic necessities to those who are most vulnerable, to instilling the importance of integrity in our youth, Leidos strives to improve its communities.

Amplify: Does Leidos have days of service annually?

Darr: Leidos does not have fixed annual days of service, rather we commit our philanthropic resources (both budget, time, and talent) to a variety of cause areas and in conjunction with a series of both long-standing and new non-profit relationships and campaigns throughout the year. Our goal is to make an impact – spending our available charitable budget and encouraging our employees to contribute their time consistent with prior-year levels, increasing contributions in both areas to the greatest extent possible.

Amplify: Does Leidos offer time off for staff to volunteer?

Darr: While Leidos incentivizes volunteering in a number of different ways (e.g., matching donations for specific campaigns, annual achievement awards, etc.), the company does not offer paid time off for employee volunteering. Nonetheless, in any given year, employees contribute approximately 40,000 volunteer hours to company-sponsored activities, not including their personal volunteer efforts.

Amplify:  Your generation is very socially engaged and active.  What would you say to your colleagues who are thinking about spending some of their time volunteering? Why should they make the time; why should they care?

Darr:   I would absolutely encourage my colleagues to spend time volunteering. It is a fulfilling experience in making a difference that allows them to connect with the community and fellow colleagues. A bonding experience in support of the community!