His smile is the first thing you notice about Andy Johnston. He's incessantly cheerful, excited for life – an enthusiasm harnessed and then directed to making others' lives better, easier.
There's no precise formula to compute how many people Johnston's helped in his decade as executive director of Loudoun Cares, a nonprofit hub dedicated to assisting other nonprofits in the county. Johnston's achievements can't be measured in cold, hard figures; instead, they're calculated in effort, conversations and endless hours ensuring local nonprofits are clicking.
Johnston savors his work. And he's especially inspired doing it in Loudoun County.
“The thing I love about Loudoun – as fast-growing as it is – I feel the strongest sense of community here. I've made wonderful, life-long friends here,” Johnston told the Times-Mirror earlier this year. “And work colleagues, I've been here long enough to be able to pick up a phone and call a dozen people or more who I know can help me if I have a question.”
Leaders in the Loudoun community are so willing to help, one suspects, because by helping Johnston they're strengthening the community at large.
Johnston is never just looking out for himself. It's others he's concerned about, a mindset he's held since his youthful days as a Boy Scout, he says.
“Pass it forward and give it back,” he recalls learning in Scouts.
Pass it forward and give it back. Johnston's embodiment of this motto is why the Loudoun Times-Mirror has named him our 2013 Citizen of the Year.
|Johnston's organization, Loudoun Cares, is developing the property and run-down structure at 207 King St. in downtown Leesburg into office, meeting and event space for local health and human service nonprofits. Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Beverly Denny|
“I can’t say that I do what I do with my life because of some well-organized plan,” Johnston said. “At the most fundamental level, I like to help others because helping makes me feel good. The bigger the help I can provide, the better I feel. So, maybe it is no surprise that I have evolved into a career that is focused on doing things that I hope will help in bigger ways -- ways that benefit the larger community.”
Johnston continued, “When I think about giving, I think a lot about people giving back to community. We talk about that a lot through our work with Loudoun Cares.”
The vision for Loudoun Cares is multidimensional.
In 2009, Johnson's organization purchased the property and run-down structure at 207 King St. in downtown Leesburg, where the group is developing the Loudoun Cares Nonprofit Center – a facility that, once finished, will provide office, meeting and event space to at least a dozen local health and human service nonprofits.
There's also the Loudoun Cares information and referral helpline, which offers free confidential assistance to Loudoun residents with questions or problems dealing with health and human service needs.
And then the Claude Moore Community Builders program, which quickly brings a prideful smile to Johnston's face. Twenty high school boys and girls are accepted into the program through which they gain experience through volunteer activities, group projects to benefit the community and ongoing “training in team building, leadership development and other core competencies that are beneficial for both volunteer and employment opportunities,” according to the Loudoun Cares website.
For decades, Johnston's professional life has consisted of nothing but helping others. After earning a master's degree in counseling psychology from West Virginia University, he served as the assistant director for the Family Resource Center with the Community Council of Kanawha Valley and then the director of supportive services with Project H.O.M.E, both positions he held in West Virginia before moving to Loudoun in 1997.
Local honors bestowed on Johnston include the 2010 Outstanding Citizen of the Year by the Leesburg Daybreak Rotary, a Barbara Dutton Founder's Award from Leadership Loudoun in 2005 and the outstanding nonprofit human service professional from the Loudoun Human Services Network in 2002, when he was working for the Loudoun County United Way.
Yet Johnston is more likely to shrug off praise than relish it.
“He's the most kind-hearted, generous, community-serving person I know,” said colleague Lynn Tadlock, the deputy executive director of giving at the Claude Moore Foundation. “He has the most integrity of anyone I know. He walks the talk. If he tells you he's going to do something or that it's going to have this great benefit of people in need, it's right. He does everything a nonprofit leader should do.”
The man who Johnston lists as his mentor, Fred Boothe, called Johnston a “very idealistic guy” who “truly believes in helping people.”
Boothe and Johnston worked together in the 1980s at the Community Council, which served as something of a model for Loudoun Cares.
“When he came in, he had a fervor for wanting to make change and do good,” Boothe said in a phone interview from West Virginia. “Here was a guy who had a passion and a vision, and he put the infrastructure together to make it happen.”
And “he can pass his passion on to others and get them galvanized to help,” Booth added.
Neil Steinberg, the owner of Leesburg-based Photoworks who has worked with Johnston, wrote this on the Loudoun Cares chief's LinkedIn page: “Andy is a selfless, motivated individual whose efforts have served to offer care and support to a needy population. His work certainly makes Loudoun County a better place to work and live.”
Observations like these from people who know Johnston confirm he truly subscribes to the life he preaches – that helping others indeed stirs fulfillment and joy inside him. That considered, he's undoubtedly found a nice fit at Loudoun Cares.
“The beauty for me of Loudoun Cares,” Johnston says, “is that we – me, my board of directors, all of us – have a responsibility not just to Loudoun Cares, but to all the other Loudoun nonprofits.”