Cornerstones celebrates 50th anniversary of giving

An entity that launched to serve those in need over 50 years ago is celebrating its successes and looking at what’s ahead in order to help others.

What began as religious organizations coming together, the outreach once known as Reston Interfaith has evolved into community centers providing everything from recreational needs to social services, a 24/7 70-bed homeless shelter, over 100 affordable homes and more.

“The single-most-important thing we built is a reputation for reliable, low-drama services to our neediest neighbors,” said Larry Schwartz, chair of Cornerstones’ Board of Directors.

The homeless shelter now bears the name of Embry Rucker, a businessman turned pastor who sought to avoid building churches and instead focus on social services.

As the region changes, the nonprofit expects to double the housing stock it owns, which currently allows people to live in affordable housing while capping families’ costs at 30% of their income.

The Reston-headquartered organization has grown with its donors and volunteers, where before the COVID-19 pandemic it had around 6,000 people helping annually. Their efforts range from aiding Thanksgiving food drives to helping out with winter clothing campaigns.

During the pandemic, the organization also obtained $1.6 million in CARES Act relief to people in need, Schwartz said.

The pandemic was a factor in delaying the organization’s celebration of its 50-year milestone, causing a fundraising gala to be held during the organization’s 51st year now in 2021. It will take place virtually and in person on Sept. 30.

The organization is also highlighting its progress throughout the decades with a gallery of photos capturing key moments, including the opening of the Laurel Learning Center (11484 Washington Plaza West, Suite 200 in Reston) and its expansion with an infant and toddler day care named after former Reston Interfaith CEO Connie Pettinger.

As the cost of childcare can cost over $12,000 per kid before they reach preschool, Cornerstones scholarships and Fairfax County assistance help families get the support they need.

“The families can afford quality childcare while they’re outside the home trying to build the home,” Schwartz said.

Cornerstones’ Herndon Neighborhood Resource Center (1086 Elden St.) at the Dulles Park Shopping Center serves as a one-stop-shop for social services ranging from financial counseling to legal services for immigrants and job training as well as housing a health care center.

While the organization has its roots with religious groups, it changed its name in 2013 as it’s sought to be more inclusive with businesses, civic and community organizations, foundations and other supporters. Nevertheless, the group noted the new name, Cornerstones, is one that “has meaning in many of our faith traditions,” a letter by CEO Kerrie Wilson said.

Currently, Wilson describes Cornerstones as being at the front end of responding to eviction challenges amid the pandemic and helping families stabilize and ensure they have the support they need.

She noted that policies put in place years ago as a country have influenced how people are stuck in poverty and created barriers for home ownership.

“We will continue to serve on the frontlines,” she said, “But I think the biggest additional change and emphasis for us has to be the work in changing policies and systems that will let us truly end hunger and ensure that all families … have that first chance at home ownership.”

Photo via Cornerstones/Instagram

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