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Celebrating Excellence in Government

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By The Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU
June 3, 2022

Through the uncertainty and unrest of recent years, public servants have been steadfast in their dedication to their work and to their communities. As a way to recognize, thank and celebrate public servants in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University hosted the 2022 Excellence in Virginia Government Awards on April 26.

Now in its 15th year, this event serves as a way to uplift those who uplift others. Those who were recognized have a long and impressive history of making noteworthy contributions to their state and local governments, and serve as an inspiration for all of us working in the public service.

This year’s awards and winners are as follows:

  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Florence Neal Cooper Smith
    • Sickle cell is an inherited disease that impacts an estimated 100,000 people in the United States, 90 percent of whom are African American. In Virginia, Florence Cooper Smith has been a tireless leader, increasing awareness of sickle cell disease and raising tens of thousands of dollars to improve treatments and develop a cure. Cooper Smith’s devotion to finding a cure includes years of community-based education and legislative work in Virginia as well as national networking through the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Community Enhancement Award: Sacred Heart Center
    • When it became apparent early in the pandemic that Latinos had very low vaccination rates and were disproportionately being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19, Richmond’s Sacred Heart Center, with the support of several foundations, stepped in to educate and help vaccinate the region’s Latino community. This lifesaving work has helped the Latino vaccination rate grow above 80 percent, the highest in the Richmond region. The Sacred Heart Center is Richmond’s premier Latino community center, providing education and support programs across the region, including a food bank, educational classes for adults and youth and a wide variety of human and social service programs.
  • Grace E. Harris Leadership Award: All Saints Catholic School of Richmond
    • All Saints Catholic School serves about 200 pre-K to eighth-grade students in the Richmond area, fostering a culturally, socio-economically and ethnically diverse student body. All Saints prides itself on developing students’ leadership skills, confidence and integrity. The school’s seniors boast a 100 percent high school graduation rate, with a large majority of alumni continuing on to college.
  • Hill-Robinson Expansion of Freedom Award: Moton Museum of Farmville
    • Farmville’s former Russa Moton High School, now a National Historical Landmark and museum, preserves and constructively interprets the history of civil rights in education, specifically as it relates to Prince Edward County and the leading role its citizens played in America’s transition from segregation toward integration. The Moton Museum strives to promote dialogue and advance positions that ensure empowerment within a constitutional democracy through community events, educational outreach and providing resources for K-12 students and teachers.
  • Innovation in Government Award: Danville Police Chief Scott Booth
    • When Chief Scott Booth came to the Danville Police Department in 2018, he made his top two priorities community engagement and the reduction of violent crime. Crime numbers have decreased and the relationships and trust have grown in the community. Booth introduced the Community Leadership and Immersion Program (CLIP) as part of new officer training and the Pass the Perspective program for residents to learn more about policing. Both programs have had a profound impact on the Danville community’s relationship with police.
  • Public-Private Partnership Award: Grayson County with Appalachian Power and GigaBeam Networks
    • A lack of fast and reliable internet was causing Grayson County to lose residents, limiting its economic development potential and restricting health care options. That changed in 2019 after a new law went into effect permitting Virginia’s two largest electric utilities to provide broadband capacity to nongovernmental internet service providers in underserved areas. Appalachian Power selected Grayson County for their pilot program, and in partnership with GigaBeam Networks, has installed nearly 150 miles of fiber in the rural county, with a total of 250 miles planned.
  • Unsung Heroes Award: Betty Mattice, Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles
    • For 51 years, Betty Mattice has dedicated herself to becoming an expert in the systems and processes that keep the DMV operating smoothly. As DMV’s Information Technology manager, Betty oversees software system and business requirements, as well as manages a help desk staff that provides assistance to field employees and DMV partners. IT issues don’t conform to office hours, and neither does Betty. Her dedication to the agency runs so deep that she has a cot in her office to ensure she is present in the event of bad weather or to work nights and weekends.

“These awards recognize outstanding work at all levels of government in Virginia and honor dedicated public service, innovative approaches and commitment to excellence,” said Susan T. Gooden, Ph.D., dean of the Wilder School. As we look to the future, may we all be encouraged and inspired by the tireless efforts of this year’s EVGA awardees.

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