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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
May 4, 2021

In the midst of Public Service Recognition Week, we honor those who serve our nation as federal, state, county, local and tribal government employees. We celebrate their work, and thank them for their efforts to sustain, support and uplift our communities.

However, recognition need not be limited to one week alone. On April 14, the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University hosted the 14th Excellence in Virginia Government Awards to recognize Virginians who have made noteworthy contributions to the practice of government and the welfare of communities and citizens. These individuals and organizations have a long history of serving their state and local communities, and are an inspiration to others working in the public service. The awards and winners were as follows:

  • Lifetime Achievement Award: The Honorable Robert C. Scott
    • As the first African-American elected to Congress from the Commonwealth since Reconstruction, Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott has spent more than four decades in public service. Congressman Scott currently serves as the Chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor. In this capacity, he is advancing an agenda that improves equity in education, frees students from the burdens of crippling debt, protects and expands access to affordable health care, ensures workers have a safe workplace where they can earn a living wage free from discrimination and guarantees seniors have a secure and dignified retirement.
  • Hill-Robinson Expansion of Freedom Award: A.E. Dick Howard
    • Fifty years ago, Virginia voters resoundingly endorsed a new state Constitution, one that enshrined hard won civil rights protections and voting rights, constitutionally committed the state to educational equality, and included stewardship of natural resources as a constitutional obligation. The principal drafter of the new Virginia Constitution was a young law professor at the University of Virginia, A.E. Dick Howard. Following the ratification of Virginia’s Constitution, Professor Howard has consulted with constitution-makers around the world, including Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Albania, South Africa, Malawi, Brazil and the Philippines.
  • Grace E. Harris Leadership Award: John C. Purnell, Jr.
    • As the executive director of the Friends Association for Children for over 40 years, John C. Purnell, Jr. skillfully helped at-risk children and families overcome prejudice, economic disparity, nutritional shortcomings and other challenges for those growing up in difficult neighborhoods. He opened four innovative before and after school educational centers. These centers teach children educational, life and survival skills, as well as art and music. They also provide opportunities for parents to gain employment skills. Purnell’s goal was to ensure that at-risk children and families, primarily African American, would grow into productive members of society.
  • Unsung Hero Award: Cristina Dominguez Ramirez
    • For more than a decade, Cristina Ramirez has worked to bring awareness, visibility and services to Latino/Hispanic/Spanish speaking communities. Ramirez has presented at conferences, published academic books and served as a consultant on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion issues. As a librarian, she works to bring inclusion of Latino youth into library services and programs and to promote literacy and writing amongst Latino youth.
  • Community Enhancement Award: Health Brigade
    • Health Brigade is celebrating 50 years of providing exceptional health services to those least served in a caring and non-judgmental environment. Health Brigade serves not only those with limited resources, but also those often stigmatized or experiencing systemic oppression. Today they serve close to 11,000 individuals annually through primary medical care, mental health and wellness services, HIV/STI testing and outreach and education.
  • Public-Private Partnership Award: Virginia Housing
    • Virginia Housing helps all Virginians attain quality, affordable housing. Virginia Housing fulfills its mission by partnering with the greater housing community to offer programs, products, services and expertise addressing the evolving spectrum of homeownership, rental and supportive housing needs. It is unique as a housing authority—relative to peers that serve the same constituencies—as it is fully self-funded through revenues generated by its programs, rather than state appropriations. This novel funding structure enables Virginia Housing to maintain the agility necessary to align its programs with state priorities, effectively respond to threats like the 2008 Financial Crisis, reinvest in its mission and innovate.
  • Innovation in Government Award: Department of Juvenile Justice
    • The Department of Juvenile Justice has 5,000 youth under some kind of supervision. Beginning in 2014, the Department underwent a rigorous self-analysis to examine whether they were using taxpayer resources effectively and getting the outcomes they want for the youth, families and communities. The resulting Transformation Plan touched virtually every aspect of the agency’s operations and yielded dramatic gains resulting in positive outcomes for the youth and families, including a reduction in the number of youth incarcerated in state correctional centers and education and treatment gains for youth in secure custody.

Those recognized remind us of the importance of serving the public well. They inspire us to be innovative, to collaborate with others, to center those historically on the margins and to always act equitably. During this Public Service Recognition Week and beyond, may we follow their example and strive for excellence in all that we do.


Author: The Center for Public Policy at VCU’s Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs advances research and training that informs public policy and decision-making to improve our communities. Drawing on the wide-ranging expertise of Wilder School faculty, we services including leadership development and training, economic and policy impact analysis, survey insights, and program evaluation to clients in governments, nonprofits, businesses, and the public, across Virginia and beyond. Twitter: @VCUWilderSchool

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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