Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts

Fifty years is a long time — for marriages, for non-profit organizations, and for many other institutions. This past week, two of those groups celebrated 50 years of service to Fairfax County, reflecting on the strides made since they were founded.


Fairfax County has changed dramatically since 1971. Its population then was barely 450,000, a third of today’s residents; the median age in 1971 was 25.2 years; today the median age exceeds 37 years. Seventy percent of housing units were single family detached homes; townhouses accounted for less than six percent. Today, those figures, respectively, are 46 and 24 percent. Only three percent of residents were age 65 or older (13,674 residents in 1970); today’s population of residents 65 and older is 14 percent, but the actual number is a staggering 164,033.That’s more than the entire city of Alexandria!


The Fairfax County Commission on Women was created by the Board of Supervisors on September 8, 1971, with the purpose of promoting full equality for women and girls in the county. The name later was changed to Commission for Women in 1976. The Commission was created before the Roe v. Wade decision, before Title IX, before the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, before the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 that prohibits credit discrimination based on gender, marital status, and other classifications. Many opportunities available to all today simply did not exist when the Commission for Women was instituted. Single women could have credit in their birth name, but when they got married, that credit would be issued, or re-issued, in their husband’s name only. Most female staff members who worked in Congress were not permitted on the Senate and House Floors; those few who were allowed had to wear stockings, heels, and dresses with sleeves as proper attire. Women were not admitted to the service academies until 1976.


Sadly, violence against women, one of the issues that led to the Commission’s creation, still is a serious issue in our community. To advance the work of the Commission, partnerships have been established with the Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy, Domestic and Sexual Violence Service, League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area, and the National Associations of Commissions for Women. Their advocacy has supported the Turning Point Suffrage Memorial, paid family medical leave, and the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (successful in the first two; not so for the third). In 2020, the Commission recognized women as heroes on the frontlines of the Covid-19 pandemic and public health crisis. Congratulations!


Similarly in 1971, Fairfax Opportunities Unlimited, known familiarly as the Op Shop, started as a small non-profit organization to serve disabled young adults and provide them with skills and day programs that would help them be “the best that they could be.” From those small beginnings, the Op Shop became ServiceSource, which has expanded to serve more people across the country, while maintaining many of the original day programs that allow parents and adult caregivers to continue their outside employment and, in many cases, place clients into paid jobs. ServiceSource clients work at the EPA mailroom, at a Quantico Marine Base coffee shop, and other government agencies.


ServiceSource moved to a new office in Oakton, but many of their programs are maintained in Mason District, where they have been welcomed for decades. A video made for their 50th anniversary echoed common themes: “What a blessing!” and “Thank you.” Indeed, thank you, ServiceSource!

Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]