If the Culmore community had a saint, her name might be Carmen Fernandez. Carmen was born and reared in Cuba and often told stories of the delightful soirees and beach time she enjoyed as a young woman in pre-Castro Cuba. She emigrated to the United States in 1960 and earned a master’s degree in social work at the Catholic University of America.
Carmen was the founder and guiding light of Hispanics Against Child Abuse and Neglect (HACAN) and spent decades strengthening immigrant families in Northern Virginia through parent education and out-of-school activities that serve and support youth. One of those activities was the Morningstar program, which meets at the Woodrow Wilson Library on Saturday mornings.
I’ve written before about Morningstar, which began as a program for girls, but added other family members as the programs adjusted and expanded to meet the needs of youth. I treasure the memories of a special quilt project I developed for the girls nearly 20 years ago; the girls learned to cut fabric, iron and sew, and I learned more about patience, collaboration, and the creativity of a diverse group of young girls. Our several-Saturdays project developed their skills and produced a product — a beautiful queen-sized quilt with a “Springtime” theme — but also was a lot of fun!
Carmen was there every Saturday, encouraging the girls and gauging progress, but stayed on the sidelines. She wanted the girls to shine, and they did! Carmen passed away last fall, at the age of 88, with her immediate family at her bedside, but her extended family — all the children she had helped, all the adults who supported her work and loved her — mourned, too.
Visitation at the Everly Funeral Home was packed and that’s where the conversation about how to honor and remember Carmen began. By the time of her funeral at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Culmore (also packed), ideas were coming together, and this Saturday, July 9, at 10 a.m., the community will gather to dedicate the public meeting room at Woodrow Wilson Library, 6101 Knollwood Drive in Falls Church, to Carmen Fernandez. If we had asked Carmen about such a designation, she likely would have declined. She never wanted the attention to be on her, but on the families and children she worked so hard to help.
In recognition of her tireless service, I tried many times to name her as Mason District’s Lady Fairfax, but she always refused. She might also have rejected status as a saint, but there are few people more deserving of such a designation. Sainthood, of course, is a long process that requires proof of miracles in addition to living an exemplary life, and I am not suggesting canonization here.
However, if living a virtuous life, helping untold numbers of children and their families, and inspiring others to follow a similar path while practicing the virtue of humility, then Carmen Fernandez is a saint in my book!
Spotlight by Starlight, the free summer concert series at Mason District Park, 6621 Columbia Pike in Annandale, continues on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m., through August 21. Enjoy a broad variety of music and dance — coming up are SOLE Defined (tap dance and body percussion dance on July 10), the Texas Chainsaw Horns (on July 13), Cathy Fink and Marcey Marxer (July 20) and Flamenco Aparicio Dance Company (July 24). A full list of all the free concert events in Fairfax County parks is available at fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/performances. Concert venues are outdoors and subject to cancellation for inclement weather.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]