Celebrating Community: Debra Collins

It’s impossible to celebrate 20 years of ACT without sharing Debra Collins’ story.

Since the moment she moved to Alexandria in 2003 as Human Services Director, Debra has been part of the birth and growth of ACT. “I’m like a proud parent,” Debra says. “I look at everything ACT has done in the last 20 years and it’s exactly what we wanted it to become.”

As Debra tells it, she partnered with ACT when two “angels” walked into her office. “When Lori Morris and Lauren Stack came to talk to me, all they had was a generous resource from the Steuerle family,” Collins reflects. “There was no ACT name, no framework. The family wanted to do good, and from there, we built something incredible.” ACT for Alexandria was officially founded in 2004, thanks to the dedication of its early board members and community supporters.

Though other social change efforts can sometimes feel like “digging a hole in sand,” Debra says that working with ACT in Alexandria’s small community feels like “digging a garden hole and planting seeds.” She describes the public/private partnership that ACT facilitates as symbiotic. “Government can only go so far,” she says, “ACT’s neutrality and integrity helps bring the right parties to the table, including social workers, the police department, and other leaders, to agree on the necessity of this center for our community.”

“When I came here from Buffalo, New York, the concept of a child advocacy center was unknown in Alexandria,” Collins recalls. “It seemed like a straightforward idea, but the necessary parties didn’t have good working relationships back then.” Her determination helped ACT bring together different groups to establish the Center for Alexandria’s Children (CAC).

In addition to establishing the CAC, Debra was instrumental in the creation of the Alexandria Council of Human Service Organizations, Spring for Alexandria and Spring2ACTion.

Debra describes her experiences in a series of stories. She’s watched children engage in interactive play groups at the CAC as part of a support program funded by the Women’s Giving Circle. She also created the Educational Opportunities for Alexandrians (EOA) scholarship fund with the help of ACT, providing 15 undocumented students with full scholarships to Northern Virginia Community College since 2018. Despite her significant accomplishments, Debra is unflinchingly modest. “It’s not one person’s legacy, it’s a community legacy,” she says. The appreciation is mutual as we honor Debra’s role with ACT, her ongoing support for the Alexandria community, and enriching the lives of future generations.


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