DeKalb resident to be honored for community service

Many of the area residents selected to be honored at Wesley Woods Foundation’s annual Heroes, Saints & Legends are prominent in their communities for achievement in business, sports, politics or other areas. It is, however, because of their contributions to their communities that the foundation selects them as Heroes, Saints & Legends honorees. Among them this year is Brookhaven/LaVista Park resident Virginia Hepner.

For 33 years, the Wesley Woods Foundation has hosted the large awards and gala event called Heroes, Saints & Legends, which this year will be held Sept. 15 at Flourish, an events venue on Maple Drive in Atlanta.  

The event “honors extraordinary individuals who have shaped our community through a lifetime commitment to leadership, service and philanthropy,” according to Wesley Woods Foundation’s website. This is the first year that all three honorees are women.

“We didn’t set out to select all women, but as we reviewed nominations, these three remarkable individuals rose to the top. We seek to honor those who have transformed the greater Atlanta area.

They widen the path for others and in so doing leave a wider path for those who come behind them,” said Diane Vaughan, president of Wesley Woods Foundation.

Much of Hepner’s impact on the community has been through her service on nonprofit boards with her focus being revitalization of the historic Westside Atlanta neighborhood through Westside Future Fund board, on which—applying her background as a banking executive—she served as chair of the finance committee.

Hepner also made a mark on the community during her five years as president and chief executive officer of Atlanta’s Woodruff Arts Center.

Vaughan said of Hepner, “Virginia understands the communities she works to improve; that’s one reason she is so effective.”

The hardest part after choosing among what Vaughan said is an excellent list of nominees, is getting those selected to agree to be honored. “These are such humble individuals. They do what they do to make their communities better and never seek recognition. Usually, we are able to persuade them to accept the honor only by explaining that by allowing us to shine a light on them we provide inspiration to others. My favorite part of this job is getting to know extraordinary people like these,” she commented.

Vaughan said the foundation typically gets approximately 30 nominees then narrows the list to three or four to be honored. “These are all people working hard to make their communities better places. Making the final choices is never easy,” she noted.

Selection to Heroes, Saints & Legends is not Hepner’s first major recognition. She is a Life Trustee of the Woodruff Arts Center and a recipient of the City of Atlanta Phoenix Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Atlanta Business Chronicle, the Governor’s Award for arts leadership in Georgia, and the Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Award, which honors exemplary corporate board service by a female director.

In being selected for Heroes, Saint & Legends, Hepner joins such luminaries as Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy (2012); former first lady Rosalynn Carter (2001), community activists Joseph and Evelyn Lowery (2018) and baseball great Henry “Hank” Aaron, whose widow Billye Aaron joins Hepner as a 2022 honoree.

Funds raised at the Heroes, Saints & Legends event benefit the “mission and ministry of Wesley Woods, which includes financial assistance with meals and housing, wellness, programming and pastoral care to older adults living in Wesley Woods communities,” the foundation website notes.

“Sometimes residents outlive their resources and need help,” Vaughan explained. “Each year, our goal is to exceed what we raised the year before. Last year, we raised around $401,000, so this year we’re trying to top that,” she said.

Wesley Woods is headquartered in DeKalb County in the Emory University community, site of its original senior living community. There are now other Wesley Woods communities across north Georgia.

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