First, We Banish All the Trolls...

How the Loudoun County Social Collective Taps Positive Energy for Change

In December, the Loudoun County Social Collective’s Second Annual Christmas Tea at Bluemont Station Brewery & Winery raised $60,000 for charity. Not bad for a scrappy little Facebook group.

The LCSC is the unlikely brainchild of Lisa Adams who, with her husband Dave, a Master Plumber, owns Artisan Plumbing in Purcellville. We say unlikely because, not so long ago, Lisa had a love-hate relationship with the Meta social platform. “We were doing a lot of advertising with Facebook for our plumbing company and I realized how powerful the free marketplaces are. We were getting a lot of business. But there was a lot of negativity there too,” she recalls. “It just got to the point after a year of hardcore promoting our company that I just didn’t want to do it anymore because I didn’t want to be subjected to all the trolls and the negative feedback.”

Lisa is the kind of person whose cup is always more than half full – a relentlessly supportive and loyal friend to many other local business owners – so it pained her when people who might have had one bad experience with a service provider would converge into an angry mob to try to destroy that business’s reputation. So, three years ago, she “created a space on Facebook where people can do everything for free without worrying about any kind of mob attack.”

The Loudoun County Social Collective (https://www.facebook.com/groups/locosoco) is a private group with nearly 19,000 members. Joining isn’t hard – you just have to ask – but trash a local business and you’ll be shown the door. Conveying positive energy to the group is Lisa’s daily passion now, and she’s surrounded herself with people who share that drive. All the moderators intuitively sense when a snarky comment, which could be just because someone is having a bad day, threatens to turn sour.

Because Lisa wasn’t the only business person longing for a welcoming, well-lighted place, there are now “Social Collectives” in Prince William, Tyson’s, Vienna, Falls Church, Arlington, and Fairfax in Northern Virginia; Jefferson, and Berkeley County in West Virginia; and Montgomery County, Maryland. The Loudoun group wanted to get together in person so they began having monthly happy hours which morphed into coffee networking because many didn’t drink alcohol. Each gathering became an opportunity to support a local charity. The group’s gatherings are always sponsored and every dime collected, beyond paying for the venues, goes directly to non-profits.

When the same formula was applied to this year’s Christmas Tea, it took no effort at all to fill the room with more than 200 people who felt positively nurtured all year round by Lisa and the other members of the group. Sponsors were found not only to cover the venue and the food but 100 raffle prizes and hundreds of individual gift bags for all the attendees... some of them containing gifts made by one of the event’s beneficiaries.

Echo Works, a Loudoun non-profit that offers lifelong support for people with disabilities, was frustrated when its 95 jobs for the workers it supports dried up to just over two dozen, and never returned. “Many of those jobs were replaced by new opportunities, new worksites,” Todd said. But the real breakthrough was in creating its own “social enterprises” with handmade dog treats and jewelry. At The Barkery in Ashburn, (https://echobarkery.org/,workers with disabilities create handmade dog treats featuring natural ingredients (tagline: “Your dog can make a difference”), and pair each purchase with “I helped someone” merchandise.

Echo's Blue Elegance makes wax tarts (essential oil and fragrance-infused soy squares), candles and jewelry, with the same feel-good messaging. “Having our own social enterprises like The Barkery, Blue Elegance, and ECHO Business Services has been critical to the success that we’ve had in rebuilding and offering more diverse employment opportunities to our participants,” Todd explains. The LCSC’s donation will help Echo open a retail space for Blue Elegance in its headquarters, complete with retail counters, lighting and everything else to create a commercial store-front.

The group’s second beneficiary was Tree of Life Ministries, which, among many other community services, employs Echo participants in its SimplyBe Coffee at 940 Edwards Ferry Rd. NE in Leesburg. In addition to stable employment for its workers with disabilities, LCSC’s donation will help to fund its Transitional Housing Program – five apartments for woman-led households that are experiencing homeless or need a safe and secure place to recover; its English as a Second Language class materials for classes that have grown 38% in the past year; ongoing financial assistance to families with emergency household expenses like utilities and rent – requests for which were up 54% in the last year and its Food Pantry Operations which delivers 2-3 weeks’ worth of groceries to those in need – requests for which grew 53% in 2022, including a 63% increase in first-time requests.  

But, LCSC didn't set out to fix all that ails Loudoun County. What shouldn’t be missed is that the group and its good works all are based on individual relationships and emerge from a collective spirit that, “we’re all in this together; how can we help each other?”

“It just feels good to do this. It feeds my soul. This is going to sound really cliche, but it's 100% why I'm doing this, because joy is my currency.” Lisa Adams

For instance, Echo came to Lisa’s attention through a friend in her bowling league who has a sister with disabilities. “When she shared how Echo had saved her marriage when her sister came to live with her and her husband, it just really touched my heart,” she explains. Jeffrey Fitzgerald on her team recommended Tree of Life, so they were added to the mix this year, but the gift became personal when she met TOL’s CEO Paul Smith at SimplyBe Coffee and he asked her what he could do for her personally. “The energy just completely changed... He was laser focused on me and my needs and I could tell that God is really with him. I said, we have to help him!”

Lisa says she doesn’t have any big plans to expand – she’s got enough on her plate, adding, “It just feels good to do this. It feeds my soul. This is going to sound really cliche, but it's 100% why I'm doing this, because joy is my currency.” Neither she or the 30 or so organizers and moderators who support the group are paid for their time – they’re usually the first ones to donate raffle prizes or cover expenses. “But it feels so good. And we've met so many amazing people. I feel rooted in this community now because of all the small businesses we support and the nonprofits and... it just feels so good.”

Amazing what can happen, just by turning on the light.

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