By Jason S Rufner, Viva Loudoun
Original Article – November 30, 2015
Sterling, Va. (November 30, 2015) — As Kirk Cousins has been known to ask, “You like that?!?”
The answer, of course, is a resounding and emphatic Yes.
There’s everything to like. Charity. Dignity. Opportunity. Community. Human beings helping each other, wanting in return only a mutual realization of success and sense of purpose.
That’s the goal of The Dons’ Wood-Fired Pizza in the Cascades Marketplace in Sterling, Virginia, which hosted its annual Serve-N-Sign Nov. 30 featuring seven current and one former Washington Redskins football players serving up piping hot pizza slices, pouring cold drinks and happily chatting with hundreds of star-struck burgundy-clad customers.
The evening generated more than $3,000 in proceeds to directly benefit the Open Hearts Foundation, a locally based outreach charity which seeks to serve the needs of underprivileged and at-risk youth across Loudoun County, as well as providing educational and technological support to poverty-stricken regions of Africa.
Some 920 pizza slices were handed out to more than 300 hungry visitors, who braved the nipping cold and drizzling rain for the chance to be served by their heroes.
So much to like. Captain Kirk was among the event’s guest celebrities, dishing up pizza and giving broad smiles to his many adoring fans. He took a moment to answer his own hypothetical question.
“It’s a lot of fun to see the fans with smiles on their faces,” said Cousins, participating in pizza establishment’s nine-year-old event for the fourth time. “It’s a wonderful activity to do with my teammates and support the community. It’s a great experience and it makes a difference in a positive way.”
The quarterback was joined behind the counter by teammates Kedric Golston, Frank Kearse, Nick Sundberg, Will Compton, Trent Murphy, Adam Hayward and former teammate Rocky McIntosh, now on the football staff of Oakton’s Flint Hill School. Several of those guys are frequent volunteers at The Dons’ Serve-N-Sign event; a few were first-timers.
“Hey, how you doin’? Come on over!” exclaimed Cousins excitedly to one fan he recognized.
“Great shirt,” complimented Compton to a woman sporting a Skins no. 21 jersey of the dearly departed Sean Taylor. “What would you like to drink?”
The Skins even mustered up politeness for the poor fellow in the New York Giants windbreaker.
Golston has worked with The Dons’ charity event every single year since the pizzeria’s owner, Waleed Zarou, first held it. He has been instrumental in bringing fellow Redskins with him to the delicious charity benefit.
“Waleed’s just trying to give back, both domestically and abroad. He’s all about serving others,” said the veteran nose tackle, a resident of Ashburn, amid fulfilling requests for pepperoni or sausage. “We have it so well here in the U.S., sometimes you can take for granted what you have. This holiday season, this gives us a chance to help somebody, and that makes you feel good on the inside.”
Zarou has become friendly with several Redskins since initiating the event almost a decade ago. He expressed his appreciation for the players lending their time and their notoriety to aid the cause of Open Hearts.
“I think it speaks to their character, the caliber of men they are, using the platform they have to reach the community,” the business owner said. “They don’t have a lot of time during the season, but they take it as a serious responsibility and do right by it. You can talk about doing something, but actions speak louder than words. They demonstrate by their actions that they care, they care enough to come out to this little pizza place in Loudoun County and give two hours of their time.
“Plus they really enjoy themselves, and that means a lot to me,” Zarou continued. “They even jumped in the kitchen and just about took over the place. They got the knack pretty quick for making pizzas.”
After an hour of dishing up The Dons’ unique wood-fired pizza topped with choice of meats or vegetables, the professional athletes adjourned to a long table out the restaurant’s side door where a parade of fans sought autographs and a snippet of conversation.
The Dons’ event also included a raffle promoting many of the services and products of its sponsors, such as Gold’s Gym, i9 Sports, Dulles Golf, Giant Food and Sportrock Climbing Center.
The event is an extension of Zarou’s personal Christianity-guided philosophy. A deacon at Sterling’s Calvary Temple Church and a chaplain under the guise of the International Fellowship of Chaplains, he is a veteran of charitable causes in war-torn regions of Central and South America, and personally delivers computer and other equipment to villages in Kenya, supporting schools and training programs.
Closer to home, Open Hearts works with local governments to reach kids at increased likelihood to become involved in gangs, drugs and other criminal or dangerous activity.
Open Hearts is a non-profit 501(c)3 charitable organization run entirely by volunteers and seeks to help children realize better lives, whether locally in Loudoun or globally in Africa. It was begun by Zarou and fellow entrepreneurs Tony Schwartz and Danny Johnson.
“Open Hearts provides academic, vocational and spiritual training both here and abroad. We have an organization in place to help little kids all the way up through young adults,” Schwartz said. “Having the Redskins involved has been absolutely fantastic for us. Each year, the fans have come and they’ve been generous. It’s great to see the folks in Loudoun County recognize that they’ve been given a lot, and they’re looking for opportunities to give back.”
Zarou noted the smiles on the faces of kids streaming through the pizza line, getting to look in the eye the same players they’d admired on TV.
“You can’t go wrong serving your fellow man. That’s what we do this for,” Zarou said. “This is what Christmas is all about.”
Preparations for next year’s event at The Dons’, including retaining sponsorships from vendors, requisitioning a football signed by the Redskins team and extending invitations to other players and local celebrities, are already underway.