Celebrating contributions to regional leadership
Submit a Nomination

2022 Darden Awards Honorees

Gilbert T. Bland 

Individual Darden Award

Gilbert T. Bland is the President and CEO of the Urban League of Hampton Roads. He currently serves on the Boards of Sentara Healthcare; executive committee of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce; National Community Advisory Board- Truist Bank; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Virginia Learns; National Community Reinvestment Coalition; RVA-757 Connects; Reinvent 757; Elevate Early Education (E3) and Center for Excellence in Education (CEE). He serves as board chairman and president of Healthy Neighborhood Enterprises, a community development corporation.

Read More

Past Board service includes Hampton Roads Community Foundation; Chairman – State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV); inaugural Chair and facilitator for the Virginia African American Advisory Board; Old Dominion University Board of Visitors; James Madison University Foundation; and the South Hampton Roads YMCA.

Bland began his career as a commercial lending officer for the Continental Bank of Chicago and served as a vice president of commercial lending for the Independence Bank of Chicago. He has been an owner/operator of quick-service restaurants for more than 30 years, primarily as a franchisee of Burger King and Pizza Hut. In this capacity, he has owned, constructed and operated more than 70 restaurants in Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., employing more than 2,000 team members annually.
He served 10 years on the national board of directors of the Burger King National Franchise Association and was elected to five terms as the national president of the Burger King Minority Franchise Association. He is a charter board member of Burger King’s Inclusion Advisory Committee. The Burger King Corp. has honored Bland with the James McLamore Founder’s Award for outstanding contributions as a franchisee and has endowed a scholarship in his name at James Madison University.

Mr. Bland has received an honorary degree from Longwood University. In 2021, Mr. Bland was inducted into the Hampton Roads Business Hall of Fame and was recognized by Volunteer Hampton Roads to receive the region’s lifetime achievement award for volunteerism. For the past nine years, he has been chosen by Virginia Business Magazine as one of the 50 Most Influential Virginians.

Sentara Healthcare

Corporate Darden Award

Sentara Healthcare is the first non-profit organization to receive a Darden Award. For more than 130 years, Sentara has proudly lived its mission to improve health every day by providing both expert medical care and managed health insurance coverage, and addressing important community needs. Building on that tradition, Sentara embodies this mission through its Community Engagement and Impact program, Sentara Cares, to better the communities we serve. Research has shown that social determinants of health – the conditions in which people live, work and learn – have a significant and lasting impact on health outcomes that cannot be addressed by access to healthcare alone. Sentara Cares continues Sentara’s legacy of community work with a focus on social determinants of health that are closely aligned with Sentara’s integrated care model. Importantly, this program seeks to foster equitable health in our community and address health disparities magnified by the impact of COVID-19 on underserved populations.

Read More

Sentara Cares is an extension of our history of going above and beyond the delivery of medical care and comprehensive services. Sentara works behind the scenes to support underserved populations and numerous community organizations through sponsorships and grants. Sentara’s dedicated team of more than 29,000 employees has donated thousands of volunteer hours to various organizations and initiatives that propel our communities forward. Each year, Sentara also provides hundreds of millions of dollars in uncompensated care in our service regions across the state and donates millions of dollars to local and statewide organizations. Sentara also recently announced the impending launch of a new, innovative model of care focusing on uninsured and Medicaid populations in under-resourced communities across Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.

“Sentara maintains a critical emphasis on social determinants of health, which is why we made addressing them the focal point of the Sentara Cares program. That foresight has allowed us to rise to the real-time challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, forge new partnerships, strengthen long-standing relationships, and marshal resources to build stronger, healthier, more equitable communities,” said Sentara Healthcare President and Chief Executive Officer, Howard P. Kern. “A deep commitment to the communities we serve has long been a part of Sentara’s DNA, and the recent pandemic has made this commitment more vital than ever.”

Sentara and Optima Health, in partnership with Truist, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the Federation of Virginia Food Banks, recently implemented a statewide initiative to bolster Virginia’s emergency food support system during the pandemic and beyond. The “We Care” COVID-19 Virginia Emergency Food Support Plan has provided over 200,000 free food boxes containing meals and nourishment to families in need. Since the onset of the pandemic, Sentara has supported more than 550 community COVID-19 vaccination clinics, registering 30,000+ volunteer hours. The team administered nearly 200,000 vaccinations, with 43 percent of those vaccines going to minority populations.
Through the Sentara Cares program, Sentara also continues to provide support for important community activities and causes that enhance the health and well-being of all individuals and the quality of life enjoyed by everyone in our community. This includes cultural programs, educational enrichments, recreational features and community assets that are a part of the fabric of a healthy life and vibrant community.

Additionally, Sentara’s Diversity and Inclusion program and Health Equity department work together to form essential partnerships with key community organizations. This currently includes collaborating with local community and faith-based leaders to offer services and educational opportunities to people in underserved communities.

About the Darden Awards

The annual Darden Awards welcomes over 550 regional executives and community leaders to celebrate the honorees’ contributions to regional leadership.  Established in 2005, the Darden Award for Regional Leadership is named for CIVIC Leadership Institute’s Founder Emeritus, the late Joshua P. Darden Jr. 

Each year an individual and a corporation from the Hampton Roads region is selected to receive the award.  Those honored have delivered extraordinary service on boards, commissions and as community volunteers. They worked to create sustainable efforts toward the betterment of life for the people of the Hampton Roads Region and demonstrate exceptional leadership in the pursuit of regional cooperation.


    • 2019 Individual Honorees: David and Susan Goode
      2019 Corporate Honoree: Kaufman & Canoles
    • 2018 Individual Honoree: Harvey L. Lindsay, Jr.
      2018 Corporate Honoree: Ferguson
    • 2017 Individual Honoree: George Y. Birdsong
      2017 Corporate Honoree: Dollar Tree
    • 2016 Individual Honoree: John R. Lawson, II
      2016 Corporate Honoree: Landmark Media Enterprises, LLC
    • 2015 Individual Honorees: Joan and Macon Brock
      2015 Corporate Honoree: Newport News Shipbuilding
    • 2014 Individual Honoree: Jane Parke Batten
      2014 Corporate Honoree: Norfolk Southern Corporation
    • 2013 Individual Honoree: John O. “Dubby” Wynne
      2013 Corporate Honoree: TowneBank
    • 2012: Vince & Suzanne Mastracco
    • 2011: Dr. Deborah M. DiCroce
    • 2010: Jack L. Ezzell, Jr.
    • 2009: Harry T. Lester
    • 2008: Paul O. Hirschbiel, Jr.
    • 2007: G. Robert Aston, Jr.
    • 2006: J. Robert Bray
    • 2005: Joshua P. Darden, Jr., Founder Emeritus