Alborn: Schools Chairman Johns Entertains Citizen Input


Contributing Editor

Last Sunday, I published a column titled “Schools Need More Detailed Budget.”

It was about the Prince William County School Board’s budget presentation to the Board of County Supervisors, and in it I made some observations about its budget practices in general.

Shortly thereafter, I was invited to coffee by School Board Chairman Milt Johns. Johns is familiar with my “office hours” policy working from local coffee shops.  I’m available for coffee with anyone who wishes to discuss public policy.  Of course, I accepted with a bit of apprehension.  I suspected that perhaps Chairman Johns was less than pleased with my column.

My apprehension was misplaced.

I suspected our meeting would be best held in private, so we met at John’s office in Old Town Manassas.  The possibility of yelling and screaming crossed my mind. Braced for the worst, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Prince William’s School Board Chairman was actually interested in exploring the topic of strategic planning and its application to the budget process.

The chairman was truly interested in citizen input.

Let’s be clear here. Johns presides over a billion dollar annual budget. He needs little tutoring on how to work with big numbers.  I did discover that he is always looking for ways to improve the process.  I found absolutely no defensiveness on his part during our conversation, and a willingness to explore new ideas.

As a taxpayer, I was impressed.

The conversation covered a number of areas, and re-framed my thinking a bit regarding the challenges Johns and the rest of the School Board face.  Teacher compensation, recognition and performance incentives are a big issue to the Chairman.  

Johns discussed, as an example, Standards of Learning test scores. How do you compare performance when scores on an SOL test in one class improve from 94% to 95% passing, but in another class they improve from 50% to 65% passing.   Now, cast this issue in light of different demographics,  economic circumstances, and perhaps even ESOL populations of different schools.

Which teacher was more successful? Which teacher faced the greater challenge, and rose to the occasion? Should rewards be equal?

I also found the diversity in the wealth of school parent populations and its impact on school principals interesting. Johns mentioned that a principal in a wealthy community who would like a $30,000 high speed copier might simply ask his parent teacher organization to write him or her a check.

Schools in more economically challenged areas lack that option.

We explored strategic planning in detail.  Chairman Johns, of course, is familiar with the process. He was intrigued by the observation that perhaps the School Board’s budget could be better aligned with the School System’s Strategic Plan, and wished to discuss how that might be accomplished.

I pointed out that Prince William County’s Office of Management and Budget does, in my opinion, a very good job of aligning its budget with the Community’s Strategic Plan. You may disagree with “what’s in there”; however, you are disagreeing within a defined context.  

That makes the conversation to get to the final budget and tax rate easier, as those conversations are defined in terms of impact on the measurable goals defined in the county’s Strategic Plan.

Less money means less of some service to the public.  Understanding the relationship and impact is important to these conversations. 

To make this alignment work, you have to start with a good Strategic Plan. The potential failures we discussed included simply ignoring the strategic plan in developing a budget, or perhaps working with a Strategic Plan that doesn’t lend itself to implementation.

The math is simple: A strategic plan defines what some enterprise should look like in terms of vision, goals and measurable results. The budget is how we achieve those goals and measurable results.  In the case of Prince William County, the published tax rate is the bound in deciding what to fund, and the adopted tax rate drives the public policy and services for the fiscal year in question.  

A budget is the essence of government. Nothing happens without it. The alignment of a Strategic Plan with the budget is how we “get it right”.

I took a break to get a second cup of coffee.  Clearly, we had entered the area of Strategic Planning Consulting.  While I have no illusions that Chairman Johns was looking for instructions on “what to do,” I was comfortable that our two way candid dialog was intended to simply compare notes and experience, and perhaps give him some ideas to ponder regarding future budgets.

Chairman Johns pointed out the ultimate challenge.  While the School Board’s budget is defined by a process outside its control,  the School Systems obligation to serve is open ended.  They simply cannot turn student’s away.

This column is not an endorsement of the FY2014 School Board budget.  I have issues with it (that I discussed in my previous column).  This is no surprise, as like most people I have issues with every governmental budget.

My goal here is to simply share a citizen’s perspective and a bit of insight into the challenges our School Board face, and my appreciation for the fact that Chairman Johns is struggling with several issues all constrained by a “magic number” that he must make work.  

I finished my second cup of coffee, and closed our conversation with a new appreciation for the man that leads our School Board.  We exchanged cards, and I suspect might chat again about this subject.

I may not agree with everything Johns or the School Board does, however, I am comfortable that he is quite approachable, willing to discuss any disagreement, and looking for ideas to improve the School System.

Johns gave me his private cell number and an invitation to call any time.  I added it to my speed dial.

St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church Presents Brother Earth Day


Submitted News 

TRIANGLE, Va. – As a way to celebrate Earth Day in a Franciscan manner, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Triangle is presenting “Brother Earth Day” at the parish on Sunday, April 21.

During and after the Sunday, April 21, 2013, 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., and noon Masses, there will be information tables with goodies to sample, including homemade, vegetarian muffins, cookies and brownies made from organic, local and/or fair trade ingredients, as well as handouts, displays, and demonstrations.

There will be information on how to conduct a home-energy audit, working with your utility company regarding energy conservation, and how to set up a home composting system.

There will also be hands-on activities, including the planting of a community flower and vegetable garden.

In addition, there will be a presentation at 10:00 a.m. by local environmental leaders that will address a host of issues.

The parish is also collecting and recycling old cell phones, shoes, printer cartridges, eye glasses, and batteries.

Everyone is invited to this free event. The parish is located at 18825 Fuller Heights Road, Triangle, Virginia 22172. For more information, please call the parish office at 703.221.4044.

“Pope Francis has asked us to be protectors of one another and of the environment,” said Fr. Kevin Downey, O.F.M., pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish. “Brother Earth Day will inspire us to do just that.”

In September 2012, St. Francis of Assisi Parish was accepted into the GreenFaith Certification Program, the country’s first interfaith environmental certification program for houses of worship. New Jersey-based GreenFaith ( is an internationally recognized interfaith environmental coalition.

St. Francis of Assisi Parish is the first house of worship in Virginia to enter this prestigious certification program.

Churches, synagogues, mosques and temples gain recognition as environmental leaders when they receive GreenFaith certification by carrying out more than two dozen environmental activities over two years. From eco-themed worship services and religious education on the environment, to reducing consumption in their buildings and engaging in environmental justice advocacy, participants “green” their communities. When a congregation completes the program, GreenFaith officially acknowledges it as a religious-environmental leader..

 St. Francis of Assisi Parish’s “Brother Earth Day” is in conjunction with the parish’s certification requirements.

St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church ( is part of the Diocese of Arlington and was established in 1957 to serve the military community at Quantico Marine Base.

Life of Pi’s Tiger a Metaphor for Life

041013-life-of-piBy TOM BASHAM

I didn’t see “Life of Pi” at the theater, I saw it on DVD last night. However, I think it was meant to be seen like a moving painting – a kaleidoscope of the trials of life. Director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) earned his best director Oscar as did Cinematographer Claudio Miranda (TRON: Legacy).

I did not read the book, but we all saw the trailer. It’s a movie about a guy who is stuck on a life raft with a tiger. The book was based on the story of a Jewish-German refugee who crossed the Atlantic Ocean while sharing his boat with a jaguar. And yeah, it was made with bits of light and magic known as CGI, but it was used to enhance the story and never to impress or distract from the experience.

I saw the movie as a metaphor – a complete metaphor for life and the struggles of man. We are all crossing a great sea, alone on a craft that is barely worthy. If that isn’t enough, we have a tiger to deal with. We all have one. It may be drugs, booze, women, neighbors, illness, pain, a boss, or other obsessions or objects of aggression. We have to respect the tiger, feed the tiger, and eventually tame the tiger if we are to survive.

We may hate the tiger – it wants to kill us, but in the end, it is our tiger, and as the movie tells us, when we look in the tiger’s eyes we see a reflection of ourselves. At the end of our life we understand that we needed the tiger.

If there were no tiger in our life, no struggle, we would not have been challenged and not developed the life skills necessary for survival. If you do not tame your tiger, you will never have the life you were meant to live.

The “Life of Pi” got to me, and that is what movies are supposed to do; leave you thinking about it, the themes and your own life. You can’t get it out of your head. You smile, and you are frustrated, you toss and turn at night. I know, it looked like it belonged in the “artsy-fartsy” category, and maybe it does.

All I am saying is give art a chance, and maybe you will find peace. I give this movie four out of five stars. The only thing keeping me from that fifth star is the “I want to tell you a story narrative” format. That bothers me…but not as much as this tiger I have in my life boat that I have to deal with every day.

Tom Basham is a Virginia filmmaker and regularly reviews movies at BashMovies.

More than 40 Performances Planned for ‘Arts Alive!’

MANASSAS, Va. — Nearly 40 performances and showcases are planned for one of the area’s largest arts festivals, taking place at the Hylton Performing Arts Center.

Arts Alive! 2013 starts at noon Saturday, and festival goers will find everything from signing, dancing, stage performances, and, yes, even belly dancing.

“Arts Alive is a chance for families to experience everything the arts has to offer in our community–and they can do it all for free,” said Prince William Arts Council Arts Liaison Katy Bentz. “Whatever says ‘art’ to you, you will find it at Arts Alive — dance, theater, music, painting, quilting, writing and more.”

The free festival will take place inside and outside, and will also offer hands-on activities like painting pictures, making origami, creating a windsock, and learning the art of storytelling.

This is the second year for the festival, which is put on by the Prince William Arts Council. It’s an organization charged – originally under the now defunct Prince William Park Authority, and now the Prince William County Department of Parks and Recreation – to further the cause of the arts in Prince William County and the surrounding region. About 40 members, from ballet, cloggers, stage performers, painters, photographers and more, belong the organization.

The Arts Alive! festival runs until about 6:30 p.m., and will conclude with a performance from the U.S. Air Force at 8 p.m. following a short break.


Prince William Health System to Host Healthcare Decision Forums

Submitted News

In recognition of National Healthcare Decisions Day, Prince William Health System will host two public forums on Monday, April 15, to discuss advance care planning, including advance directives. Nationally, only three in 10 adults have taken the time to create an advance directive; however, 60 percent of individuals state they do not want to burden their families with end-of-life decisions.

There are two main types of advance directives:

1. Healthcare power of attorney, where you choose the person you want to make healthcare decisions for you when you cannot speak for yourself;

2. A living will that expresses your wishes about end of life care.

In 2012 The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) started the Advanced Directives Registry, an electronic database where healthcare providers can access the Directives at any time, with the patient’s permission. This avoids family’s having to look for papers when their loved ones are receiving medical care.

Guest speaker Kim Barnes with the VDH will discuss the importance of advance care planning and how to use the VDH online advance directives registry, which is free of cost for users. “The Advance Health Care Directive Registry ensures that loved ones, as well as doctors, know a person’s wishes and whom they want making medical decisions for them,” said Barnes.

Also speaking at the events will be Manassas City Councilman Ian Lovejoy and family medicine physician Scott Ross, MD, of Bull Run Family Practice.

The morning program (breakfast provided) will be held from 8 to 9 a.m. at Prince William Hospital in Manassas, 8650 Sudley Road, 4th floor conference room A. The program is free, but registration is required: 703-369-WELL (9355).

The evening program (refreshments provided) will be held from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Caton Merchant House Assisted Living Facility at 9201 Portner Avenue in Manassas. The program is free and registration is not required.

Arts Alive! Will Conclude with Awards and Military Band Concert

U.S. Air Force Band

MANASSAS, Va. — The big finish for Arts Alive! 2013—a free, family-friendly arts festival on Saturday, April 13—will include two special events: presentation of the Kathleen K. Seefeldt Awards for Arts Excellence and a concert by the U.S. Air Force Band. The awards program and concert will begin at 8 p.m. in the Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Circle, Manassas.

• The U.S. Air Force Concert Band and vocalists from the Singing Sergeants will perform patriotic, classical and other favorite compositions. The U.S. Air Force Concert Band and Singing Sergeants are part of The United States Air Force Band in Washington, D.C. Based at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, this is the Air Force’s premier musical organization. The general public is welcome to attend this free concert.

• The Seefeldt Awards honor artists, volunteers, educators and businesses which have helped create a thriving arts community in the Greater Prince William Area. These awards are presented annually by the Prince William County Arts Council and named for Kathleen K. Seefeldt, a champion of the cultural arts who personifies public and community service. This year, 13 individuals and organizations have been nominated for a Seefeldt Award. The nominees will be honored and the winners announced during Saturday’s 8 p.m. program.

The awards presentation and concert will conclude Arts Alive!, a day of free performances, exhibits, hands-on activities and demonstrations by artists and arts organizations in the Greater Prince William Area. Arts Alive! 2013 is hosted by the Prince William County Arts Council and the Hylton Center.

Admission to the festival is free and plenty of free parking is available at the Hylton Center. Sponsors of Arts Alive! 2013 include United Bank, NOVEC, Target, Prince William County/ Manassas Convention and Visitors Bureau, Ferde Grofé Foundation, and Burt & Peacock, PLC.

A schedule of festival events is available at You can also like PWC Arts Council on Facebook, follow @PWCArts on Twitter, or email

-Press release 

Sentara Plans National Healthcare Decisions Day Event

Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center along with other national, state and community organizations, are leading a massive effort to highlight the importance of advance healthcare decision-making—an effort that has culminated in the formal designation of April 16 as National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD).

As a participating organization, Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center is providing information and tools for the public to talk about their wishes with family, friends and healthcare providers, and execute written advance directives (healthcare power of attorney and living will) in accordance with Virginia state laws. These resources are available online and on

Specifically, on April 16, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center is welcoming the public for a free seminar about advance care planning and advance directive forms in the Hylton Educational Center, in the garden level of our facility.

Our presenters will include:
Dr. David Schwartz, DO, Vice President of Medical Affairs
Tricia Hill, RN, Senior Director of Nursing
Alice Austiff, RN, Director of Care Coordination
Carol Willie, MAPM, Hospital Chaplain

“As a result of National Healthcare Decisions Day, many more people in our community can be expected to have thoughtful conversations about their healthcare decisions and complete reliable advance directives to make their wishes known,” said Carol Wille, MAPM, SNVMC Hospital Chaplain. “Fewer families and healthcare providers will have to struggle with making difficult healthcare decisions in the absence of guidance from the patient, and healthcare providers and facilities will be better equipped to address advance healthcare planning issues before a crisis and be better able to honor patient wishes when the time comes to do so.”

To RSVP for this special presentation or for more information, please call 703-523-0680.

Hampton Inn Growing as Stafford’s U.S. 1 Corridor Thrives

Construction and renovations are underway at a Hampton Inn in North Stafford. [Photo: Mary Davidson / Potomac Local News]


NORTH STAFFORD, Va. – Located in a row of new hotels springing up along Stafford’s U.S. 1 corridor, the 16-year-old Hampton Inn can be sometimes get lost in all of the new construction.

It sits in a sort of crevasse at the entrance to three major roads: Interstate 95, U.S. 1, and Va. 610. Nearby, three new hotels have opened, and another is under construction at Quantico Corporate Center. All of them cater to business travelers and federal employees who stay for extended periods of time.

But Hampton Inn North Stafford owner-operator Amal Lambaraa refuses to be outdone, so she lobbied the parent company of her hotel, Hilton Hotels and Resorts, for funds to renovate inn and she won. Now, a nearly 10,000 square foot renovation of the Hampton Inn is underway, and planned are new meetings spaces, a game room, a larger swimming pool area, and probably most innovative of all, a new banquet hall and ballroom that will stand in an adjacent so that parties and events held there do not disturb hotel guests.

Of the three hotels Lambaraa owns a share of, including two Wingate Inns in Stafford County, she favors her stock in the Hampton the most. The Moroccan native said many of the departments, including housekeeping, the front desk, and marketing, run themselves thanks to a trusted staff of 25 people whom she’s cultivated and promoted from within.

“People have to move up in life, so when you have a chance to give back to people who have helped you, it’s important that you give back to them,” said Lambaraa.

The $9 million hotel renovation will mean 19 new rooms – three of them complete with jacuzzi spas. Lambaraa said those spas, coupled with a larger 1,420 square foot pool deck, should bring in more local residents who would to get away from their houses for a weekend“staycation.”

The hotel once hidden by trees is also now more visible thanks to the 95 Express Lanes Project which has taken many trees around the hotel for the construction of toll lanes that will connect with HOV lanes in Dumfries. New highway lanes and new nearby hotels will should also mean more business for the Hampton Inn.

“It’s a competition… it’s a race… one of us is going have to win and one of us is going to have to lose, but through competition, it’s the thing that makes you stronger,” said Lambaraa.

The renovations are expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Construction and renovations are underway at a Hampton Inn in North Stafford. [Photo: Mary Davidson / Potomac Local News]

Construction and renovations are underway at a Hampton Inn in North Stafford. [Photo: Mary Davidson / Potomac Local News]

Performances Set for Stafford’s Fine Art Festival

082711 Brooke Point High School

STAFFORD, Va. — Art, jazz, African drum ensembles, choirs, and dramatic performances – organizers said there is something for everyone at Stafford County’s Fine Art Festival.

The annual spring show features work from 5,000 students from kindergarten to seniors in high school. It’ll be held Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Brooke Point High School in Stafford.

“Our visual art teachers put on stunning exhibitions, collecting student art work from the beginning of the year, matting, and labeling each piece carefully to prepare for the festival. Many volunteers help to make the event a success, including parent volunteers, students, and staff members,” said Annamarie Bollino, fine and performing arts coordinator.

The show is not a competition so there will be no judging happening. It’ll just be a place where the community can come appreciate the artistic talent of Stafford’s public school students.

“Stafford County has outstanding arts programs, thanks to the support of the community, our parents, and our talented teachers. Because of the strong commitment to the arts in our community our students are privileged to have the opportunities to pursue their artistic goals, said Bollino.

The show is free and is made possible by many parents, teachers, and community volunteers.


Antioch Fire Station to be Dedicated to Pr. Wm.’s First Fire Marshal

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. — On Saturday, April 13th , Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue will hold a ceremony to dedicate Antioch Station 24 to Chief Selby C. Jacobs (retired). 

In 1966, Chief Jacobs was hired in Prince William County as the first Fire Marshal and he became the second County-paid fire employee at that time. Chief Jacobs became the appointed Director of the Fire and Rescue Service in 1971, and in 1989 his title changed to Chief of the Department of Fire and Rescue. 

Chief Jacobs was instrumental during the Department’s development and creation of a strong foundation that the Department has continued to build upon. A foundation that has yielded a service committed to high performance and has a reputation for excellence and continuous improvement. Following 27 years of service to Prince William County, Chief Jacob’s retired on October 25, 1994. In recognition of his outstanding dedication as the Department’s first Fire Chief and his exemplary service to Prince William Fire and Rescue system and citizens, we are proud to formally dedicate Station 24 to him.

Please join us in honoring Chief Selby Jacobs on:

Saturday, April 13th

10:00 a.m.

Prince William County Department of Fire & Rescue

Antioch Station 24

5901 Antioch Road

Haymarket, VA 20169

Stafford Students Win Buckle Up, Drive Sober Challenge


Submitted News

STAFFORD COUNTY, Va. — Two Stafford County High Schools recently received awards for their participation in the state wide 2013 Buckle Up, Drive Sober Challenge sponsored by the Youth of Virginia Speak Out youth leadership program.

These students, members of the Stafford High School YOVASO Club and the Mountain View High School YOVASO Club, developed various activities and programs directed to their classmates that dealt with the importance of always wearing seat belts when in motor vehicle, car safety seat checks at a local fire station, being on a local radio station and students signing a banner at the school pledging to “BUCKLE UP & DRIVE SOBER.”

Each YOVASO Club has a teacher sponsor as well as a deputy from the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office Traffic Safety Unit.

Mountain View High School was awarded a $100 check for their regional YOVASO Award in the presence of Haley Glynn, YOVASO Marketing and Project Manager, numerous school administrators as well as Major David Decatur and several members of the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office.

Stafford High School was awarded a winner banner, plaque and recognition as the YOVASO Winner for the entire State of Virginia. Sheriff Charles Jett joined YOVASO’s Project Manager, school administrators, parents and Sheriff’s Office Traffic Safety Unit deputies at the award ceremony. Due to winning the YOVASO State Award, Stafford High School will have the use of an impaired driver simulator for an entire day that the students at Stafford high School may utilize.


Dumfries Woman Wins $500 K in Millionaire Mania Game


WOODBRIDGE, Va. — Dorothy Hughes is no stranger to April Fool’s jokes. That probably explains why, when she realized she’d won $500,000 in the Virginia Lottery’s Millionaire Mania game, her initial reaction was, “This is not an April Fool’s joke!”

The Dumfries woman bought her winning ticket at Cherry Hill Shell, 3186 River Heritage Blvd. in Dumfries. The store received a $10,000 bonus from the Lottery for selling the winning ticket.

“I had no idea I was going to win with that ticket,” Ms. Hughes told Lottery officials as she claimed her prize. “I thought something was wrong. I couldn’t believe it.”

In Millionaire Mania, $500,000 is actually the second prize. The game’s top prize is $2 million. Ms. Hughes is the game’s second $500,000 winner, which means four half-million-dollar tickets remain unclaimed. All three $2 million tickets remain unclaimed.

Hughes, who runs a daycare business, said she hopes to buy a house with her winnings.


Youth Orchestras of Prince William Welcomes National Symphony Orchestra Assistant Conductor


WOODBRIDGE, Va.  – Ankush Bahl, the Assistant Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra, will join the Youth Symphony Orchestra for an intensive rehearsal session on Monday, April 22, 2013, 6:30-8:30 p.m. The rehearsal, at Gar-Field High School, is open to the public. Community members, music students and teachers are invited to join YOPW as observers of this event.

“We welcome community members and Prince William County teachers to join us for this special event. We hope that it will provide helpful insights and strategies for the music teachers in Prince William County that they can apply in their own teaching,” said Music Director, John Devlin.

The orchestra will rehearse Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faune and Mozart’s Overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio. Both of these pieces will be performed on the orchestra’s season-ending concert on May 5th.

“The students will enjoy working with a young, vibrant, American conductor who is a prominent figure in the DC cultural landscape. Having worked with Mr. Bahl over many years, I know that he will bring an energy and an enthusiasm that will create a wonderful music-making experience for the students,” said Devlin.

Conductor Ankush Kumar Bahl is currently the Assistant Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra and an Assistant Conductor with the Orchestre National de France. Bahl is the proud recipient both the 2011 Sir Georg Solti Career Assistance Award and the 2009 Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy Scholarship. Bahl was the Music Director of the New Jersey Youth Symphony and has also worked as an Assistant Conductor with the Prague Symphony Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Kansas City Symphony, Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra, and the New York Youth Symphony. Bahl is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area and received a double degree in music and rhetoric from the University of California at Berkeley. He has been a conducting fellow at the Aspen Music Festival and completed his master’s degree in orchestral conducting at the Manhattan School of Music.

For more than 30 years, the Youth Orchestras of Prince William has provided exceptional instrumental education for the youth of the region. We offer opportunities for a wide spectrum of students, ranging from beginning string players and intermediate wind players to advanced students performing professional symphonic repertoire. YOPW enrolls approximately 325 students in three string orchestras, two symphony orchestras, a wind symphony, and a variety of chamber music ensembles. Our students are primarily from Prince William County, Virginia, but YOPW members come from all over Northern Virginia and North Central Virginia. For more information about the Youth Orchestras of Prince William visit our website:

The Outdoor Camp Experience

Lurary Zoo (2)


As a camp counselor I planned carefully to make every day a new adventure for my campers. I left nothing up to chance (or so I thought.) 

But summer camp more closely resembles “organized chaos” than it does a “well-oiled machine”, the craziest things tend to happen when you least expect them. Working with kids alone can be unpredictable and when you factor in nature and the outdoors, you’re in for a world of new surprises!

Summer campers often get to experience things that they never thought they would happen at a suburban day camp, it can be a very eye opening experience for some kids (and camp counselors, too).

There wasn’t a summer that went by that my campers and I didn’t have “a big fish” tale to recount. During one of my first summer camps, at a Boys & Girls Club day camp in Massachusetts, I had booked a field trip to Plum Island. I had planned ahead and called to ensure the beach was open and that there would be parking. My lifeguard and I packed up two vans full of tweens and off we went.

However, it was quickly apparent when we got there, that no one had told me that it was Greenhead (biting fly) season. We were swarmed by them the moment we stepped out.

We quickly made the decision to turn around and head back home (with a stop for ice-cream along the way). Even after we had gotten back in the vans there were still a few straggler flies. Some of the kids were crying and others were squishing the flies to protect their friends. You would have thought that such an experience would have put a damper on their summer, but it didn’t, it soon became the stuff of legends, complete with millions of flies, damsels in distress and heroes.

Animals always seemed to make an appearance during summer camp. One summer, some of our campers “rescued” three Starling fledglings that had fallen out of their nest, I ended up taking them in and feeding them, keeping them in a basket that traveled with me everywhere. Another time I had taken the group for a nature walk on the Winter’s Branch Trail behind the Manassas Boys & Girls Club and showed my group of campers the bat houses.

A few evenings later, as we waited in the parking lot for parents to pick kids up from a late field trip, we were barnstormed by bats chasing after bugs. The kids were amazed and in awe, and armed with information they had learned earlier that week they were not the least bit afraid.

It never surprised me that a suburban day camp could be packed full of outdoor experiences, I had grown up spending as much time outdoors as possible and learning everything I could about the world around me. But I didn’t have cable TV, or a computer, or video games. For many of the kids in my camps all of this was new and exciting, a real adventure. I relished in the excitement and thrill that I saw in my summer campers eyes when they experienced something new outdoors, saw a new wild animal for the first time, or learned something exciting about the world we live in. It made all my hard work worthwhile (even when things didn’t go as planned.)

If you would like to help kids open the door to a world of new experiences, then consider volunteering or working for a summer camp near you. You may have your own adventure stories to tell.

Carolyn Brodeur is the Assistant to the Regional Directors for the Boy & Girls Clubs of Prince William County/Manassas located in Dumfries, Dale City and Manassas.

Mega Mike: When to Expect Summertime I-95 Road Work

Virginia Megaprojects 

This coming summer is going to be very busy along the Interstate 95 corridor in Prince William County.

During the day, Monday – Thursday, 95 Express Lanes construction on I-95 north will be from 9:30 – 3 p.m. On Fridays, closures are picked up by noon. These times are the same for I-395 north and south too.

However, on I-95 south from Edsall Road to Garrisonville Road (Route 610), the daytime closures begin earlier from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. allowing crews to get in and out before the afternoon rush hour. On Fridays on I-95 south closures are picked up by 11 a.m.

At night, Monday -Thursday from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. and Friday night from 11 p.m. to 9 a.m. the southbound HOV lanes, between Edsall Road and Dumfries Road (Route 234), will be closed and motorists must use the general purpose lanes.

In general, the best time to travel on I-95 South through this area during the week would be after the afternoon peak rush hours, around 7 p.m. and before overnight closures start, about 9:30 p.m. During the day, there might be single-lane closures that will have minimum impact to traffic.

Pole Fitness Gym Offers ‘Flirty’ Workouts

[Photo: Mary Rosenthol / For Potomac Local News]

For Potomac Local News 

[Photo: Mary Rosenthol / For Potomac Local News]

[Photo: Mary Rosenthol / For Potomac Local News]

MANASSAS, Va. — Tucked in a small corner of Manassas is a shop with a bright pink awning called the Doll House Poll Fitness Center.

Around 50 instructors, students, friends and curious onlookers enjoyed an open house held there on Saturday night.

“I truly love the sexy yet healthy feeling of pole fitness,” said owner, Von Martin. “For over a year, I traveled an hour away to attend classes and I felt like we needed a studio close by.”

Martin greeted a cheering crowd on Saturday night as she announced demonstration dancers and called out numbers for a raffle. The Doll House offers classes and rental space for private parties.

“I like pole dancing because it’s something that women of any age and fitness level can enjoy,” said Martin. Everything from introductory classes to pole tricks are offered on a weekly basis and the first introductory class is free.

“You can be at level one for weeks or months,” said Washington, D.C. instructor Andrea Angeles. “We have dancers, gymnasts, even grandmothers who take classes with us!”

Angeles traveled to Manassas from Washington to celebrate the opening of the new pole gym.

“You get out of pole dancing exactly what you put into it. If you’re in the studio practicing every day you’re going to drop weight and learn quickly. If you only go to the gym once a week, then it’s going to take longer.”

With the open house out of the way, Martin and her teachers plan to resume a normal schedule of classes next week.

According to the pole fitness center’s website, the gym offers classes while encouraging women to feel “flirty” or “sexy” while working out. More than just poles, the siren room offers a place for up to five students to work out using both floor moves and chairs.

The gym is located on Lute Court, near the intersection of Va. 234 and Interstate 66, and is open weekdays 6 to 9 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and by appointment only on Sundays.


A Runner Up, Winner Accepts Raffled Car

Mike Nies picks up his new car awarded to him from Steve's Auto Repair in Woodbridge after a raffle benefiting the Prince William County Boys and Girls Clubs. [Uriah Kiser / Potomac Local News]

WOODBRIDGE, Va. – Mike Nies has a new car.

Well, it’s not a new car but it’s new to him, and he won it after purchasing 10 tickets from Steve’s Auto Repair in Woodbridge in a raffle to support the Greater Manassas / Prince William Boys and Girls Clubs.

So, what kind of car did Nies win for his $100 donation? A 2001 Ford Crown Victoria – similar to what police officers drive.

Nies plans to use the car for his home improvement business that takes him to see customers between Haymarket and Arlington. He came with his wife, Christine, and 2-month old son “Lil’ Mikey” to Steve’s Auto to claim his prize. He was excited but his wife wanted to know one thing: “Does it get better gas mileage than our SUV?” she asked.

It doesn’t, but the car was well cared for throughout it’s life by technicians at Steve’s Auto Repair.

“The car belonged to one of our customers, and when they wanted to get a new car we took this one off of their hands and decided to raffle it off to the community to benefit he Boys and Girls Club,” said ST Billingsley, the repair facility’s general manager.

The raffle was held on March 29 at the repair shop, and Neis was actually the runner up. Billingsley said he called several times to notify the first winner but no one answered.

Neis picked up his prize on Friday and had some advice for the person whose name was drawn.

“Pay your cell phone bill,” said Neis.

Ginn Memorial Park Opens

[Photo: Uriah Kiser / Potomac Local News]

DUMFRIES, Va. — Children and residents of Williamstown come out and play: Ginn Memorial Park is officially open.

Complete with an NBA sized basketball court, horseshoe pits, playground, and mufti-purpose field, the park in Dumfries opened to fanfare on Saturday.

The 2.8 acre, $344,000 park is expected to serve mostly the Williamstown neighborhood, an adjacent community with about 900 homes.

“Everyone being here at the right place at the right time has brought all of us here today,” said Dumfries Vice-Mayor Willie Toney, who built the promise of the park into his political campaign platform. “We have to give our young people a place to play and to give them something to do.

The park will be open to the public from sun up to sundown each day, and was compilation of efforts from residents, and those who work in several town government departments from public works to police.

“There is no way this community will ever be the same,” said Toney, who added police will regularly patrol the park to maintain public safety here. “I’ve done all I can do. Now it’s up to the young people who use it to take care of it.”

Ginn Memorial joins the Weems-Botts Museum, it’s adjacent Merchant Park, and Garrison Park behind Town Hall as destinations in the small town of 5,000 residents. While Dumfries built the park, it’s open too all area residents.

“Town events hosted at Ginn Memorial Park are investments in our neighborhoods and have a direct impact on families, and provide our children a safe, state-of-the art place to play year-round, as well as a place where parents and neighbors can come together.  With Ginn Memorial Park, the Town of Dumfries has established itself as the gathering point for Southeastern Prince William County.” said Mayor Gerald M. Foreman.

Everyone who came to the grand opening ceremony was treated to a small Frisbee and plush football, each printed with Dumfries, Va. Those footballs were tossed about on the new field as children joined Town Manager Dan Taber who helped to coordinate a day of field games. The field will remain open to the community, but area sports teams will not be allowed to play regularly scheduled games on the turf due to stipulations of the grant used to fund the park’s construction and operation, according to Foreman.

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[Photo: Uriah Kiser / Potomac Local News]

Zebra Shower Curtain a Turning Point in Adulthood

Mom on the Run


“Mom,” my son says, firmly, determinedly, with more than a touch of annoyance. “I know I said I needed a shower curtain. But why would you buy me a zebra one?”

I stop in my tracks, full and heavy basket of laundry in my arms. Um. Shower curtain. Oh! Right! Shower curtain! And I grin. “You don’t like it?”

I have to put this laundry down, so I walk on, through the hallway and into my bedroom, where I plop the basket on my bed. Then I turn back and talk to my kid. “Seriously? The zebra is bad?”

021113-freedom-mom-tagf“Why would you even buy it. Really.” My son is not asking, these are flat statements. He doesn’t have any desire to know. But I want to tell him!

“Well, see,” I start, hands up and out, placatingly, explaining, asking for understanding. “I didn’t want to get you just a shower curtain liner. Those are too thin. And I didn’t want to get both a liner and a cloth one, those are a hassle. I just wanted one heavy shower curtain. And the selection ….”

My son interrupts me: “If zebra was all they had, then you shouldn’t have bought anything. You totally wasted your money.”

“ … so the only other ones like that, the heavy plastic ones, were Hello Kitty and ….”

“I’m serious. I’m not using it. It’s zebra!”

“… Hello Kitty and Mickey Mouse! I thought you might like the zebra!” I hurry to finish my explanation, before he cuts me off again.

I mean, he’s almost 18, what do almost 18-year-old boys like in shower curtains? Solid? Stripes? I looked and looked, and there really was a dismal selection. Nothing macho at all. Really, so many floral shower curtains. Floral and pastel shades. It was a horrible selection, and I did the best I could.

I had actually thought zebra might be cool, that he might like it. It’s wild, right, by definition. Aren’t animal prints in? I know my son liked the giraffe-print towel I bought a few years back. And with that dense black and white print – I had expected that he would appreciate the coverage. Nobody can see anything, even silhouettes, through that pattern, if they have to go into the bathroom during his shower for, I don’t know, toilet paper. Or something.

My son and I stand for a second in the hallway, at an impasse, looking at each other in silence. I’m thinking about all the consideration I put into the shower curtain, standing and debating, there in the store. I looked and looked, at cloth shower curtains and Mickey Mouse shower curtains. I thought he really needed a shower curtain! And right now, well, honestly, I’m thinking that it’s OK, and I’ll just hang the zebra thing and he’ll use it and we’ll all move on, because does anyone really care about the pattern on a shower curtain?

My son, though, is obviously thinking quite different things, because, “You may as well have thrown the money away,” he says again, in a new tone, one I haven’t heard before, one of maturity and determination. He puts his hand up, waves me away, and walks back to his room.

And those were the statements of an adult, I realize. He’s not placating me anymore. He’s no longer just putting up with whatever I inflict upon him. It’s his bathroom, his territory, and it’s not just a shower curtain, it’s a milestone. Camouflaged in loud black and white zebra print.

Alborn: Schools Need More Detailed Budget


Contributing Editor

I am a Strategic Planning practitioner (retired). As for bona fides, I was trained in strategic planning methodology while at Texas Instruments Software. I went on to apply this methodology to both government enterprises and Fortune 500 businesses for about fifteen years. That’s why I was happy to accept Prince William County Board of Supervisor’s Chairman Stewart’s appointment to the last two Prince William County Strategic Planning teams.

Thanks to a well trained county staff and motivated volunteers from the Magisterial Districts across Prince William County, I think we did a good job creating a strategic plan that represents a consensus view of what Prince William should look like. I am also pleased to notice that the Prince William County Strategic Plan informs the budget process, and is recognized as the road map to creating the annual budget.

As anyone who follows my column knows, I have been particularly interested in the budget process, or where our taxes and fees actually go. The budget executes the Strategic Plan, establishes measures, and defines government. While people of good will may disagree over the details, nothing happens unless there is money to pay for it.

Most people pay attention to Prince William County’s budget, but not so many people pay attention to the county School Board budget. In the past, it has been an obscure process that spends around a billion dollars and change of our money. Prince William’s public schools receives money from various county, state, and federal sources. It’s all our money.

I watched Chairman Milton Johns present the School Board’s Advertised Budget Fiscal Year 2014 to the Prince William County Board of County Supervisors Tuesday. As a Strategic Planner, I couldn’t help but notice that the budget presentation focused on money, not educational outcomes.

Slide one of the presentation listed major budget factors, or those things considered in doing the math. When I cross-walked these to the latest Prince William County Public Schools Strategic Plan FY 2011-15 (revised January 2013), I couldn’t help but notice that the School Board’s budget apparently has no relationship to its Strategic Plan.

That’s a problem.

As a taxpayer, I can only wonder why the school system bothered with the Strategic Plan if it is not the road map to the School Board’s budget. The major budget factors listed were certainly important; however, they are not (by the school system’s own judgment) “strategic.”

What I heard for approximately three hours on Tuesday was a discussion about the numbers, comparisons to what other jurisdictions spent, how the numbers moved up or down, demographics, and other interesting charts and graphs. What I didn’t hear was how the billion dollars and change was going to be spent to achieve the strategic goals defined by the county residents who crafted them.

Now to “connect a couple of dots.” The Prince William County Public Schools Strategic Plan FY 2011-15 (revised January 2013) actually does a pretty good job of defining community priorities and measurable results. It defines specific targets by year for performance improvements. The School Board’s budget focuses on things it builds and maintains, people it pays, supplies, etc. If you don’t do all of the latter within the context of the former, you can spend a billion dollars and still fail.

A budget that spends the public’s money must be created within the context of the strategy that the community created. This may happen at some level; however, it is important that a skeptical public understand how the School Board plans to spend our tax dollars to execute the strategy and achieve community defined goals.

Right now, I don’t think we do.

I would suggest that taxpayers should be interested in seeing a School Board budget that maps to its own Strategic Plan to demonstrate how our tax dollars will be applied to achieve community defined strategic goals. While many things easily map to the goals, budget items that have a tenuous relationship are easier to identify, and delete from the budget.

Salaries and benefits are 82.5% of the Prince William County School System budget. That’s good to know! I browsed the school system’s website for the next level of detail, at least roughly mapping this to the strategic plan I just couldn’t find the connection.

I want to see “the connection.”

I want to know, for example, how the FY2014 budget allocates those salaries and benefits to ensure that at least 40% of graduates will have received a qualifying score on one or more advanced exams, including Advanced Placement (AP) exams, International Baccalaureate (IB) exams, or Cambridge AICE exams (Objective 1.1.5) or reduce gaps among students in elementary schools (Objective 1.2.1), or the other objectives established in its Strategic Plan. You may read the full set of measurable objectives here.

Another slide tells me that 77.5% of the budget focuses on instruction. That’s a “warm fuzzy” number, but what exactly does that mean? How is it being allocated to help the School System achieve its strategic objectives?

What’s “in there”?

When we are talking about a billion dollars of our money, we want to see where it is going. I want to see a level of detail consistent with the detail provided by Prince William County’s Office of Management and Budget.

Mapping budgets to Strategic Plans is how those we elect ensure that our money goes to those things the community has defined as important. Its part of that “transparency in government” thing. To do otherwise eliminates transparency.


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