By AL ALBORN
Players are broken up into two teams, the Reds and the Blues. They come in different shades ranging from scarlet to pink, baby blue, to midnight. The color of a piece determines the moves the public may expect it to make. They play behind a wooden board called a Dias.
They may switch colors or shades at will. Sometimes they all turn purple.
Like all games, it’s a math problem. It’s more like Chess than Checkers. Graduate level courses on political calculus are necessary to really understand or play the game well.
It takes five votes to get anything done in Prince William County — five votes.
With six red and two blue pieces on the board, one would think that the game always comes to a quick end. That is seldom the case. Imagine those eight pieces constantly changing shades of color. Never changing shades, or never being one of those five votes, makes a piece irrelevant to the game and not worth watching.
Pieces may collect IOU’s for future votes and “trade moves” to win by losing. They keep track of the moves they trade. Every piece needs to win occasionally regardless of color, and those “IOU’s” come in handy when its time to collect.
Like Monopoly, this game is about money.
All of the wealth of Prince William County is like that money and those houses and hotels in the Monopoly box. Last year, the game cost $2.5 billion.
The goal is to get as much of it as you can and spend it on things to improve your position on the Board. While its ok to take a “chance” once and awhile, “going directly to jail” is something you want to avoid.
There are few rules. All of the pieces are kings. They have absolute discretion in the moves they make, however, they are limited to the number of moves available. They only have two choices: yes or no. The pieces make up the rules as they go along, and they all play to their own rules (which may be changed at will).
Score is kept electronically. The public may see who wins or loses individual moves by watching a set of red or green lights record their latest move.
People desiring to influence the game may do so by speaking directly to the players, or by paying campaign contributions.
The cynical suspect that we aren’t really watching the game at all, and that the real moves occur off the board. We wonder who is really playing? Surprise outcomes are not unusual.
Who is really moving the pieces? If you take your eyes off the board for a while and connect a few dots, you can figure it out.
A new set of the game starts every year. We call preparing for a new set of the game called Budget Season, where the players refill the Monopoly box with our money. The goal is to take “just enough” to stay in the game for four more years. “Too much” is a relative value judgment. The Red players differ on what is “too much” while the blue players think in terms of “never enough”.
While the pieces in the game make the moves, we ultimately have the power. We pay for the game. For the Reds and Blues, the tricky part is convincing the public that they are spending it on things that are really part of the game.
The game comes to an end every four years, and then we start over. The goal for a piece is to survive for another game.
Occasionally, a piece stops enjoying the game and drops off the board because the game isn’t as much fun for some as it used to be. In the past the pieces moved around in relative obscurity with little public interest in their moves. Now, many of us watch the game closely these days.
That’s changing the moves on the board, and perhaps the game itself.
Like all games, you can’t win if you don’t play. After all, its our money.
By STEPHANIE TIPPLE
Potomac Local News Features Editor
Just because he’s been deployed to Afghanistan doesn’t mean Steve Costa will miss this year’s Polar Plunge at Virginia Beach.
The solider from Stafford, along with hundreds of other supporters of Special Olympics of Virginia, will dive into the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront Feb. 2 to raise money for the organization that supports athletes with disabilities.
Though he’s still in Afghanistan, this event is something Costa swore he wouldn’t miss. After being deployed six months ago, he decided to pull together 10 to 12 of his fellow soldiers who are also deployed, and they ordered a large backyard pool and planed to plunge on that day with all of the other Plungers at Virginia Beach.
“To date, he and his co-workers have raised closed to $4,000. They’ve been asking for donations from their friends, from their loved ones, their co-workers, from everyone they know,” said Special Olympics Virginia spokesman Tim Doyle.
Costa’s love for Special Olympics stems from his experience as a coach for the games.
“I have been a Special Olympics coach for over two years now. A very good friend, Ms. Theresa Wink, invited me to help at a practice one day – and next thing you know, I was attending each week. There’s nothing like the smiles on the kid’s faces when they earn their medals – it’s truly rewarding,” stated Costa in an email to Potomac Local News.
This 17th annual Polar Plunge for Special Olympics of Virginia has served as one of its largest fundraisers, and has spawned other Polar Plunge events throughout the state. In addition to the Plunge, there will be a festival with live bands, sand and ice sculpting, a 5K race, and a Peewee Plunge for tots to test the frigid waters.
And while the end result is all fun and games, participants worked hard to become a part of the plunge, raising a minimum of $100 each. These plungers have gotten creative by hosting parties, using social media, and asking all of their loved ones and social networks to donate. This has been a great success for the Special Olympics of Virginia, said Doyle.
And Doyle isn’t surprised by Costa’s decision to make the plunge in Afghanistan. He believes it showcases the type of volunteer that he is.
“It’s a very strong statement of how committed he is – how much he believes in our program that he would actually consider doing that while he’s over there in harm’s way. I don’t believe you can get much stronger than that. Steve is just like many, many of our volunteers. He’s very dedicated to our program, he helps us year round,” Doyle said.
The money that is raised from Costa’s group and the other Plungers will allow the Special Olympics of Virginia to host their year-round calendar of activities for individuals with both intellectual and combination intellectual-physical disabilities.
“[Raised funds] are used to fund Special Olympics programs throughout the whole year. A lot of people have the misconception that the Special Olympics is a one time event, when in fact, Special Olympics is something that goes on every day. The Special Olympics provides year round sports, training and competition to people with intellectual disabilities. They are solely funded through the generosity of the community,” said Doyle.
WOODBRIDGE, Va. – Now you can fight the flu through your telephone or computer.
Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center now offers patients the option of calling a phone number to speak with a doctor. The service, Sentara MDLIVE, is also available online and patients can use their webcams, according a press release.
During the consultation, doctors will be able to diagnose and prescribe medications if necessary.
More in a press release from Sentara:
How does it work?
Log on to www.mdlive.com or call 1-800-335-4836 to get started. For less than the cost of a visit to an urgent care or emergency room, you’ll consult with a board-certified doctor using your computer and a webcam or the telephone. Virtual appointments are usually scheduled within minutes of registration and are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Sentara MDLIVE doctors will diagnose, recommend treatment and prescribe medications when necessary – including Tamiflu. They send prescriptions electronically to the pharmacy of your choice.
Log on to www.mdlive.com or call 1-800-335-4836 to make an appointment and get relief without the wait.
New to virtual appointments? Check out these tips as you make your first appointment with Sentara MDLIVE.
Your living room can be a doctor’s office.
Prior to your appointment with Sentara MDLIVE, take your temperature and gather a list of the medications you currently are taking including vitamins and herbal supplements.
Lists and questions are helpful.
The doctor will ask you questions to understand your medical history and symptoms. Before your visit, jot down key information such as your symptoms, when they began and how you are currently feeling. Also, write down any questions you have to be sure they’re addressed during your virtual appointment.
Jot down your pharmacy contact info.
Have the name, address and phone number of your pharmacy ready in case the doctor needs to send a prescription for you.
Eliminate distractions when it’s time for your virtual appointment.
Find a quiet space when it’s time for your appointment. Eliminate background noise as much as possible – for example, turn off the television in the background or find a room away from other family members.
Virtual visits can play an important role in your healthcare.
Virtual visits can provide you with convenient access to a quality doctor, and can serve as an important first step in getting you the treatment you need. However, telehealth is not appropriate to use in an emergency. It also doesn’t replace your primary care doctor. Be sure to follow up with your primary care doctor if your condition does not improve or you start to feel worse.
Virtual visits may be covered by your health insurance or qualify as a reimbursable HAS expense.
Some insurance plans cover all or a portion of virtual visits. Check with your insurance plan first to be sure your visit is covered, if not the consult is available for the low $45 fee. If you have a Healthcare Spending Account (HSA), keep your receipt as virtual visits often qualify as an expense for most HSAs.
LAKE RIDGE, Va. – Coping with Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult, so that’s why an area senior citizens home wants to help families recognize the signs of the disease.
A special seminar will be held at the Westminster of Lake Ridge where the top 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s will be discussed.
More in a press release:
The 10 warning signs include:
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
4. Confusion with time or place
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
8. Decreased or poor judgment
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
10. Changes in mood and personality
One in eight older Americans, some 5.4 million people, is living with Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the nation that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.
The workshop starts at 1:30 p.m. and goes until 4 o’clock Wednesday, Jan. 30. Those involved with the workshop said early detection of Alzheimer’s is important because patients can begin drug therapy, enroll in clinical studies, and plan for the future.
WOODBRIDGE, Va. – Nancy Marouf’s 18-year–old son, Cameron, a senior at Forest Park High School in Woodbridge, will attend Norfolk State University on a full scholarship to be the football team’s punter. Being from northern Iraq, Marouf said football was an adjustment for their family as their American-born son taught them the rules of the game.
More in a first-hand account from Nancy Marouf on her son’s achievement:
Cameron Marouf, only child of Salam and Nancy Marouf, first generation Kurdish (northern Iraq) American, is a natural athlete with keen eyesight and a talented foot. Educated in Prince William County schools – Henderson, Porter Traditional and now Forest Park, he is a hometown child. Although he has played T-ball, baseball, a lifetime of recreational soccer and a bit of travel soccer, his greatest athletic gift, at this point, has been as the punter and kicker on the football field.
With the arrival of Coach Coccoli in 2011, Forest Park’s head football coach, there was a need for a kicker. Coach Qura, Cameron’s soccer coach at Forest Park, suggested several young men. Cameron just happened to have been the first telephone call. Although understanding Coach Coccoli’s need, we were quite surprised by the opportunity. Cameron tried out and Coccoli that noticed Cameron’s foot. He said,
“Cameron has a division one foot,” said the coach.
“Don’t play with me as we don’t know anything about this football world,” I replied.
And, the party started. All of this was a new world.
We took Cameron to several kicking camps/classes – Before you Kick (held at UVA); Coach Doug Blevins (former NFL coach); Virginia Tech camp (met Coach Beamer), and some other local camps in the area.
With a dad that only knew soccer to transition into football was a feat in itself. His dad didn’t know about cheerleaders, what “starting” meant, the bands, halftime, etc. It was truly a story in itself to watch this transition.
It took about three games for dad to decide we had to be there at 6 p.m. to watch Cameron kick and prepare for the game. The most I could contribute was being the best cheerleader. So many parents who have been involved in football for years were so forthcoming and welcoming. We couldn’t ask for more. They also enjoyed dad’s transition from soccer to football!
Fall 2011 and fall of 2012 were our only football seasons. Cameron had no less than 6 – 8 people in his cheering section at every game. Everyone from family, day care providers, neighbors, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandpa, great uncles and aunts, our company clients, etc. were there to support him.
I was researching all that I could find about college football, recruiting, colleges, divisions and asking the coaches too many questions. Technology was a large part of this process between videos and emails. By the time the season was finished, the college coaches began to stop by the school, call us at home and or email the coach. It was coming at us from all sides.
I had to make a file box to keep the information organized as there was so much of it and coming to us so quickly. For about three weeks in December, Cameron was coming home on a daily basis to tell us about the coach and school he had met that particular day. We had inquiries from Assumption College in Maine, Stevenson College, ODU, Bridgewater, University of Richmond, Ferrum, and Norfolk State.
We were invited By Coach Butler and Head Coach Adrian, of Norfolk State, for an official visit in January. It was a great experience and reconfirmed our concerns for a healthy successful academic support system.
The bonus was the connection from the head coach to his staff. He will have tutors, scheduled study time, a personal punting/kicking coach, practice clothes, away game clothes, home game clothes and shoes. We could not ask for more as parents.
He has been taught how to take care of his room, home responsibilities and his laundry. We have felt that we are on a cloud and just can’t believe what we are experiencing. We just know it has all been a gift from God for this plan for our family.
When walking in to the Stars and Stripes Café one thing is clear – it looks and feels like home. Lined with knickknacks, collectibles and other merchandise sold by local vendors on site, this café is the epitome of what you’d see on your next trip to your grandmother’s home.
Cozy and inviting, the building has been reincarnated into several different businesses, including a home and a deli before opening as the café two months ago. Managed by Alan Melton, a chef who was trained in New York City, the café in Triangle is a quick turn from the main entrance of Quantico Marine Corps Base.
To find out if the café was worth its salt, I sampled four different food items showcased on the menu. For an opener, I ordered the baked potato soup ($4.95). Many of the items on the menu, like the soup, are homemade and delivered to the restaurant. It was creamy, served at the right temperature, and hit the spot on one of the coldest days this winter.
While the taste was delicious, the presentation was off – as it was served in a ceramic bowl with a plastic spoon. If you’re looking to bring someone on a first date and plastic cutlery isn’t their thing, avoid the soup.
The “Semper Fi”, a modern take on the Italian sandwich ($6.95 for 7-inch sandwich and $9.95 for 12-inch), was true to its description, but didn’t offer any spice or punch that would have brought it over the edge into delicious territory. This is a safe bet when ordering a sandwich, but I recommend ordering spices, oil or vinegar on the side to give it some kick.
The “Chappie James Reuben” Panini ($6.95) was true to a classic Reuben, but could have used more of the Thousand Island dressing. The “Colonel Cordon Bleu” ($5.95 for a 7-inch and $7.50 for 12-inch) was one of the day’s favorites and did a classic cordon bleu sandwich justice. It’s a large portion, so consider sharing or ordering the smaller size.
The BLT sandwich, one of the daily specials, had just the right amount of bacon, lettuce and tomato, and just enough mayo to be a sloppy eat.
Having New England roots makes me a little biased when it comes to Italian style desserts, the cannoli was just the right size and the presentation was simple and well done. A dollop of whipped cream and a cherry would be welcome additions to make this more in line with traditional cannolis.
When ordering drinks, watch out for soda prices. Soda bottles are listed $1.65, but it’s really a can for that price. They also don’t have free refills, so make sure you don’t drink your entire can or bottle of juice before your main course. They also don’t offer ice and cups, so if you want a more formal dining experience, this isn’t the place. Stars and Stripes Café is great for a quick meal while you’re in the Dumfries and Quantico area. It’s the perfect spot to come for an informal lunch with a friend, but don’t expect the works. The atmosphere is very friendly and inviting, but it doesn’t offer some of the frills and consistent service that you’d find at a more established restaurant.
Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg invites the community to dance in the streets in February.
The hospital based in Fredericksburg will hold two “Day of Dance for Your Heart Health” events – one at Spotsylvania Towne Centre and the other at Potomac Mills mall.
More in a press release:
Day of Dance has been helping to create healthier communities for over nine years nationwide and this is the 4th year that Mary Washington Healthcare will participate in this movement. Hundreds of residents are expected to get involved with this event, which will take place at:
-Spotsylvania Towne Centre – February 16
-Potomac Mills – February 23
1 – 4 p.m.
Nationwide, more than 75,000 people are expected to dance for their health at one of these events!
“Day of Dance has inspired millions of consumers to change their lifestyle over the past nine years,” said Tanya Abreu, President and National Program Director of Spirit of Women. “This unique program brings together doctors, community leaders, and businesses to teach families about healthy choices they can easily incorporate into their daily lives. It also helps people understand their personal risk factors for heart disease and stroke, all while having fun and learning new dance moves.”
Taking place from 1 – 4 p.m. at both malls, the events will include dancing, physician consultations, screenings, Zumba and other activities to immediately inspire people to be their own health advocate. Day of Dance also educates consumers on a variety of cardiovascular conditions such as atrial fibrillation, stroke, and more.
The Day of Dance is a national program of the Spirit of Women Hospital Network which focuses on dance as a way to take steps for a healthier life because dancing can burn as many calories as swimming, walking, or riding a bike (as many as 200-400 calories per hour).
According to the organization, many health benefits may result from dance if it is done on a regular basis as a form of exercise. Benefits include weight maintenance or weight loss, blood pressure and cholesterol management (lowering), increased energy, decreased sadness and depression, increased coordination and muscle strength, and an overall sense of well-being.
Mom on the Run
I’m in Kohl’s. In the dressing room. Looking. Thinking. Hard.
My sneakers are on the floor and my jeans are crumpled on top of my purse on that little corner seat. I’ve got two hangered black skirts on the hook, and a third on my body. I turn here and there, back and forth, assessing the image in the mirror. Hmmm.
Maybe a longer mirror would help, if I could stand farther back? Get a different angle, with a different light? Something to help me picture the skirt as I would actually wear it, with heels, instead of with my cheerful but so-wrong striped socks. So out I go, in search of a communal mirror, one that hopefully will reflect the perfect black pencil skirt.
Except … there’s no communal mirror in this dressing room. There are four little rooms in this alcove, each with its own full-length mirror, but no hallway mirror, nowhere else to stand without going out into the actual store. And I’m not sure this skirt has that much potential, really, to warrant all that.
Just as I turn to go back a young lady enters, looking for a dressing room of her own. She’s got an armful of jeans, and she looks to be in her late teens, with her long hair and her Coach sneakers. Aha!
“Excuse me,” I say, and she freezes and looks at me.
“What do you think of this skirt?”
Because this skirt, it’s from the Juniors section. The two from my own women’s section were wrong; one was too big, and there weren’t any in my size, and the other had a big waist panel and belt loops. I’m no longer buying and keeping in my closet any clothes that don’t make me look fabulous – no more cheap, “it’ll do” stuff for me, I have moved on in life and I’m not just Mom anymore, I want to look good – so those skirts, well, they just weren’t cutting it.
This skirt might do it, though. It’s got a great, flattering cut, and trendy but not wild little angled seaming at the waist. It doesn’t puff out in the front, and it’s all stretchy and elastic and very, very comfortable. And it’s a Juniors size!
A part of me giggles with joy. But … it’s tight. Every-curve, derriere-hugging tight. Much tighter and more revealing than anything I’ve worn in, oh, 20 years. And I’m pretty sure that’s the way this skirt is supposed to look – that’s the point of spandex, after all – but I’m also thinking that this skirt probably goes too far, especially in for my office.
So. Young lady in dressing room. A junior herself, obviously, who will make a pronouncement and help me decide. “What do you think of this skirt?”
“Umm .…” She looks at me uncertainly. She seems surprised that someone her mother’s age is asking her opinion. Finally she looks down at the skirt. I lift up my t-shirt so she can see the waist. I turn, left, right, let her see the whole thing. And, “It looks great,” she says.
“Really? It’s not too tight?”
“Oh, ah, no,” she says, with heavy, obvious hesitation. “Uh, that’s the way it’s supposed to look.”
And now I know. Yes, the skirt fits. Yes, it’s a good style. And yes, oh yes, this teenager clearly expressed that I’m too old for it, and that I cannot wear it in public. I thank the girl for her help, then go back into the dressing room, peel off the skirt, put it back on the hanger.
Well – a Juniors skirt! That was fun while it lasted, anyway. And back I go to the women’s section.
By AL ALBORN
Occasionally I have a question about the budget. When I do, I usually look to the Office of Management’s Budget Questions Database to see if it’s already been asked and answered.
Quite a few of those questions in the database are mine. When I get a “complicated” question, I send an email to Michelle Casciato, Prince William County’s Budget Director. I always get a quick response.
My latest questions were about carryover funds. I’ve been watching this process for some time. Casciato recognized my question might get complicated if answered in an email chain, so she invited me to her office to chat. As one of Prince William County’s budding budget watchers, that’s an offer I couldn’t refuse.
To make sure our conversation was grounded in correct assumptions, I started our conversation by asking for clarification of the categories of money left over at the end of the year.
Casciato explained that there are really two kinds of end of year funds that Prince William County has to deal with. The first is carryovers. Not everything ends neatly at the end of the fiscal year. Carryovers extend previously approved appropriations from one fiscal year to the next.
The second is turnbacks. These are excess funds at year-end that are returned to the general fund by individual departments.
The public has come to lump these two funds together as “carryover funds”, or money of any flavor left over at the end of the year. I do believe that lumping turnbacks and carryovers into the same conversation has perhaps confused the public.
A look at the typical General Fund – Attachment D, Carryover recommendations, demonstrates that both flavors of money are addressed under the heading of “carryover recommendations”. This might contribute to the public’s confusion.
Ms. Casciato did mention that a lot of Prince William County’s budget process is based upon customs developed over the years.
Some issues weren’t “issues” in the past because little public attention was given to the details of the budget process. Of course, the discretionary fund issue changed all that.
This year’s more transparent budget process is actually a response to increased public scrutiny. I suspect this same level of transparency and awareness will also be applied to the annual carry-over process.
The flavor of money really does matter. I doubt anyone who understands carryovers really have an issue with them, and the normal practice for both Government and Industry.
Turnbacks are the focus of the budget watchers in our community. Addressing this issue, Casciato pointed out that budgets are built to fund the programs to succeed – no more, no less.
“To the extent that funding is left over at turnback, we build that turnback as a resource into the next year’s budget to return that funding to the taxpayers,” she said.
I understand intentionally collecting more than is perhaps really required to buy down risk; however, my real interest is in what happens to these “leftovers” at the end of the year.
I reviewed the last five years of carryover recommendations and noticed that many of them looked like things that should be part of the normal budget process, not an end of year leftovers subject.
Budget watchers such as me would prefer to see the movement of all budget items into the formal budget for public review and comment during the budget process.
An example would be the annual funding of Prince William County’s Technology Improvement Plan every year for the past five years (FY2008-FY2012) for exactly $5.5 million dollars (General Fund – Attachment D, Carryover recommendations, FY 2008-2013). I mentioned this to Casciato. She assured me this was in the nformation Technology and Improvements Section of the FY2013-2018 Capital Improvement Plan. Casciato did recognize my skepticism at the same recurring amount every year, funding for something as strategic as IT coming out of turnbacks, and the suggestion that perhaps something as dependable as this should be addressed up front as part of the budget process.
I was impressed when she responded that perhaps I was correct, and she would revisit just where funding for Technology Improvements are reflected in the upcoming budget. I only share this story because it demonstrates the two-way value of citizen interest and participation in County Government. Occasionally, we might even have a good idea.
As for my fellow budget watchers, the next Community Budget Meeting is scheduled for Saturday, February 16 at 9 a.m. in the Board Chambers at the McCoart Administration Building in Woodbridge. Bring your questions. After all, it’s our money.
By Justin Youtz
Cubmaster, Pack 501
I am very proud to report the outstanding job that the boys from Cub Scout Pack 501 did during the Presidential Inauguration Parade.
We had three Web IIs, four Web I’s and two Bears along with our Cubmaster, Bear Den Leader and our first Den Chief supporting.
When the National Capital Area Council (NCAC) for the Boy Scouts of America sent out a request for Boy Scouts interested in serving as volunteers for the activities surrounding the Presidential Inauguration, thousands of Boy Scouts and Scout Leaders volunteered, and so did Cub Scout Pack 501. Their leader submitted an application with a note asking that Cub Scouts (the younger boys) not be excluded and that the boys of Pack 501 in Woodbridge would do an outstanding job representing the Boy Scouts of America.
In a lottery that followed, only 700 leaders and scouts were selected for the honor. Ten boys and two adult leaders were selected from Cub Scout Pack 501 in those numbers.
The boys were up early, leaving from the parking lot of St. Thomas Aquinas at 4:30 a.m. in order to catch the Metro to get to our check in by 6 a.m.
We were assigned to support the Crossover at 7th and Constitution streets in Zone 2 (refered to by the Presidential Inauguration Committee as “The Beast” due to the large number of people that will be pass through the area.)
While we started out slow with just providing some basic directions, we soon got into the thick of things when the Army special officers in charge of the crossover asked for some help as they were soon to be overwhelmed by hundreds of people standing on either side of the street, waiting for the barrier to come down and the crosswalks to reopen after a series of motorcades came through.
The boys jumped into the crowd and formed a human row of cones. We got all of the north going traffic on the right, opening up the left for the south bound pedestrians.
Our Bear Leader kept everyone on the south side going in the right direction, while our Cubmaster used his day camp shouting ability (people believe that he was a drill sergeant in a former life) to keep directing the southbound crowd out of security and to the Mall for the inauguration.
We provided directions to lost travellers to get to their ticketed security points all over the Mall and advice on how to get past some of the closures due to security.
The pack kept this up all morning, keep things going through the stopping and starting as the Secret Service closed the crossovers to allow motorcades through.
After the Inauguration, and a quick eight block round trip hike for lunch, the boys jumped in again to create two lines of human cones from the barricades to sidewalks, keeping the crossing area clear, pedestrians moving and providing directions.
When the crosswalk permanently closed, we closed ranks some, but kept a secure lane open to allow military, police officers and secret service members access through the crowd from the barricades to the rear staging and warming areas.
Additional good deeds that I witnessed from the boys included supporting one another when tired, cold and hungry; picking up litter; being kind and courteous to the attendees. We provided directions on how to get around with the closures and tried to keep up to date by questioning others in the crowd as they came through on surrounding conditions, receiving news text updates and the like. Our Cubmaster even provided some basic first aid from handing out TUMs and IMMODIUM, to getting fruit and chocolates to two diabetics whose blood sugar was crashing.
Throughout the day, comments like “Yeah, Boy Scouts!”, “Thank you, Boy Scouts!” and “It’s so great to see the Scouts here helping!” kept us going through the long hours and cold.
We made friends with the Army Special Officers, the Minnesota State Police and the Secret Service.
At about 7:30pm, fifteen hours later, we returned the Scouts to their parents at the St. Thomas Aquinas parking lot again. We shared with the parents how well the boys behaved and all that they did.
Some of us saw the President as he drove to the Capitol and many were able to see the First Lady as they drove by in the parade. (We missed them walking by about a block!)
They stood tall and saluted each time. They listened to the President’s speech over the loud speakers. They got to participate in a piece of history.
At the end of the day, they were tired but proud, and I am the proudest of them all. The boys went above and beyond what could have been expected from any CubScout Pack.
It was an honor to be allowed to be part of it all. Thank you NCAC for that.
By MARY DAVIDSON
Boiling water can freeze in two seconds.
I have seen this done in places like Wisconsin where the temperature can easily dip down to 17 degrees below zero, but I wasn’t sure it could be done in our area.
This morning the temperature was 13 degrees, so I thought I’d boil some water and give it a try. I took a container of boiling water outside and tossed it over the railing of my deck.
The phenomena is called, by some, as the Mpemba Effect.
By MARY ROSENTHOL
For Potomac Local News
On Sunday night the Potomac Nationals celebrated their 18th annual Hot Stove Banquet and Silent Auction with 131 employees and fans in attendance. The Hyatt at Fair Lakes was the site for the event.
“Our Hot Stove Banquet is a popular event with the fans,” said team owner Art Silber, “It’s really the unofficial start to a new season and this year, I’m excited to show everyone the plans for the new park.”
Fans greeted Silber’s grandchildren with hugs and smiles during the evening. The Silbers have owned the Nationals for 21 years and the overall feeling for the evening was like a large family reunion.
The evening kicked off with an open cocktail hour and bidding on a silent auction, prizes included everything from a night at the Hyatt to baseball memorabilia. All proceeds benefit the Prince William County Public Schools SPARK program, which allows middle school children in the county to attend a Nationals game during the school year.
“This is our fifth year supporting the SPARK program,” said Nationals General Manager Josh Olerud. “By the end of the year, 25,000 students will have seen a game. The program covers all the transportation, ticket cost and food. We’re very proud of it.”
MORE to the STORY: Potomac Nationals Stadium plans bring traffic concerns
Along with the continued support of the SPARK program, in 2013 fans can look forward to 17 fireworks nights, 5 celebrity appearances, and lots of giveaways during the games.
Finally, the evening ended with the presentation of plans for the new stadium. Fans cheered at images of a stadium that would include over 400 parking spaces, easy access to Interstate 95, a large beer garden, a new playground, several new concession stands and views of the Potomac River on three levels.
“We worked hard to make the design of the new stadium harkens back to the days of Griffith Field,” Silber said during the presentation. “There will be a large presidential box just like the old Senator Stadium had and the complex is designed with the same asymmetrical style in mind.”
Currently, plans for the new stadium are going trough the permitting process in Prince William County. Silber said that the project would be fast tracked once the initial paperwork is complete. The team is expected to be in its new home by 2015.
“I understand there are some concerns as there will be with any new project,” Silber said after the presentation. “But it’s my money, not the county’s and I want to build a new stadium. I think once people see the new stadium and appreciate the amenities it offers the community, they will be pleased,” said Silber.
Photos By KJ MUSHUNG
WASHINGTON, D.C. – One of the first events to kick off inaugural weekend in Washington was the 2013 Kids Ball, which served as a chance for President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their two daughters, Malia and Sasha.
By JEFF IRWIN
Prince William Conservation Alliance
As reported in a previous article, the history of the Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area in southeastern Prince William County is being revealed through the collaborative efforts of volunteers. This search for the past began with the investigation and improvement of a forgotten little cemetery in the woods.
Merrimac Farm was known by a different name for several generations, extending back into the 18th century. It was called Green Level, a plantation that was part of a rural agrarian community of farms that formed in the backwoods of Prince William around the time of the Revolution. The area had been targeted as a potential religious haven in a late 1687 land grant, wherein King James II granted 30,000 acres to a handful of men to establish a Bent Town.
Nearly a century later the town had failed to materialize and the land was divided. Several small plantations emerged in southeastern Prince William County, between the little crossroad of Aden and Cedar Run creek. These plantations included Effingham (ca. 1777), Fleetwood (ca. 1775) and Green Level (ca. 1770).
Lynaugh Helm developed Green Level first. Probate and property records suggest a substantial estate in the late 1700s. Helm owned 1000 acres of land, a large amount of livestock (53 horses, 63 sheep, 47 hogs), and a long list of furniture, tools and household items that undoubtedly filled a large farm house. In addition to the Helm family, fifteen slaves lived and worked at Green Level. Some of their names are recorded, including Old James, David, Moses, Ephraim, and Jenny.
After Helm’s death, the farm changed hands a couple of times, ultimately being acquired by Helm’s grandson, William French ca.1818. The Helm and French families not only shared a common interest in Green Level, they were also connected through marriage. Lynaugh Helm’s daughter Elizabeth married Stephen French, William’s father, and the two were married at Green Level in 1790. Stephen French lived nearby on his own estate. Enough French family lived in the area to warrant the location of “Frenchville” on some birth records.
What was Green Level like? While little evidence of structures remains, we can surmise some things from the existing records and nearby estates that lasted into the 20th century. The plantation likely included a large two story wood frame main house with brick chimneys, farm fields and pastures, slave quarters, a barn and possibly additional structures, e.g. a blacksmith shop. In the late 1700s, tobacco was likely the dominant crop but it was quickly replaced by grains and livestock.
By the time of the French family, if not earlier, a cemetery was established. The restricted area and limited number of stones that survive today suggest a small family plot, however the Helm tenure and the presence of slaves for decades makes one wonder if there is more than we currently see.
One tantalizing reminder of our limited knowledge came when a mysterious marker was discovered in recent work at the cemetery. In addition to the French gravestones, which are clearly the commercial product of skilled masons, a small fragmented red fieldstone marker was found with the initials “CTT” only. The identity and connection of this individual to the French family remains unknown.
Through the rediscovery of a small, forgotten cemetery, Merrimac Farm is better recognized as a place of history. A handful of graves serve as direct tribute to the lives of a few persons, but as indirect clues to the lives of many, the history of a historic plantation. As Merrimac Farm is appreciated by the public in its new role for recreation and conservation, its part of Prince William County history can be valued as well.
“No, no, stay!” I call out, then hold my breath as the dog dashes across the dark street, just in front of the oncoming car. The driver sees him, though, and brakes, and the dog makes it, much to my relief. And now, here he comes. Straight toward me.
Reflexively, I grip my dogs’ leashes tight, try to pull them closer. They’re having none of it, though, Janie and Mixie are straining, pulling, desperate to meet the dog trotting toward them. I tuck my elbows into my sides, pull my fists – with leashes wrapped and wrapped around – close to my body, trying to keep 130 pounds of dog under control.
In seconds, the loose dog is here. All three dogs stop hard and greet one another stiffly, tails in the air. While they sniff around – Janie, Mixie, dog, Mixie, dog, Janie – I listen, hard, hoping to hear someone in the background, huffing up, calling.
The dogs are doing well, relaxing with each other, and I begin to relax, too. Whatever happens next, a fight doesn’t seem to be on the agenda. I transfer Mixie’s leash from my right hand and grasp it with Janie’s leash in my left, wrapping both leashes tightly around my still-flexed fist. Now, right hand freed, I bend down, and coo to the strange dog: “Come here, come here, let me see your tag.”
The dog, what looks like a short-haired yellow lab mix, isn’t afraid of me, but he isn’t helping, either. And my dogs’ heads are in the way, it’s a close-knit chaos of noses and ears. Every time I get close to the dog’s collar and his shiny tag, he moves his head away, teasing.
Finally the dog holds still, all the dogs hold still, and I read the tag, grateful that we happen to be in the circle of streetlight. But, dang it, it’s just the rabies vaccination tag. What good is that? I need this dog’s address, his owner’s phone number, something that will help me get him home, not the confirmation that he’s got his rabies shot. I mean, that’s reassuring, but it’s not the most useful information right now.
So there I stand, pondering. The dog is dragging a long clothesline-type rope behind him. He clearly was tied up outside, and broke away. It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s very, very early. He ran across the street to get to us, nearly getting squished, clearly unfamiliar with traffic and cars. And with the way he’s wagging and panting at my dogs, I’m sure he’ll follow if we leave.
There’s nothing for it. I can’t just leave him here.
“OK, dog, you’re coming with us.” I pull off my glove and stuff it in my pocket, then reach down and grab the thin cord. It’s slick, and I wind it around my hand several times to keep a good grip. “Let’s go,” and I start to move.
The three dogs, excited, surge forward. The cord cuts into my hand, and, “Wait, wait, wait!” Janie and Mixie, veterans of daily walks, stop on command, looking back at me. The yellow dog doesn’t, he yanks and pulls, trying to keep moving. “Aaahh!” Quickly I loosen the cord from around my hand, then take it up and wrap it around my shoulder, under my armpit, over my coat. The dog tugs, the cable tightens, but it holds around my shoulder, and I grip it tightly with my hand to control the dog’s speed and direction.
Haltingly we head toward home, the yellow dog yanking and pulling and veering, cutting into my armpit and hand, my dogs confused and frustrated by their unnaturally short and close leashes. I stop every house or two to loosen the cord and pant with pain and rearrange dogs, who are going left and right and backwards. And at some point, on my fourth or fifth or sixth stop, I think ahead and realize that this is probably the easy part of this particular adventure.
By AL ALBORN
While most folks are generally worried about the weather this time of year, the real storm usually occurs in the McCoart Administration Building. I’m referring to the annual budget process for Prince William County. This is the battle of wills between the fiscal conservatives, the liberal right, and the center-leaning members of the county’s Board of Supervisors over just how little or much of our money they plan to take to run Prince William County during Fiscal Year 2014 starting July 1.
Historically, few people have participated in the annual budget process. That’s changed a bit since the discretionary fund issue that came to light in 2012. There are a lot more of us paying attention to just how our money is spent.
If you really want to understand how Prince William County Government works, you might want to check out the Code of Virginia, Title 15.2 – COUNTIES, CITIES AND TOWNS. Chapter 5 covers the County Executive Form of Government.
Here’s a fun fact – Prince William County and Albemarle are the only Counties in the Commonwealth that have a County Executive form of Government. Fairfax County has an Urban County Executive form of Government. There’s a difference.
The budget in Prince William County starts with our County Executive, Melissa Peacor. The duties of the County Executive are spelled out clearly in the Code of Virginia.
§ 15.2-539. Submission of budget by executive; hearings; notice; adoption.
Each year at least two weeks before the board must prepare its proposed annual budget, the county executive shall prepare and submit to the board a budget presenting a financial plan for conducting the county’s affairs for the ensuing year. The budget shall be set up in the manner prescribed by general law. Hearings thereon shall be held and notice thereof given and the budget adopted in accordance with general law.
Prince William’s budget is really the ultimate discretionary fund. It is important to understand that our elected officials, Chairman Stewart and the seven Supervisors, have broad discretion and sole responsibility for the decisions regarding how Prince William County spends our tax dollars. That being said, the County Executive frames the budget discussions with her proposal. She knows the math.
Government is a messy business. In the past, we never saw how the sausage was made. We only tasted the final product (which is usually not that bad). During the past year, we have started to wander around the butcher shop and noticed that perhaps the process in Prince William County isn’t quite as perfect as we would like. Lots of tasty tidbits are tossed in the grinder to make a lot of “connected folks” happy leaving some perhaps “good stuff” on the butcher shop floor.
Our real estate tax rate is actually driven up a penny here and there at a time, often on little things that add up. It’s easy to ignore a million or two in scraps here and there when they are lost in two billion dollars worth of sausage. We need to keep an eye on those scraps.
More people wandering around the kitchen is how we will finally get to a “better, leaner sausage” with less fat and scraps thrown in so everyone gets a taste they like.
Most people don’t mind paying taxes. They just don’t want to pay too much in taxes. That’s where paying attention to exactly what gets thrown into the sausage grinder comes into play.
There are some things our Board does to fulfill their vision of government’s responsibility. The Board tasked citizens such as myself to develop a Strategic Plan, a tool that helps drive the budget process, to reflect the people’s will regarding what should be funded. Once it’s done, the Board must approve it.
And then there’s “the rest of us,” the majority of the 410,000 people who live, work and play in Prince William County and are simply too busy to ask for anything.
At the end of the day, everybody wants something out of our elected officials. How they respond is really the driving force in how much we all pay in taxes and fees.
Perhaps the biggest decision, the decision that impacts every business, every family, every pocketbook in Prince William is how much revenue they collect in real estate tax revenue each Fiscal Year, or what percentage of the value of your home you must give to the government to pay for the police, firefighters, EMT’s, roads, schools, and other services in your community.
Our Supervisors all come with a Party affiliation, personal brand, or individual vision of what government is and how it should serve the Community. They are generally elected by some majority that buys into these individual visions.
Republican Chairman Corey Stewart, At-Large, and Supervisor Peter Candland have staked our the fiscal conservative point of view. Republican Supervisors Mike May and Wally Covington are leaning toward lower tax rates.
Republican Supervisors Marty Nohe and Maureen Caddigan strike me as center-right Republicans perhaps not as inclined toward the draconian positions laid out by their fiscal conservative Republican brethren.
Democrat Supervisors Frank Principi and John Jenkins are lobbying for higher tax rates and more government Services.
They are all correct from their point of view. As with all things, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. They need to hear your point of view to develop their position for the upcoming budget discussions. Talk to them.
If you want to engage in the budget process, here are some tools you may use.
If you are curious just where your money is going, check out the Office of Management and Budget’s website.
The FY2013 budget documents give you a pretty good idea of where your money went last year, and perhaps a flavor for previous years.
The FY2014 Budget Choices presentation lays out the County Executive’s point of view regarding the tough decisions ahead in determining Prince William County’s tax rate.
If you have any questions about the budget, or want to see what others are asking go to the FY14 Budget Questions Database.
The Prince William County School System gets 56.75 percent of your real estate taxes. If you care about where your education dollars are being spent, check out the School Board’s preliminary budget.
Some dates you might want to watch:
Strategic Plan Public Hearing 22 January 2013
CXO FY 14 Proposed Budget 12 February 2012
Authorize Tax Rate Advertisement 26 February 2013
Establish Property Tax Rate 1 May 201
MANASSAS, Va. – The Center for the Arts, Caton Merchant Family Gallery will exhibit the works of regional artist Rayhart, February 6 through March 16. A closing meet-the-artist reception will be held from 1 to 3 p.m.
Ray Hart, the artist who became “Rayhart”, says painting for him is “nothing short of the abandonment of reality.” He began painting professionally in 1997, nurturing his calling as an artist and poet, with college basketball scholarship days and a sociology degree becoming history in his now wizened journey.
From his beginnings with simple line doodling and ink drawings for his poems, Rayhart now exercises color and abandonment to the fullest.
“Most of my paintings start out with a simple line that becomes a journey,” he said. “I’m overwhelmed until I’m finished,” … and that’s what’s good.”
The loose, free-style results don’t tell a story of having been overwhelmed; the paintings claim exuberance and joy in having come to be from an idea or single seed set in Rayhart’s consciousness.
To abandon working photographs or setting up a life study is the uniqueness of this artist to his practice. The uniqueness becomes palpable when experiencing his sinuous lines and swirls of intense colors; this style has gained Rayhart the compliment: “I feel your art before I see it.” There’s no mistaking the artist knows how to invoke feeling and mood — and he works the color — he gets color right with complementary, contrasting and eye-popping palettes.
The work, mostly created in acrylic or oils, Ray describes as “original, abstract and somewhat surreal.” It shows that he also paints to music, the love he has for music transcends the canvas. It’s an exceptional pleasure to accept this artist’s gifts — in subject matter ranging from the figurative: women and men in solitude; music; and abstract landscapes — and as he says, “my aim is to share as I have been given.”
Rayhart’s work is displayed every Father’s Day at the popular Wine and Jazz fest in Manassas. He shows at Artscape Artists’ Market in Baltimore; the Cleveland Fine Arts Expo; the Philadelphia International Art Expo, the New Harlem Renaissance Art Show in Indianapolis. He is represented in local and regional art galleries as well as Papp Gallery in New York; and Gallery 13 in Denver.
The Rayhart exhibit is free and open to the community to view. The Center for the Arts, Caton Merchant Family Gallery is located at 9419 Battle Street, Manassas, with hours 10 a.m. to 5 pm weekdays and 1 to 5 pm on Saturdays. To find out more about the exhibit, contact the Center for the Arts at 703 330-ARTS or visit the website at center-for-the-arts.org.
WOODBRIDGE, Va. – The Greater Prince William Community Health Center is participating in the National Day of Service on Saturday, January 19, with a special volunteer project in the Health Center’s Prenatal Practice.
This Saturday between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., community volunteers will paint, add wall paper and create a welcoming environment for expectant mothers and children at the Health Center. Each year, the center’s Prenatal Practice serves more than 500 pregnant women—including low-income, uninsured, Medicaid and private insurance patients—and completes more than 8,000 patient visits.
“At the Health Center, we think it is important for every expectant mother to feel welcomed, comfortable and relaxed during their prenatal visits,” said Prenatal Director Lisa Wiener. “We recently relocated our prenatal space within the Health Center, and this weekend’s volunteer effort will create a warmer, more nurturing environment for our patients and their families.”
President Obama and the first family began the National Day of Service four years ago as a way of honoring the life and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The focus of the day is community service—whether it is at the school, city, state or national level.
“The President is encouraging Americans to spend some time this Saturday giving back to their community,” said Health Center Executive Director Frank J. Principi. “The Health Center is thrilled to be part of this grassroots campaign. We welcome this volunteer initiative and the positive impact it will have on our patients.”
The Health Center provides integrated and coordinated primary, prenatal, dental and behavioral health care under one roof. A 501(c) 3 non-profit organization, the Health Center serves patients from all walks of life—regardless of age, income or insurance status. For more information, visit www.GPWHealthCenter.org or like “Greater Prince William Community Health Center” on Facebook.
By URIAH KISER
WOODBRIDGE, Va. – Veterans who have served in this nation’s all-volunteer military are owed more than just a handshake a thank you – they deserve a chance to continue serving country and community.
That was the message delivered by Col. Gregory D. Gadson on Wednesday. The commander of Ft. Belvoir Army Base spoke to members of the Prince William Chamber of Commerce at its annual salute to the military luncheon in Woodbridge. Soldiers and Marines were represented at the event, and the community’s gratitude was bestowed upon them for their service.
As the nation’s military faces deep cuts in services and spending, now the transition from the military to civilian life is top of mind for many in the armed forces.
“Qauntico and Ft. Belvoir are not islands. We are apart of the Northern Virginia community. In many ways, we are all teammates. Every one of us who puts on this uniform eventually takes it off and comes back to a community and looks for a way to make a difference,” said Gadson.
The colonel said the many who have seen combat and were apart of the military’s ramp-up over the past decade are now leaving the military, coming home, and looking for work, and that business owners – many of whom do not have direct contact or experience working with the nation’s military – should realize the value American veterans can bring to their companies.
Gadson, himself, was also given a second chance of sorts. He lost both legs after an IED exploded in Iraq in May 2007. In the past, the Army would have simply given him a honorable discharge. Today he’s leading Ft. Belvoir, and Gadson said the U.S. knows members of its all-volunteer Army deserve better than to be tossed away.
Touting an office at Ft. Belvoir dedicated to helping vets transition into the workforce, Gadson invited those in the business community to become involved in the Army’s efforts to put all transitioning veterans to work on the home front.
In addition to Gadson, Quantico Commander Col. David W. Maxwell also spoke and honored some Marines whom serve on his base. Soldiers who also spoke commended the Army for helping them become the people they are today, and the Chamber of Commerce awarded each Marine and Soldier who spoke was honored with a small gift.
The event was held at the Harbor View conference center in front of a crowd of at least 200 people. Lunch was provided, Quantico’s color guard was on hand to present the flag, and a bugler played taps to honor those who paid the ultimate price and could not attend the ceremony. The first major event of 2013 for the Prince William Chamber of Commerce, it is one of several planned throughout the year.
MANASSAS, Va – There are budding artists all across Prince William County, and many of them walked away with top honors in the “Off the Wall” art exhibit at Manassas’ Center for the Arts at the Candy Factory.
Many of the winners include students from Battlefield and Woodbridge high schools, but students from across the county participated the event. More in a press release from Prince William County Public Schools:
The award-winning work of budding young authors and aspiring artists is on display at the Caton Merchant Family Art Gallery in Old Town Manassas. Hundreds of high school students in Prince William, Manassas City, and Manassas Park Public Schools recently submitted entries in the juried “Off the Wall” Student Art and Poetry Festival.
Encouraged by their teachers, many of whom are professional artists, students put forth their best effort to create works for this competition. Hard work paid off with first, second, and third place in both categories awarded to students enrolled in the Woodbridge High School Center for Fine and Performing Arts and an additional nine honorable mentions to PWCS students.
The “Off the Wall” Student Art and Poetry Festival, now in its ninth year, is sponsored
by Lockheed Martin and the Center for the Arts/Caton Merchant Family Gallery.
“The arts programs in Prince William County Public Schools offer students many diverse and rich opportunities to develop and showcase their talents,” said Joyce Zsembery, curriculum supervisor of Arts. “Community support for students through juried shows such as “Off the Wall” provides students with additional recognition for their talents, and are appreciated by those of us involved in arts education. Community support for the arts is invaluable.”
PWCS students who were recognized for their achievement in the visual arts and poetry at the festival’s January 5 award ceremony are listed below.
1st Place: Brittany Crow,Woodbridge High School (second consecutive year)
2nd Place: Neil Hailey, Woodbridge High School
3rd Place: Mary DesJardin, Woodbridge High School
Visual Arts Contest
1st Place: Dara Merritt, Woodbridge High School
2nd Place: Catherine Winings, Woodbridge High School
3rd Place: Savannah Wichman, Woodbridge High School
Honorable Mention in poetry and art categories:
Brianna Washington, Woodbridge High School
Katie Vanderveldt, Battlefield High School
Bryan Simmons, Battlefield High School
Brooke Short, Battlefield High School
Kaitlyn Reeves, Patriot High School
Mary Kim, Battlefield High School
Jacqueline Javier, Battlefield High School
Genesis Flores-Aguilar, Woodbridge High School
Niklavs Barbars, Battlefield High School
Anna Mish, gallery director at the Center for the Arts, said this group of students and thier submitted artwork has been some of the best yet:
I am hearing from our visitors how this, so far, is the best overall exhibit of “Off the Wall” artwork we have had. The students truly raised the bar this year. After speaking to many of the students at the Open House on Saturday, I learned quite a few of them are seniors, so they have had past experience in preparing for the level of competition this exhibit brings. The sponsor, Lockheed Martin, and the Center for the Arts look forward each year to celebrating the achievements of a each new mix of artists.
Of all the things I worried about in preparation of Hurricane Sandy, my commute was not something I thought would be changed. Sure, I’ve whined and complained about commuting from the suburbs of Northern Virginia to Downtown Washington, D.C. I thought that was bad. Nope. That was nothing.
And then I found myself in New York City, helping in the aftermath of the notorious “Superstorm Sandy,” among many other things, learning to appreciate my regular commute. Oh, and my regular job. There was a point where I began missing that, too.
When I had the opportunity to help the citizens of New York City who were affected, I couldn’t say no. Though I was born and raised in Northern Virginia, my entire family is from New York and New Jersey. And with many of my family members living in the impacted areas, without power, heat and even cell service for days, even weeks, Sandy really hit home for me.
After arriving in Manhattan, I learned that my assignment would be located in Staten Island – the one borough I had never really visited. And since I didn’t drive a car there and downright refuse to drive in New York City, I wasn’t sure how I’d get back and forth from Manhattan, where I managed to find one of the few available hotel rooms. Between displaced families and first responders in the area to help, the hotels were all packed.
Commuting won’t be a problem, I was told. There are plenty of options for public transportation.
Under normal circumstances, yes, there are many options in New York City for transportation. There’s the subway system, taxis, buses… of course, these were not normal circumstances. Imagine every possible logistical nightmare – the tunnels were flooded, same with the subway stations, power outages all over lower Manhattan. Navigating the city was tricky, to say the least.
My hotel in Manhattan was located a little less than two miles from the Staten Island Ferry Station, a bit far to walk, especially while carrying my equipment back and forth and returning sometimes very late at night. There was a subway station conveniently located right outside of the ferry station, on a line that I could access from a block away from my hotel; however, that station, being so close to the water, was badly flooded and remained closed for most of my time there.
In the meantime, my only other option was to use taxis, making my commute very unpredictable. It would sometimes take as long as 25-30 minutes to travel less than two miles, depending on traffic! Not to mention, hailing a cab on my street wasn’t always easy so early in the morning.
On a typical morning, I was rushing to the ferry station, hoping for as little traffic as possible on the way. The ferry only leaves about every half hour, so any delay could potentially throw off my entire commute. The ferry ride was around 25 minutes, and once in Staten Island, I’d have to board a train for another 30 minute ride. All in all, the commute took anywhere from an hour and half, sometimes closer to two hours. It was exhausting!
At first, I somewhat enjoyed the ferry experience. I loved being able to see the Statue of Liberty every morning, and lit up every evening. It was inspiring. I couldn’t help but stare in awe sometimes, knowing what Lady Liberty represents. On the days where I felt myself becoming cranky, tired and burned out, I had to remind myself why I was there. I had no choice but to keep going.
Ultimately, I spent a month in New York City, commuting six or sometimes seven days a week. Those days were long and the work was tough – perhaps the only thing more heart wrenching than seeing the stories in the news was reading the casework or actually meeting the people who had lost what little they may have had before the storm hit. While I had a safe, warm hotel room to return to every night, I felt almost guilty knowing there were so many people without that luxury.
As anxious as I was to return home to my own loved ones, I miss the work I did in New York City. I had the opportunity to meet and work with some amazing people, and I came back with an incredible experience and a whole new outlook in so many aspects.
Sure, there are days like last Thursday, where traffic is so backed up that it takes two hours to commute home, and I’m mad that I missed my favorite class at the gym. I hate those days. But I try to keep in mind all of the good things in my life, all that I get to come home to, the fact that I have a comfortable home and so much to be thankful for (like not having to catch a boat back and forth to work every day!)
Sometimes, I just have to take a deep breath, close my eyes and enjoy the ride.
Laura Cirillo works for the federal government and lives in Prince William County.