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Best places to volunteer in NoVA this holiday season

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The holiday season is truly about giving. Giving our time, giving our presence and giving our appreciation to others. 

It doesn’t have to be about the must-have gifts of the year, despite what the craziness of the season might make us feel. If you’re looking for a way to offer a few hours of your time to a local cause, here are just a few ways you can make a difference. 

Red Kettle Bell Ringing Volunteering
Through Tuesday, Dec. 24, various times
When the holidays roll around, do you keep spare change in your pocket just to drop in the big red buckets around town? This year, you can be the one ringing the bell outside of local stores to raise money for The Salvation Army. You know the drill: ring your bell while passerby drop a few dollar bills in the kettle, sing holiday carols (if you feel so inclined), and be sure to tell everyone, “Happy holidays!” Interested volunteers can sign up through VolunteerMatch, or contact Captain Alvaro Porras at alvaroporras@uss.salvationarmy.org. // various locations

Want more holiday content sent straight to your inbox? Subscribe to our weekly e-newsletters. To find more about local Christmas tree lightings, meet-and-greets with Santa Claus and more, visit our Holiday Headquarters

Processing Books for Kids Book Nook at Walter Reed
Thursday, Nov. 28 to Sunday, Dec. 1, 9:30 a.m. to noon
After a local month-long book drive, America’s Adopt a Soldier needs help processing the children’s books it has gathered, which will eventually be in the hands of kids at the Walter Reed Children’s Center and the Cancer Treatment Clinic at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. Participants will be stacking, stamping and packing books throughout the weekend, and can volunteer for their desired time frame. Interested volunteers can register through Eventbrite. // America’s Adopt A Soldier: 6744 Gravel Ave., Alexandria 

Give a Dog a Lift!
Sunday, Dec. 1, 11:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Pets are part of the holiday season too. Lucky Dog Animal Rescue is having an adoption event and needs your help! Drivers are needed to pick up dogs at the organization’s boarding partners: Wagtime, Wagtime Too and The Board Hound. You are welcome to showoff the dog during the event, and you will return the dog to the boarding location afterward. The adoption event will take place outside and you will (hopefully!) get to meet lots of new friends who love wagging tails as much as you do. Volunteers must be over the age of 18 and have a valid license. Interested volunteers can sign up through VolunteerMatch. // Petsmart: 3351 Jefferson Davis Highway 10, Alexandria

Santa’s Resume Workshop
Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2 to 4 p.m.
The workforce is looking for new candidates, and although they might be ready, their resume might not be. At Santa’s Resume Workshop, the Years Up organization will be partnering with Recruit for the Culture to offer free resume tips and tricks to local residents who need it. Volunteers who are willing to provide resume advice and interview tips to future job candidates, especially those in talent advising, consulting or human relations, are encouraged to register and attend the event at Northern Virginia Community College. Interested volunteers can register through Eventbrite. // Northern Virginia Community College: 4925 E. Campus Drive, Alexandria

Quarterbacks for CASA
Sunday, Dec. 8, 1 to 4 p.m.
Fairfax Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is looking for local men who are willing to be advocates and mentors for abused or neglected children in the Northern Virginia region. Over 50% of the children the organization serves are male, but only 19% of the volunteers are men. The event will allow attendees to watch the Washington Redskins take on the Green Bay Packers and hear from experienced volunteers about their local impacts through the organization. Food and drinks will be provided. Interested attendees can register on Eventbrite. // Crafthouse: 1888 Explorer St., Reston 

Be a Speech Competition Judge
Wednesday, Dec. 11, 6:30 to 9 p.m.
The Emerging Leaders program is looking for a few volunteers who are willing to judge an upcoming speech competition. Two to three volunteers are needed to judge 25 student leaders’ speeches, who have all prepared speeches on topics such as “Who is your role model?,” and ‘”What is an obstacle you’ve overcome?” The winner the judges choose will have the opportunity to present their speech at the Emerging Leaders Program I graduation, often attended by more than 300 people. Interested volunteers can find out more on VolunteerMatch or sign up here. // 1325 S. Dinwiddie St., Arlington

Cookie Donations for Boulder Crest Holiday Open House
Friday, Dec. 13 and Saturday, Dec. 14, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Calling all bakers: the Boulder Crest Retreat Center is looking for your cookies. The retreat center is known for its commitment to improving the physical, emotional, spiritual and economic well-being of our nation’s military, veterans, first responders and their family members. For this year’s two-day open house, the organization is looking for 40 dozen cookies. Each baker is asked to bring two dozen cookies (or other baked goods!) to share with local attendees. Treats that are allergy-friendly, such as nut-free, gluten-free and dairy-free are also encouraged. Interested bakers can register on Eventbrite. // Boulder Crest Retreat Virginia: 18370 Bluemont Village Lane, Bluemont

Serve and Dine with the Black Alumni Chapter
Saturday, Dec. 14, 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB) distributes over 45 million points of food thanks to the committed volunteers and donors in Northern Virginia. Join the Black Alumni Chapter at George Mason University for an “all-hands-on-deck” volunteer opportunity benefiting CAFB. Participants will help sort food and stock shelves, which will later be distributed to Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax and Prince William. Immediately following the project, volunteers can attend a lunch sponsored by George Mason’s Office of Advancement and Alumni Relations. Interested volunteers can register on Eventbrite. // NOVA Capital Area Food Bank: 6833 Hill Park Drive, Lorton

Place Wreaths at the Arlington National Cemetery
Saturday, Dec. 14, 7 to 11 a.m.
Every year, over 253,000 wreaths are placed at Arlington National Cemetery for the Wreaths Across America initiative. Thousands of volunteers are needed to ensure the project is completed across the 624 acres. Everyone, including families with young children, can simply show up on Dec. 14 to help honor the many veterans and service members who have been laid to rest in Arlington. // Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington

Volunteer Orientation for A-SPAN
Monday, Dec. 30, 6 to 7 p.m.
If you don’t seem to have a spare moment to volunteer this year between holiday festivities, events and family gatherings, set yourself up to volunteer more in 2020 by attending A-SPAN’s volunteer orientation. Not only will you learn about the organization and its efforts to prevent and end homelessness in Arlington, you will also be inspired to continue the mission in the newest decade. Plus, you’ll be ready to sign up for the next available volunteer event as soon as next year rolls around. Interested attendees can register on Eventbrite. // 2020A 14th St. N., Arlington 

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WaPo: You need to tip 20% even if the service sucks

Westlake Legal Group tipping WaPo: You need to tip 20% even if the service sucks waitress waiter tipping The Blog service restaurants

If you’re the sort of person who enjoys going out to eat from time to time, you’ve probably got your own set of rules about tipping. It’s an American tradition that goes back a long way, though Europeans seem largely puzzled by it. How much you tip and what considerations go into your decision-making process when calculating the tip are a personal matter, though most of us probably take most of the same factors into account.

Well, you can forget about everything I just said, at least according to Michelle Singletary at the Washington Post. You’re supposed to tip 20% every time, no matter what. And the reason he provides for this new rule is rather startling. You see, you’re not tipping based on the service you receive. You’re making up for the wait staff’s evil employer failing to pay them a living wage.

Tipping is not about you.

When eating out at a restaurant, many diners believe that they should tip on a sliding scale based on the service they receive — good or bad…

Employers — either to increase their profit margins or out of concern they will lose business because of higher prices — force customers to supplement their employees’ wages with tips.

But the price of my meal should include what it takes for the company to make a fair profit and pay its workers a living wage.

So all of you insufficiently woke people need to toe the line here. Until the day when all wait staff workers are earning a living wage, you need to just plan to cough up an extra 20 percent for every meal you have.

Pardon my saying, but this is an insane proposition and a product of someone who’s been left soaking in the socialist waters for a bit too long.

First and most obviously, tipping has always been about service. It’s the basis for the practice. The waiter or waitress provides a big part of the entire “experience” of eating out, and it’s an experience that involves much more than just the quality of the food. In fact, I make a point of never downgrading the tip even if the food was less than satisfactory. That’s not the waiter’s fault. They don’t cook the food.

As long as the person was pleasant, presented a clean appearance, took the orders correctly, kept the water glasses full and checked to see if you needed anything else, they will get a good tip from me. If the food is excellent on top of that it’s just a happy bonus. (And unless you’re in a new place, you probably know which restaurants and diners serve the sort of food you like anyway.) But a grouchy waiter who ignores your table or messes up the orders isn’t going to do as well, and probably won’t last long at one of the higher-end restaurants.

As far as the economics go, we’ve been through all of this here before. Good waiters and waitresses can make far above minimum wage, even at busy breakfast or lunch diners, to say nothing of really upscale eateries. And the people who go into (and stay in) that line of work understand how the pay system works. So do their employers. As a customer, it is not your job to “make up for” what you deem to be an insufficient wage arrangement. That’s between the employer and the boss.

Great wait staff workers make great tips. Good waiters get good tips. Bad waiters don’t last in the business very long. It’s really not that complicated.

The post WaPo: You need to tip 20% even if the service sucks appeared first on Hot Air.

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The LGBT Protests of Chick-fil-A Have Only Made It More Powerful, and Here’s Why That’s the Case

Westlake Legal Group ChickFilAMBStadium The LGBT Protests of Chick-fil-A Have Only Made It More Powerful, and Here’s Why That’s the Case service Politics LGBT leftists Front Page Stories Featured Story Culture & Faith Culture christian Chick-Fil-A Business & Economy Allow Media Exception Activists

The Chick-fil-A at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA. Screen grab via CFA.

“If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine,” said Chick-fil-A to the LGBT activist community. It didn’t listen, and Chick-fil-A did indeed become a fast-food powerhouse.

The Christian chicken sandwich chain has been in the LGBT activist community’s crosshairs since 2011, ever since its leadership said it believes in traditional marriage. Massive protests and boycotts were called then, and even now, activists and politicians work to impede the advancement of the restaurants to no avail.

According to the Daily Wire, Chick-fil-A’s sales have doubled since 2011 bringing it to 3rd place in terms of most popular fast-food chain, and it has added hundreds of restaurants since, as well:

“Chick-fil-A’s annual sales have more than doubled since LGBT and liberal groups began calling for a boycott of the restaurant in 2012, according to a new analysis,” reports Christian Headlines. “In 2012, when controversy arose over the CEO’s comments about same-sex marriage, sales totaled $4.6 billion, up from $4.1 billion the year before. In 2018, sales totaled $10.46 billion, making it the third-largest restaurant in the United States behind McDonald’s and Starbucks.”

On top of the sales bumps, the chain has added 700 new restaurants in the span of those seven years. Journal & Courier noted that in 2018 alone, Chick-fil-A saw a sales increase more than four times that of Starbucks at 16.7%.

According to Kalinowski Equity Research founder Mark Kalinowski, if it keeps this momentum up it will also pass Starbucks.

“Can they reach $30 billion? I think that’s also a realistic goal if you give them enough time, and that should put them ahead of Starbucks,” he said according to Business Insider.

How did Chick-fil-A achieve this? It’s a happy mixture of things.

For one, Chick-fil-A enjoys a kind of presence that very few organizations share, such as the NRA. As it goes with the gun rights organization, Chick-fil-A is one of the few presences in our society that only gets shinier the more pressure is applied to it. People begin to flock to its defense in order to spite those who would attack it.

This is in no small part thanks to the attacks themselves, which unfairly target the chain for being bigoted when it’s clearly not. Chick-fil-A has made it very clear that everyone is welcome within their stores and will be served with respect, but due to their Christian philosophies, they’ve become instant enemies of left-leaning activists.

It’s entirely possible, and maybe even likely, that many of Chick-fil-A’s customers see themselves being attacked when Chick-fil-A is, and protest this unfair labeling through their patronage.

As the Daily Wire quoted Glenn T. Stanton, director of global family formation studies at Focus on the Family, this activist community is loud, but it’s incredibly small. Meanwhile, those who believe in traditional marriage outnumber them by the millions:

“The only ones who seem to have any kind of beef with the wildly popular chicken restaurant are a minivan-size group of squeaky extremists on the far left,” said Stanton. “They’ve concluded that Chick-fil-A is bigoted without the slightest bit of evidence – only that their founders believe in natural marriage. Their position sits very well with the rest of us.”

But it goes beyond even that. Their food is superb, and their service is even better. Walking into a Chick-fil-A isn’t an iffy experience as it is with other fast-food chains like McDonald’s or KFC, where you might come across an employee who doesn’t really care about good service and the state of the restaurant reflects it.

The truth is, Chick-fil-A is successful because it’s a restaurant that reflects the values of the American majority. What’s more, it’s a strong reminder to America of its own identity, and left-leaning activists can’t tolerate the idea of an America still believing in its own values. As far as the activists are concerned, they need you to believe that the majority is leaning their way.

The numbers don’t lie, though.

The post The LGBT Protests of Chick-fil-A Have Only Made It More Powerful, and Here’s Why That’s the Case appeared first on RedState.

Westlake Legal Group ChickFilAMBStadium-300x171 The LGBT Protests of Chick-fil-A Have Only Made It More Powerful, and Here’s Why That’s the Case service Politics LGBT leftists Front Page Stories Featured Story Culture & Faith Culture christian Chick-Fil-A Business & Economy Allow Media Exception Activists   Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

No, the U.S. hasn’t declared that children of military servicemen born abroad aren’t citizens

Westlake Legal Group r-2 No, the U.S. hasn’t declared that children of military servicemen born abroad aren’t citizens Women uscis Trump The Blog service military men malor lind immigration cuccinelli Citizenship children

A hair-raising sentence that caused a minor freakout on political Twitter this afternoon from the new citizenship guidelines issued by the feds today: “USCIS is updating its policy regarding children of U.S. government employees and U.S. armed forces members employed or stationed outside the United States to explain that they are not considered to be ‘residing in the United States’ for purposes of acquiring citizenship under INA 320.”

So … children of U.S. military servicemen and women born abroad are no longer citizens? For a guy who likes to remind people how much he loves the military, Trump doesn’t seem to love the military so much here!

But no, that’s not what the policy says. You can read the actual guidelines here but the USCIS fact sheet is clear enough. Note well:

Who This Policy Update Does Not Affect

This policy does not affect children born outside the United States who were citizens at birth or who have already acquired citizenship, including children who:

Were born to two U.S. citizen parents, at least one of whom has had a residence in the United States or one of its outlying possessions before the child’s birth;

Were born to married parents, one of whom is a U.S. citizen and one a foreign national, if the U.S. citizen parent was physically present in the U.S. or one of its outlying possessions for at least five years, at least two of which were after they turned 14 years old;

How many children born abroad to servicemen and women are covered by those two categories? Ninety-five percent? More? None of them are touched by the new policy.

Today’s guidelines are a result of a bit of confusion between two different immigration statutes, says the USCIS in its explanation of the change. Section 320 of the Immigration and Nationality Act explains how a child who was born abroad can automatically become an American citizen. Basically, if one parent is a U.S. citizen, the child is under 18, and the child is now residing in the U.S. with the parent, he/she gets citizenship. All he/she has to do is take the oath. Section 322 is for children born abroad who don’t fit that criteria, i.e. if the family is now residing outside the U.S. In that case the child doesn’t get automatic citizenship but can be naturalized as an American citizen. In the case of a service member, as long as they’re a U.S. citizen and were present in the U.S. for at least five years after they turned 14 — and if you’re deployed abroad on military orders, that counts as “present in the U.S.” — then they can file some extra paperwork and have their child naturalized.

Until today, military members could file under either 320 or 322, claiming that they were residing in the U.S. even while deployed abroad *or* claiming that they weren’t residing in the U.S. but were “physically present.” The new policy clarifies that, from now on, it’s only the second route that’s available to them until they’re residing back home again.

First, permitting a child to be eligible simultaneously for a Certificate of Citizenship under INA 320 and for naturalization under INA 322 conflicts with the language of INA 322(a), which states that a parent “may apply for naturalization on behalf of a child born outside of the United States who has not acquired citizenship automatically under INA 320.”

Second, considering children who are living outside of the United States to be “residing in the United States” conflicts with the definition of “residence” at INA 101(a)(33), which defines “residence” as a person’s “principal, actual dwelling place in fact.”

Third, considering these children to be “residing in the United States” is at odds with INA 322(d), which was enacted in 2008,16 4 years after USCIS issued policy guidance on the topic. When Congress enacted INA 322(d), it provided for special procedures in cases involving the naturalization of “a child of a member of the Armed Forces of the United States who is authorized to accompany such member and reside abroad with the member pursuant to the member’s official orders, and is so accompanying and residing with the member.” Congress placed this provision under INA 322, which applies only to children “residing outside of the United States.” It did not provide similar language for such children to acquire citizenship under INA 320.

It boils down to this (if I’m understanding it correctly). Starting next month, a child born abroad to an American citizen in the military is no longer treated as though they’re residing in the U.S. If you want automatic citizenship for that child under 320, you need to wait until you come home and establish U.S. residency for the child here. Or, if you don’t want to wait until you’re back in the U.S., you can file paperwork under 322 that’ll make them a naturalized citizen even while they’re residing abroad. By forcing families who want to speed up the process to use 322 instead of 320, the feds are going to make servicemen to jump through more bureaucratic hoops and do more paperwork, which is a pain. But no one’s kid is being rendered ineligible for citizenship by the policy. They’re still fully entitled to it.

One question I have, though. If you go the 322 route, where does that leave your child with respect to his/her constitutional eligibility to be president as a “natural-born” citizen? Section 322 lays out the procedure for “naturalization on behalf of a child born outside of the United States who has not acquired citizenship automatically.” If the child is naturalized, by definition it’s not natural-born, right?

The post No, the U.S. hasn’t declared that children of military servicemen born abroad aren’t citizens appeared first on Hot Air.

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Meet the 6 locals we named the Northern Virginians of the Year

In today’s always-on-the-go world, it can be hard to make time to do something for the greater good. Not so for these humanitarians. Below, you’ll find six locals who are leading the way in making our region a better place. Meet our 2019 class of Northern Virginians of the Year.

Westlake Legal Group Zimmerman Meet the 6 locals we named the Northern Virginians of the Year volunteerism service Northern Virginians of the Year locals leaders humanitarians Culture Features Culture community service
Chris Zimmerman conducts the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra. (Photo by Robert Merhaut)
Chris Zimmerman

A world-class maestro who wants kids to fall in love with classical music

Chris Zimmerman celebrates his 10th anniversary this year as the music director and conductor of the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra. And although he’s known for leading one of the region’s most outstanding ensembles, he’s equally committed to the orchestra’s education initiatives.

“I’m constantly trying to attract more people to our concerts,” says Zimmerman. “It’s somewhat exciting and frustrating. I don’t want to be proselytizing, but I want to educate audiences to the enjoyment of classical music, including contemporary music, enhancing the education initiatives to bring music to thousands of students across Fairfax County.”

Education has been part of the Fairfax Symphony’s mission since its founding in 1975—and the FSO has partnered with Fairfax County Public Schools for more than 40 years. “We have some of our musicians play with student orchestras, so we’ll send a violinist, a violist, a bass player out to sit in their rehearsal,” says Zimmerman. “One reason we focus on educational activities is it’s a way to attract the attention of corporate potential funders, by saying, ‘This is a cause worth being behind.’”

Another program invites student musicians to sit side-by-side with the professional musicians. The most recent concert, in April, had 19 students performing The Planets by Gustav Holst. “They must be [musically] educated and living in Fairfax County to participate in a competitive audition,” says Zimmerman of the competitive student selection process.

Still another project that’s gaining popularity is having “youngsters from an elementary school listen to music and be inspired to paint a piece of art,” shares Zimmerman. “They’re displayed and I’m amazed at the level of the artwork.”

Zimmerman believes that music is “vital to life” and his constant goal is to “maintain and develop a wide range of music, from the Bs (Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig von Beethoven and Johannes Brahms) to modern music,” he explains. “People used to resist a little bit, but we’re trying to attract people who don’t necessarily like classical music. We’re not trying to compromise, we’re trying to widen the diet.”

The Falls Church resident grew up in England (thus the British accent) where “opera boomed through the speakers at home and it rubbed off on me. I started playing the piano at 8, which is old [for England]. I was 12 when I started playing the violin. My son is on the brink of becoming a professional violinist,” he says proudly.

Westlake Legal Group Sur-Bell Meet the 6 locals we named the Northern Virginians of the Year volunteerism service Northern Virginians of the Year locals leaders humanitarians Culture Features Culture community service
Sue Bell (Photo by Christin Boggs Peyper)
Sue Bell

An animal lover on a mission to create a better life for abandoned pets

Afayette County, West Virginia, vacation in December 2001 changed the lives of Sue Bell, her husband, thousands of dogs and cats and their adoptive parents. That’s when they came across a local animal shelter that was operating out of a small trailer because a flood had taken their facilities—and the lives of more than 50 dogs.

Bell says, “My greatest passion is animals.” Which explains why—when she came upon that trailer—she rescued three dogs and found forever homes for them. Bell made more 12-hour round trips to the shelter to rescue more dogs from certain euthanasia. Her goal, which she met, was to save 50 animals to equal the number that lost their lives.

“I was in the deep end before I knew it,” says Bell. Her nonprofit, Homeward Trails, came from that experience. “We now have five full-time staff people, 20 part-time people and 750 volunteers.”

The majority of the animals are rescued from the mid-Atlantic area, but she also went to Puerto Rico after thousands of cats and dogs were abandoned in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Homeward Trails has also rescued dogs from Thailand that would have been sent to meat production facilities.

Of the 400 rescue shelters in Virginia, Homeward Trails was ranked No. 10 for animals by the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies in 2018, although they are far from the 10th largest shelter in the state. “We could not be at 10 without the doctors and volunteers and donors; it’s a large village of people,” says Bell.

It’s not just finding homes for pets in need. Bell, an Arlington resident, is committed to connecting animals for the greater good. “We’ve partnered with ASPAN (Arlington Street People Assistance Network) to bring animals to visit with homeless clients to brighten their days and Doorways for Women and Families to promote awareness around domestic violence. We lobbied the Virginia legislature because victims of domestic abuse will not leave the abusive situation if the abuser threatens the family pet. And, we bring pets to local colleges during final exams to help with the stress,” says Bell.

“With animal rescue, I’ve learned a lot of bad things,” she says. “But the vast majority of people want to do right by their animals. When you help animals, you’re helping the people who care about them.”

Westlake Legal Group Marty-Swaim Meet the 6 locals we named the Northern Virginians of the Year volunteerism service Northern Virginians of the Year locals leaders humanitarians Culture Features Culture community service
Marty Swaim (Photo by Robert Merhaut)
Marty Swaim

An Arlington teacher challenging systemic racism in schools

Martha (Marty) Swaim became interested in the issue of racism and how it impacts testing scores when she served for four years on the Washington, DC school board. It continued when she moved to Arlington and taught social studies in middle and high school from 1984 to 2001.

“Why are some children, primarily students of color, below grade level?” she says she wanted to know. “These students didn’t have disabilities, and the basic reason is racism. It’s not intended; it’s part of the whole society and bred in our reptilian brain.”

“That led me to look for ways how racism works,” explains Swaim. “Over the years, I developed activities and content to really move people from understanding in their heads to their hearts.”

Swain co-founded Challenging Racism in 2004. The nonprofit hosts year-long workshops to teach people in Arlington, as well as other local school districts, about issues surrounding race.

The goal of the seminars, led by Swaim and a team of trained facilitators, is to ultimately eliminate systemic racism in order to build an equitable society. Swaim has spent decades working to reduce the achievement gap and to bring meaningful, effective educational programs to Northern Virginia.

When she first launched Challenging Racism, Swaim had to make phone calls and ask personally for people to attend. Now, 15 years later, she keeps waitlists for the workshops.

“Teaching our kids compassion is so much more than just telling them to ‘be nice,’” says Swaim. “As technology advances, there are countless new opportunities to bring diversity and inclusivity to otherwise homogenous classroom spaces and foster meaningful connections between students.”

Swaim’s particularly proud that when Ford’s Theatre in DC recently presented Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men with a cast of six white men and six black men, they brought Challenging Racism facilitators in to discuss the ideas and methods for talking about racism in juries. They had sessions with educators, many of whom were bringing their students to see the show. “This gave them a lesson plan, discussion questions and character descriptions,” says Swaim.

To her, the greatest accomplishment would be to have all students “on level”—meaning testing scores reflect their true education level without interference from systemic racism—by third grade. It’s a goal, Swaim says, that Challenging Racism is actively working toward for students in Northern Virginia. “It’s possible. People do change. Saying ‘I’m colorblind’ means you are denying part of your reality and how you fit into our social system.”

Westlake Legal Group Kevin-Penn Meet the 6 locals we named the Northern Virginians of the Year volunteerism service Northern Virginians of the Year locals leaders humanitarians Culture Features Culture community service
Kevin Penn (Photo by Christin Boggs Peyper)
Capt. Kevin Penn 

A retired Marine offering comfort to the children of fallen soldiers

Retired Capt. Kevin Penn, an Alexandria resident, was surprised to be honored as the TAPS Military Mentor of the Year. But for anyone who knows Penn, it’s easy to see why. He was honored for his years of volunteer service in the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) at its annual gala in March. The Arlington-based national nonprofit works with active and retired members of the armed services on a volunteer basis to give comfort and support to the surviving families of our nation’s fallen heroes.

“TAPS isn’t what I do, it’s what I am,” says Penn. In his acceptance speech at the gala, most of which was dedicated to thanking others for their service, he said, “If what you’re doing requires no sacrifice, then you can do more.”

Penn enlisted in the Marines two months out of high school and became a helicopter mechanic, then a drill instructor for a few years. “There’s 500 Marines who are still on active duty and they’ll never forget me,” says Penn. After studying psychology at California State University San Marcos, he spent the last half of his 20 years and eight days of Marine service as an intelligence officer.

In 2010, he joined TAPS. He regularly volunteers at the annual Good Grief Camp (held in Washington, DC Memorial Day weekend) and whenever TAPS families need him, both locally and across the country. He tells the children that “I will answer the phone anytime they call. If the call isn’t an emergency, I’ll tell them I’ll call back, but I’ll always answer the phone,” he says of offering comfort to those who have lost their parents.

“My TAPS families mean the absolute world to me,” says Penn. “Building memories with these incredible kids is without question the single best thing I do with my time. Devoting my time and energy gives me a lot of satisfaction and fulfillment. They’ve lost the unthinkable.”

Penn regularly shows up at The Light Horse bar in Alexandria where he works for tips, which he donates to TAPS. The bar regularly sponsors TAPS takeovers, and money from each pour is donated to the program.

When Penn is behind the bar, he’s pouring drinks, but also spreading the word about TAPS with his engaging personality.

“I’ve learned that connecting with other people is the most important thing in the world,” he says. “And through that connection, everything is possible.”

Westlake Legal Group Maria-Booker Meet the 6 locals we named the Northern Virginians of the Year volunteerism service Northern Virginians of the Year locals leaders humanitarians Culture Features Culture community service
Maria Booker (Photo by Robert Merhaut)
Maria Booker

A nonprofit executive director raising big funds for pediatric cancer research.

Maria Booker, executive director of Chance for Life in Alexandria, has been giving since her college days, when she attended Christopher Newport University. In 1993, she was part her university’s inaugural group of AmeriCorps volunteers who were partnering with the local nonprofit, Alternatives, Inc., in Hampton.

“It grew on me gradually,” says Booker. “I like giving back to the community.”

Following college, she joined the Peace Corps and ended up in Ukraine where, among other things, she helped get a bathroom into a remote school and worked on writing an AIDS awareness grant.

Upon returning to Virginia, she worked for the Capital Area Food Bank and then, last fall, she became part of Chance for Life. Brad and Callie Nierenberg founded the organization in 2005 when his two-year-old goddaughter was diagnosed with cancer. Since then, CFL has raised $6.5 million to support clinical trials at Children’s National Hospital System in DC and Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. Chance for Life’s biggest fundraiser is an annual poker tournament, taste experience and party in March that has grown from an intimate poker fundraiser for 20 people to an annual celebration for 2,000-plus guests.

Booker shares the Neirenbergs’ frustration that 15,000 children are struck by cancer every year, yet only 3% of cancer dollars spent by the federal government goes to pediatric research. Dedicated research is necessary because children’s bodies react differently to cancer and to the existing treatments.

“I can’t imagine telling your children, ‘I can’t make you feel better.’ It’s not like being hungry and giving someone a sandwich,” muses Booker, who also works as a nonproft staff consultant for RedPeg Marketing.

But, with Booker behind organizations like Chance for Life, there’s hope. “Last year we invested $250,000 into a grant for T-cell research and donated another $600,000 this February,” she says. “The T-cells are trained to target and fight cancer cells. One patient, 10-year-old Matilda, has had cancer since she was six months old. After receiving trained T-cells, she was able to move out of hospice care.”

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Business Women’s Giving Circle (Photo by Christin Boggs Peyper)
Business Women’s Giving Circle

A community of women supporting the next generation of STEM leaders

The 58 members of the Business Women’s Giving Circle know that investing in girls and young women early on will have a positive impact on them as they grow up and eventually pursue their own careers. That’s the idea behind the philanthropic group, an initiative of The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia. BWGC brings together female CEOs, senior consultants, presidents, principals and other executives to support programs and organizations that promote business innovation, entrepreneurship and empowering opportunities in STEM fields for women and girls.

Launched in 2014, BWGC has so far awarded $230,500 to organizations providing exciting experiences in STEM.

Tanya La Force, founder of Mission Focused Consulting and chair of the Business Women’s Giving Circle, says, “Our portfolio of grantees proves our focus on supporting girls and young women’s journeys towards STEM careers by investing in innovative programs that inspire, teach and/or deliver STEM career-readiness skills.”

To date, the group’s monetary support has helped more than 2,100 girls and young women. These include programs for young girls who never thought they could be good at math, to technical certification programs that prepare young women to enter careers in technology. Like any successful business woman, the group looks for ROI on the groups they choose to support—in the form of demonstrably putting the girls and young women on the right path.

“For example, SHINE for Girls saw great increases in math scores by teaching algebra through dance to at-risk girls” in middle school, including at its chapter in the DC region, says LaForce. With support from the Business Women’s Giving Circle, the organization reported an increase of 147% in math test scores for the girls who participated in the program in 2016, and over 300% in 2017.

Says LaForce, “It takes a village. So, we are honored to support more girls and young women on this journey.”

This post originally appeared in our June 2019 issue. To stay up to date with Northern Virginia, subscribe to our newsletters.

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