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by Katie Pyzyk — November 29, 2016 at 11:05 am 0

Crabb and Johnson's son wearing dress while cycling

Updated at 12:45 p.m. — The Arlington County Human Rights Commission contacted Crabb and Johnson minutes ago about their appeal, informing them that reasonable grounds do exist to support allegations of discrimination based on gender. The written decision notes that the “no long dresses” policy is not specific and there are “at least twenty-seven images” on the daycare’s website of girls wearing dresses, including some of similar lengths to the boy’s dress. The commission notes that the boy is the only child who has been disciplined over the policy and that Crabb and Johnson received no warnings or reminders about their son’s dress length. The commission says evidence indicates the boy was expelled as retaliation for his parents speaking up about their child’s dress being removed. The Arlington County Human Rights Commission’s Executive Director has been authorized to initiate “conciliation efforts” between the parties.

Earlier: An Arlington couple is accusing a local daycare of discrimination, saying their young son was kicked out for wearing a dress.

Kristen Johnson and Robin Crabb say their son had been wearing a dress to his daycare, the Arlington Children’s Center near Rosslyn, for several weeks when trouble suddenly broke out in November 2015. Arlington Children’s Center has not responded to ARLnow’s multiple requests for comment, but Johnson and Crabb shared their recollection of the events.

Johnson says last year she went to pick up her then-three-year-old son from daycare when she noticed he was not wearing his dress — which was in the style of Elsa’s dress in the animated movie “Frozen” — over his pants and shirt, as he had been when he was dropped off that morning. When her son said the dress had been taken off of him, Johnson questioned daycare employees about why that had happened.

At first she thought perhaps her son had gotten the dress dirty and staff therefore had to remove it. But staff told Johnson that the daycare center’s owner saw the boy wearing the dress and instructed staff to take it off.

“A teacher said [the owner] was irate when she saw my son wearing a dress,” Johnson says. “My son was essentially kicked out because he was wearing dress.”

She points out that although the boy had been wearing a shirt and pants under the dress because it was cold outside, the dress reportedly was taken off of him in front of the other children at the daycare.

“I said no one should take my son’s clothes off until they talk to my husband or myself first,” Johnson says.

An employee reportedly returned the dress to Johnson in a plastic bag but did not provide any additional information. Johnson requested to speak with the owner and staff said the owner would call her. Johnson says although she became angry at the lack of answers to her repeated questions about why the dress had been removed, she realized she wasn’t making progress and left the daycare without becoming disruptive.

Johnson says once she got home she called the daycare and spoke with the director. She recalls that the director also did not answer questions about the dress removal and told Johnson she would have to speak with the daycare’s owner. Johnson admits becoming frustrated at that point and hanging up on the director. “It was not my best moment, but I did it,” she says.

Boy wearing dressShe received a call from the owner shortly thereafter. The conversation quickly became “animated,” according to Johnson and her husband, Crabb, who joined the call when Johnson grew agitated. The couple repeatedly asked the owner if she instructed staff to remove the dress just because it was on a boy. The owner repeatedly stated that the center had a policy against long dresses for safety reasons. But Crabb believes the owner’s animated response to the questions indicates otherwise.

“If somebody violates a policy against long dresses, you don’t have an emotional reaction like that. You just say they’re not allowed to,” he says.

After more discussion about the long dress policy, the owner reportedly told the couple not to bring their son to the daycare again or employees would call police. The owner told the couple that the boy was expelled because of Johnson’s interactions with staff after discovering the dress had been removed.

Johnson says the expulsion is unjustified on those grounds because she was not inappropriate or aggressive with anyone, other than hanging up on the one employee. She says parents and staff who witnessed her at the daycare center on the day of the dress removal have attested to her appropriate behavior during the incident.

Children at Arlington Children's CareAlthough the daycare does indeed have a “no long dresses” rule, Crabb and Johnson say, they had never been warned that their son was violating the policy prior to this incident. Additionally, they say that the vague rule does not even state exactly where on a child’s body dresses are allowed to reach or what constitutes a violation.

The boy received the dress as a hand-me-down gift from one of the girls at the daycare. She reportedly had worn the dress at the center on more than one occasion without any repercussions. In fact, the girl was wearing the dress in a photo featured on the daycare’s website (above left).

Crabb and Johnson point out that the dress was longer on the girl than it was on their son; it reached nearly to the girl’s ankles but only mid-calf on the boy (above right). They say other girls also wore dresses longer than their son’s without reprimand, as seen in another photo from the center’s website (below right).

Children at Arlington Children's CenterCrabb and Johnson are certain their son was discriminated against for wearing non-gender conforming clothing and took their case to the Arlington County Human Rights Commission earlier this year. The commission investigated the case but did not rule in Crabb and Johnson’s favor.

A spokesperson for the Arlington County Office of Human Rights told ARLnow that all matters it investigates are confidential and it will not discuss them with anyone except the parties directly involved.

The commission’s ruling in the discrimination case was based on a number of factors, according to its final written report. One factor is that the parents did not inform the daycare that their son might have a “gender identity issue.” The commission also decided the dress in question was not related to his gender identity because it is a “costume dress,” and it cited insufficient evidence that the boy wore dresses outside of daycare.

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by Katie Pyzyk — November 21, 2016 at 3:30 pm 0

Startup Monday header

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

The next time you get direct marketing mail don’t be so quick to throw it out without at least taking a look. Consider that Lee Garvey and the employees at Click2Mail may have been the people working hard to get the materials into your mailbox.

Lee Garvey, founder of Click2MailGarvey worked for years at the U.S. Postal Service, starting as a mail carrier in Arlington and moving into other roles, before founding Click2Mail in 2004. His time as a mail carrier exposed him to a lot of local customers who encountered the same problem: They easily could send out a few letters at a time but had difficulty handling large groups of mail.

So Garvey launched a service to make it easier.

“If you’re just mailing five or 10 letters, it’s easy. But when you get into the higher numbers you have to have a system and a postage meter and all that stuff. So I set out to create an online system,” Garvey says. “I’ve experienced the problems we solve for our customers and the way I got started was identifying a problem and finding a way to solve it.”

The small business digitally creates many types of marketing mail, such as when a business sends out hundreds of postcards to advertise a promotion. Click2Mail also can personalize communications so that a car dealer, for example, can send a letter that personally addresses a customer and mentions the type of car the customer recently purchased. Another service is to offer quick turnarounds for “just in time” communications, which tend to be more time sensitive. Garvey says that if a customer submits a digital file by 8 p.m. on a weekday, Click2Mail often can send out personalized notifications as quickly as the next day for a fraction of what such a service used to cost.

“The sender of the postal mail doesn’t have to do anything. They send to us their assets and documents and mailing lists and we take care of the rest,” Garvey says.

Garvey launched Click2Mail while still working at the Postal Service. USPS officially ran it for three years but then decided not to oversee the service anymore. Around that time, Garvey ended up leaving the Postal Service and branched off Click2Mail as a separate entity. The business still partners with USPS, among others, and can be accessed both through its own website and through the Postal Service’s.

Click2Mail employees prepare for a video conferenceClick2Mail has an office in Clarendon and 15 employees who work throughout the United States. Garvey is a huge believer in allowing staff to work remotely at least a couple days a week — even the local employees — and relying on video conferencing for staff collaboration. He says the concept is “one of the benefits of having a largely digital business.”

The Click2Mail team has experienced ups and downs with the fluctuating economy and people’s changing desires to send physical mail, but it currently is in the process of expansion. The business is looking to hire new employees and is revamping its website. Click2Mail has also gained positive exposure thanks recent recognition from Entrepreneur as number 203 on the magazine’s list of the 360 best and most well-rounded small businesses in America.

“We’re very happy with the place where we are and we’re growing,” Garvey says.

Another positive industry trend, Garvey notes, is one that surprises many people: Traditional mail marketing and advertising is back on the rise.

“Businesses that years ago decided that they were going to go all digital and start sending everything by email… they discovered that the level of attention that’s paid to that type of thing is shrinking,” Garvey says. “People are throwing money at the digital world and discovering it’s not as effective as it used to be and the effectiveness of direct mail is increasing.”

Part of that shift may be due to an “everything old is new again” attitude and a “snail mail” revival thanks to millennials. Garvey explains that each year the Postal Service does a household survey and within the last year “they discovered that millennials are very enthusiastic about physical mail.”

But Garvey knows that going about direct mailing completely in an old school fashion isn’t sustainable in the long term. That’s why Click2Mail has continuously updated and modernized its services. It taps into the trend of companies integrating outsourced microservices.

“We have been following closely and adapting our services to that type of model,” Garvey says. “It’s an old thing in a lot of people’s minds, the idea of postal mail. But we’re doing it in a very modern, very technologically savvy way that gives people the opportunity to create mail in a ‘just in time’ fashion that you never could have imagined just a few years ago.”

by Katie Pyzyk — November 15, 2016 at 2:30 pm 0

The following is the fifth and final article in a weekly series about a “day in the life” of companies at the MakeOffices coworking space in Clarendon. The series is sponsored by MakeOffices.

Although coffee is readily available at the office when Local News Now Founder Scott Brodbeck arrives, he typically brings his own. He knows that he’ll need the earlier jump start before leaping right in at the office and turning on the police scanner while sifting through readers’ news tips.

While the business aspects of Local News Now and much of the daily writing for local news website ARLnow.com are done at the MakeOffices Clarendon home base, covering news means being ready to go out on assignment at any given time.

“For us, the location is great. Being able to walk to so many things has been huge,” says Brodbeck.

Obviously, there’s far more to Arlington than just Clarendon, but being based at such a central location in the county makes for easy transportation to story locations. Staff usually walk, run or drive to stories, although Brodbeck explains that they have not yet delved into a very Arlington-esque mode of transportation while on the clock.

“We haven’t biked to any stories yet, but it’s something we’re considering,” he says with a laugh.

On one particularly busy news day last month, Brodbeck took the short walk from his office to a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly opened Hyatt Place Hotel in Courthouse. He snaps photos and listens to speeches from corporate and county leaders as dozens sip champagne to celebrate the new development at the space previously occupied by Wilson Tavern, and Kitty O’Shea’s before it.

(Brodbeck refrained from imbibing the bubbly on the job, but isn’t opposed to an after-working-hours beer from one of MakeOffices’ kegerators.)

Along the way to the event, Brodbeck does what reporters do: He keeps an eye out for other potential stories. That means taking photos of progress at two nearby construction sites, investigating a “temporarily closed” sign at Five Guys (it has since reopened) and making a note to stop at the just-opened Blumen Cafe after the ribbon-cutting event.

Business does not come to a halt at Local News Now headquarters when Brodbeck and other reporters are out in the field. Back at the office, Director of Sales and Business Engagement Meghan McMahon gears up to meet with advertising clients. For her, location is also key for conducting work tasks.

“I work with a lot of local Arlington businesses. Being able to run in and out of the office to meet people… is very convenient,” she says.

McMahon’s life recently changed with the birth of her daughter and now another important aspect comes into play daily: balancing work life with being a mom.

Returning to a coworking space after maternity leave at first seemed overwhelming for McMahon, who suddenly had to factor breastfeeding into her daily routine. “When I first came in I saw that everything’s glass, everything’s open. I wondered where my privacy would be,” she says. “I was a little stressed about how to be in a working office environment and also be able to pump and do the things I have to do to be a new mom.”

But it turns out that MakeOffices Clarendon has an amenity McMahon wasn’t aware of at first. There are small, completely private, secure rooms called “wellness centers” that she now takes advantage of twice each work day.

“That was a sense of relief for me,” she says. “I can take a few minutes out of my day and go relax in the wellness rooms… It gives me 20 minutes of alone time so that I can get ‘mom stuff’ done.” (more…)

by Katie Pyzyk — November 14, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

Startup Monday header

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Sometimes business is booming, branding is on point and more customers pour in without prompting. Other times, a business might need an extra punch. That’s where Punch Digital Strategies comes in.

Punch Digital StrategiesIn the crowded field of digital marketing, the creative strategists at Punch aim to set themselves apart by offering clients the “whole package.” Co-Founder and Creative Director Joe DePalma explains that Punch is a boutique agency and competitors in that space often only focus on one thing, such as brand identity or development or design.

“The success stories we have had is when we started to merge the idea of strategy and content with design,” he says. “From a product delivery standpoint we have a unique approach to how we collaborate. Being in control of not only the content but also the design and development, every facet, makes the final project come to life.”

Co-Founder Brian Tillman adds that “clients are often good at knowing their technical content, but not marketing.” That creates a “mismatched user experience and message. We’re trying to fuse those two things,” he says.

The agency consists of writers, designers and developers who focus on producing digital elements — such as websites, mobile apps, videos and downloadable content — to create the “next generation” for each client’s brand identity and message. The digital aspect allows Punch to be browser-based both internally and while interacting with clients.

“Instead of the old way where you’d do a big reveal on a poster board and send versions back and forth and have long email chains where things get lost, we do things in a much more efficient way,” Tillman says. “For clients it’s a lot quicker, more collaborative and more involved. And it helps to reduce errors and miscommunication.”

The Punch Digital Strategies team Even though the business is mostly web-based, the co-founders think it’s important to also have an office presence where the employees can collaborate and bounce ideas off of each other in front of a white board, rather than all employees working remotely. “You’re going to get a better product and the client’s going to see value in that,” DePalma says.

Part of offering high-quality deliverables involves researching and incorporating the most up-to-date digital elements and new media. For example, Punch recently created a virtual reality video that users could access on their mobile phones and view through disposable cardboard VR goggles.

“As people consume things differently our tactical delivery will change,” Tillman says. “The medium is constantly evolving. We have to stay ahead of the curve.”

Plus, Tillman says, having a cache of tech and cybersecurity clients means constantly coming up with compelling ways to present dry material. For instance, the VR project was for a business that makes software, but “making software is boring,” he says. “We needed to figure out a really interesting and immersive and creative way to get people excited about it.”

Tillman and DePalma met while working at another agency and decided to break off to start their own business about two years ago. They now have a 10-person creative team and moved into an office in Shirlington earlier this year. Although launching a startup can be a daunting endeavor — especially because they chose to be self-funded — the Punch co-founders say it was worth taking the risk.

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by Katie Pyzyk — November 9, 2016 at 3:45 pm 0

Simone Biles visiting Arlington gymnasts - photo courtesy Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation

A group of young gymnasts has been doing a lot of jumping and dancing around. This time it’s not for one of their performances, but rather because they won a visit from Olympic gold medal gymnast Simone Biles.

Members of the Arlington Gymnastics program were granted the visit today at Barcroft Sports and Fitness Center as a reward for their efforts in selling tickets to the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions, which takes place at the Verizon Center on Thursday.

The Arlington Gymnastics program consists of about 200 girls on the Arlington Aerials team, about 40 boys on the Arlington Tigers team and more than 1,000 weekly gymnastics class participants of all ages. They are all welcome to attend the special meet-and-greet with Biles.

Twenty-five of the young gymnasts also will be a part of the show at the Verizon Center tomorrow, according to Arlington Gymnastics employee and coach Sonja Hird Clark. The children will be a part of the opening act and for a time will share the stage with Olympians, who will be performing on various pieces of equipment.

Arlington Gymnastics membersAs far as today’s Biles visit in Arlington, Hird Clark says it’s exciting for the local gymnasts to be able to see an Olympian in the gym where they train.

“The kids work so hard at this sport and it’s so exciting for them to have the chance to see an Olympian,” she says. “They overcome mental blocks and fears when they see a gold medalist walking through that door.”

The Arlington Gymnastics program is subsidized by Arlington County through the parks and recreation department. Hird Clark says it gives members of all socioeconomic statuses a chance to get involved in gymnastics.

“One of the things that excites me about our gym club is it’s all walks of life,” she says. “We have every type of child in our community… and that’s inspiring to me.”

Photo (top) courtesy Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation

by Katie Pyzyk — November 8, 2016 at 7:00 pm 0

(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Local candidates celebrated victories Tuesday night while shocked Democrats watched the presidential election slip out of their grasp.

County Board Chair Libby Garvey will serve another term after defeating independent Audrey Clement. With all absentee ballots counted, Garvey and Clement have 71 and 27 percent of the vote, respectively.

Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey gives a speech on election night 2016“I’d like to give a shout-out to my opponent, Audrey Clement,” said Garvey in a speech at the Democratic victory party at Sehkraft Brewing in Clarendon. It’s important for all voices to be heard in a democracy, Garvey said.

Tannia Talento and Nancy Van Doren, who both ran unopposed, have won seats on the Arlington County School Board.

Arlingtonians have overwhelmingly voted in favor of all four bond referenda. Metro and transportation has 78 percent approval, parks and recreation has 75 percent, community infrastructure has 75 percent and the Arlington Public Schools bond has 80 percent.

Like Virginia voters statewide, Arlington County voters rejected a “right-to-work” state constitutional amendment while approving an amendment providing property tax relief to the spouses of fallen first responders.

Arlington County voters chose Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. In that race, Clinton has 76 percent, Trump has 17 percent, Gary Johnson has 3 percent, Jill Stein has 1 percent and Evan McMullin has 2 percent.

Clinton’s net 71,724 vote victory over Trump in Arlington contributed significantly to her 182,954 vote margin over Trump statewide.

An initially optimistic mood at the Democratic event at Sehkraft gave way to anxiety over the results of the presidential race. At 10:40 p.m., CNN called Virginia for Hillary Clinton, lightening the mood a bit. Early Wednesday morning, however, the race was called for Donald Trump, raising questions about how Arlington might fare under a Trump administration.

In the 8th congressional district race, Arlington County voters gave a large margin of victory to incumbent Democrat Rep. Don Beyer, with 71 percent of the vote over Republican opponent Charles Hernick with 25 percent. That margin, however, was narrower than Clinton’s 76-17 margin over Trump in Arlington.

Beyer won the district as a whole 68 percent to 27 percent for Hernick.

Voting at Lyon Village Community HallCounty election officials did not receive reports of any major local voting issues. They say there were no lines at any of the county polling places within the last half hour of voting, indicating most residents who intended to vote already had. There were long lines at many polling places this morning, but they largely died down after 9 a.m.

Before the evening rush, Arlington County Registrar Linda Lindberg had said most precincts reported about 50 percent voter turnout, while another 25 percent or so voted absentee.

Lindberg expects final numbers to be close to those from 2012, when Arlington experienced 83 percent voter turnout. About 118,000 ballots were cast at that time, which was a county record.

ARLnow conducted a live video broadcast tonight from Sehkraft from 7:30-9:30 p.m., in which editor Scott Brodbeck spoke with elected officials including County Board Chair Libby Garvey, County Board Vice Chair Jay Fisette and Virginia state senator Adam Ebbin. The video from the broadcast is available above.

by Katie Pyzyk — November 8, 2016 at 2:00 pm 0

The following is the fourth in a weekly mini-series of articles about a “day in the life” of companies at the MakeOffices coworking space in Clarendon. The series is sponsored by MakeOffices.

The employees at Winking Fish have a knack for thinking “outside the bowl” to make you notice a business. Other people’s businesses, that is.

If you have lived in, worked in, eaten in or passed through Arlington during the past eight years, the odds are good that you’ve spotted the creative strategy and design firm’s work at least once.

Perhaps you’ve seen their branding and design work for the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, such as the lamppost banners and marketing materials for popular events like the farmer’s market, wine and craft beer festival, movie nights and jazz festival. Or maybe it’s the menus and promotional items they design for Vintage Restaurants Group — which owns Ragtime, Rhodeside Grill and William Jeffrey’s Tavern in Arlington and Dogwood Tavern in Falls Church. They also do pro bono work for the Arlington Free Clinic.

Director of strategy and engagement Maria Gallagher says working with local clients — in addition to national clients like LinkedIn and the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund — is important to the whole four-person Winking Fish team.

“We’ve got a pretty solid mix of some nationally-based clients… and a really nice mix of local Arlington businesses,” she says. “It’s nice when you’re supporting the businesses around you and then you’re seeing your work in action, too.”

The Winking Fish employees’ tasks vary a bit from day to day, but they all revolve around developing and maintaining businesses’ identities. Gallagher spends her time contemplating communications and messaging strategies while art director Parisa Damian sketches out ideas and digitally designs marketing materials.

Meanwhile, senior graphic designer Robyn Davis examines color swatches to determine which visual elements fit best with a particular client’s style. “I haven’t been able to do anything ‘pretty’ in a while because I came from an academic environment where it can be kind of boring,” Davis says. “It’s nice to be able to do different kinds of work.”

There is one thing, though, that remains the same each day: The team members get a lot of “together time.” A lot of together time.

Gallagher is married to Winking Fish principal Kieran Daly, and they’ve been friends with Damian and Davis for years. The four work together in a row of three adjacent offices and spend time together outside of work. Plus, they have lunch together nearly every day — sometimes on-site in the MakeOffices Clarendon lunchroom and sometimes at nearby restaurants. “It’s kind of nice to have that break and down time together,” Gallagher says.

Having an office in the coworking space has strengthened not only their connections with each other, but also with other businesses at MakeOffices Clarendon.

“Within two weeks [of moving here] we had a new website client,” Daly says. Fostering such connections was part of the whole plan, Gallagher explains. “That is one of the reasons we were thinking about a space like this, for the business networking it naturally promotes,” she says.

In addition to drumming up new clients, being in the coworking space creates an environment for learning different business strategies. “There’s a lot of natural opportunity to get different perspectives on running a small business. That’s a big plus,” Daly says.

One learning opportunity the Winking Fish employees especially appreciate is the once-a-month breakfast MakeOffices hosts, which includes various tenants as guest speakers.

“I went to one of those and realized I had no idea that kind of business was here in the building,” Gallagher says. “It’s nice to hear about those working models and how people are challenged and overcoming some challenges.”

For a creative firm like Winking Fish, image really is everything. The team finds that the coworking space portrays a positive, professional image to clients who visit. “It’s always fun to bring someone in here for the first time,” Gallagher says. “Everyone always comments on the energy. It’s vibrant.”

Daly explains that even though Winking Fish was in its previous building for five years, the space wasn’t very conducive to interacting with the other people there. “There really is a great energy change for us,” he says.

A standalone space also doesn’t offer the same flexibility, Daly says. “As a smaller business it’s nice to be able to have the option to add another office a couple of doors down if we need to and not be locked into a five-year term on an office space that might be too big or too small.”

And as an added bonus, “We don’t have to empty the dishwasher,” he says, laughing.

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by Katie Pyzyk — November 7, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

Startup Monday header

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

actNOW app prototypeRecently there has been more attention paid to how incidents of sexual assault are handled on college campuses. The team behind actNOW wants to help the victims of those campus assaults easily get access to the resources they need to deal with the frightening, overwhelming issue.

Co-founder Mark Harris says actNOW is a “survivor-centered model to help after an assault has occurred.” Many sexual assault victims are “unfamiliar with how to [report the incident]. There’s a lot of information on websites, but it’s not streamlined,” Harris says. That realization prompted him to look for a way to gather all the information into one place and make it available on a convenient mobile platform.

The web- and app-based service will allow victims of sexual assault to report the incident — either anonymously or with identifying information — to the authorities of their choice. The user enters information about the incident and can choose to inform the university, the campus Title IX office and/or the police.

Users who enter information and then don’t feel like they want to send it can also choose to store the information until they are ready to pass it on to officials. “After an event that is really traumatic, a person may want to wait to come forward,” explains co-founder and certified sexual assault nurse Stacy Garrity.

According to co-founder Lee Reynolds, the actNOW team wanted to “deliver something that’s uactNOW app prototypeseful and impactful” to allow victims to “tell their stories and… know it’s not the end of the road.”

The team members add that this is not a platform for people to put their stories out to the public or media, but rather for victims to report incidents to authorities. But it isn’t only intended to be a reporting platform; the app also will link victims to physical and psychological healthcare providers.

The service makes it less intimidating to report incidents and takes the guesswork out of trying to discover or remember available resources, the co-founders say. Harris stresses that “actNOW is a liaison to the services. We do not provide the actual psychological or physical health services.”

The service started as Harris’ academic project at Georgetown University, and he found Garrity through researching sexual assault resources. Along with Harris’ longtime friend Reynolds, the three officially launched actNOW in March. The Arlington-based business now has six employees.

Much time has been dedicated to researching and initiating appropriate app security measures for both sexual assault victims and the universities where assaults occur. “We have to be mindful of each university’s rules for investigations,” Harris says. In addition, actNOW employees want to make sure strong security measures are in place to ensure the utmost protection for victims’ identifying information and HIPAA privacy.

The actNOW team at a pitch competitionCurrently, actNOW has an app prototype and employees are getting feedback on it from sexual assault victims; so far, the response has been positive. The employees are actively seeking funding and participated in a pitch competition a couple weeks ago. They’re working toward formal app development, which they hope to begin with a tech firm in the next few weeks. If all goes well, they’d like to send the finished app to universities in April 2017 during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

The goal is to spend the next three years or so maturing actNOW through activities such as receiving focus group feedback and adding additional features to the service. Eventually, employees would like to explore the possibility of expanding the service to the military.

As far as measuring success with the tool, the actNOW team says that’s achieved when people actually use the tool to get help. “It’s really hard for people to report sexual assault,” Garrity says. “So when we start to see usage of the product, I think we’ll see success.”

The team hopes their passion for developing empowerment through technology will help victims both in the short term and down the road, while simultaneously raising awareness about sexual assault.

“We want to put control back in our users’ hands,” Harris says.

by Katie Pyzyk — November 1, 2016 at 1:35 pm 0

The following is the third in a weekly series of articles about a “day in the life” of companies at the MakeOffices coworking space in Clarendon. The mini-series, which will run this fall, is sponsored by MakeOffices.

Move over Willy Wonka, the employees at SharpSeat are now the ones offering golden tickets. Whether for concerts or sporting events or theater performances, SharpSeat hooks up secondary market buyers with their dream tickets. The service essentially “is like StubHub, but cheaper,” say co-founder Andrew McCulloch.

He and the other two co-founders, Mike Williams and Brad Kurtzman, met while attending James Madison University and moved to Northern Virginia to take jobs after graduating. They attended a lot of ticketed events upon moving to the area and found themselves giving advice to friends looking to buy good tickets, too. But there was one major problem.

“There’s a ton of fees that we got sick of paying when shopping around on other sites,” McCulloch says. “We saw an opening in the secondary ticket market.” That’s when they decided they could do it better.

The three did a lot of research on secondary market ticket sales and ended up using their industry knowledge to start SharpSeat as a side project. “We found the average person didn’t know to look any further than Stubhub for secondary [tickets]. We saw an opportunity there to give them a better alternative,” Williams says.

They all eventually left their jobs to work full-time on SharpSeat. “We basically wanted to find a way to make tickets cheaper for the end customer,” McCulloch says. “We knew if we could find a way to keep costs down and still get access to the same tickets the big guys were getting, we could pass the savings on to customers.”

Their average day is a lot different now. The employees live in Virginia Square — two live together and the other lives down the street — so the MakeOffices Clarendon location where they work makes for an easy commute.

“One of the best parts is not having the commute around D.C.,” McCulloch says. He also found it important to stop working from home every day. “Keeping work and life separate was big for me because working in my kitchen all the time I’m [distracted]… Plus, here we’re surrounded by a bunch of other entrepreneurs that are getting things done.”

Being among other entrepreneurs has helped the employees stay motivated when doing their daily tasks, which include maintaining the website, coordinating with site developers, researching what events are coming up and fielding calls from the customer service team. And according to Williams, one of the big challenges they constantly face is marketing.

“For every business, [marketing] is probably 90 percent of the battle,” he says. “Just getting the word out there and getting people to visit the site, more than just your family and friends.”

Thanks to the business’ growth since launching two years ago — there is currently about $2 billion worth of tickets listed on the site, although it fluctuates seasonally — the team recently has been able to hire out for help with that marketing burden.

“Now we’ve hired a marketing firm to help us and we’re really looking to expand,” Kurtzman says. “This is our first business so we kind of learn as we go. We had to teach ourselves everything.”

They also outsource much of the customer service to a team in Chicago, but not all of it. The co-founders all use their venue expertise to give advice to customers who contact them looking for tips on purchasing the best tickets.

“So often people ask what’s the best value and where’s the best place to sit,” says McCulloch. “We know where you’re going to get a better value… Just little intricacies like that help out when we’re talking to clients.” Williams agrees, adding, “We have good knowledge of all the D.C. venues so we help people out” with getting the best ticket for their money.

To remain experts in the industry, the three often do offsite work — attending different types of events locally as well as traveling to other cities to check out their venues. “Obviously, it’s really fun to do that, but it is a part of what we have to do [for research],” Williams says.

Kurtzman explains that traveling to sites is how they gain knowledge of the best seats so they can offer direct customer support. “StubHub doesn’t really do that kind of thing,” he says.

When the SharpSeat employees aren’t traveling, they take advantage of the amenities in the MakeOffices Clarendon coworking space.

“Getting dedicated office space around here… is pretty unrealistic, especially for a small company like us,” says Williams. “Even for something half as nice as this, if you want a dedicated space the rents around here are so much that it just never really made sense to us. When this space opened up we couldn’t believe how cheap it was for what you get.”

One of the perks included in that price is a set of rotating taps of regionally-brewed beers. The SharpSeat co-founders say they like to head to the kitchen to try out new brews, relax and meet employees from the other businesses in the coworking space.

“Plus, I love the massage chairs,” Brad says, as the others laugh. “I usually use them once a day.”

Between the MakeOffices benefits and the satisfaction of doing a job they love, the SharpSeat team experiences something many typical employees don’t: They actually enjoy going to work.

“At my old job, I hated going to work. Now I love coming to this office,” Kurtzman says. Williams agrees, saying with a smile, “It’s kind of crazy that we’re voluntarily coming into an office after we wanted so badly to get out of one.”

by Katie Pyzyk — October 31, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

Startup Monday header

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

There’s a well-known phrase claiming that from necessity comes invention. But sometimes it’s more the case of “from annoyance comes invention.” That’s exactly what prompted a local entrepreneur to invent an app to ease lost wanderers’ frustration at the grocery store.

Basket Helper app by Safety Now SolutionsMinh Tran, of Safety Now Solutions, has created an app called Basket Helper that points users to desired items at a Giant grocery store. It’s not for all Giant stores; very specifically, it’s for the Virginia Square Giant at 3450 Washington Blvd. Right now it’s a pilot that Tran hopes will expand to include other locations.

He took this on as a personal side project, unrelated to Safety Now Solutions’ typical work.

“We usually do public safety software, but this project I made kind of for myself because I was so frustrated with the shopping process,” he says. “Basically when I go to the supermarket I often don’t know where things are. It’s frustrating to walk up and down the store [aisles] staring at the sign that’s above you just to find the right aisle.”

Although some grocery stores have similar apps that show customers which items are in which aisles, Giant does not. Enter Tran and his test pilot.

Basket Helper app by Safety Now SolutionsThe app functions simply: Users type in the items they want to purchase, hit “search” and the store aisle number appears. The platform is programmed to accept many partial word matches or alternate spellings, so entering “lightbulb” and “light bulb” should both provide the correct aisle. Some brand names also come up with a match.

A unique way Tran envisions the app helping people is when they send someone else on an errand to the store. Users can go onto the website app and “actually send your partner the link” showing all the items’ locations, says Tran. “You can type in the things you need and then copy and paste the search link to your partner and they would know which aisle to go to,” he says. That means no more “I couldn’t find it” excuses from the person who went on the errand.

The pilot launched earlier this month on iOS, Android and a website app. Currently it is independent of the Giant grocery chain, but Tran hopes to change that. He has pitched the app idea to Giant and is waiting to hear if they’ll buy it and expand it to other stores. He’s also considered contacting Safeway, because that chain’s app only allows users to search for one item at a time.

Devising the app itself only took a day or two; what’s been time consuming is entering all the items into the database. But Tran only expects to deal with that for the pilot. Once stores purchase the app, they’ll then enter the information themselves. “You can do it quickly if you have multiple people doing it in multiple aisles,” Tran says. Perhaps, for example, employees could add the items to the database as they restock the shelves.

Keep in mind that this prototype can’t guarantee that every single item in the Virginia Square Giant is listed. But so far it comes pretty darn close; with about 3,000 searchable items, Tran estimates about 75 percent of the store’s items are in the database.

“I thought a tool like this would be helpful,” he says. “I wanted to see if people would embrace the idea.”

by Katie Pyzyk — October 25, 2016 at 2:35 pm 0

The following is the second in a weekly series of articles about a “day in the life” of companies at the MakeOffices coworking space in Clarendon. The mini-series, which will run this fall, is sponsored by MakeOffices.

Just like former Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton made a career of enabling Karl “The Mailman” Malone to score, the workers behind LeagueApps spend every day making assists. They strive to set up every community team that uses their management service with a slam dunk experience.

The app-based service provides a management platform and web presence for youth and recreational sports teams. It organizes tasks such as online registrations, schedules, score databases and payment collection. “It’s kind of like an all-in-one app for sports organizers to facilitate all the logistics of their registration and what they need to do during the season for communicating with their members,” says Steve Parker, LeagueApps co-founder and chief technology officer.

The service has about 50 employees in two offices: one in Arlington and one in New York. Although the New York contingent works out of a standalone office, Parker says the Arlington employees benefit from being in the MakeOffices Clarendon coworking space. “One of the things that I like, and I think everyone likes, is being around these other companies. The energy of this place is great,” he says.  “As a company, we see the value in having a nice working environment for people. [It’s] an intangible benefit that will pay dividends because they’ll feel more motivated and productive.”

Each day starts with the team having a stand-up meeting to go over what each person is working on, then the team disperses for their tasks. Although a lot of research, planning and strategy occurs in the Arlington office, much of what happens daily at this location is writing and testing code. Some businesses consider that an insular activity that can be performed remotely, but Parker believes staff members benefit from collaborating at the office.

“We can have in-person, live interactions, which are so valuable,” he says. “There’s a lot of questions that come up, issues that we encounter. Being able to talk through things and go to a whiteboard and discuss it live instead of just typing it… is a lot easier and more efficient.”

Having the two offices in different cities also creates a natural separation between the different tasks performed at each. Arlington houses the team behind the software platform and is considered the LeagueApps technology and product hub, whereas the New York office has a greater focus on business aspects such as sales, management, marketing, finance and customer success. “It’s a nice, clean delineation between what we do and they do,” Parker says.

The environment doesn’t just have a positive effect on employees. The conference rooms come in handy on the days when employees bring in clients for meetings. “The conference rooms and breakout rooms are key. We use those all the time,” says Parker, noting that clients are impressed when they visit the space.

So far, the business model appears to work. Parker says LeagueApps has nearly doubled in growth each year since its launch in 2011. “Just like any startup we’ve worked out a lot of kinks and have gotten to a point where we have a good model and we have a strong product-market fit. We’re continuing to refine that,” he says.

On occasion, the refining happens while interacting with employees at the other businesses in the coworking space. “Sometimes there’s technologies that we’re using that we can have conversations about and gain some quick insights,” says Parker.

One business improvement that has helped LeagueApps is choosing a handful of sports to focus on — such as lacrosse, soccer and baseball — and catering the platform to each, rather than having one generic platform that could be used for all sports. Customers get more value with the sport-specific focus because “different sports have slightly different ways of doing things,” Parker explains. “So we’ve built our platform to be customizable to all the different things that sport organizers do… our account executives and our support services are all tailored by sport.”

Although the team buckles down and works hard at the office, there’s plenty of room for being social. Such as when amidst the quiet typing and clicking, one employee nonchalantly teases another and everyone laughs. That spirit spills over from the work day into evening happy hours, sometimes on-site (MakeOffices provides a selection of locally-brewed beer on tap from four kegerators in the kitchen) and sometimes at nearby Clarendon watering holes.

“The space and location are good for team building activities,” Parker said.

(more…)

by Katie Pyzyk — October 18, 2016 at 12:30 pm 0

The following is the first in a weekly series of articles about a “day in the life” of companies at the MakeOffices coworking space in Clarendon. The mini-series, which will run this fall, is sponsored by MakeOffices.

“Okay, let’s do the stand-up meeting now. What’s everyone up to?” says Shy Pahlevani, co-founder of Hungry, an app-based food delivery service.

The nearly 20 employees at the startup take Pahlevani’s cue and begin with the morning routine of everyone standing up for a few minutes while announcing what they’re working on. It’s this kind of collaborative model that the business says helps it thrive.

And thrive it does. In its first month after opening to the public, Hungry sold more than 1,000 meals and has goals to further expand.

After everyone has had a turn at the morning meeting, some employees remain in Hungry’s office space at MakeOffices Clarendon to go about their tasks, such as marketing and coordinating deliveries. Others scatter to some of the areas that Hungry shares with the other coworking space occupants.

A few Hungry employees, including Director of Chef Onboarding Laura Medina, head to the kitchen to prepare for one of the chefs who’s bringing in his dish of the day. It’s the chef’s chance to show off what food he can offer, and this particular dish will be available for Hungry users to purchase for delivery the following week.

“For the rent that we spend, we’re grateful to have great looking countertops and a gourmet-looking kitchen,” says Pahlevani. “It’s very appealing when we take pictures of our food and pictures of our chefs when we use this environment here.”

The Hungry team helps the chef set up his food in various parts of the kitchen that will allow for the best photographs. Contract photographer Reema Desai takes a prepared dish over to the window that overlooks Clarendon Boulevard to get a little more natural light on the display. As she arranges the food, she turns it slightly one way, then adds a napkin, then fluffs some of the garnish. She’s trying to use the light to maximize all the available textures and colors. “[The chefs] make it easy for me. The dishes already have a lot of bright, different colors and I just try to bring that out,” she says.

Designer Collin O’Brien works with the newly snapped photos. He’s populating the app with them and ensures the presentation works across all platforms — internet, iOS and Android. Getting customers to buy the food is all about quality and presentation.

Marketing can be one of the most difficult aspects for a fledgling small business to master, but Hungry employees say the coworking environment actually makes it easier. Again, it comes back to collaboration, this time outside of the immediate Hungry team. “It’s a really great base for word of mouth,” says Pardis Saremi, Hungry’s director of public relations.

She explains that employees at other businesses in the coworking space get interested when they see the food displays and try the service themselves. That has led to many becoming customers of the delivery service and talking it up to others. “They’re telling their friends. I also had someone say they know chefs that would love to cook on our app. The connections and the word of mouth is just so, so helpful,” Saremi says. The on-site connections also have led to two other MakeOffices occupants booking Hungry’s chefs — through the app — to cater events.

She also credits the MakeOffices newsletter that goes out to all coworking office occupants with drumming up interest in Hungry’s events and promotions. About 300 people showed up at the startup’s first food event, just based on word of mouth among the coworking office occupants. That definitely wouldn’t have been the case in a standalone building, says Saremi.

“The food business is very tough. So getting people to try our dishes and recommend us to friends is really how we’re going to grow,” says Pahlevani. “Being able to start in a space that’s 40,000 square feet and has 70 plus companies is an easy way… to get some traction early, just leveraging the folks here.”

Potential customers aren’t the only thing office interactions have produced; the Hungry employees also have forged mutually beneficial business relationships. “It’s a great way to attract talent from other startups that may have complementary businesses and can support the things we’re doing,” Pahlevani says. “We’ve met photographers from other groups that are now helping us. We’ve met social media gurus that are now helping us.”

Saremi agrees, further explaining how employees constantly gain unexpected knowledge for improving the business. “I met a guy in this building who does something in physics and he was giving us ideas on things to do with our packaging to keep the food warm,” she says.

Sometimes the employees finish their daily tasks during what would be considered a traditional “quitting time.” But with all the action from the chef’s visit, this may end up being one of those times the work day stretches longer into the evening. “When you start a startup it’s a lot of hard work,” says Pahlevani. “It’s very motivating to see a lot of other people staying past 9 p.m. It encourages our employees.”

The Hungry employees are proud of the hard work they’ve put into the business and how much it already has grown, which makes the time pass quickly, says Saremi. “There’s definitely an entrepreneurial spirit and everyone is so supportive of each other in this space,” she says. “You meet so many people… you see everyone growing in this space.”

Expect to hear more about Hungry in the coming months: the company just announced that it raised $2.5 million in seed funding, in a round led by New York-based Timeless Capital.

by Katie Pyzyk — January 23, 2016 at 10:35 pm 0

2014 Battle at Ballston snowball fightYou’ve probably watched everything Netflix offers, surfed the far corners of the internet, and will be ready to get off the couch. Well, you’re in luck because several snowball fights around Arlington could be the perfect way to release some pent up energy tomorrow.

The most hotly anticipated we’ve found, based on the nearly 630 people who have already responded on Facebook, will be near the Clarendon Metro station at noon on Jan. 24.

There will be another snowball fight less than a mile away in Virginia Square. That one begins at 1:00 p.m. in Quincy Park (1021 N. Quincy Street), and the organizer’s Facebook post claims the fun will keep going “until people have tired themselves out.” A similar Quincy Park snowball fight nearly two years ago attracted more than a hundred participants.

Not to be outdone, residents along Columbia Pike have posted a Facebook invite for a “neighborly” snowball fight at Penrose Square (2501 Columbia Pike). The snow flinging is set to start at noon tomorrow.

Metro will remain closed throughout the weekend and travel conditions are expected to be terrible, so it’s recommended that snowball fight attendees plan on safely walking to the events.

File photo

by Katie Pyzyk — January 23, 2016 at 1:30 pm 0

(Updated at 3:10 p.m.) The conditions outside still are treacherous for travel, so staying indoors for a while is the best idea. But if you’re already suffering from cabin fever and have the ability to easily and safely walk somewhere for a bite or a drink, there are options. Some places are even running winter storm specials.

Here’s the list of Arlington restaurants and bars that told us they’re definitely open, at the very least with limited hours and menu selections:

Is something open in your neighborhood that didn’t make our list? Tweet us or send us an email so we can check out your tip and add the establishment to our list.

by Katie Pyzyk — January 8, 2014 at 3:45 pm 1,561 0

“Are you available for a vehicle search, 66 and 495, to assist state?” screeches the police radio.

Cpl. Dave Torpy with the Arlington County Police Department receives a call from dispatch regarding a potential drug situation in Fairfax County. He confirms he can respond to the mutual aid call and heads out to his car to join his partner waiting inside. But his is no ordinary partner. Torpy gets to work with Ozzie, one of ACPD’s K-9 members.

The two head to the scene and find state police waiting for them. State police had pulled over the driver of a truck who was spotted wrecking one of his front wheels when he crashed into a jersey barrier. The driver allegedly kept going until he was pulled over, and police suspected he was under the influence of some sort of substance. Torpy and Ozzie were requested from Arlington because no other K-9 teams were available in Fairfax.

Torpy walks Ozzie to the vehicle and indicates places to sniff by leading his hand close to, but not touching, certain areas. He explains that officers are not allowed to search inside a vehicle without a warrant, but the law allows the investigation of the vehicle’s perimeter. Should a K-9 partner “hit” on a scent of drugs wafting from inside the vehicle to the outside, that’s considered probable cause and officers may perform a full search.

ACPD K-9 "Ozzie" searches a suspect vehicle for drugsHe points out areas where dogs often pick up drug scents emanating from inside, such as along door cracks or crevices in the vehicle body. But Ozzie doesn’t need any leading and pulls Torpy to a different portion of the vehicle. Ozzie stands up on the side of the truck bed, scratching and emitting low growls.

The multiple instances of scratching and barking are exactly what police look for; those actions are what the dogs are trained to do when they smell drugs. That is the permission police need to open this particular vehicle for probable cause and to continue their search.

Ozzie is allowed inside the vehicle and he repeatedly sniffs and scratches at the sun visors and along cracks around the door. Torpy explains those are two common places for suspects to stash drugs quickly when they’re getting pulled over by police.

When it’s clear that Ozzie smells something out of the ordinary, he’s led back to the ACPD cruiser to wait. It’s now time for humans to take over and to continue the search for illicit substances. Once humans enter the equation, dogs typically are not brought back in. Humans searching for items might spread the scent from a “hot” area to places where nothing was hidden. Bringing in a dog at that point could yield, for example, a dozen hits in a vehicle that previously only had one.

“He really likes this vehicle,” Torpy said. “He paid attention to the open window a lot and actually barked and scratched along the seams. If you weren’t initially looking for dope, you wouldn’t necessarily look at the seams. But his nose took us there so we can search further.”

ACPD K-9 OzzieOzzie, a Belgian Malinois, is one of the nine dogs in ACPD’s K-9 unit. Seven are “dual purpose” or patrol dogs that assist with building searches, evidence recovery, criminal apprehension and narcotics detection. Two are trained solely to detect explosives; one bomb detection dog belongs to a crime scene agent and the other belongs to a school resource officer.

Most of the dogs are purchased from reputable breeders in Europe, but the two bomb dogs were rescues. One was adopted from a shelter in Loudoun County and the other was donated by a family that could no longer care for the dog.

Sgt. John McCarthy is also a dog handler and supervises the K-9 unit. McCarthy goes out on calls with his partner, Charly, just like all the other K-9 unit members, but he also oversees the unit’s operations. He handles scheduling, helps with handler and dog hiring, and purchases supplies like food and toys.

Prior to his appointment in 2007, the department did not have a supervisor for the unit. Arlington County Police Chief M. Douglas Scott was instrumental in adding the position and with expanding the K-9 unit to allow for nearly 24-7 police dog coverage.

“When I was doing a review of the units, I saw at the time we only had four dogs. They were not really a full unit they were just on squads,” said Scott. “I didn’t think it was an effective way to run the program.”

Scott joined the department in 2003 and approved the addition of two dual purpose dogs in 2004, two bomb detecting dogs in 2006, and McCarthy’s supervisory position including a dog in 2007.

“We’ve done it all gradually by converting existing positions,” said Scott. “I didn’t want to be going to the County Manager or County Board asking to add new positions. I made the case internally and started the expansion that way.”

The current price of a police dog runs around $7,000 plus the cost of continuous training. Those working in the unit, along with Chief Scott, believe it’s a wise investment.

“K-9 to me has always been something I would describe as a force multiplier. Their ability to get in and search a building, do a track, is so much better than using multiple officers or for officers to be doing a blind search. They’ve proven themselves time and time again,” Scott said. “It’s well worth the investment.”

In 2013, the ACPD K-9 unit responded to 495 calls in Arlington County and 27 mutual aid calls in neighboring jurisdictions. The dogs helped apprehend 22 criminals, found narcotics in 26 vehicles or residences and found narcotics 23 times during sweeps of packages at United States Postal Service facilities. (more…)

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