An outdoor celebration was held this past Friday for Arlington’s first-generation college students.

AHC Inc., a local nonprofit affordable housing developer, hosted a “College Signing Day” outside at the Gates of Ballston Community Center for 31 high school seniors who took part in the organization’s College and Career Readiness Program.

Students in the program are attending a multitude of universities including James Madison, Virginia Military Institute, Harvard, Tufts, and Yale — with many receiving scholarships and grants.

The students all come from lower-income families and most live in an AHC community, with 28 out of the 31 seniors in the program being first-generation college students.

In front of the community center, students snapped photos, picked up college t-shirts, and ate pizza. There was a considerable amount of pride, relief, nervousness, and excitement from the students for what lies ahead for them in their future.

“I’m all the emotions,” chuckles Mahia Rahmen, a senior at Washington-Liberty. She’s going to Harvard, earning several notable scholarships. She’s also the first member of her family, which is originally from Bangladesh, to go to a four-year college or university.

“I’m kinda upset about leaving my family and my old life behind,” Rahmen says. “But, overall, very, very excited.”

The College and Career Readiness program began in the fall of 2016 and this is the largest class yet.

Milenka Coronel, the program’s first manager, says the intention is to help 11th and 12th grade students to go through the college admissions process, from applications to applying for scholarships to choosing which institution is right for them. With high school guidance counselors stretched thin, programs like this help fill in gaps and reach those who may need a little extra support.

“What’s unique about us is that we are in their community,” says Coronel. “We are where they live which creates easier access.”

She says a lot of the students are also caretakers, helping parents and younger siblings adjust to this incredibly difficult year for all.

“They are managing so many things at once, but I’m in awe… they preserved,” Coronel says.

It’s clear that the historic nature of the past year has influenced the students, even leading several to rethink what their future might hold.

Elena Ogbe, who’s attending James Madison University after she graduates from Wakefield High School next month, says she still plans on majoring in nursing, but now also wants to minor in African-American studies.

“I’m realizing how much knowledge I’m missing and how much our past history has been overlooked,” Ogbe says, whose family is from Eritrea. “It really woke me up to realize that I need to start learning more and educating myself.”

Abel Geleta is a current Washington-Liberty senior and soon-to-be freshman at Yale. He moved to Arlington from Ethiopia with his family a decade ago. His plan is to study to be a civil rights lawyer.

Read More

0 Comments

Stephen A. Inge, employee and son of the co-owner of the now-shuttered Iota Club, died earlier this month at the age of 41. He battled for decades a very rare condition known as Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) syndrome, which causes tumors to grow throughout the body.

In his memory, there will be an outdoor gathering at Knights of Columbus on Little Falls Road this Saturday, May 15 at 2 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations to the VHL Alliance.

Inge was the son of Jane Negrey Inge, who co-owned (with her brother) the well-known Arlington music and arts performance venue Iota Club. The club closed in 2017 after more than two decades at 2832 Wilson Blvd in Clarendon.

Stephen worked there for a number of years, as an administrative assistant and with musicians on their pre-show arrangements.

“He was always very proud of Iota and its contribution to Arlington,” Jane Negrey Inge tells ARLnow. “He would always tell me that.”

Stephen attended Yorktown High School and was a pitcher on the baseball team. Soon after high school graduation, he had his first medical event and was diagnosed with VHL, needing to go through a series of surgeries, scans, and recoveries.

VHL is a rare disease with only about 10,000 cases in the United States. It causes tumors to grow throughout the body, including ones that are both benign and malignant. More often, the disease is transmitted genetically. But, in Stephen’s case, it was a de novo case, meaning it was related to spontaneous genetic mutation and not inherited from a parent.

“Stephen had a big job with VHL and dealing with the effects of it,” says Jane. “After five brain surgeries, two spinal cord surgeries, partial nephrectomy, and other events… he would just want to be as happy as he could and see his friends.”

“His legacy is loving people in the community, loving his friends,” she says.

He loved to make people laugh, especially his doctors, says his mom, and had the same group of friends from his days at Arlington public schools. More recently, he became enamored with horticulture and could often be found potting plants on Franklin Road near Clarendon. He thought of it as the “best occupational therapy ever,” Jane notes.

Stephen also spent a considerable amount of time in Richmond with his father Barclay Inge and his family.

Prior to working at Iota Club, he was a teacher’s assistant for special needs students at Swanson Middle School in Westover. He was a natural at this, says his mother, because he understood the students.

“Stephen was very intuitive… and very sensitive to the needs of the kids,” says Jane. “And he loved the work.”

However, when another spinal cord surgery limited his mobility, he turned to helping his mom and uncle at the Iota Club.

Stephen worked there for about six years, under his good-natured alias “Burns,” befriending other staff there.

“It was family,” says Jane. “Without [Iota’s staff] support, I wouldn’t have been able to be so involved in Stephen’s medical issues. Like a family, they all helped my brother and I keep Iota going… people take care of people and, I’m telling you, I’ve seen so much of that. It’s beautiful.”

It was about 13 months ago, right at the beginning of the pandemic, that Stephen started to live independently for the first time. His mom says it was an incredible achievement for him and the family. Though, of course, the pandemic complicated it.

“It forced us to really be seperate, which was beneficial in a lot of ways,” Jane says. “But it prevented us from having contact that I would have liked to have.”

Jane knows she’s not the only one whose heart is now broken with the death of her son. That’s why she’s looking forward to tomorrow afternoon’s gathering to hear everyone’s memories and to celebrate Stephen’s life.

When asked what she’ll remember most about her son, Jane said “everything.”

“I’ll remember everything about him. His grit, smarts, wits,” she says. “I’ll think about him every day forever… He’s my heart.”

Photo courtesy of Jane Negrey Inge

0 Comments

Dr. Pepper, a 22-year-old cat, is in need of a new home.

The Animal Welfare League of Arlington put out a call on social media on Wednesday in hopes of finding this very elderly, brown and black, domestic shorthaired kitty a welcoming place to nap and snack.

She was brought into the shelter about two weeks ago, Chelsea Jones of AWLA said, when her long-time caretaker had become too sick to care for her anymore.

Dr. Pepper was accompanied by a note that said she was the beloved companion of a cancer survivor, a Vietnam veteran, and her caretaker’s family for 22 years.

“We’re just all in tears over this cat and this poor family that, unfortunately, is having to be separated because of a really sad life situation,” says Jones. “We are flat determined to find this cat an amazing end-of-life home where she can be loved, pampered, and spoiled for however long she has left.”

Dr. Pepper is, admittingly, quite old. While it’s tough comparing animal ages to humans, it’s estimated that a 22-year-old cat is about the same age as a 104-year-old human.

However, Jones says she’s relatively healthy and only is in need of one pill a day for hyperthyroidism.

Her favorite things are napping, snacking, and getting attention.

“She is just so affectionate and so friendly… she wants to just have someone nearby,” says Jones. “To anyone who comes up to her kennel, she puts her paw up to the glass [like she’s] saying ‘hello’.”

While Dr. Pepper has her moments when she plays like a cat a quarter of her age, she mostly naps, asks for attention, and then goes back to laying down.

“She’s really an easy pet to own,” says Jones.

Since their social media call out about 24 hours ago, there’s been significant interest. Jones says Dr. Pepper has a number of appointments today to meet with prospective new caretakers, plus a foster family has already asked to care for her.

But there’s always room for more and there are plenty of other pets one can adopt at AWLA in case Dr. Pepper finds her forever home prior to your visit. Currently, the shelter remains by appointment only — to schedule an appointment on the League’s website, click the animal you’d like to visit and scroll down to schedule.

Arlington has recently seen a number of cute animal stories. Dr. Pepper’s situation is a sad one, but AWLA is hoping for a heartwarming last chapter to the elder feline’s life story.

It’s bittersweet,” says Jones. “But we’re going to make sure [she] has a happy ending.”

Update at 10:45 a.m. — Dr. Pepper has been adopted, according to AWLA.

Photo courtesy of Animal Welfare League of Arlington

0 Comments

Ragtime in Courthouse may be getting a huge break on rent thanks to the Arlington County Board.

On Saturday (May 15), the Board is expected to vote to amend the county’s lease with the long-time local restaurant that would reduce Ragtime’s rent during the on-going pandemic “to a level that it can afford to pay.”

Ragtime is located at 1345 N. Courthouse Road, on the ground floor of an office building purchased by the county in 2012. It leases the 5,000 square-foot space, now owned by the county but previously owned by a private landlord.

Ragtime first opened in 2001 and is owned by Vintage Restaurants, which also runs Rhodeside Grill on Wilson Blvd and William Jeffrey’s Tavern on Columbia Pike.

Ragtime’s business has declined “precipitously” during the pandemic, the county staff report details. In April 2020, sales were less than 10% of normal. Although business has increased in recent months, it remains 50% below normal, the report says.

Due to the drop in sales, Ragtime is unable to pay rent at the rate called for in the current lease, which was signed in 2013 and expires in 2026, according to the county.

“When sales decline substantially below normal, inflexible overhead like employee salaries and utility charges does not decline to the same degree, and accordingly absorbs a greater percentage of sales,” says the report. “This leaves a smaller percentage of sales that can be applied to rent.”

As a result, an agreement was struck that would reduce Ragtime’s rent to the equivalent of 9.5% of its gross sales (as long it doesn’t exceed its base rent rate, which is approximately $19,000 a month).

“As a rule of thumb, restaurants can afford to devote roughly 10% of sales to the payment of rent,” the report notes.

That rate would remain in effect until the restaurant has two consecutive months in which 9.5% of gross sales exceeds its base rent, or for one year after the lease amendment is signed, whichever happens first.

The reduced rate is being backdated to April 2020, and Ragtime is being allowed to hold off on paying back rent.

“Ragtime will begin paying the discounted back rent (based on 9.5% of gross sales) when their sales return to normal,” the staff report says. “This discounted back rent will be payable monthly over a one-year period. The actual revenue impact to the County in FY 2021 and FY 2022 is dependent upon Ragtime’s gross sales as well as the timing of when their sales return to normal.”

“The total estimated revenue shortfall compared to budgeted amounts in FY 2021 and FY 2022 is approximately $100,000,” the report adds.

ARLnow has reached out to Vintage Restaurants for comment, but has yet to hear back as of publication.

There’s also another tenant in the 2020 14th Street N. building that the county owns: Courthouse Deli.

When asked if the county is working on a similar arrangement with that business, a county spokesperson declined to comment specifically due to confidentiality.

“We have worked with all County tenants that have requested relief due to pandemic-related hardship,” wrote a county spokesperson.

Photo via Ragtime/Facebook

0 Comments

The $39 million redevelopment of Arlington View Terrace East apartments is underway.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held last week for the affordable housing redevelopment and was attended by Del. Alfonso Lopez, County Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol, and County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti.

Construction will begin later this month, according to a press release, and expected to be completed by early 2023.

First approved by the County Board in February 2020, the project will add 47 new affordable apartments to the complex at 1420 S. Rolfe Street on the eastern end of Columbia Pike.

The current community is spread out across seven 2- and 3- story buildings, but the new project is to demolish the largest of the structures with 30 apartments and replace it with a new, modern building with 77 apartments.

The new building will have free WiFi available for all households, a community room, a fitness center, a courtyard, and a parking garage, according to local affordable housing developer AHC Inc. The apartments will also have views of the Army-Navy Country Club golf course.

It will boost the number of affordable apartments at Arlington View Terrace East to 124.

“Preserving and expanding access to safe, habitable affordable housing is a priority in our community,” said de Ferranti at the groundbreaking. “Along with creating life-changing opportunities for dozens of local families, it’s also great to see that Arlington View Terrace East has been designed to contribute to a more equitable and sustainable future by including access to free WiFi and green design elements like solar panels.”

The complex will have a “green roof” that will support stormwater management and a 190-panel solar power system — similar (though, smaller) to what was installed at the Apex complex on S. Glebe Road. It’s expected to generate 84,000 kilowatt hours a year, according to AHC Inc., which is enough to power nearly eight single-family homes a year.

The 77 new affordable apartments will be available for families earning between 30% and 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI). There will be 15 three-bedroom apartments, eight ADA-accessible units, and eight apartments set aside for the county’s Permanent Supportive Housing program, which provides housing and support for residents with disabilities.

The County Board has allocated over $8 million in loan and grant funding to the Arlington View Terrace East project, in addition to an allocation of $2 million in competitive tax credits from the state.

While AHC Inc. is in the midst of redeveloping other local affordable housing complexes, the organization has also recently faced criticism for poor maintenance one of the older affordable housing buildings they own.

The Serrano Apartments, also on Columbia Pike, was acquired by AHC in 2014 and is working on issues raised by tenants including mold, rodents, and bugs, a spokesperson told ARLnow last week.

Photos courtesy AHC, Inc.

0 Comments

Framebridge in Clarendon is now open with the store also giving away free flowers for Mother’s Day.

The D.C.-based custom framing company, owned by Rosslyn-based Graham Holdings, opened its newest location at 2839 Clarendon Blvd on Thursday. The store is offering free flowers from local florist Holley Simmons, while supplies last, with any in-store purchase throughout the weekend.

In a statement to ARLnow, Framebridge CEO Susan Tynan said she always wanted to bring a store to Clarendon.

We’re so excited to finally have a store in Clarendon — we’ve actually had our eye on this center since we opened our first retail location on 14th Street in 2019. We took a tour then and have been waiting for the perfect spot to open ever since!

We have so many great customers in the Arlington area, and we hope to be introduced to many new customers who are visiting the great shops and restaurants nearby. This is a well-trafficked, central location and it’s an easy place for people to visit. We are thrilled to be part of this community we already love and can’t wait to see everything customers choose to Framebridge on Clarendon Boulevard!

Framebridge initially began as an e-commerce, online-only company, but started expanding to brick and mortar locations in 2019.

This is the company’s fifth physical location in the region and second in Virginia. It has also recently opened retail shops at Union Market in D.C. and in the Mosaic District. Non-D.C.-area locations include Brooklyn and Atlanta.

The store is opening in the newly-renamed The Crossing Clarendon, a stretch of interconnected stores, restaurants, offices and residential space formerly known as Market Common Clarendon. The Crossing has had several notable comings and goings in recent months.

Boston-based Tatte Bakery and Cafe is set to open in July in the former spot of Baja Fresh. Connecticut-based pizza chain Colony Grill also opened in October and has already garnered a good deal of love.

Framebridge is in the former Lou Lou Boutiques location, after that store shuttered this past summer.

0 Comments

Arlington’s own Pupatella was recently named one of the best pizzas places in Virginia by Food & Wine Magazine.

“The only thing more authentically Neapolitan than the pillow-like pizzas practically flying from the oven at Pupatella in Arlington is [owner] Enzo Algarme himself,” reads part of the story’s blurb.

Reached by phone while visiting their parents in Naples, Italy, owners Enzo Algarme and Anastasiya Laufenberg tell ARLnow that they are “incredibly grateful” and “honored” for the distinction. In fact, they were not aware of the story until ARLnow reached out.

The married couple opened their first restaurant in 2010 on Wilson Blvd in the Bluemont neighborhood — from which they nearly moved last year — after getting their start selling pizza from a food cart.

Since, they’ve opened four more locations including another in Arlington along S. Walter Reed Drive, one in Reston, one in D.C., and their most recent in Richmond.

Expansion is continuing, the owners confirm, with additional locations in the Mosaic District and Springfield planned for the coming months.

Laufenberg says they owe their popularity and the ability to grow, even after a rough pandemic year, to their customers. While it was a challenge those first months, says Laufenberg, they’ve been able to gain nearly all of their business back recently and have rehired staff they had to let go.

“We’ve had a lot of support from the neighborhood,” says Laufenberg. “Our customers didn’t forget about us and have left huge tips for our staff.”

They’ve also recovered by focusing on delivery and take-out, but additionally realizing the need to shift to more outdoor seating.

“One of the biggest ways the pandemic changed us…is our commitment to building out nice, large patios,” says Laufenberg. “People are still scared to eat inside, so having big outdoor patios is a way to help with that.”

Both the locations on Wilson Blvd and S. Walter Reed Drive now have expansive outdoor seating.

Last year, 90% of Pupatella’s sales were from delivery and take-out, she says, but now that ratio is closer to 50/50 with more folks dining outside.

Of course, Pupatella’s popularity is overwhelming due to the quality of its pizza, which has earned it numerous other awards and honors over the years.

“Every region, city in Italy has their own pizza, but everyone knows that Neapolitan pizza is the original,” says Laufenberg about their style of pizza. And that has a lot to do with the wood-fired oven used to them.

All of the ovens used at Pupatella restaurants are certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association, meaning they adhere to two-century-old Neapolitan techniques.

The oven bricks are even built using volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius, which last erupted in 1944.

The ash provides the bricks the ability to retain heat very well, explains Laufenberg, which allows the oven to heat up fast and cook the pizza very quickly.

“There’s still ash left… we don’t know when it’s going to run out,” says Laufenberg.

Back in 2010 when they first contemplated opening their own business, Laufenberg admits she and Algarme were scared. Building a Neapolitan pizza business is expensive and very labor intensive, after all.

Even training staff to use the ovens is difficult and requires a steep learning curve — hence, why a number of employees have been with them since nearly the beginning. But more than a decade later, even with a pandemic, it is paying off.

“You always wonder ‘is it worth it to go the extra mile? Will people know the difference?” she rhetorically asks. “Well, that extra work is worth it and people have noticed.”

0 Comments

The legacy of Stanley Westreich, the developer who built modern Rosslyn from the ground up, will always cast a large shadow in the neighborhood he helped establish, his son tells ARLnow.

Westreich died at the age of 84 last month at his home in San Diego. For decades, however, he lived in the D.C. area and had an outsized influence on the growth of Rosslyn.

His son, Anthony Westreich, remembers his father for being more than just a well-known developer.

“I think the adjectives that best describe my father are fair, honest, transparent, tough and kind,” Westreich told ARLnow in an email interview. “Everyone, whether it was contractors, brokers or lawyers, wanted to transact with my father. They always knew what they were getting from him.”

Beginning in the 1960s, his company Westfield Realty developed ten buildings in Rosslyn. Perhaps none were more iconic than the former USA Today/Gannett buildings at 1000 and 1100 Wilson Blvd, also known as the Rosslyn Twin Towers. When built in 1981, they were the tallest buildings in the D.C. metro area. Current occupants include WJLA-TV and Politico.

Part of what Westreich’s big bet on Rosslyn work was seeing an opportunity to the leverage its proximity to the District and its relative underdevelopment.

“He saw an opportunity to convert [an] excessive and unused parking structure into office space for government tenants,” Anthony writes. “He knew that unlike many of the great cities of the world, Washington, D.C. did not have development on both sides of its river.”

A native New Yorker, Westreich served in the Coast Guard and graduated from New York University law school. He moved to Rosslyn in 1959, said Anthony, with his family owning an interest in Rosslyn’s only federal housing project.

“In 1959, the only development in Rosslyn was that FHA project,” wrote Anthony. “Unfortunately, that investment was losing money as the project was ill-conceived.”

Westreich bought a big chunk of land and began to build office buildings, turning Rosslyn into a thriving commuter community.

“That vision [was] an immediate financial success for our family and provided my father with a long-term vision for Rosslyn,” wrote Anthony.

Those early but pivotal developments include 1400 Key Blvd — the parking garage of which was where Mark “Deep Throat” Felt met up with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward to expose the Watergate scandal — as well as 1501 Wilson Blvd, 1515 Wilson Blvd, and 1815 N. Fort Myer Drive.

In 2005, Westreich sold his 2.5 million square foot Rosslyn portfolio to Beacon Capital Partners for nearly $1 billion. A year earlier, Anthony followed in his father’s footsteps when he established New York-based Monday Properties, which built a property portfolio that made it Rosslyn’s preeminent property owner.

The building on N. Fort Myer Drive was torn down more than a decade ago and the site is now home to 1812 N. Moore Street, Nestlé’s U.S. headquarters.

“Interestingly 1812 sits on the exact same site as the first building my father developed in 1961,” wrote Anthony, who himself made a big bet on Rosslyn by building 1812 N. Moore Street — then the tallest office building in the area — “on spec” without any signed tenants.

After years of vacancy, the bet finally paid off in 2017 with Nestlé’s announcement.

Read More

0 Comments

Lorton-based and women-owned Rāko Coffee is opening in the Courthouse area later this spring or summer.

This is the coffee roaster’s first official bricks-and-mortar location, according to the Washington Business Journal, after focusing on wholesale roasting operations since opening in Lorton in 2019.

The plan, initially, was to open a retail location in 2020, but that was delayed to the pandemic and they shifted their business online.

The coffee roaster currently operates a pop-up during the day at plant-centric restaurant Oyster Oyster near the Mount Vernon neighborhood in D.C.

The new cafe is set to be located in the Courthouse neighborhood at 2016 Wilson Blvd, the former location of The Olive Oil Boom, according to a recently filed permit application. The shop is also looking to serve beer and wine as well, the application suggests.

Rāko’s Instagram account also recently touted an opening “in less than a couple of months” as well as recently becoming a member of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. ARLnow was unable to reach the owners via phone or email for additional information.

Rāko is owned by sisters Lisa and Melissa Gerben and specializes in sustainability sourced single origin coffee.

The name comes from a trip to Ethiopia to source coffee, when the sisters took notice of a mountain called “Rāko.” This translates in English to “challenge.”

Their Arlington cafe will be 1,360 square feet and feature “high-quality, unique coffee beverages” like baklava latte and lion’s mane mushroom chai iced tea, the Business Journal reported.

It will also have locally-sourced food and will serve wine, cocktails, and beer in the evening.

Rāko is reportedly looking to open other locations in the area in the coming year as well, potentially including a shop in Logan Circle in D.C. The company is also “actively looking” for space in Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Alexandria and Bethesda for more outposts, notes the Washington Business Journal.

0 Comments

Arlington Tech students are raising money to send supplies to a Liberian school founded by their math teacher.

Earlier this month, a GoFundMe page was created by students in the Arlington Career Center’s National Honor Society to help their peers at Giddings Polytechnic Academy in Kakata, Liberia.

The school was founded by Arlington Tech math teacher Isaac Zawolo and just opened this past year.

The goal is to raise $10,000 which will go towards resources like laptops, iPads, textbooks, toiletries, and basic school supplies. As of today (Friday), they’ve raised $1,559.

“Stuff like eyeglasses, instructional materials, books, and even clothing and menstrual products,” says 17-year-old Arlington Tech junior Abigail Herrada, one of the students leading the effort. “A lot of times when women meet the menstrual age, they just drop out of school because they don’t have access to those things.”

The idea came to the students upon hearing about Zawolo’s work building the schools in his home country.

Zawolo immigrated to the United States from the western African country of Liberia in 1998 and spent several years teaching in Prince George’s County before coming to Arlington. He’s been a teacher in the county since 2004 and with Arlington Tech from the high school program’s 2016 inception.

Five years ago, while celebrating his 30th teaching anniversary, he had an epiphany about needing to help his native land. He started assisting schools in Liberia with resources, uniforms, and tuition, but wanted to do more.

“I just thought about the idea of doing my own thing and actually creating the school to provide quality education,” Zawolo says. “It could provide a general high school education but also some technical classes.”

His first school opened last year in Liberia’s capital city of Monrovia and, this past January, he opened a second school in his hometown of Kakata, located about 40 miles east of Monrovia.

The focus is to help students prepare for college and gain career-oriented skills through classes focused on electrical engineering, computer science, medicine, journalism, agriculture, and other disciplines.

His efforts in Liberia were brought to Arlington Public Schools’ attention by Zawolo’s colleagues, who saw a post about it on Facebook. He says he never intended it to become the subject of a student-led fundraiser.

Zawolo would sometimes mention his experiences in Liberia in class, Herrada says, and it really inspired her.

“I could see his real focus and his commitment to these schools and how having a passion for education can really [lead] to so many great things,” says Herrada.

Herrada herself is keenly interested in education — particularly, women’s education — noting that she has had the privilege of traveling overseas and seeing schools in other parts of the world.

“I’ve seen how underprivileged some of these schools are. In Arlington, everyone has a MacBook or iPad. There’s a drastic difference,” says Herrada.

Read More

0 Comments

Seniors at a pair of local retirement communities are helping seniors at Wakefield High School.

A new pilot program launched last month pairing seniors at Wakefield High School with residents from Goodwin House Alexandria and Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads in an effort to help the students complete their senior projects.

The students and residents meet virtually twice a week. The residents assist the students with finishing their senior project, a year-long research and writing project required for graduation.

Most of the Wakefield students in the program (currently, there are six) come from non-English speaking backgrounds, say Zoe Marcuse of Communities in Schools, a non-profit organization partnering on the program.

“A lot of our students in the English Language Learning Program were kind of struggling to find a mentor or someone to assist in such a big project,” Marcuse says. “[They] often have a hard time finding a mentor due to language barriers and busy work schedules.”

That’s how Meredith and Doug Wade were paired with Muhammad Ahsan.

The Wades were long-time residents of Arlington before moving a few miles down the road to Goodwin House Alexandria. They are on the outreach committee at the retirement community and when this program was presented to them, they knew they could help.

“We are parents of four now-adult kids, so we’ve been through a lot of senior projects,” says Meredith Wade. “We also just want to feel in some very small way… that we’re making a contribution in helping to make our community more welcoming.”

Ahsan moved to Arlington from Pakistan in 2016 with his family. He says he started school two weeks after moving here and it was incredibly challenging.

“I literally only knew how [to say] ‘how are you?’ and ‘thank you,” says Ahsan. “I didn’t understand the other kids. When the teacher talked, I didn’t know what [they] were saying and just followed the other students.”

His English improved quickly and things became easier, but he acknowledged that he still needed help. Between caring for his three younger siblings as well as working to support his family, school could have been an afterthought.

“At some point, you don’t think you can do it all,” Ahsan says. “If you get help, take it. It’s worth it.”

And that’s what this program is offering him, a chance to get help from those that are experienced.

The Wades say that Ahsan is such a motivated student and “charming guy,” that they feel their job is simply to encourage him, provide advice and tips, and help him work through assorted challenges.

“They are such good people,” says Ahsan about the Wades. “They are so friendly.”

Ahsan’s senior project is about the history and culture of his former home, Lahore, Pakistan. He says that he wants to know more about where he grew up.

For the Wades, they are also learning about a place that they don’t know much about.

“We’re learning a lot about Pakistan and Lahore and all the good Pakistani foods,” says Doug Wade. “Muhammad is telling us about all of these recipes.”

Ahsan is on track to graduate this summer after an admittingly tough few years. He’s already registering to take classes this fall at Northern Virginia Community College and wants to focus on computer science and information technologies.

The Wades say what they admire most about Ahsan is that he’s a role model to not only those like him, but his family.

“Muhammad has young siblings and I think this is a wonderful example for them,” says Meredith. “That you persevere and you can ask for help and it’s okay.”

Marcuse says the program has been a success and the hope is to expand it next fall.

Meanwhile, Ahsan is planning on attending in-person classes next fall at Northern Virginia Community College, which is right across the street from Goodwin House. Then, maybe, Ahsan and the Wades can meet in person.

“He promised us he was going to make us [Pakistani food],” says Doug as Ahsan chuckles in the Zoom box below. “We want to taste it all.”

Photo via Screenshot/Zoom

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list