(Updated, 4:10 p.m.) It hasn’t been a perfect ten months, but Mir is happy to be alive.
It was nearly a year ago when he, his wife, and his young son were forced to leave their native Afghanistan due to the Taliban’s occupation and made their way to Northern Virginia.
As he told ARLnow back in January, Mir believed that if he had stayed in Afghanistan he would have been killed. We are withholding his last name at his request because of safety and privacy.
Once here, though, the members of Arlington Neighbors Welcoming Afghans (ANWA) Facebook group helped turn his new barren Alexandria apartment into a home.
ANWA was a grassroots effort started late last year by military veteran Ryan Elizabeth Alvis to assist newly arriving Afghan families adjust to Arlington and Alexandria.
Since October 2021, ANWA has assisted more than 100 families and raised over $30,000 to buy household items, and groceries, Alvis tells ARLnow. In that time, about 85 people have become “team leads,” as in they are directly in charge of helping the families.
The Facebook group now has more than 1,800 active members, many regularly chipping in to buy such things from school supplies to kitchen pressure cookers.
In the seven months since we last talked, Mir says he and his family are adjusting. It hasn’t been easy, but he’s forever grateful to the group, Alvis, and his “team leads” — Karen Penn and Christy McIntyre.
“I’m creating a good career in this country,” he says. “I’m very happy I’m here and that I’m safe.”
Probably the most difficult aspect has been job hunting, largely due to the fact that the degrees and certifications he earned in the information technology industry in Afghanistan do not apply here.
Mir has worked, though, first at the Alexandria City Schools as a substitute teacher and, now, as an assistant general manager at a hotel in Chantilly.
Penn, who still works with Mir plus several other families, says this is the case for many other Afghan refugees. Looking for a job in their trained industry is the biggest challenge since the schooling and training they did back home often isn’t accepted by employers in the United States.
Gary Shulman has only lived in Arlington for about three months but has created a popular Facebook group all about the warm and wonderful feelings the county evokes.
Shulman, a retired early education specialist and published poet, was already using his outreach and advocacy skills to connect with Arlington residents in the Facebook group, Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19 after he moved to Rosslyn in April.
Without even realizing it, that page became the “Gary Shulman Show,” he said, where he would post all of his and his partner Marc’s adventures. The intention of the page was not for it to become the “blog” of one user. So, others encouraged Shulman to begin a new Facebook page — a page that could remind Arlingtonians what makes the county special.
He started Arlington Through the Eyes of a Newbie on May 13 and gained more than 600 followers within the first day. Now, he has over 700 members that follow his and Marc’s day-to-day life, as well as share helpful tips and suggestions. Shulman and Marc have been able to discover nitty-gritty information — where the best dermatologist is, allergist, dentist, even barbershop.
As he’s explored Arlington, members of the group have recognized him, as if he’s a local celebrity. Some stop and take photos with him to share on Facebook.
“There is a wonderful and caring network [in Arlington] and in many ways, reminds me of my early days in East NY and Canarsie Brooklyn where a sense of community was in every fiber of every neighbor. They all cared,” Shulman posted on his personal Facebook account.
Shulman always fantasized about living in Mayberry, the setting of “The Andy Griffith Show,” where people care about each other, garden, have beautiful homes, and enjoy the simple pleasures of life, he told ARLnow. His Facebook page reminds Arlingtonians to look on the ground and take in their (and others’) neighborhoods, places they pass daily.
He and Marc enjoy trying new restaurants, like Brass Rabbit, and Guajillo, where a post shows them trying out one of its “sangritas.” They also like finding beautiful parks and neighborhoods like Bon Air Memorial Rose Garden and Lyon Village and meeting new friends (especially dogs). Shulman sometimes shares some of his published poems.
Shulman and Marc had only moved to Arlington a month before he started his Facebook group. They spent two years and eight months in Palm Springs, where they had originally thought they’d spend retirement.
However sitting in their Palm Springs home, outside temperatures reaching 120 degrees with 0% precipitation, the COVID-19 pandemic trapped Shulman and Marc inside.
“When it’s 120 degrees, you can’t go any place — you’re a prisoner,” said Shulman. “Something was happening to my mental health. Covid happened, and then everything closed down.”
Since moving to Arlington, they’ve been able to get out and about.
It’s no doubt that Shulman’s “fans” know him and Marc to be walkers. Most of his posts begin with some form of “a stroll through…,” “our goal was to walk…,” or “just a short 3 miler today… .” Shulman explained that walking is good for his health and redirects his brain.
As he walks, he appreciates the beauty of people’s gardens and neighborhood homes. He stops and smells the roses. Talking with ARLnow, Shulman emphasized, “the small things are the important things.”
Now, after making a move from Rosslyn to their Ballston apartment in June, Shulman sees his Facebook page as a way to showcase how wonderful Arlington is and bring Arlingtonians together. It is a mix of Brooklyn, New York, and Palm Springs, California, with a close community and liveable climate.
Shulman and Marc hope “people will get off their behinds to start walking,” Shulman says. “Just learn and appreciate what Arlington has to offer.”
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River Place in Rosslyn is perhaps one of the most well-known multifamily complexes in the county.
The series of four buildings containing about 1,720 units between Route 50 and Wilson Blvd make up the cooperative complex that was built seven decades ago. Despite its age, River Place remains valued by residents, owners and real estate agents.
In conversations, phrases like “oasis of affordability,” “jewel of Rosslyn,” “prime location,” and “views that… can’t be beat in the market” get tossed around with regularity.
But what makes River Place truly unique is that it very well could be on borrowed time.
It’s a fact that has been known for awhile, as detailed in this 1982 Washington Post article. The complex was built in the early 1950s on top of 13 acres of land owned by a developer. That land is, essentially, rented from the developer through an agreement that’s known as a “ground lease.”
In 1953, a 99-year lease was agreed to, meaning River Place’s lease runs out in 2052 — 30 years from now. That timeframe, of course, holds a good deal of significance for those looking to take on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage in order to buy a property inside of the complex.
Today, the underlying land is owned by local real estate development firm Monday Properties.
When the lease expires in 2052, Monday Properties will be able to do whatever it wants with the well-located land in Rosslyn. Theoretically, Monday Properties — or a new developer, if Monday ends up selling the land — could demolish the by-then century-old River Place.
This potential would leave unit owners out in the cold and their investment, essentially, a pile of bricks.
Monday Properties hasn’t disclosed its plans just yet.
James Marandi, president of the River Places Owners Association, tells ARLnow that neither he, the association, nor the committee assembled to deal with the ground lease situation has had any “recent” conversations with the company.
Monday Properties wouldn’t discuss the situation with ARLnow, either. When reached for comment, a company spokesperson said in an email that Monday Properties does “not have a comment on this story.”
An Arlington County spokesperson tells ARLnow that there isn’t much the county can do.
“This is a private property matter, which limits what the County can do,” the spokesperson said. “This is a matter between the building occupants and the landowner.”
This uncertainty has left some unit owners and residents thinking, perhaps even anxious, about an uncertain future that’s now not as far off as it once was.
“We are not necessarily nervous yet. Thirty years is a long way away,” Marandi tells ARLnow. “But we do realize that the lease expires and something has to be done.”
The unresolved ground lease situation also could have a direct impact on the accessibility of lower-priced housing stock in Arlington, a long-running concern that the county is now trying to grapple with.
As of Friday afternoon, there appeared to be 15 River Place condos for sale on Zillow. All of the units were listed for sale under $300,000, with most under $200,000.
The average price for a home in Arlington, as of earlier this year and including townhomes and condos, is more than $800,000.
In theory, this could make River Place one of the best buys in the Arlington market. But the expiring land lease makes it potentially inaccessible for some.
Editor’s Note: The following article first appeared in the ARLnow Press Club weekend newsletter. Thank you to Press Club members for helping to fund our in-depth local features.
When Claremont resident Connie Freeman met her father last summer for the first time, it all started to make sense.
“This may sound kind of crazy and you may only know if it’s happened to you, but I felt like a puzzle piece fit,” she tells ARLnow. “I felt like I had the wrong piece in there my whole life.”
Connie Freeman is a 62-year-old county employee, working as a community outreach specialist for nearly three decades, and has lived in Arlington most of her life. And, up until last year, she had never known her father.
Her mom had gotten pregnant as a teenager in the late 1950s and her father had just never been part of their lives. But with her mom getting older, it became clear that now was the time for Connie, along with her own son Noe, to rediscover their family’s history.
Using AncestryDNA testing, together they discovered some surprising clues. For one, she was a quarter Lebanese. Considering that her mom was not Lebanese — “my grandmother has green eyes and blond hair,” says Noe — that was an interesting development. Their DNA results also turned up a name that was unfamiliar.
“At 11 o’clock at night, [my son] is emailing me, texting me, and calling me,” Connie says. ‘”Mom, I think I found your brother.'”
Using social media, Connie tracked down that person and a number of others the DNA results had cited as connected to them. Then, she made an unusual decision, at least, by today’s standards.
She reached out by handwritten letter, believing that the extra personal touch was more likely to get a response.
“The letter was very specific and it said I’m trying to find my father and, if he’s alive, I’d like to meet him,” she says.
Also included in the letter were some possible genetic and identifying details. Like, for example, her love of black olives and Noe being a fantastic soccer player. She additionally included where she was born, where she lived now, and that her mom always told her that her dad was in the military.
The letter worked. Within days, she got a call from an 84-year-old man named Richard Ziadie.
She admits getting that call was a bit surreal and hard to comprehend, but she made plans to meet Richard at his home in New Jersey on August 16, 2021 — on his 85th birthday.
When they met, it was immediately evident to Connie that this man was her father. He loved to spend time outside, in his garden, and had quite a green thumb.
“My son loved to garden as a kid and now owns his own landscaping company. Now, I know he got that from his grandfather,” she says.
He was also a people person and a fantastic host, just like his daughter.
“That’s something my mom does consistently, she always has people over,” Noe says. “They are both very charismatic.”
In photos of the three, the resemblance is also striking. Further DNA results confirmed that they were truly family, Richard was Connie’s dad.
“It all made sense,” Connie says.
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