Arlington, VA

What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Have you or your kid attended All American Sports Camp, Patriot Girls Basketball Camp, Orange Line Sports Camp, or Mojo Volleyball Camp?

Representatives from all of these organizations showed up to a recent Sports Commission meeting to voice their concerns over the new way summer camps will be administered, their ability to pay hourly employees, and new cost burdens on families.

Summary of changes

1) When you pay for a camp, that money will now go to the county instead of the camp. Arlington does not need to pay camps for their services until 45 days after camp finishes. This creates a serious cash flow problem for camps that could make them unable to feasibly operate.

As an employer, campes are required to pay hourly workers biweekly according to Virginia state law, and camps often last 5 days. This means after camp finishes, camps are legally required to pay their employees 9 days later, but the county does not need to pay the camps for another 45 days. Staff even stated that their contractor for this service is not known for speed on disbursements. This is a cash flow problem that effectively eliminates camp operators from effectively being able to run their businesses.

As conveyed by those at the Commission meeting, oftentimes these camps are run by teachers. These are not year-round businesses like normal county contractors. One camp administrator estimates their camp costs at around $100,000, which they would not have the ability to pay without having the registration revenue.

2) Increased fees given for the county will lead to increased costs to campers. Arlington now requires 30% of all revenues to be given to the county. This has increased from 20% in just three years.

Patriots Girls Basketball camp founder, Kip Davis, said, “In the 25 years I’ve hosted this camp I have increased my cost by just $55. I don’t make a ton of money doing this camp. I do it for the kids. We want to make sure all kids can afford to go to camp, see friends, and give parents a little break. This dramatic increase in cost plus us not being in control of funds will cause camp prices to noticeably increase, which is counter to my goal of camp affordability.”

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The Arlington County Board this weekend is set to consider allocating $133,413 to provide refunds to one of the county’s summer camp contractors.

The contractor — American In-Line Skating, Inc. — went bankrupt after the county cancelled summer camps this year on account of the pandemic, a county staff report says. More from the report:

The Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) provides a variety of summer camp programming each year, delivered through a combination of DPR staff-led camps and contractor-led camps. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, all 2020 summer camp programs were canceled by Arlington County in late May. Registrants that signed up for camps that are delivered by DPR-staff were refunded in full; registrants that signed up for camps that are delivered by contractor-led camps were refunded according to the individual contractors’ refund policies. One contractor filed for bankruptcy and denied any form of refunds to registrants.

To facilitate the promised refunds, the county is taking a somewhat unorthodox step: making a charitable donation to a local nonprofit, which will then provide the refunds.

“Arlington County has identified Arlington Thrive, a 501(c)(3) organization with a long-standing relationship with Arlington County, to provide refunds in accordance with the camp contractor’s original refund policy that is not being honored,” the staff report says. “Arlington County will provide the funding to Arlington Thrive in the form of a charitable donation of $133,413 from existing funds available in the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) existing donation balances in Trust and Agency accounts.”

Arlington Thrive, which has also been working with the county to help those having trouble paying their rent during the pandemic, will receive a 5% fee for administering the donations.

The situation is reminiscent of the year-long saga of local youth basketball referees who went unpaid after a contractor suffered a serious medical issue. In that case, Arlington officials insisted that there were no legal remedies for paying the refs with county funds; after a year of discussions and efforts to find other remedies, a County Board member launched a GoFundMe campaign.

Susan Kalish, spokeswoman for the Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation, said the two situations are different.

“In the case of the referees, the County paid the contractor (a company that provides referees for indoor basketball games); however, the contractor, in turn, did not fully pay its subcontractors, the referees,” she said in response to an inquiry from ARLnow. “It is not an appropriate precedent for the County to set to pay subcontractors for work that the County has already paid the contractor.”

“In the case of the camp refunds, the contractor did not honor their stated refund policy,” she continued. “In its communication materials regarding its bankruptcy, the contractor named the decision by the County to cancel camps as the driving factor in its bankruptcy filing… As a result of the bankruptcy filing, the County has a complete list of individuals who were denied refunds and the amount owed.”

Kalish said the county will be making changes to prevent such issues from happening again.

“The County is in the process of amending summer camp contracts to shift the registration and payments from camp contractor’s responsibilities to the County, to ensure that all aspects of the payment, cancelation and refund experience for camp participants are managed by the County,” she said.

“Both of these issues, a camp contractor not honoring its refund policy and a referee contractor not paying its subcontractors, are troubling and not how Arlington County expects its contractors to manage their businesses,” Kalish added. “Neither contractor will be able to do business with Arlington County in the future.”

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County-run summer camps have been cancelled this year due to the pandemic.

Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation made the cancellation announcement around noon on Wednesday, saying it “was not confident all campers and staff would be able to safely enjoy an even modified camp experience.”

Credits will be provided to all who previously signed up, DPR said, and refunds of payments can be requested.

The camp cancellation follows the April 30 announcement that the parks department’s summer programs had been cancelled. Arlington’s parks, athletic fields, playgrounds and communities centers remain closed, though trails are open.

More from a press release:

In accordance with the health and safety guidelines of state, national  and camp officials during the COVID-19 pandemic, Arlington County is cancelling summer camps for 2020.

This difficult decision was reached after County staff considered many options to determine if camps could be held with proper social distancing, appropriate cleaning protocols and other safety measures. The health and safety of campers and staff is the County’s number one priority, and ultimately, the County was not confident all campers and staff would be able to safely enjoy an even modified camp experience.

“We recognize how important camps are to our residents, and we are truly saddened to have to cancel for the summer,” said Parks & Recreation Director Jane Rudolph. “Ultimately, it is the best decision for the safety and health of our community. We will continue to explore opportunities to provide programs and services as national, state and local guidelines allow. We appreciate your patience as we work through this difficult time.”

Cancelling summer camps was primarily based on guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Camp Association (ACA), as well as Virginia’s guidelines for summer camps. Given the number of unknown variables still present, the risks of bringing our community together, in-person, for a traditional camp season are far too great.

If you registered for an Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation camp, you will receive a full refund. If you signed up for a camp with one of the County’s contractors, contact the contractor directly regarding their refund policy. The 2020 Guide to Summer Camps in Arlington County lists all County camps, along with information for contractor camps.

County refunds will be issued in the form of a household credit. After the refund has been applied to an account, contact the Department of Parks & Recreation to request the refund be processed back to the original form of payment. Questions regarding cancellation should be directed to [email protected]

Visit the Summer Camp FAQs for more information and details.

Image via Flickr/Kevin Smith

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Morning Notes

Hope for Arlington Summer Camps — ” As summer is approaching, we know many families are anxiously awaiting information on Summer Camp 2020. While we hope to operate summer camp this year, the ultimate decision will be based on our ability to operate safely within national and state guidelines.” [Dept. of Parks and Recreation]

County Board Primary Cancelled — “The Democratic Primary for County Board, originally scheduled for June 9, 2020 and subsequently delayed until June 23, 2020, will not be held… Accordingly, Libby T. Garvey is the Democratic nominee for County Board in the General Election to be held on November 3, 2020.” [Arlington County]

Call for More Coronavirus Transparency in Va. — “Several Virginia legislators are calling for the release of information regarding specific long-term care facilities, saying the public has a right to know how many residents and staff have tested positive or died at each location… ‘In a situation like this, transparency is very important,’ said Del. Patrick Hope, D-47th District, of Arlington.” [NBC 4]

GGW, Blue Virginia Endorse Takis — “This week, a select group of Arlington Democratic party members will choose a nominee for the county board seat held by Erik Gutshall, who tragically died of brain cancer in April… We recommend eligible party insiders select Takis Karantonis as their first choice and then Nicole Merlene or Chanda Choun as second and/or third choices in the ranked-choice ballot.” [Greater Greater Washington, Blue Virginia]

Parade for McKinley Teacher — “Arlington County students and their parents held a drive-by parade to honor their third-grade teacher at McKinley Elementary School. Almost a dozen cars drove by the home of Amanda Herr, honking their horns and holding signs” [Patch]

Dutch Foundry Working on New Carillon Bells — “It took more than a week for the big bronze bell to cool. Over that time, a glowing crucible full of molten alloy was transformed into a 7,595-pound behemoth nearly six feet in diameter that next year will sing out across Arlington. The big Netherlands Carillon is getting bigger.” [Washington Post]

Bayou Bakery Has Provided Thousands of Free Meals — “Since the beginning of March, Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery in Arlington has been feeding Arlington County kids and their families for free. Chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery enlisted Real Food for Kids to partner with him to serve free, plant-based meals 5 days a week.” [WJLA]

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Over the past four days (July 19-22), Arlington County Fire Department’s Camp Heat provided girls ages 15-18 with a free-of-charge inside look at a career in the fire service.

Now in its fifth year, the program has hosted more than 80 campers. Participants this year came from Northern Virginia, Maryland and as far as Ohio to experience fire and emergency medical services simulations, physical training and team-building activities.

“A lot of the females [at ACFD] ended up doing this after going to school or doing other careers,” Capt. Sarah Marchegiani said. “They never really thought about it as a career just because socially, it’s not really something that we’re exposed to as little girls.”

Erin Schartiger, a junior mentor for Camp Heat, attended the program two summers ago. Now, she is a certified firefighter in her home city of Sterling.

Camp Heat “was what pushed me [to be] like, ‘oh yeah, this is definitely something I want to try, something I want to do,'” Schartiger said.

Across the country in 2016, about four percent of career firefighters were women, according to the National Fire Protection Association. In Arlington, that number stands around 10 percent.

So far, at least two former campers have applied in ACFD’s current hiring cycle. Though Marchegiani said she would love for all of the campers to become Arlington County firefighters, “that’s obviously not realistic.”

“In general, I hope they come out with a mindset that they can accomplish whatever they want if they work hard, they dream big and put in the effort and time,” Marchegiani said. “It’s really just all about empowering them to show them that they can achieve whatever they set their mind to.”

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If you haven’t nailed down a summer camp for the kids, Bishop Ireton, in Alexandria, has slots open for rising 1st through 12th graders.

Various camps, which take place at the college preparatory high school, focus on science, coding, sports and drama. Campers are grouped by age and advised by certified coaches and teachers.

The science camp prepares students for high school work in genetics and DNA extraction, robotics, 3-D creation and design and more. Campers take part in laboratories and experiments in a fun and explorative environment.

Drama campers in grades 3 through 10 get a dose of high quality theater training that makes for an energetic and creative summer. They will develop their acting, and movement chops in preparation for an end-of-camp performance in front of friends and family members.

B.I. Girls Coding camp is an instructional camp which an overview of the most important aspects of coding using the programming language Java. The camp will include lessons, activities and a camper-run project of their choosing.

This year’s sports camps include girls’ lacrosse, boys’ and girls’ basketball, baseball, rowing, football, volleyball and junior and advanced soccer. For full-day camps, lunch is provided at no extra cost and everyone gets a camp t-shirt.

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Three Arlington women will be honored by the Arlington Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the 32nd annual Women of Vision award ceremony on June 26.

Local artist Sushmita Mazumdar will be recognized for her success in business, after she launched “Homemade Storybooks” in 2007, through which she sells personally crafted editions of original stories that are often drawn from her own life. Five years later, Mazumar founded Studio PAUSE, which provides a space for community members to engage in art and storytelling, sometimes concurrently.

Adrienne Griffen, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Postpartum Support Virginia, will be recognized for her work to support new mothers and their healthcare providers as they navigate postpartum depression.

Founded in 2009, PSVA provides resources including peer-led support groups, books and websites and training sessions, according to its website. When she experienced difficulties finding help after one of her children was born, Griffen became determined to help other women avoid similar challenges.

The group also plans to recognize Lauren Stienstra, senior manager for research and policy at the Arlington County Department of Public Safety, Communications and Emergency Management, for her work in government.

Stienstra launched HERicane Arlington in 2017, a program that “empowers women to pursue careers and leadership roles in emergency management,” according to its website. HERicane participants attend a weeklong summer camp and subsequently receive opportunities to volunteer, intern and engage with continued learning activities.

CSW selects honorees based on a system of point values, wherein successful candidates earn up to sixteen points — one point for residency in Arlington, five for the scope of their activity and 10 for their impact.

Other CSW initiatives include advocacy against sexual, domestic and street harassment, promoting state legislation that protects women’s social and economic interests and hosting educational workshops.

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Morning Notes

Democratic County Board Field at Two — Military veteran Chanda Choun was the only candidate for County Board to announce his candidacy at the Arlington County Democratic Committee last night. Choun joins fellow Democrat Matt de Ferranti in the race to challenge incumbent John Vihstadt. A primary will be held June 12, ahead of the general election contest against Vihstadt in November. [InsideNova]

Affordable Housing Stats for FY 2017 — “Arlington County added or preserved 556 affordable housing units for low- and moderate-income households during its 2017 fiscal year, bringing the Countywide total to more than 7,700 units.” [Arlington County]

Government Shuts Down Briefly — The government was shut down overnight as Congress failed to pass a bipartisan budget bill until around 5:30 a.m. [Politico]

HERricane Applications Accepted — Applications are being accepted in February for Arlington County’s HERricane program, which helps girls ages 13-17 to pursue careers and leadership roles in emergency management through a week-long summer camp. [Arlington County]

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Morning Notes

Murder of Crows Pooping All Over Shirlington — A large contingent of crows have taken up residence in Shirlington, and locals are getting fed up with cars and sidewalks being covered in bird doo-doo. [WTOP, NBC Washington]

Design Contest for 2019 ‘I Voted’ Sticker — “In an effort to gin up voter enthusiasm during what is expected to be a slow 2019, Arlington election officials… plan to hold a competition to design a logo for next year’s election.” [InsideNova]

Arlington No. 3 on ‘Best Counties’ List — A new list of “best counties” in the U.S. ranks Falls Church — a city — No. 1 while Arlington is No. 3 and Fairfax is No. 6. The list was compiled by the website 24/7 Wall Street. [WTOP]

Mitten Given the Boot By Grand Rapids — The city of Grand Rapids, Michigan is restarting its search for a new city manager after an outcry from residents and interest groups. Arlington Deputy County Manager Carol Mitten was among the three finalists for the job to speak at a community forum, prior to the city announcing the restart. [Fox 17, MLive]

Police Recruiting for Student Safety Patrol Camp — “The Arlington County Police Department’s School Resource Officer Unit is currently accepting applications to the Summer Safety Patrol Camp. This weeklong camp is offered to incoming 4th and 5th grade students who want to participate in safety patrols during the upcoming 2018-2019 academic year.” [Arlington County]

More on Market Common Redevelopment Approval — The redevelopment of a portion of Market Common Clarendon will widen a narrow sidewalk that was the source of resident complaints, among other community benefits. Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey hopes the project can help “bring a little funkiness back into Clarendon.” [Arlington Connection]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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Arlington’s Office of Emergency Management will host its new HERricane camp at Washington-Lee High School next week, with the goal of inspiring “the next generation of firefighters, meteorologists, epidemiologists and county managers.”

Lauren Stienstra, senior manager at OEM, said she was inspired to hold a camp after she and a co-worker had a hard time naming women in emergency management for Women’s History Month. Young women in particular often account for only a small percentage of emergency management professionals.

“We started to think about a summer camp to be a way to bridge the gap, to help girls to consider fields in emergency management and allied fields,” said Stienstra.

The week-long camp from June 26-30 will give participants hands-on training with firefighting equipment and CPR. Other activities include preparing meals from emergency kits and a scavenger hunt. Registration is closed, with the camp filling up after just two weeks.

In addition to the exercises at camp, the young women involved will be able to find long term professional development opportunities. Guest instructors from the Red Cross, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Urban Alliance and the Arlington chapter of Awesome Women Entrepreneurs will all participate.

Stienstra said it makes sense for such a camp to take place in Arlington, as the county was the first to have a woman work as a professional firefighter in the 1970s.

“[Arlington County] was on the front line of integrating gender equality for that field,” Stienstra said.

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