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(Updated 12:40 p.m. on 10/11/22) If you own a local restaurant, grocery co-op or healthcare clinic in an underinvested neighborhood, there’s a good chance that Arlington-based Capital Impact Partners can help find money to assist your business.
Capital Impact Partners (CIP), which has been in Crystal City for 40 years, is a Community Development Financial Institution aimed at helping lower-income and racially diverse communities secure loans as well as capital and financial assistance.
And this summer, CIP joined forces with lender CDC Small Business Finance and lending software company Ventures Lending Technologies to help clients more effectively. They are together known as Momentus Capital. The new group is already heating up the region’s economy, according to the Washington Business Journal, which named it as an honoree of its 2022 Inno on Fire Awards program.
“Small business owners, developers, and other local leaders are the engines of job creation and economic activity in communities across the country. When these leaders have the opportunity to succeed, their communities, their residents — and our country — thrive,” said Ellis Carr, president and CEO of Momentus Capital, in a statement. “We need bold thinking and a holistic approach to unleash solutions for underestimated communities. Momentus Capital was created to meet that challenge.”
Carr, who led CIP, and Kurt Chilcott, at the time the leader of CDC Small Business Finance and now the chair of both organizations’ boards, began developing the idea for Momentus in 2019. Under the new umbrella organization, the companies will still operate as one, although they will be maintained as separate legal entities, providing but their clients will now have access to more resources and products.
For instance, Momentus is developing new lending and investing products aimed at helping people who have historically been denied access to funding. It provides borrowers with training, mentorship and networking opportunities and also provides technical support to community-based organizations and lenders.
This is the kind of work that CIP has been doing since its founding in 1982. Now a national organization, with offices in Oakland, Detroit, Austin and New York, the company got its start in Crystal City, where its headquarters remain at 1400 Crystal Drive.
“We are always thinking about racial equity, the racial wealth gap, what was our role in that as lenders, and how can we create more access to capital in a more holistic way, deep in communities,” says Alison Powers, director of economic opportunities at Capital Impact Partners. “I like to think we’ve been one of the leaders when it comes to thinking about those questions.”
That might mean helping to secure a loan for a family-owned pharmacy in Green Valley or pinpointing a grant that might assist with staffing at a small, immigrant-owned restaurant on Columbia Pike.
Powers said this work reverses exclusionary systems in the U.S., such as redlining, which prevented communities of color and low-income families from getting home loans because their neighborhoods were deemed too risky for investment.
“How we think about credit and risk and underwriting has really been influenced by the history of the U.S. and who is perceived as being good candidates for access to certain financial products,” she says.
(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.
As seven-year-old Jaxon Vega positions his skateboard at the top of the concrete bowl at Powhatan Springs Skate Park, he takes a deep breath. Vega steadies the back of the board on the bowl’s lip, places his left foot on it and jumps. Boy and board drop 12 feet below, a distance that’s about three times his height.
Vega smoothly completes the trick. Taking a quick break after a run, he’s asked how he feels when skating.
“I feel cool,” he says, flashing a toothy grin. “I’m having fun.”
Vega is Arlington’s kid skateboarding phenom. He’s out there nearly every day at the skate park along Wilson Blvd near the Dominion Hills neighborhood, riding concrete. He can be seen doing kickflips, jumps, drops, and even riding two boards at once. He’s also almost always the youngest one at the skate park.
While barely out of first grade, Vega has garnered the attention of the skateboarding community. This includes the legend himself, Tony Hawk, who’s liked one of Vega’s skating videos on Instagram. (Vega’s account is run by his parents, Walter Vega and Karla Almanza.)
All of this has come from hours of practice, with Jaxson asking his parents to go to the skatepark in the summer heat and freezing cold.
“It’s like church,” Jaxon’s dad Walter laughs, watching his son skate on a hot July day. “We are here faithfully.”
Jaxon started skating about two years ago, picking up a pandemic hobby like a lot of other people. He was only five when he first came to the park and saw the bigger kids skating. He begged his parents for a board. So, they got him a $15 skateboard from Walmart. They have since graduated to a $300 board, more befitting of the kid’s skills, his parents say.
They mostly come to this Arlington skatepark, renovated in 2019, where Jaxon skates three or four hours a day, just a 10 minute drive away from the family home. He doesn’t want lessons. He just wants to skate.
“We thought maybe he’d want lessons, but he just kinda freestyles his own way of learning,” his mom Karla Almanza says. “It’s crazy and kind of insane to see your kid pick up all of this on his own.”
Walter said he used to skate a little when he was younger, but not seriously. Both parents are not totally sure how or where Jaxon’s love of skating comes from, but they are thrilled to support this burgeoning hobby.
The falls, though, still make them nervous.
“This isn’t like any other sport. When you fall, you hit concrete, not dirt,” Walter says. “[I worry] all the time. But I don’t let him hear that.”
Sitting down with Jaxon, it’s clear that like any other great athlete, he’s not content. When asked what his favorite trick to do is, he says a “laser flip” — a trick where both the skater and board flip. It’s considered one of the hardest tricks ever invented. The kicker, of course, is that Vega hasn’t quite nailed it yet himself.
“I can’t do it, but it’s my favorite trick,” Jaxon says.
It was last June when Jaxon, then barely six years old, completed an eight foot drop that garnered a Tony Hawk like on Instagram. The video features Jaxon completing the drop while everyone at the skate park cheers him on.
The funny thing is that before winning the skating icon’s social media approval, Jaxon — like most six-year-olds — didn’t know who Hawk was. But his parents sure did. Now, they often catch Jaxon on his tablet watching old Tony Hawk videos.
There’s another reason why Jaxon has taken a particular liking to Hawk, which almost seems preordained by the skating gods.
“We have the same birthdays,” Jaxon says, again flashing a toothy grin.
Walter, Karla, and Jaxon are still figuring out what’s next. Jaxon has expressed some desire to be in tournaments and maybe even go to a skating camp in Pennsylvania, so they are considering both. But for right now, Jaxon’s just happy to skate, learn on his own, and be a kid.
After a hard fall while skating, Jaxon wandered back over to the shade. Asked about it, he shrugged.
“It hurts,” he says. “But I got back up and did it again.”
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.
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.
The phone rings on a stormy afternoon in Halls Hill and 92-year-old Hartman Reed swivels in his chair to answer it.
“Hello, Crown Cab,” he says.
Reed first started working for the long-running cab company back in 1958 as one of the first Black cab drivers in Arlington. He picked up customers in a Chevy. Today, more than six decades later, he owns the company, making it one of two Black-owned cab companies in Arlington.
Reed had a second notable job as well. He was also a firefighter at famed Fire Station No. 8 in Halls Hill. It’s believed he was one of the first paid Black firefighters south of the Mason-Dixon line.
“As I grow older, I now know how important it was to be first at things,” Reed tells ARLnow. “I now know what we did made it possible for others behind us to advance.”
For decades, Halls Hill had only a volunteer firefighter department. Even when the county started allocating money to other neighborhoods to pay their first responders in 1940, Arlington declined to do the same for Halls Hill. What’s more, fire companies in surrounding neighborhoods would not come into Halls Hill to provide help.
Finally, in the early 1950s, the county provided money to Halls Hill to hire professional firefighters. Reed, straight out of the Navy, was one of the first hired, starting on the job in 1952 at Fire Station No. 8.
He remains extremely proud of not just the work he and his fellow Halls Hill firefighters did, but the reputation they earned in the community.
“Just because we were Black, we were looked at as people who didn’t have the courage to go in and fight fires,” he says. “We had to prove ourselves. In most cases, I’d say we were outstanding as a company because we wanted to prove that we were as good or better than any other company.”
Fire fighting wasn’t the only community need where Jim Crow reared its ugly head in Arlington in the mid-20th century. In an era there were fewer people had cars, cabs were neighborhood necessities. However, many white-owned Arlington companies would not pick up customers in Arlington’s Black communities like Johnson’s Hill, Halls Hill, and Green Valley.
In 1958, fellow Fire Station No. 8 firefighter Buster Moten started Crown Cab and hired Reed as his first driver. It’s believed he was one of the first Black cab drivers in Arlington.
For about 16 years, Reed was both a firefighter and a cab driver but he says the two jobs went hand-in-hand. For one, being a cab driver helped him “learn the territory.”
“You have to know where places are when a [fire] call comes in. You can’t be hunting around,” he says. “As a cab driver, you got to know the county a lot better.”
Cabs were also there for emergencies, like hospital visits, particularly since Arlington’s Black residents were often not allowed to go to the hospital closest by.
It’s been a century since his family first started selling rugs, but Mikael Manoukian is still learning.
To be fair, he actually only got into the family rug business a few years ago and now runs the Manoukian Brothers Oriental Rugs on Columbia Pike with his mom, Dona. But in that short time, Mikael has learned at “Mach speed” about what it takes to sell hand knotted, decades-old rugs.
“I’m getting to be an expert, let’s put it that way,” he chuckles to ARLnow, inside of the storefront at 2330 Columbia Pike the shop has occupied since the fall of 2018. “Something that has a lot of nuance like rugs, it’s not like selling something at the grocery store… you can’t just treat it like a candy bar.”
Earlier this month, on May 15, Mikael and the Manoukian family marked 100 years of being in business with a celebration. There was music, food, and personal reflections in front of their store on the Pike. There was also an announcement of a Virginia House resolution by Del. Alfonso Lopez commending the business for its longevity.
But the Manoukian family story is more than rugs. It’s a tale that is representative of what America can be about.
“It’s always been about our desire to stick with it, keep going, and do justice to our family,” Mikael says, about why he thinks his family’s rug business has lasted so long. “[They] came here, worked hard, and have been relatively lucky.”
Then, he takes a breath. As if he’s comprehending the enormity of it all.
“One hundred years years. It’s pretty impressive to last that long.”
It was around World War I when the Manoukian family fled from modern day Turkey and Syria due to the Armenian genocide. Like many at the time coming to America, the family arrived via boat at Ellis Island. Among those were three Manoukian brothers, including Mikael’s grandfather Moses.
In 1922, one of those brothers, Manouk — Mikael’s great-uncle — opened a Persian rug shop at Washington Circle in D.C. In 1957, his brothers finally joined him in the business and created Manoukian Brothers Oriental Rugs.
It was around this time when a young Paul Manoukian, Mikael’s father, started getting involved in the family business.
“He was a second-generation American and there was more expectation to carry on tradition,” Mikael explains.
For years, Paul worked alongside his father at the rug shop as well as pursuing a second career: A civil engineer for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority.
In the late 1980s, with his uncles getting older and his grandfather passing away, Paul took over the shop completely. Two jobs, including owning a business, while taking care of his family is a lot for any one person and Paul Manoukian did it for nearly three decades.
Mikael, who grew up in the Yorktown neighborhood with his parents, could see the toll it was taking on his dad.
About five years ago, as his father approached his late 80s, it became clear that it was time for the business to move to the next generation.
“We got together as a family and had many, many long discussions about what to do and how to handle the [then] 96-year-old business,” Mikael said.
It was decided that Mikael and his mother, Dona, would take it over and the business would move to Arlington, where a majority of the family lives. Today, Mikael lives in Alcova Heights, only a few miles down the road from the shop’s Columbia Pike location.
What can we do to help those in our community who are experiencing homelessness is a question Triina Van gets a lot.
Van has been Homeless Services Coordinator at Arlington County’s Department of Human Services for about a year and a half. But she has more than two decades of experience working in the field and thinking about this very question.
It’s a difficult one to answer, she says, because the issue of homelessness is “an incredibly complex one.”
ARLnow spoke with Van about how people can help, common misconceptions about those experiencing homelessness, and where people can turn if they need help.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What are some of the most common reasons that people in our community experience homelessness?
I’d attribute that to a lot of different reasons. It’s compounded by issues of lack of affordable housing, rents increasing during lease renewals, and challenges associated with not having incomes that can really sustain the cost of living in our community. It can also certainly be compounded by mental health challenges and family violence. There’s also the much deeper systemic roots… woven into our systems with the historical context of our housing policies and how this country has been stood up.
They all contribute to housing loss, housing instability and homelessness.
You noted two different terms there — housing instability and homelessness — what’s the difference?
Yeah, generally when we speak about housing instability, we’re talking about folks who are at risk of experiencing homelessness. That could mean they are contributing over 30%, 40% of their monthly income to rent. Maybe they’re doubled up, living with other families and households to try to make ends meet.
When I’m speaking about homelessness, I’m really talking about people who are sleeping outside, sleeping in emergency shelters.
I think housing instability is a less visible challenge. Arlington is not alone, it’s a nationwide crisis. When they are challenged with this, people often turn to their networks of support like family, friends, congregations, and other communities of faith for assistance.
When people are facing house instability or are experiencing homelessness and need help beyond these networks, where can they turn?
If someone is experiencing homelessness or if you know someone who’s experiencing homelessness, you can call what we call the “1010 line” — that’s 703-228-1010. That’s our main shelter line and can reach someone 24/7, 365 days a year. It’s operated by the Community Assistance Bureau during normal business hours, but we also know homelessness can happen any time of the day. So, it’s also staffed by one of three shelter providers in Arlington who rotate that coverage throughout the non-business hours, overnight, and weekends.
That’s an immediate first step folks can take.
So, what happens after that first phone call?
Staff will complete an assessment to understand the different circumstances people are facing. They’ll look for creative solutions that can help people stay in their housing or find another option that prevents them from entering the homelessness system.
Sometimes, that could be providing temporary financial assistance or maybe negotiation with a landlord to try to prevent an eviction from happening. It could also be more long-term assistance depending on the personal family’s needs. It could also be helping find a new apartment. And, sometimes, people just need a security deposit or first month’s rent.
If the staff can’t assist directly, they have a deep knowledge of other community resources and can help people connect to other options.
Up the hill from John F. Kennedy’s grave and behind Arlington House on the western side of Arlington National Cemetery lies the purported inventor of America’s pastime.
The former Union Army General Abner Doubleday is interred in section 1, laid to permanent rest there nearly 130 years ago. He’s one of more than a hundred Union generals that are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. While it’s his accomplishments during the Civil War that led him here, history remembers Doubleday much more for his perceived contributions to the game of baseball.
“I’m a big baseball fan. When I was growing up in the 1960s, the common view among the public was that this guy named Doubleday invented it,” says George Dodge, former Arlington Historical Society president and author of a book about the history of Arlington National Cemetery. “But that’s largely been completely discredited.”
Doubleday, a New York native, had a lifetime full of military experience. He was an officer in the Mexican War, fought in the Seminole War, and actually commended the gunners that fired the Civil War’s first shots at Fort Sumter. During the Civil War, he also saw action at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Bull Run, and Gettysburg.
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It was at Gettysburg where Doubleday was given command of the corps, when another general was killed in action, that helped to secure high ground. This ultimately led to the Union’s victory at the famed battle and likely turned the tide of the war.
“He has to be given some credit for that and I don’t think he does,” says Dodge.
After the war, he worked to help formerly enslaved people transition to a life of freedom, secure patents for San Francisco’s cable car system, and led a religious group devoted to spiritualism. Doubleday died in 1893 in New Jersey.
But before all of that, he apparently — according to legend — invented baseball.
The story goes that, while living in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839, a 20-year-old Doubleday drew a diamond in the dust and declared this was for a new game he called “base ball.” Along with a 1871 request for baseball-like equipment, this was enough proof for some that Doubleday invented baseball.
And, for the better part of the 20th century, this narrative existed — and, to some extent, still to this day.
Over the last several decades, however, historians have proven that Doubleday likely didn’t invent baseball.
The tale of him drawing a diamond in the dust was only first recounted via letter in 1905, more than 60 years after the fact, to the Mills Commission, a group that had been tasked to determine the origins of the great American game of baseball.
The letter was written by a man named Abner Graves who claimed he was there that day, but Graves would have only been 5 years old at the time. Additionally, it was unlikely that Doubleday was even in Cooperstown at the time. He was a cadet at West Point in 1839 and, even if he had returned home to see family, his family had moved to another village.
“They were looking for even the flimsiest of proof that [baseball] originated here in the United States,” says Dodge.
The more likely reason that this myth exists is that Doubleday represented a home run candidate — a respected Union Army general buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Chef David Guas was like many of us when he saw the images coming out of Ukraine — upset and desperate to do something.
“My wife was tired of me yelling at the TV… she says, ‘You should text José [Andrés] to let him know you want to do something,”’ the owner of Bayou Bakery in Courthouse and occasional television personality tells ARLnow. “And a couple of hours later, there was an email saying David was on his way to Poland. There was no turning back.”
Guas spent 15 days last month in Poland working with World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit founded by Andrés, to help feed Ukrainian refugees as they fled their war-torn home. Earlier this week, the Arlington-based chef also donated $21,000 from his Community Spoon initiative to WCK to help continue its mission in Europe.
“It’s going to be used to buy food. Beef, borscht, cabbage, some potatoes…It’s going to continue to just fuel them financially, so they can continue to think big,” Guas says about his donation.
This isn’t the first time that Arlington’s resident celebrity chef has helped during hard times. In the early part of the pandemic, he formed Chefs Feeding Families, which provided free, plant-based meals to underserved Arlington families. Then, he served up meals to the National Guard and local law enforcement protecting the Capitol. Last year, he put together Community Spoon, which was initially founded to help feed Afghan refugees coming into the region.
Then, came Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the heartbreaking images of people fleeing their homeland.
Upon arriving in Poland, Guas was stationed at a WCK facility in the city of Przemyśl which is only about seven miles from the Ukrainian border. There, he cooked and made biscuits, soup, applesauce cake, and meat to serve to volunteers and refugees crossing the border.
“[We were making] a lot of broths, a lot of soups, and a ton of vegetables,” he says. “Beef stocks, pork stocks, chicken stocks, beef cheeks, beef shoulder, and a lot of chicken. Basically, a soup or broth every single day.”
There was also hot chocolate, served both in the morning and at night.
“Everyone needed a little sugar and a little chocolate,” Guas says.
He admits the work was hard and could be monotonous. For more than two weeks, his days were on repeat with him starting at 7 a.m., working 12 to 14 hours, trying to decompress, and going to bed. Then, he would start it all over again.
There were days when he spent hours defrosting hundreds of pounds of beef cheeks, but Guas knew this is where he needed to be.
“I was there because this is who I am… needing to help,” he says.
This article was funded by and first shared with the ARLnow Press Club. Join us to fund more local journalism in Arlington and to get early access to feature stories and each day’s coverage plan.
It was a reasonable ask. Amanda Dabrowski and Jessie Dertke just wanted to do more outdoor activities and go camping. So, they joined the Boy Scouts. Specifically, Arlington’s Troop 104, the oldest continuously operated troop in the Commonwealth and first established more than a century ago.
For nearly all of those years, though, girls weren’t allowed to join.
But all of that changed in 2019 when the Boy Scouts of America allowed girls ages 11 to 17 years old to enter their ranks for the first time. The organization was renamed Scouts BSA. Additionally, the new members were given the opportunity to rise to the rank of Eagle Scout.
The very first day, February 1, 2019, that girls were allowed to join the Boy Scouts, then-12-year-old Dabrowski did exactly that. And went camping, winter be damned.
“I was so excited. And there was a camp-up that day, so I went out and did it. It was six degrees and freezing cold. But I was really, really psyched,” Dabrowski tells ARLnow, now 15 and living in the Ashton Heights neighborhood.
Dabrowski, as well as Dertke have gone on to become Eagle Scouts, making them among the first girls in Arlington to not only be part of what was once called the Boy Scouts but achieve the organization’s highest rank.
“I’m super proud,” Dabrowski says. “It makes me really happy and [becoming an Eagle Scout] doesn’t feel quite real yet… I’m one of the first people within the movement to be part of this.”
Overall, the two Arlingtonians are part of as many as 140,000 girls nationwide who have joined Scouts BSA since early 2019.
Like some who make history, the locals’ initial intentions weren’t necessarily to be first. It was simply to have the same opportunities as their male counterparts. They just wanted to go camping, build fires, and learn how to use a hatchet.
Dabrowski explains that she used to tag along with her twin brother’s troop, doing all of the same activities and completing all the tasks, but wasn’t given the same opportunity for recognition.
“It was really hard to see my brother get the awards and, then, I had done the same things, but wasn’t able to be awarded it because of my gender,” she says.
For 18-year-old Dertke, who’s now a student at Virginia Tech, joining the Scouts was also a way to get outside and go camping. Though, she did have some trepidation about joining.
“I kinda didn’t really want to join at first because I was worried people would say, ‘What are you doing here? You are a girl?’,” she says. “It was actually a great atmosphere and everyone was very supportive. It was a very good decision [to join].”
This article was funded by and first shared with the ARLnow Press Club. Join us to fund more local journalism in Arlington and to get early access to some stories.
(Updated at 3 p.m.) Tom Jensen has seen a lot on the uphill bike trail that ascends intimidatingly past his house in the Arlingwood neighborhood of Arlington.
In the 11 years he’s lived at the house on N. Randolph Street alongside the county-owned trail that connects with Chain Bridge, Jensen has spotted broken bikes, overheated hikers and lost walkers (as well as confused motorists) all climbing the steep hill that he calls “The Wall.”
Often, when travelers finally make it to the top, they are frustrated, tired and possibly cursing.
“I hear a lot of exclamations,” he tells ARLnow, laughing, on a breezy morning at the hilltop, outside of the home he shares with his wife, teenage son, two dogs and a cat.
So, at the beginning of March, Jensen built a flat stone wall — a bench, essentially — at the top of the hill to help people catch their breath and recoup before going on their way.
“We’ve constructed a new stone wall with a wide flat top at comfortable seating height right next to the trail,” he wrote on Nextdoor in mid-March. “It’s ours, but it’s really yours.”
— Chris Slatt (@alongthepike) March 15, 2022
The post has received nearly 1,000 likes and has received numerous comments of gratitude.
“Your kind gift will give solace to the cyclists like me, wondering where their lowest gear has wandered off to,” wrote one person.
“Thank you!” wrote another. “I’ve heard Marylanders refer to your hill as ‘The Committee to Welcome you to Virginia.'”
Jensen, who previously lived in Cherrydale before moving to Arlingwood in the early 2010s, is not entirely clear why such a steep trail exists here.
He believes it may have to do with a long-time-ago installation of a water pipe that county workers paved over. Much of the neighborhood, including Jensen’s cabin and house, is historic and dates back at least nine decades, so the steep trail wasn’t likely constructed anytime recently. He estimates the grade of the hill to be between 6 and 12%, which is quite steep. (U.S. interstate highways are not allowed to be more than 6% grade.)
Jensen, an attorney who specializes in natural resource law, simply saw a need for a bench and decided to take action.
“It’s remarkable how a very small thing can matter,” he said.
Jensen has ordered a sign to let passers-by know that they are welcome to sit on the bench and — to add to the hospitality — is considering installing a free little library as well as a bike repair station.
“[The hill] can break your bike because you have to put some much force into it to overcome the elevation change,” he says. “You get these poor folks sitting there with their bikes upside down, trying to get their chains out from wherever they got jammed.”
On spring and summer weekends, Jensen estimates that he sees “hundreds” of cyclists and “scores” of walkers and hikers using the paved path. Even on a chilly Friday morning for less than an hour, ARLnow saw a cyclist, a jogger, and a walking group of three all traverse the hill.