Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By: Emma Violand Sanchez
The Trump Administration’s words and actions regarding immigration and refugee ban have sparked fear in many communities across America, including Arlington County. They have also sparked broad discontent among Americans who believe, as I do, that the United States has been and IS a nation of immigrants — a land of opportunity where newcomers can, through hard work and perseverance, achieve better lives for themselves and their families.
But in today’s world, realizing the American Dream is becoming nearly impossible for our undocumented youth, our Dreamers. Instead of focusing on their education and the positive contributions they already bring to our nation, many immigrant and refugee families are now terrified that their hopes will be quashed and their hard work will have been for nothing.
Already we are hearing news of ICE raids in communities across Northern Virginia. These news reports do not even begin to describe the tragedy that is happening in our immigrant communities.
When you see a headline that says “ICE rounds up ‘illegal’ immigrants for deportation,” I want you to picture this: Picture a family that is working two or three jobs (jobs that other Americans do not wish to do); children who arrived here as toddlers or perhaps were eve born here and feel that this is their home; high school students who, like other young Americans, have dreams for the future – dreams of college, of marriage, of good jobs – paying back to society many times over the cost of their education.
Most importantly, I want you to picture your neighbors, for this tragedy is happening under your nose, to people who you cross paths with every day — to children who sit in the same classrooms and play in the same playgrounds as your children.
Currently public schools in Arlington serve students from 122 countries, including refugees from countries banned by President Trump’s executive order. Among those immigrant and refugee students enrolled in our schools are some exceptional students who add many positives to the school environment.
In light of this reality we founded the Dream Project Inc. in 2011 in order to raise money to fund college scholarships for Dreamers – young people who live in and contribute to our community but whose immigration status (or that of their parents) prevents them from benefiting from in-state tuition rates at Virginia colleges.
In 2016 we provided 76 such Dreamers with scholarships to allow them to pursue post-secondary education at 18 different universities.
One such student, Ola, came to the United States with her mother and sister after fleeing a dangerous political situation in Sudan. For Ola’s mother, who was raising her children alone, the last straw was when extremists in Sudan tried to force her daughters to undergo female circumcision.
Ola was behind in her studies but was able to enroll in a local high school to catch up. With the help of the Dream Project’s mentoring program and scholarships, Ola achieved academic success is now enrolled in a four-year university. As Ola told me, “My past is not a dark story – it is an engine that drives me to shoot for the stars.”
Under the new administration, major obstacles have arisen. Ola’s mother had an interview as part of her quest to gain political asylum; but asylum approval now have been placed on hold. As a result, Ola’s mother has lost her job. A family that had hoped their nightmare was behind them is now confronting new fears and anxieties. Ola continues to persevere with her studies at Marymount University. What possible benefit is served by denying someone like Ola an opportunity to pursue her dreams?
As I wrote at the beginning, many communities across America are feeling anxiety in the new political environment. I share their concerns and encourage all of you to join us in solidarity. Because only in solidarity will we be able to turn back the forces that have lost sight of what America truly stands for – as recognized by our iconic Statue of Liberty.
Dr. Emma Violand Sánchez is the founder and President of the Dream Project Board. She is a former chair of the Arlington School Board member and retired administrator. In January 2017 she was selected as a Washingtonian of the Year.
Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By: Matt de Ferranti
If the past three weeks are prologue, we will be called upon frequently over the next four years to oppose policies that threaten longstanding American and Arlington values.
One way we can respond is to work locally to make sure that every Arlington student, regardless of his or her income or ethnicity, has a real opportunity to obtain an excellent education and pursue his or her version of the American Dream.
Education in Arlington
Two truths about the Arlington Public Schools (APS) stand out simultaneously: (1) APS is very good for many, many students across all demographic groups; and (2) for some students, our work to make sure they receive the education they need to succeed in the 21st Century is not done.
APS’s overall graduation rates, rates of proficiency on the Standards of Learning (SOLs) that the Commonwealth of Virginia requires for high school graduates, and other external indicators of school quality and student success are very good.
APS graduates 91.1 percent of its students by the most recent measure available and has one of the highest graduation rates in the state.
On SOLs skills proficiency Arlington also does well. In both the reading and math Standards of Learning Assessments, Arlington had an 87 percent pass rate in the 2015-2016 school year. Both rates beat the statewide averages by 7 percent.
The numbers also show that access to the American Dream through high quality education is not yet real for all students in Arlington.
- Arlington graduates only 74 percent of its low-income students compared to the overall APS rate of 91 percent. Graduation rates for Latino and African-American students are slightly below the statewide average.
- As for proficiency on the SOL’s, low-income students reading pass rates are 71 percent, slightly better than the statewide average but well below the overall Arlington average of 87 percent. Similarly, proficiency rates in math for low-income students are better but still more than 10% below Arlington’s average. Proficiency rates for Latino and African-American students, while above 75 percent, are below the 87 percent average for APS as a whole.
So, what do these statistics mean?
To be clear, this does not mean APS does a bad job. APS leadership and the committed educators in APS are skilled, high quality, relentless, and do inspiring work.
This isn’t to be critical of the significant investments Arlington makes in education. We have the best results in the Washington DC region in part because we believe in education as the path to success for all and invest accordingly. As we continue to grow, we’ll need to keep our eye on investing appropriately to educate our growing and changing student population.
This isn’t to say that more money spent on schools is the only way to improve schools. Accountability for student outcomes for every student at the APS and school level is essential.
Instead, these numbers show that Arlington is not yet a community where every child attains an excellent education.
How can we strengthen the American dream in Arlington?
It is going to take broad-based community engagement — parents and non-parents — to help all our kids get there. To be clear, APS has an important role to play, focusing more directly on identifying students who are at risk of not demonstrating proficiency of SOLs or not graduating at all and providing additional resources to improve their odds of succeeding in life.
For example, some students joining the system are behind students who have been in APS from the beginning. We should analyze with more granularity the needs of these students and how to maximize their chances for success.
Similarly, APS should focus additional resources on Arlington’s Tiered System of Support, which improves instruction for all students. APS needs a targeted strategy with specific actions and a timeline to ensure measurable progress.
But Arlington parents, community members, and volunteers should also play a greater role. We can volunteer through our PTAs and APS Advisory Committees. We can ask questions about graduation and proficiency rates for all students.
And our decisions about important topics such as boundaries, academic expectations, and investments in our schools should reflect a broad community commitment to the success of all students in Arlington.
By engaging as a community and living our values, we can successfully take responsibility for making sure all our students, from Westover to Carlin Springs and from Nauck to Spout Run, graduate from APS ready to realize the American Dream.
Matt de Ferranti works at a nonprofit that improves education outcomes for Native American students. He is a member of the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on the Elimination of the Achievement Gap, the Budget Advisory Council to the APS School Board, and the Joint Facilities Advisory Board.
Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By: Jill Caiazzo
I have often questioned the effectiveness of marches. This confession might be surprising, coming from one of the organizers of the Arlington Democrats’ participation in the Women’s March on Washington. Marches can be large, fun affairs — but also somewhat unfocused. Even in their most focused form, marches by themselves rarely result in concrete change. They may succeed in sending a message to those in power, but the likelihood of future action based on that message seems low. So, why march?
In a word: inspiration.
While a march may have minimal relevance to a disinterested policymaker, it is deeply meaningful to its participants. To know that your outrage and frustration are shared, to see the many diverse faces of those who share it, and to find unexpectedly that you are emboldened to share your own views — no participant could walk away from an experience like the Women’s March without feeling moved and motivated. I certainly did not.
Capturing that sense of inspiration is critical to the future success of the Democratic Party, especially in non-presidential election years. Although multiple factors contributed to Hillary Clinton’s loss in November, a failure to inspire broad swaths of Americans surely was one of them.
It pains me to make this point, because I was profoundly inspired by such a well-qualified candidate who fought her heart out to break that highest of glass ceilings. I worked hard to elect her, and I met scores of volunteers who felt the same.
Still, it is undeniable that many others did not share that enthusiasm. The winning Obama coalition did not turn out in the same force, and a large portion of millennial voters stayed home. Lacking inspiration, these voters critical to Democratic victories opted for apathy — with devastating consequences for Democratic candidates and, ultimately, the country.
Rekindling Democrats’ foundering inspiration is no easy task. Inspiration is organic; it cannot be manufactured. Still, it can be encouraged and guided. President Trump proved this point on the campaign trail. Much of President Trump’s electoral success can be attributed to the fear that he inspired — fear of being left behind in the new digital economy or being marginalized in an increasingly diverse culture. These fears existed before President Trump’s candidacy, but his rhetoric amplified them and fueled his ascent.
Should the Democratic Party similarly seek to inspire based on fear? Certainly, there is much to fear in this new Trump era: inability to access lifesaving medicine without brokering bankruptcy; suppression of scientific information necessary for sound environmental stewardship; replacement of religious freedom with unconstitutional bans. And that was just the first week.
Democrats can find potential fear-based sources of inspiration at the state level too. In Virginia, only the veto power of our Democratic governor has saved us from the dramatic job loss and economic stagnation that would be wrought by needlessly divisive bills passed by our Republican-controlled General Assembly.
Our neighbors in North Carolina — home of the infamous “bathroom bill” (whose Virginia corollary was introduced this year) — have not been so fortunate. In 2017, a year when Virginians will elect a new governor, there is indeed much to fear in state politics. Democrats, in turn, should not be afraid to make this fear-based case. We should make it forcefully and loudly.
Yet, as a Democrat — as an American — I cannot advocate for an inspiration strategy based solely on fear. The American Dream is the product of an inherently optimistic people. Democrats must inspire with positivity as well.
The Women’s March, like this weekend’s immigration-related protests, did that wonderfully — but we cannot stop there. We must find other ways to inspire — in particular, ways that counteract the specific fears stoked by President Trump.
When he invokes fear in the new digital economy, for example, we must harness its promise. We can do so by engaging everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, in that economy, such as through skills-based training and affordable access to broadband internet. Initiatives like these benefit both workers and employers, when communicated effectively.
Here in Arlington, we have a unique opportunity not only to generate inspirational ideas but to ensure that our Democrat-controlled local government implements them successfully.
The Women’s March has inspired me and many others to work even harder to seize that opportunity. In that way, the Women’s March has done a great deal — and its inspiration will continue to pay dividends now and for months and years to come.
Jill Caiazzo is senior counsel for government and regulatory affairs at a Fortune 50 technology company. She is a member of the Arlington Economic Development Commission and the Board of the Virginia Democratic Women’s Caucus. The views expressed are her own.
Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or ARLnow.com.
Last weekend’s Women’s March on Washington saw hundreds of thousands of people gather in Washington and millions more around the country and the world to show their concern about the direction of our country and their commitment to progressive values and actions.
That commitment and the resulting sense of empowerment will now be carried forward to address federal, state, and local issues – especially those of government overreach.
This time of year is a time that Arlingtonians are greatly affected by the meeting of the General Assembly in Richmond. Decisions made in the General Assembly during its six to eight-week sessions can greatly affect our lives here in Arlington.
Too often those effects reflect state overreach in trying to control how Arlington addresses concerns raised by its residents. A prime example this year is a threat of state weakening of County protections against overly aggressive towing of parked cars.
Many have heard or experienced “predatory” towing. The reports of predatory towing are increasing all over the country, including in Arlington. And many residents are getting really angry.
Have you ever had your car towed within just a few minutes of parking it because someone employed by a towing company was spotting the lot and you stepped over an ill-defined property line?
Or perhaps at night you missed seeing a small sign in a poorly lit parking lot?
Such a small, often unintentional, mistake would cost you $185, along with lots of panic about what happened to your vehicle and the stress of having to find where the vehicle was being held. The punishment, not even handed down by a court of law, is certainly excessive.
Who actually benefits from aggressive towing practices?
While I appreciate the need for businesses to have parking spaces available for their customers and for apartment buildings and condominiums to have spaces available for their residents and residents’ guests, many unsuspecting people get very harsh punishments for rules that were not clear. This creates ill will that is not beneficial to retailers and landlords. The real beneficiary is the towing company.
As Chairman of Arlington’s Trespass Towing Advisory Board, I now know more about towing than I ever wanted to know. The result is my strong support for the County Board’s 2016 amendments to the towing ordinance to strengthen consumer protections against predatory towing. I am also pleased that a dialogue has been established with the local Chamber of Commerce to consider best practices and protections.
This positive outcome is under threat at the General Assembly via two bills that would gut the County’s actions and protect companies engaged in predatory towing.
As originally introduced, House Bill 1960 (Delegate Hugo, R-Centreville) and Senate Bill 1468, (Senator Marsden, D-Western Fairfax County), would hurt Arlingtonians in at least three ways:
Raise fees again. If these bills are enacted, maximum towing fees in Arlington will have increased by 60% over three years — from $125 to $200 per tow. These increases are imposed on Arlington and the County may not set lower rates. By contrast, you can get a private, consensual tow for $65 and $3 per mile!
Prohibit Arlington from protecting its residents. Arlington’s plans to require an authorization at the time of a tow in some circumstances would be nullified. When Virginia Beach and Stafford and Montgomery Counties do this successfully, Arlington should not be stopped by the state from doing the same.
Limit service by residents on towing advisory boards. The board is dominated by towers already. There is only one voting resident permitted. The Chairman is chosen by a vote of the advisory board members – not appointed. Instead of adding resident voices to the towing board, the bills leave only one citizen member and mandate that the Chair be a representative of the towing industry.
If predatory towing practices concern you, please express that concern to your Delegate and State Senator and to the members of the House and Senate Transportation Committees in the General Assembly.
Let them know that you believe overly aggressive and expensive towing practices require fair and reasonable consumer protections. Ask them to oppose HB 1960 and SB 1468.
There is also an online petition where you can also sign on to express your concern.
Let’s stop this overreach.
Nancy Iacomini has resided in Arlington since 1980 and has undertaken many civic endeavors during that time, including leadership positions in various boards, commissions, and working groups.
Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or ARLnow.com.
By: Kip Malinosky
Democrats must be an effective, aggressive opposition party to President-Elect Trump. When President Obama was elected 8 years ago with nearly 10 million more votes than Senator McCain, in the face of the worst economic crisis in 80 years, Republicans settled on a strategy of total congressional opposition to his agenda.
When President Bush was elected 16 years ago, during a time of peace and prosperity, while losing the popular vote by 500,000 votes, dozens of Democratic legislators voted for Bush’s tax cuts and the war in Iraq.
Now President-Elect Trump will take office while losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, what will Democrats do?
To me the answer is clear. We must resist, organize and try to win every elected office we can through 2020. It’s unfortunately more apparent than ever that playing nice in politics is dangerously naive.
People mostly view politics through the prism of the presidency: if the President is popular his party performs well and if he is unpopular his party performs poorly. We should not hurt people through legislative resistance. Therefore, we should avoid anti-government and economy-damaging tactics like the Republican threat to default on our national debt.
But on every effort by the Republicans to push nominees and legislation that are contrary to the will of a majority of American voters, Democrats should place holds, filibuster and vote no. If Republicans are willing to pursue a radical conservative agenda based on a razor-thin victory in a few states that created an electoral majority for the President-Elect, we Democrats must resist.
Let’s make no mistake, Trump’s agenda is frightening: beginning a new nuclear arms race, mass deportations, a Muslim travel-ban, stripping away every regulation preventing runaway climate change and of course, massive tax cuts for billionaires. There’s no giving a President with these plans a pass, especially one who got a smaller percentage of the popular vote than Mitt Romney, who in turn lost decisively to President Obama.
Even on an issue where there would seem to be symmetry between the parties, like infrastructure spending, what Trump is proposing would harm more than help the country. As Bernie Sanders put it, “Trump’s plan to repair our infrastructure is a scam that gives massive tax breaks to large companies and billionaires.” It skimps on public investment and is a giveaway to proponents of projects that would have been built even without the tax cuts. Voting ‘no’ is the principled and politically advantageous position to take.
In 2004, when President Bush was re-elected, he bragged about earning political capital and intending to spend it on privatizing Social Security. Congress stopped him. Democrats in the minority were united in resistance, Republicans in the majority were divided, and Democrats won. Bush’s second-term agenda unraveled shortly thereafter. Once again, the specter of privatization of Social Security and now even Medicare, along with repeal of the Affordable Care Act haunts the land. Democrats need to be united in resistance to these privatization schemes.
Ironically the Tea Party, formed in large measure to prevent the Affordable Care Act, may show the best tactics to save Social Security, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act itself. Several Democratic congressional staffers created a guide (www.indivisibleguide.com) to show how the Tea Party was stunningly effective at grinding the gears of Congress to a halt.
In short, we need to focus on members of Congress, partner with other progressive groups, and advocate resistance to Trump’s agenda through attending town halls, district office meetings/sit-ins and coordinated calls.
You can meet one of the authors, at our Commonsense Commonwealth Rally with Leah Greenberg this Sunday at Mad Rose Tavern.
Arlington Democrats have already initiated action by taking a resolution against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and Medicare.
And you can call Senator Warner’s office at 703-442-0670 and call Senator Kaine’s office at 703-361-3192 and tell them to join us in resistance.
Finally, we need to win elections at the state and local level. We can start now. In Virginia a new Governor will be elected this year. We have two great candidates — Lt Governor Ralph Northam and former Congressman Tom Perriello vying for the Democratic nomination. You can hear them both speak this Sunday at the Commonsense Commonwealth Rally.
For the New Year let’s resolve to resist and win.
Kip Malinosky is Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee. A different version of this column originally appeared in the ACDC Voice.
By: L. Karen Darner
The recent public spat over the Vice Chair election at the County Board’s organizational meeting was a sad new chapter in our civic life.
The simple and standard selection of Board leaders from the ranks majority was instead turned by Mr. Vihstadt into a public and political issue. The move was unnecessary and unwise at a time when federal and state Republicans are moving aggressively to undermine liberal values, policies, and programs strongly supported by Arlington’s electorate.
The meeting should have focused on community issues and aspirations, not overtly political efforts followed up by a paid Facebook ad seeking to capitalize politically on the Vice Chair maneuver.
I have attended over 30 such organizational meetings. At nearly all, we had on display hard work and collaboration of Board members to build a place where people want to live and work, of which most of us have been very proud — as we should be.
Board members shared their priorities for the new year with County residents and voted for Chairs and Vice Chairs collectively identified as best able to lead the County forward.
The County Board has had a decades-long liberal majority of Democrats and/or Arlingtonians for a Better County members.
Arlington voters still maintain a strong liberal voting record. All but one of our elected officials locally, in Richmond, and on Capitol Hill are Democrats — generally elected by wide margins.
Arlington voters in 2016 gave Hillary Clinton an extraordinary victory margin — a reflection of liberal values and fears of what Donald Trump and highly partisan Republicans would do to undermine so much of the progress made by Democrats.
Our County Board has reflected the electorate’s support for a government that promotes those values, implements progressive policies, conducts government with fiscal prudence and a strong safety net, and delivers public services efficiently and effectively.
For those reasons, I believe that Arlington voters expect the County Board — with a 4-1 Democratic majority — to be led by Democrats.
And until now, Board members have been able to work together, without partisanship and overweening personal ambition, to elect Chairs and Vice Chairs.
Through it all, we saw high levels of mutual respect. When Board members did not agree, we saw healthy discussion, persuasion and compromise focused on what’s best for Arlingtonians. We learned the rationale for policies, processes or projects, changes that might be possible and how compromises were achieved.
Unfortunately, in the last few years, we saw increased divisiveness in our politics — pitting parts of the County against each other and an elected official hurling accusations of impropriety and unethical behavior against elected colleagues.
When I endorsed Katie Cristol (and Christian Dorsey) to be 2015 Democratic nominees, I looked forward to returning to a more positive mindset. I saw Katie as a creative mind with a strong commitment to Democratic values — the worth of each person, quality education, fairness and justice, compassion and unselfishness.
She has developed a strong track record on the Board, fusing her interest in public policy with a practical sense of good governance and an openness to hearing and understanding the viewpoints of all Arlingtonians. She has represented us ably in her regional responsibilities.
An added plus is that Katie’s a millennial. Giving someone from the next generation a chance to step up, especially in a county with the highest proportion of millennials in the country, provides for an important perspective.
To favor Katie for the Vice Chair position is not to denigrate the John Vihstadt’s public service. But John is neither a Democrat nor a liberal.
The January remarks by each Board member about priorities and policies reflected substantial difference between Mr. Vihstadt and his Democratic colleagues. He sounded like a Main Street Republican — and someone with a partisan perspective.
The Board Chair and Vice Chair are the public face of our community and set the Board’s agenda. Our leadership team should not equivocate on fundamental Democratic values that have made Arlington such a great community.
Moreover, at a time when liberal values will be under threat at the state and federal levels by highly partisan Republicans, it is certainly not time for decidedly Democratic urban and suburban jurisdictions to turn to a Republican to lead our governing efforts.
That’s why Mr. Fisette and Ms Cristol were properly selected as County Board leaders and spokespeople. They represent what Arlington stands for and they will continue to work with all residents to seek solutions while showing respect to the people of Arlington.
Karen Darner served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1991 to 2004. In 2009, she received the Arlington Community Foundation’s William T. Newman Jr. Spirit of Community Award in recognition of over 30 years as an educator and an active member of numerous community organizations.
By: Jay Fisette
The following is an excerpted version of a statement delivered at the Arlington County Board’s January 3rd Organizational Meeting. The full text will be available on the County web site.
It’s said that the only constant in life is change. But the pace and impacts of change vary greatly. This year is likely to bring dramatic, unsettling changes in our national government and internationally. Arlington will feel some effects, but respond as we have before in times of turbulence and more gradual change: with sensible actions, shared community vision, thoughtful dialogue and open debate.
What makes us such a healthy community?
Let’s recognize how fortunate we are in our location next to the Nation’s Capital, income and education levels, community values, and tradition of strong, open government with engaged citizens.
Arlington continues to excel in the provision of core government services — public safety, education, transportation and basic social services for those in need. Of course we’re not perfect, yet in our last resident survey, overall satisfaction with the quality of local government services remained at 89% — 32 percentage points above the national average.
Our smart growth planning is a national model, relying on transit and thoughtful land use planning as prime engines of redevelopment. Our resulting tax base is well balanced between commercial and residential properties. Our tax rate is among the lowest in the region. Our triple-AAA bond rating reflects strong fiscal management. Our unemployment rate remains the lowest in Virginia and well below the national rate.
So what’s our job in 2017?
Listen and lead.
Ensure Arlington continues to move forward.
Improve the predictability and equity of services with County agencies responsive to residents’ and businesses’ questions and needs.
Harness technology, adapt to the sharing economy and improve our communication and notification tools.
Some challenges I intend to focus on in 2017 are: (1) the need for facilities, including schools, within constraints of limited land; (2) strengthening economic competitiveness; (3) housing affordability; (4) environmental sustainability; (5) METRO; and (6) staying true to our vision and values.
On facilities, we continue to work well with our elected School Board colleagues — as partners in local government, sharing fiscal resources, facilities and land. We are all in this together. We all need fire stations, bus storage facilities, parks, schools and more.
Regarding economic competitiveness, our commercial vacancy rate has recently dipped below 20%, though still much higher than our historic averages. We have attracted and retained businesses, but must continue to brand Arlington as an innovation economy hub and market our assets aggressively.
Affordable housing has become a bellwether issue that expresses the soul of our community. We are victims of our own success. Far more people want to live here than we have homes to fill.
To further the Affordable Housing Master Plan, we will review and update our accessory dwelling unit ordinance, consider tools for preserving our attractive and affordable garden apartments, and explore more options for people of modest means, multi-generational households and aging in place.
Environmental sustainability is our generation’s planetary challenge. Arlington must be a leader. Our 2013 Community Energy Plan was adopted after three years of collaborative effort. We did not just sign a proclamation. We have implemented policies and programs to achieve our targets.
Ensuring the success of METRO is the region’s top priority and will require all our attention in 2017. It is a backbone of our transportation network and our economy. 84% of office development in the region’s pipeline is within ¼ mile of a METRO station.
WMATA, under strong new leadership, has taken bold steps to address the system’s safety and reliability. Having the only large U.S. rail system without a dedicated funding source, we must help our region find a sustainable path forward.
A significant task in 2017 will be to advance our values, our vision and our community ethic as we collectively grapple with broader uncertainties and threats to social and environmental programs and individual liberties anticipated with the incoming federal administration.
Local governments will be called upon to lead. Communities like Arlington can serve as a model for combining progressive social policies with conservative and responsible fiscal policies.
Arlington must continue to: stand by our convictions; pursue our aspirations; value the common good; prize public education; look after the most vulnerable among us; strengthen environmental protection; build public trust through broad civic engagement and careful fiscal management; and treat our foreign-born residents with respect and human dignity. We embrace people’s differences as a source of this community’s strength.
Arlington will work to create a more sustainable, equitable and healthy community — a community that works. We will do this together.
Jay Fisette will serve as 2017 Arlington County Board Chair. He was elected to the County Board in 1998 and previously served as the Board’s chair in 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2014.
By Krysta Jones
The Arlington section of Columbia Pike runs from Arlington Cemetery and Fort Myer to the western end of Arlington approaching the Skyline area of Fairfax County. For decades, Arlington County, in partnership with local organizations, has sought to make the Pike a destination instead of a thoroughfare, a hub of economic development and a community of vibrant, diverse neighborhoods.
County and regional plans show two-thirds of Arlington’s population growth and nearly half of its employment growth over the next 30 years will occur along Columbia Pike.
In the wake of the cancellation of a streetcar project that was a key element of the plan to revitalize the Pike and protect affordable housing, determined residents are working to find other ways to continue to attract development to the area.
The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) and numerous civic associations have stepped up their efforts to work with the County government to transform the Pike, albeit more slowly, into a model of community development.
While more — and more sustained — focus is needed, in light of recent changes along the Pike 2017 is shaping up to be a year of progress for the community.
- In July 2016, the County Board unanimously adopted a new Transit Development Plan that includes improvements through 2026 and will explore the possibility of customized bus vehicles, larger articulated buses and more frequent off-peak service that could encourage more people to use transit.
- Orr Partners is scheduled to break ground on the Columbia Pike Village Center in 2017 at the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. George Mason Drive. The Village Center will include a 6-story mixed-use building on the site currently occupied by the Food Star grocery store. In addition, there will be 350 new residential units, ground floor retail including a Harris Teeter and three levels of below-grade parking. The development will also include a public square.
- The iconic Rappahannock Coffee shopping area (now referred to as 2400 Columbia Pike) across from Penrose Square will be converted to a 6-story mixed-use building with 105 new residential units.
- The revitalization of Columbia Pike is integrally tied to the growth of recreation and entertainment opportunities. The Pike has been home to the Columbia Pike Blues Festivals and a Sunday farmers market. Recently the Fall Wine and Craft Beer Fest has been a popular attraction. The Penrose Square and Arlington Mill movie nights are also welcome additions for family nights for those who live on the Pike and throughout the area. The Arlington Mill Community Center is a refreshing addition to the west end of the Pike and hosts County and civic meetings and activities.
- Despite some concerns expressed about affordable housing, particularly from several residents on the west end, the County seeks to preserve 6,200 affordable housing units along the Pike. Some residents fear the concentration of affordable housing along the west end will deter new retailers from investing in new developments in that area. As previous Progressive Voice columnists have written, affordable housing is an important aspect of Arlington’s economy, schools and public safety and mobility. Continued conversations about affordable housing are critical to the area’s future development.
These are just a few of the changes that have occurred along the Pike in recent years, but many would not have occurred without years of planning and discussions by visionary officials and determined community leaders.
If the Pike is to reach its potential and be able to accommodate successfully the likely population and employment growth it will experience, Pike residents will need the County to keep up its commitment to preserving the diversity and economic vitality of the Pike.
Our hope for 2017 is that Arlington County will continue to reflect our progressive values as it works to make Columbia Pike, and all of our communities, better places to live, work and play for all Arlingtonians.
Krysta Jones is founder and CEO of Virginia Leadership Institute and serves on the board of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization.
By: Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz
Over the past six years we have lived Arlington, my wife and I have seen how our community gets involved proactively in the process of effecting positive change. That is why we both joined boards of directors of Arlington-based non-profit organizations that seek to provide a chance for success to underserved portions of our community.
We have further invested in our community by buying a home here and sending our 5-year old daughter to an Arlington public school. Once he is older, our 1-year old son will also attend an APS school.
Given the outcome of the recent presidential election, I strongly believe that local initiatives and solutions throughout our country will be important in determining the wellbeing of our communities in the years to come.
Local initiatives and solutions are more effective when the community is broadly represented throughout the decision-making processes.
Recently, our elected officials, the people’s representatives, on the Arlington County Board and the Arlington County School Board decided to create the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC) as an advisory body jointly appointed by both Boards. This action is the type of significant step forward in providing a way for encouraging multiple voices, perspectives, opinions and needs to be addressed at a strategic level.
The overall mission of JFAC is to provide input to the Boards on capital facilities needs assessment, capital improvement plans and long range facility planning for both the Arlington County government and Arlington Public Schools.
In accordance with this mission, JFAC will have the ability to provide recommendations and feedback to the Boards on many key matters that will have an impact on the lives of all people who reside, visit and do business in Arlington.
The Arlington County Board in early November provided some specifics about the intended functions and scope of JFAC:
- Review the APS and County needs assessment reports prior to their presentation, receive and review public input on them, make recommendations to the respective Boards on each report and provide input on the development of the CIPs.
- Review both CIPs prior to their adoption, receive and review public input on them and make recommendations to the respective Boards on the adoption of each CIP.
In performing these reviews as a jointly created advisory commission, JFAC should identify and carefully consider partnership opportunities between County and APS to maximize public benefit. Examples of partnership opportunities include, but are not limited to, co-location, joint or shared use, adaptive reuse and efficiencies in construction timing.
- Review periodic updates from County and APS staff on trends and forecasts affecting the community, including economics and revenue, population and demographics, school enrollment, student generation factors, and development activity. This information will inform JFAC’s recommendations on capital facility needs.
- Place a special emphasis on long range planning for future County and APS facility needs based on analysis of the latest trends, forecasts and service delivery models. Big picture, visionary thinking is encouraged, and JFAC should be a forum where fresh and creative ideas can be discussed freely.
- Partner with staff on facilitating broader community engagement on facilities issues, including hosting fora and public comment periods on both individual siting decisions and longer-term planning.
The mission, functions and scope of JFAC affords an opportunity for the kind of local initiatives and solutions that I think are so necessary in the wake of November’s presidential election.
In this regard, I was inspired by Mary Hynes’ recent Progressive Voice column in which she wrote about her “Thoughts After a Difficult Election” and particularly her paraphrasing the Prophet Micah: “We are called to act with justice; we are called to love tenderly; we are called to serve one another; to walk humbly with God.”
Regarding serving one another and walking humbly, I remain committed to moving from the sidelines to the center of public policy debates in my community. My goal has been to get involved in ensuring traditionally underserved voices are part of public policy decision-making processes in Arlington.
JFAC would afford just such an opportunity were I chosen to serve. Whether or not I am chosen, I hope all JFAC members will consider the importance of those less heard voices in our community deliberations.
We can be a stronger and a more stable and equitable community when all voices of Arlington are heard; when all of us proactively get involved in how public policies are developed; and when we hold each other accountable for the short-term and long-term impacts of the decisions made.
Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz is the Associate Director of an asset-building and financial capability organization in Washington, DC and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Arlington-based non-profit organization Dream Pr
By: Jarrod Nagurka
Last December, the Arlington County Board moved forward with plans to give the Virginia Hospital Center (VHC) the option to purchase County-owned land (either with cash or through a land swap) adjacent to the hospital. The land became available after the County’s Department of Human Services (DHS) moved its programs from that location to the Sequoia complex.
The likely VHC expansion provides the hospital with the opportunity to make important improvements to its psychiatric ward to better serve Arlingtonians with serious mental illness (SMI).
As many as 300,000 Virginians live with SMI, including thousands here in Arlington. Individuals with SMI are often diagnosed with disorders ranging from schizophrenia to severe bipolar. And just like any other illness, mental illness can affect anyone — one in 17 people live with SMI. Considering its impact on friends and family, chances are you or someone you know is affected by it.
Left untreated, SMI can be devastating. However, for those who receive proper treatment and management, there is hope.
Individuals can go through recovery and lead fulfilling lives as productive members of society. High-quality psychiatric services are proven to reduce future hospitalizations and jail visits. That’s why it’s so important that we ensure individuals have access to services that align with industry best practices. It’s not just the right thing to do morally, but it’s smart economics too.
VHC’s potential expansion is an opportunity for the hospital to meet the community’s great unmet need for additional mental health services.
In FY 2016, 208 (42%) individuals in treatment with DHS who were deemed by a magistrate in Arlington to be a risk to themselves or others couldn’t get a bed at VHC because there were no psychiatric beds available. Moreover, this only reflects some of those turned away from VHC. It doesn’t count individuals who are seeing private providers, individuals who are not in treatment at all or individuals who voluntarily sought psychiatric hospitalizations.
To meet Arlington’s true demand for psychiatric services, VHC should use an expansion to take two major steps to better serve our community:
- Expand the number of psychiatric beds. Arlington has far fewer psychiatric beds than the generally accepted standard of 50 per 100,000 residents. As a result, those in need of hospitalization often have to seek services located hours away. This forces individuals to receive treatment far from family, friends and doctors. While VHC has said they will seek to expand overall beds, they have thus far not committed to using these beds for psychiatric purposes rather than in other, oftentimes more profitable, wards.
- Move the psychiatric ward out of the basement. During a renovation roughly a decade ago, VHC moved the psychiatric ward to the hospital’s basement with no exposure to natural light. This is VHC’s only inpatient ward located underground. Lack of sunlight has proven to lead to depression and is certainly not conducive to recovery. Additional space should allow VHC to move its psychiatric ward above ground and configure and equip it in accordance with best practices to include ample natural light.
Though there’s a stigma often, though fortunately less so over time, attached to mental illness, the truth is that SMI can affect anyone at a moment’s notice — even someone who has not previously exhibited symptoms. Just like a stroke, heart attack or any other medical emergency, those experiencing a psychotic break need access to emergency services immediately.
It is very unfortunate that Arlingtonians currently living with SMI are often forced to undergo treatment in VHC’s underground psychiatric ward (if a bed is even available) or seek treatment hours away.
In Arlington, we embrace the idea that we’re stronger together — measured not by individual success but by how we collectively care for our most vulnerable neighbors. Nobody believes that someone having a stroke should have to drive hours away for treatment or recover in a basement. We shouldn’t tolerate those conditions for Arlingtonians living with SMI either.
Commendably, Virginia Hospital Center prides itself on its desire to meet the healthcare needs of the community. In many areas, VHC lives up to this goal and provides world-class healthcare services. By committing to use newly acquired land to improve its psychiatric services, VHC can yet again demonstrate its commitment to serving our community.
Jarrod Nagurka is a lifelong Arlingtonian. He was appointed by the County Board in 2015 to the Arlington Community Services Board, an oversight body for services provided by DHS. Jarrod has previously worked in the state legislature and on federal, state, and local political campaigns in Virginia. He currently works in education policy.
By: Gillian Burgess
2016 has been a tough year and as it draws to a close, many are looking for hope for the future. Arlington County is in a tough position: we continue to grow, have excellent schools and County services and live near the center of the dynamic capital region. Yet growth is also straining public services and transportation systems; and winds of political change bring uncertainty to our 26 square miles.
But in this season of hope, Arlington has reason for hope. We have informed, engaged residents and hard-working, intelligent County and Schools staffs. To tackle the challenges ahead, Arlington needs to embrace its inner nerd and live by a mantra (paraphrased from Richmond): smart counties do smart things.
We do many smart things already, but there are three areas where we need to get smarter: defragmenting planning and public service; performance measurement; and communications and engagement. Arlington has a lot of potential to tackle these challenges. We need committed leadership to make it happen.
De-fragment Planning and Public Service
As with most localities, the County organizes itself into separate departments to streamline delivery of services to constituents. However, this fragmentation can lead to sub-optimal outcomes, particularly when similar services are spread among departments or when it inhibits inclusive long-term planning.
For example, at least three different County departments build small sidewalk and trail projects: neighborhood conservation; parks; and environmental services. All have reported problems finding contractors who can do the work efficiently and effectively because individual projects are too small to be attractive. The County should look to bundle these small projects to make them attractive to contractors or evaluate whether these should be in-house projects.
The biggest divide in providing services in Arlington is the separation of the County and the Schools. For example, if you think your child’s school bus stop is unsafe, the solution depends on whether you call APS Transportation, which may move the stop, or the County’s Department of Environmental Services, which could install a crosswalk to make the original stop safer. But neither department seems set up together to figure out the optimal neighborhood solution.
This area has great potential. APS and the County are establishing the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission to coordinate long range planning for facilities and capital improvement plans. The County and Schools should also prioritize establishing a joint transportation commission to follow-up on the Multimodal Transportation and Student Safety Special Committee’s efforts.
Smart Performance Measurement
Arlington’s big investments in data systems makes it well positioned to be a performance management leader. But data is most helpful when it tracks performance measures that matter to residents.
For example, the Department of Environmental Services measures number of potholes repaired annually, but I am more interested in wait time between when a pothole is reported and when it is repaired.
Fortunately, Arlington has a network of involved residents eager to improve these performance measures. The County could take advantage of the numerous advisory groups to quickly gather suggestions on what outputs matter most to residents and how those could be measured.
By: Rip Sullivan
As we’ve watched the Trump transition with more than a little trepidation, the President-Elect has begun walking back some of the promises that most defined his campaign: repealing the ACA; building the wall; torture; climate change.
And to think Hillary was branded the liar.
But that’s another column.
Along with the lucky $2 bill my Mom gave me, I carry a card in my wallet that my Dad gave me. It reads “the greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.” And did we ever fall on November 8. We got knocked down. Bigly.
But not here in Virginia and not here in Arlington. Hillary won the Commonwealth, continuing our advance from purple to blue, and won decisively in Arlington.
Nationally, the early post-mortems lay blame on Democratic turnout. In key places around the country, Democrats didn’t vote. And low turnout is a Democrat-killer.
So now that the election is in our rearview mirror, it is time for us to gear up for another election in Virginia. Next year we will elect a Governor, Lieutenant Governor, an Attorney General and all 100 members of the House of Delegates. We can — must — build on the great work we did this year in Arlington and more broadly in Virginia to win next year’s crucial elections.
Governor McAuliffe’s term highlights how important it will be for Democrats to focus on 2017’s off-year election. He has vetoed over 60 bills during his 3 years in office — and the General Assembly has sustained every veto.
The Governor’s vetoes from just last year include a bill defunding Planned Parenthood and a bill that would have prohibited Virginia from taking any action to comply with the Clean Power Plan.
The General Assembly also considered legislation that was frighteningly similar to North Carolina’s notorious HB 2. The only thing keeping these bills from becoming law — from harming our economy and making Virginia a national embarrassment — are a Democratic Governor and strengthened Democratic numbers in the General Assembly.
This is why Arlington Democrats, Independents and even Republicans who voted for Hillary Clinton — or against Donald Trump — need to regroup, reorganize and focus on making an impact on next year’s elections in Virginia.
There are plenty of reasons to believe we can be successful next year.
The first and most obvious is that we were successful this year. Over 90,000 Arlingtonians voted for Hillary Clinton, and turnout was a record high.
Hillary won Virginia by nearly 5%, which is more than President Obama’s margin in 2012. She won Virginia’s most prominent bellwether counties — Loudoun County and Prince William County — by a margin of 17% and 20%, respectively. And Donald Trump barely won two of the biggest Republican strongholds in Virginia — Chesterfield County and Virginia Beach — by just under 3% and 5%. We need to ensure that this trend continues.
Next year also presents an opportunity to make the House of Delegates reflect what we saw in Tuesday’s election results. Many House districts currently held by Republicans — including Republicans who introduced divisive bills that Governor McAuliffe vetoed — were won by Hillary Clinton on Tuesday.
How do these Republican delegates repeatedly win in what should be Democratic districts? Turnout.
It is an unfortunate and frustrating fact that turnout typically drops 25-35% from a presidential election to a gubernatorial election.
This does not have to be the case in 2017.
Turn the frustration and disappointment you experienced last Tuesday into energy and dedication next year. Volunteer to knock doors in your neighborhood. Donate time and money to your local Democratic Committee. Talk to your friends and neighbors about how important it is for Democrats to participate in and win next year’s elections. Your work will be rewarded next November and beyond.
I’ll be following my own advice — actually, my Dad’s — next year. As the House Democratic Caucus’ Campaign Chair, I will be recruiting, helping fund and advising Democratic candidates in House of Delegates races all across Virginia. Their good campaigns across the Commonwealth can help the entire Democratic statewide ticket as well.
Many of these House races are winnable if we rise up again after our fall, roll up our sleeves, dig in and turn out to vote next November. I hope you will join me.
Rip is a Northern Virginia community activist and a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Virginia’s 48th District, which encompasses parts of Arlington and McLean.
By: Mary Hynes
Wednesday morning at 6:45, my thirty-something daughter and her husband walked into our kitchen. She had been in tears for several hours. All her work to encourage voting for Hillary had come to naught.
A lifelong Washingtonian, she was beside herself with fear. Would DC now be a larger terrorism target; would women harassed and abused no longer have the legal protections they now enjoy; would her sister — and those she sees at the busy healthcare practice where she works — no longer have essential healthcare coverage?
My husband and I — lifelong Democrats with deep Minnesota progressive roots — tried our best to reassure her. The Constitution will protect us…we live in a nation of laws…it takes time to repeal laws and there will be opportunities to peacefully oppose unnecessary change.
No one gets to sit on the sidelines now. But let’s face it — we have the same fears and concerns over the past 10 months and yet our voices and actions weren’t enough.
So what should we — the plurality of Americans who chose the losing side — do next?
I will take my cues from the prophet Micah: We are called to act with justice; we are called to love tenderly; we are called to serve one another; to walk humbly with God.
My watch words — my guiding stars — will be JUSTICE, LOVE, SERVICE, AND HUMILITY.
JUSTICE: No more spinning. I will not subscribe or listen to media outlets that do not provide fact based reporting. I believe the 24/7 news cycle has perpetuated misinformation. I want hard reporting, backed by evidence. I want a focus on the incredibly difficult issues this country faces and how each of the policy choices we have will affect real people. Anecdotes and opinions in the guise of hard reporting have not served anyone in this country well.
LOVE: If the same-sex marriage movement taught us anything it should be that people are people are people. I don’t know many Trump voters. I will actively look for ways I can help build bridges — across the Commonwealth, within the larger faith community, with folks who are different from me. Because this can be difficult and uncomfortable to do alone, I will urge the organizations I am part of to take this task on as part of their mission.
SERVICE: No sitting on the sidelines. I will pick an issue or two to deeply educate myself on. I’ll call out misinformation where I can and ask as many questions as I need to ask to ensure that we have the information we need and know how to object. I’ll give money and time to those causes that advance building bridges and serving those who may be voiceless.
HUMILITY: No one person can solve our problems or pull this country back together, despite that claim by our President-Elect. The health of our country depends on each of us being, in our work and our lives, respectful of our incredibly diverse fellow Americans. Those of us who’ve been active in the past, who thought we might have peaceful retirement years, had a rude awakening on November 8. I will seek new ways to share my story, knowledge and expertise with my millennial children and neighbors as they assume their rightful places as leaders in our towns, counties, states and country.
This election proves, once again, that every vote matters.
The popular/electoral vote difference demonstrates very clearly that our nation is in the midst of change — and that we have two different visions of what should come next. Lasting resolution will only come through engagement with those whose views seem different from our own.
The first step is to find out where we do agree and begin rebuilding from that strength. Every community, guided by a justice, love, service and humility, needs to take on this work.
Our future depends on it.
Mary Hynes served as an Arlington elected official for 20 years — eight years on the County Board, including service as Chairman, and 12 years on the School Board. She sought in those positions to promote civic engagement and progressive values. She and her husband continue to live in Arlington.
By: Alfonso Lopez
On Tuesday I found myself thinking of Susan B. Anthony, the suffragettes fighting for equality locked up at the Occoquan Workhouse, the incomparable Dolores Huerta, and my role models and predecessors in the Virginia General Assembly State Senator Mary Margaret Whipple and Delegate Karen Darner. I thought of my wife, my aunts, my cousins who are like sisters, my Vassar classmates and professors, and my Mom who fought so hard and dreamed of seeing a woman in the White House. On Election Day I proudly voted Hillary Clinton for President.
Like so many in Arlington, I woke up on Wednesday morning incredibly disappointed by the election results. I am immensely proud to have joined over 90,000 Arlingtonians in voting for Hillary Clinton. Arlington alone provided a 71,000 vote margin for Secretary Clinton out of her victory margin of 184,000 votes in Virginia. Unfortunately, despite winning Virginia and securing a majority of the national popular vote, Secretary Clinton will not be our 45th President.
While many have already dissected and analyzed what happened in this election, I think it is important to remember that Arlington is a microcosm of the values and priorities that Hillary Clinton fought so hard to promote in this campaign.
We are extraordinarily diverse and welcoming to people of all backgrounds regardless of their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. We value leaders with experience and a steady hand that focus on core priorities such as investing in education, transportation and transit infrastructure, job creation, environmental protection, affordable housing and a robust social safety-net for our most vulnerable citizens.
Although we may not have elected the President we’d want as a role model for our children, Arlington can still continue to lead the way as an exemplary community that remains one of the best places in America to live, work and raise a family. Our values of openness, inclusion and compassion are our strength and will continue to guide us through our challenges.
Though we have steady Democratic leadership here in Arlington, the Republican Party now will control the vast majority of state legislatures and governors’ mansions across the country, the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and the White House. Over the next few years, they will have unequivocal authority over the direction of our country.
As a result, instead of coalescing around a position of simply opposing President Obama at every turn and refusing to compromise, Republicans now have to own the status quo. They need to govern and take responsibility for their choices. Voter can then fairly evaluate and judge those choices. After eight years rooting for President Obama to fail and doing their best to ensure it — obstructionism will no longer work.
Our democracy is built on the foundation of free and fair elections that determine the direction of our country, and we have the opportunity with every new election to make a course correction and change that trajectory. Just next year, Virginians will have the opportunity to elect a new Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General and all 100 members of the House of Delegates.
If you are upset about the results of this election, I encourage you to get involved with your local Democratic Committee and find out what you can do in the next election to change the direction of our country. In the United States, our revolutions are political and they start with individuals, neighbors and communities coming together to vote, organize and let their voices be heard.
Every vote matters. Indeed, Clinton would have won with just four more votes per precinct in Michigan, seven per precinct in Pennsylvania, and nine per precinct in Wisconsin.
As the old saying goes, “We must strive as hard as we can, to do as much good as we can, for as many people as we can, for as long as we can.”
This election is an important reminder that we cannot take anything for granted and that there is always more work to do to keep our community, our commonwealth and our country moving forward.
As Hillary Clinton said in her concession speech, “(N)ever stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it. It’s always worth it.”
Quoting Faulkner, Senator Tim Kaine stated, “They kilt us, but they ain’t whupped us yit.”
Our work continues. Join us and together let’s fight to achieve our goals, shared values, and dreams.
Alfonso Lopez represents the 49th District (South Arlington and Eastern Fairfax) in the Virginia House of Delegates and serves as the Democratic Whip. He and his family are long-time residents of Arlington.
By: Elizabeth Jones Valderrama
Incarceration is traumatic. It is traumatic for the individual in jail or prison, of course. It is also traumatic for the families of that individual, particularly children, who are silent sufferers. There are five million children in the United States with a parent incarcerated — that’s about one in every 14 children under the age of 18.
Can you imagine the loss that a child experiences when their mother or father is suddenly gone from their lives for a period of time?
Studies show that children of incarcerated parents are affected in a variety of capacities, including a decline in academic performance, an increase in behavioral issues, an increase in the likelihood of involvement with the criminal justice system themselves and much more. The family often struggles with how much information to give to the child. Questions such as, “Do we tell the kids where Daddy went?” and “Do we tell them why Mommy is gone?” are difficult to answer.
Children who are aware of what is happening to their parent often experience shame and worry, and the stigma that accompanies a criminal history affects the children as well. Though impacted immensely, children of incarcerated parents bear this heavy burden as a result of something they had no control over. Additionally, families are often left with less income while their loved one is away, leaving many families in financial hardship.
Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR) is here, on behalf of the community to help.
OAR works with individuals who are currently incarcerated and those returning home to Arlington, Alexandria or Falls Church after their incarceration, as well as their families.
In Arlington, OAR partners with the Arlington County Sheriff’s Department and offers six-week parenting courses, taught by trained volunteers, in the Arlington County Detention Facility. These classes discuss how to be an effective parent, with a focus on how to have difficult conversations with their children about their incarceration and how to maintain positive relationships with the child’s guardian.
Individuals who participate in the parenting class also benefit from contact visits with their children during Mother’s Day and/or Father’s Day — in fact, taking the Parenting course is required for participation in these contact visits. You can imagine how impactful it can be to hug their parent and speak face-to-face rather than through the glass of a jail visitation room, especially during these special occasions.
You can also imagine that the holidays can be an especially difficult time for families of those incarcerated.
Having a loved one away for holidays is emotionally tough and families may not be able to provide holiday gifts for their children due to financial hardship. OAR understands the need to ensure children that their parent is thinking of them during the holiday season. With the support of the community, OAR’s “Project Christmas Angel” provides holiday gifts to children of incarcerated parents in the Arlington County Detention Facility, as well as those who have been recently released and those active in OAR’s programs.
OAR volunteers wrap and distribute donated gifts. Each child receives three gifts mailed or hand delivered to their home and the gifts have handwritten gift tags from their parent. One parent from the Arlington County Detention Facility wrote to OAR about this program: “Thank you so much for providing gifts for my children this year. It breaks my heart that I am not with them and they are suffering from my mistakes. But it warms my heart to know that on Christmas morning they will have gifts from me and know that I am thinking of them every single day.”
There are several ways the community can help Project Christmas Angel and OAR is currently collecting donations. Gifts for children ages newborn to 18 are needed, while gifts for teens are especially needed. OAR is also collecting gift card donations. Denominations of $20 to $25 to places such as Target and Amazon are most helpful. We have an Amazon wish list where donations can easily be purchased online and shipped to OAR’s office. Additionally, financial donations are needed to fund the project. For more information about Project Christmas Angel visit OAR’s Events page.
OAR is so thankful to be serving a community that understands the needs and struggles of individuals currently and formerly incarcerated, as well as their families. As author Bryan Stevenson once said, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
Elizabeth Jones Valderrama is the Executive Director of Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR), serving Arlington County and the Cities of Alexandria and Falls Church, and has been on the OAR team for over 11 years. Born in Costa Rica, she relocated to Arlington in 1989. Elizabeth holds a BA in Spanish and Latin American Studies from the University of Virginia and has a Master’s Degree in Organizational Management. She is a 2009 graduate of Leadership Center for Excellence’s Signature Program and was honored as one of Arlington County’s 40 under 40 Emerging Leaders inaugural class.