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INSIDENOVA

MAGAZINE

COOL TUNES Stafford mom is a flute-playing rockstar

FINDING LOVE IN A PANDEMIC 9-YEAR-OLD TAKES THE CAKE FROM QUILTS TO MASKS


Supporting Stafford Restaurants and Families in Need Stafford Cares is a county wide initiative that includes a number of new programs and projects fostering the well-being of Stafford citizens and businesses. These programs are designed to help many in need, as our community recovers from the impact of the Coronavirus.

#StaffordCares Stafford Cares kicks off in February 2021 by supporting Stafford restaurants, and families in need as we all continue to adjust to the economic impacts of Coronavirus.

Helping Restaurants In “Supporting Stafford Restaurants and Families in Need� we will provide meal cards or certificates from local restaurants and distribute them to Stafford SNAP recipient families. This project is funded & brought to you by:

For More Information visit: GoStaffordVA.com/Stafford-Cares


IN THE HEART OF STAFFORD. Stafford Hospital is committed to providing the best cardiac care and life-saving procedures for you, performed by talented, highly trained cardiologists. We’ve expanded our cardiac services with a new, $2.5 million dollar state-of-the-art Cardiac Catheterization Lab. This investment is enhanced by the newly formed Mary Washington Cardiology practice in affiliation with Oracle Heart & Vascular. Convenient, expert heart care right here in the heart of Stafford.

Stafford.mwhc.com


Stafford Stafford Stafford MAGAZINE

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CONTENTS

V O L U M E 2 , I S SMAGAZINE UE 1 PUBLISHER

Bruce Potter bpotter@insidenova.com MAGAZINE 571-333-1538 DIGITAL EDITOR

Kari Pugh karipugh@insidenova.com ADVERTISING

Sales Leader: Connie Fields cfields@insidenova.com (703) 303-8713 Account Executive: Rick Bockes rbockes@insidenova.com Account Executive: Brenda Powell bpowell@insidenova.com

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AMAZING KIDS

Baked With Love 9-year-old and her family start cake business

ART DIRECTOR

Kara Thorpe STAFF REPORTERS

Dave Fawcett CONTRIBUTORS

David S. Kerr Tracy Bell David Stegon PUBLISHED BY:

Rappahannock Media LLC / InsideNoVa 1360 Old Bridge Road Woodbridge VA 22192 (703) 318-1386 PRESIDENT

Dennis Brack dbrack@rappnews.com BUSINESS OFFICE

Michelle Freeman accounting@insidenova.com ON THE WEB

www.staffordmagazine.com Stafford Magazine is published every other month and distributed to over 9,000 selected addresses. While reasonable care is taken with all material submitted to Stafford Magazine, the publisher cannot accept responsibility for loss or damage to any such material. Opinions expressed in articles are strictly those of the authors. While ensuring that all published information is accurate, the publisher cannot be held responsible for any mistakes or omissions. Reproduction in whole or part of any of the text, illustrations or photographs is strictly forbidden. ©2021 Rappahannock Media LLC.

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Love Will Overcome Pandemic has made the big day tough, but not impossible

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COVER STORY

Cool Tunes Stafford mom ‘not your average flute player’

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BUSINESS

From Quilts To Masks Blessed Hands showcases African designs

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NONPROFITS

A GameChanger New food truck helps Stafford Food Security combat hunger

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SPORTS

A Fresh Start Colonial Forge grad Camille Downs returns to Division I basketball

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COMMUNITY

Filling The Cupboard Local nurse featured on ‘The Rachael Ray Show’

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COMMUNITY NEWS

New developments and more

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VOICES

A gem in our backyard ON THE COVER: Stafford resident Courtney King is not your average minivan-driving soccer mom. She’s a flute-playing rockstar with her own album on Spotify. CREDIT: Tiki Design


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AMAZING KIDS

Baking With Love 9-year-old and her family start business during pandemic

BY TR ACY B ELL

I

t was somewhat by accident that 9-year-old Nicole Cummings and her family started a pound cake business during a pandemic, but they’re glad they did. “All my love and happiness goes into each cake that is baked,” said Nicole, a North Stafford resident and the face of Katie’s Cakes Twist of Soul Dessert. With an interest in baking and armed with treasured family recipes, Nicole and her family sat at their kitchen table in 2019, toying with starting a cake business. They brainstormed business names and logos, but it remained a dream until last summer. In June, as the COVID-19 pandemic was in its earlier stages, Nicole and her mother, Tonya Cummings, visited the local post office and struck up a conversation with a postal employee they know only as Miss Michelle about Nicole’s baking aspirations. By the time they left, Miss Michelle had pulled out a $20 bill and challenged Nicole to bake her a lemon pound cake and deliver it the next day. True to their word, the mother-daughter duo returned the next day with a freshly made cake.

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Wood Shutters


Katie’s Cakes, baked by 9-yearold Nicole Cummings, offers curbside delivery (above) and donated 39 cakes to Serve (left) over the holidays.

They were put on the spot a bit, Tonya Cummings admitted, but afterward the family revisited the dream they had put on the back burner. She felt “on the fence,” noting that standing and cooking is hard, plus it’s hot in the summer — and did her daughter really want to do it? She soon learned the answer was yes. So, with encouragement from her husband, David Cummings — and help from Nicole’s aunt Ebony Duff, they forged

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ahead. Katie’s Cakes uses Nicole’s middle name, Katie, while paying tribute to her great-grandmother, Katie Brown, who loved to cook and bake. It wasn’t long before they had booked local events, sold cakes to a few restaurants and obtained orders through word of mouth. “My gosh, I think we’re on to something,” Tonya Cummings soon thought. Katie’s Cakes primarily sells pound cakes, without glaze. Signature sellers are Lemon Love, Always Almond, Pineapple Party, Grandma Katie’s Old Fashioned and the newest, Pina Colada. Large bundt-style pound cakes are $40, and pound-cake loafs are $20, with yet-tobe-priced cupcakes new on the menu, too. Nicole said she sings to the cakes and dances while she bakes. “It’s just cake,” her mother said, “but the cake has turned into something emotional for customers. People like simple cakes reminding them of home and family, from generations ago. It’s good for the soul.” “And the heart,” added Nicole, who has been homeschooled for the past three years and enjoys math, reading and French. French will come in handy because Nicole hopes to study culinary arts in Paris as a chef when she grows up, and then open a restaurant. Now the face of her business, the tiny entrepreneur radiates plenty of personality at her tender age. She’s gregarious at heart, chiming in on business ideas, wishing people well and genuinely hoping they “have a blessed day.” Cooking videos and shows, including


Katie’s Cakes offers different varieties of pound cake, using recipes handed down through the family.

“Kids Baking Championship,” help hone her skills. Nicole couldn’t decide, however, which cake she’d recommend to a customer, explaining that they are all really yummy. “These are just recipes from my grandmother and my mother,” said Tonya Cummings, who has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and a master’s degree in business.

Her Granny Katie had her frying chicken and fish as a young girl and in charge of baking on the weekends. Now, she’s passing down the tradition to Nicole. The Cummings hail from Chicago but have lived in Stafford almost four years. Katie’s Cakes has created more than 100 cakes using one likely-exhausted mixer and two bundt pans. The family stayed busy baking over the holidays, but ran out of everything and took a break to replenish. They planned to resume taking orders Feb. 1. Tonya Cummings said she lets Nicole do most of the baking, but puts cakes in the oven for her. They wear gloves and masks while baking and masks when delivering. The pair personally delivers their cakes warm but offers shipping to customers farther away.

They also offer curbside pickup at Target in North Stafford and at Costco in Fredericksburg. They will add more pickup locations soon, including meeting points for customers farther away. Over the holidays, Katie’s Cakes donated 39 pound cakes to Serve in Stafford. The family is even working on a second company, DTE Streaming, which promotes black-owned businesses. For now, the Cummings are “back in the test kitchen” trying out possibilities and flavors for Katie’s Cakes. They’ll give cakes to neighbors or the maintenance man in exchange for honest feedback, said Tonya Cummings. “We listen to them. They’re our biggest critics.” Cummings said her family is grateful for the warmth and support of the community. “We’re going to see where this goes.” Tracy Bell is a free-lance writer who lives in Stafford. For more information or to order cakes, visit tonyacummings.com or email katiescakes2021@gmail.com.

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Love Will Overcome Pandemic has made the big day tough, but not impossible BY DAV E ST E G O N

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ection 22, Article 9, subsection (f ) of the Virginia State Constitution requires that this story starts with a variation of the phrase, “Virginia Is For Lovers,” but we’re not going to do it. With masks, social distancing and the whole global pandemic, the last few months have not exactly been easy to make that special connection or celebrate the big day. It is Valentine’s Day time, though, and the cupids that make up Stafford’s wedding industry – the planners, caterers and entertainers – are ready to see love make a comeback. “For all, we’ve been through in the last year, moments like weddings and anniversaries are going to be more special,” said Didi Russell, founder of the Virginia Wedding & Event Network and known online as the #weddingnerd. “I’ve been to hundreds of weddings and I still get emotional when I see the bride come down the aisle surrounded by love. Those moments will always be important.”

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The Organizer Rita Witte owns Always Making It Happen, an events company in Stafford that runs weddings as part of its portfolio. She serves as a wedding planner for couples, helping them navigate the many decisions that go into planning their ceremonies. Witte started her business after primarily planning her wedding. She knew people could use guidance navigating the hundreds of decisions required and doing it with a plan. “Everyone will sell you something and then when they hear ‘wedding’ they add a thousand dollars,” Witte said. “I work with the couple to figure out the things that are important to them and the things that just don’t matter as much. From there, we can go about spending money in the best way possible.” That was the case for her wedding. Witte’s now-husband loves music and wanted an awesome DJ, so Witte found the


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most couples are surprised that wedding venues don’t provide a day of support; they just strictly rent access to the venue. The other item that affects the budget is food. A full-course dinner can cost a boatload, so be ready. Food costs can also differ by jurisdiction as the district requires that event companies do not leave any trash. These unexpected – or at least little-known – facts can hit the budget hard. With that said, there are some workarounds. Some venues already work with certain caterers, and some wedding vendors offer packages to help bring down the costs, removing stress from the big day.

The Entertainer

Stafford resident Didi Russell, founder of the Virginia Wedding & Event Network, says she still gets emotional at weddings.

The Connector

best one she could. And even though she had worked as a chef, things like food and the cake were not a big deal, so those items received less attention. Witte has also been a big believer in hiring a great photographer over a videographer, but that has changed slightly during COVID-19. With travel and large gatherings more difficult, she has seen more couples add a teleconference option. That may carry over after the pandemic, at least a little bit, she imagined. People may decide to no longer invite that estranged cousin they haven’t seen in a decade and instead offer a video link, but that doesn’t mean we are looking at a future with allZoom weddings. “Us women will always want to get dressed up,” Witte said.

What’s the location? And what’s the budget? Those are the questions every couple needs to answer as early as possible but too often get swept aside, Russell explained. In creating her community, Russell has visited hundreds of wedding venues around the country and, as a former caterer, has seen couples rapidly rack up expenses. “Every appetizer a couple wants to add requires another person, more preparation, more clean-up – the list goes on,” Russell said. “So many couples do not understand how much things will cost and end up surprised. If they haven’t discussed the finances and set a number, it can lead to stress, fights and feelings of resentment.” Northern Virginia alone has between 600 and 800 wedding venues, Russell said, and that doesn’t include the District of Columbia and Maryland. Couples need to decide where exactly they want the wedding to be and what they want. For example,

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Mark Toler of Big Day Productions openly admits that he gets upset if he doesn’t see people dancing during the reception. He jokingly asks couples to let him know if they are not a dancing crew before the event because he judges success by the number of people not in their chairs. Toler knows all the chart-topping hits to get people moving but learned early the value of a personalized experience. He gives couples a detailed questionnaire of the songs they want to hear, the types of music they like and what they don’t want to hear. “I’ll ask them for their 20 favorite songs and they usually come back with this huge list, which is great,” Toler said. “They’ll think of one song and it will spur memories, leading to other songs and the list just grows.” Toler sticks to that list. If grandma wants to hear Frank Sinatra and Frank Sinatra is not on the list, well, tough luck, grandma. Only the wedding couple, in particular the bride, can make changes on the spot. His goal, above all else, is to make sure the newly married couple has a great time. “The reception is the party. It’s the time to let loose,” Toler said. “You can’t do that with bad music.” Of course, some parties can go a little slow. When he gets in trouble, Toler said, surprisingly, the line dances do the best to get people out of their seats. The same goes for any type of rap hype music or the old party classics. He just wants everyone to have fun and doesn’t feel the need to fall into the old wedding tropes. “If you don’t want to hear ‘YMCA,’ I’m not going to play ‘YMCA,’” he said. “It’s all about what the couple wants.” David Stegon is a free-lancer writer who lives in Stafford County.


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NEIGHBORS

COOL TUNES ‘ I’m not your average flute player’ BY DAVE ST EGO N

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om, my friends think you are really cool.” Now, there is a strong chance you read the above quote, said something to yourself along the lines of “yeah, right,” and started to flip to the next story. Well, STOP, because Stafford resident Courtney King is not your average minivandriving soccer mom. She’s a flute-playing rockstar with her own album on Spotify, decades as a professional musician, and, oh yeah, the Air Force veteran can shoot an M-16. Her cool card is undeniable. “I like to think I’m not your average flute player,” she said. Today, you can find King playing virtual concerts online, but when the pandemic ends, she plans to return to the stage – whether at local spots like Warrior Coffee or Barley Naked, or at larger venues in Fredericksburg and Northern Virginia with other local musicians.


CREDIT: TIKI DESIGN

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CREDIT: TIKI DESIGN

LISTEN TO KING’S ALBUM AT COURTNEYKINGMUSIC.COM

Her musical career started simply enough, playing the flute in her high school band. She continued to play in college, earning a degree in music from DePaul University, where she met her husband, Gene, a trumpet player. The young couple taught lessons from her grandmother’s basement while they auditioned for parts before both landing jobs in a unique and highly coveted spot: the official U.S. Air Force band, which offered a salary, benefits and stability – a rarity for musicians. The job required King and her husband to enlist in the Air Force, which included a trip to basic training. The job also brought amazing opportunities, allowing her to play before presidents, foreign dignitaries and veterans. It also allowed the young couple to set up roots near St. Louis, because the band was stationed at nearby Scott Air Force Base. King left the service after their first child was born, while her husband

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remained, and motherhood also took her away from music for a time. “After having three kids and taking time as a mom, I stopped playing a lot but wanted to get back into it,” King said. “I started to play more at our church, met some other players in the youth group and started a band just playing covers.” One big problem: Top 40 is not exactly known for featuring the flute, so King did what every talented musician would do. She listened to what was being played and improvised, usually mirroring the melody of the lead guitar. The first song she figured out was “Float On” by Modest Mouse and her library grew. She also added a unique feature to her flute that acts as a whammy bar. It allows her to slide the mouthpiece quickly to change the pitch, creating unique sounds and different effects. Creating Her Album In 2017, King’s husband, still active duty in the Air Force, was transferred to

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Germany. King not only had to leave her band but also adjust to a new part of the world without any close friends. She turned toward her music, using it as an opportunity to create a solo album, “Feel Good Swiller.” King plays flute and sings on the album, which features 10 original songs. She describes her style as rock, punk and blues merging with classical, avant-garde and progressive rock. In the album you’ll hear songs influenced by everyone from Lynyrd Skynyrd to the Foo Fighters. “I’ve always kept a journal, writing about life and experiences,” King said. “This album leaned on those observations, both from my own life and from other people’s lives. It is about love and strife, finding yourself, how you relate to other people and the friends and close relationships that have been created.” Creating the album was deeply personal. Putting her thoughts and feelings out there for the world did, at times, create anxiety. “It was hard to hear in music form,” King said. “Everything in the album is so personal that hearing it come to life could be incredibly emotional.” King said her favorite song is “Static,” about the isolation of living in another country while recovering from a loss. She released the album in 2019 after she moved back to the United States. She played around Washington, as well as in Atlanta, St. Louis and other areas around the Midwest. She had started to collaborate with some local musicians when the pandemic put those plans on hold. In the meantime, she plays regular shows online. “I’m so excited to start playing in front of crowds again once it is safe,” King said. “Just that ability to be on stage and improvise with the music. That is the part that remains so exciting to me – just playing notes that aren’t on the page.” Dave Stegon is a free-lance writer who lives in Stafford County.


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BUSINESS

From Quilts to Masks

Blessed Hands showcases African designs

BY DAV E ST EGO N

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ou might assume that Janette Holland saved the best mask for herself: her favorite fabric, a bold design, and some extra embellishments. After all, she has been recognized nationally for her extravagant quilts that combine luxurious fabrics and detailed designs representing her African heritage. “No, the one I always grab is just [camouflage],” Holland said with a laugh. “My family and I use all the rejects.” Holland is a software engineer by trade, but over the past five years has gone from a selftaught newbie quilter to a celebrated artist with pieces that tour the country. In recent months, Holland has turned her talents to helping battle COVID-19, making face masks for hospital workers, emergency responders, and really anyone who wants to show some style while out in public. She talked about her work recently with Stafford Magazine.


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STAFFORD MAGAZINE: WHEN DID YOU START QUILTING? HOLLAND: “It was about five years after my sister passed

away unexpectedly. It was an incredibly hard time and I found that I needed to do something with my hands to battle the anxiety. I always wanted to learn how to quilt and just jumped in. I joined some groups and went to YouTube university.” WHAT TYPES OF QUILTS DO YOU LIKE TO MAKE?

“Most of my pieces use expensive African fabrics and portray African culture. I grew up in Louisiana during a very segregated time and we always had quilts. Growing up, I never saw myself in a lot of things. I remember being in high school when I saw a Cabbage Patch doll with brown skin and I just thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s so wonderful to see.’ I wanted to put my heritage into the quilts. “My husband and I traveled to South Africa a year ago for our anniversary, and I just loved the artwork. I love the colors and the stories. They are just amazing to me. I’m happy to make a quilt for anyone, but my passion is showing African designs.” WHEN DID YOU START MAKING MASKS?

“I got an email from Joann Fabrics earlier this year, a little bit after the pandemic started, that there was a shortage of masks. I had a lot of fabric and the skills so started to help. I would get requests from different organizations – 50 masks for one group, 100 for another. At the same time, I’m working fulltime as a software engineer at my full-time job. S TA F F O R D M AG A Z I N E

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“I would come home from work and just make masks. My lights would be on well after midnight and people would come by to pick off these large bags from my porch. My neighbors were probably wondering what exactly was going on at my house.” HOW MANY MASKS HAVE YOU MADE?

“We stopped counting in July when we hit 4,000, so who knows at this point. There have been a lot of great causes – helping medical staff at Mary Washington, making them for an eighth-grade graduation. Masks have become a reflection of personal style, and people don’t want to wear something plain. I’m glad I get to help them look how they want.” TELL US ABOUT YOUR COMPANY, BLESSED HANDS.

“I have handcrafted items for sale from quilts and masks to shirts and other specialty items. I’ve been able to work full-time on Blessed Hands the past few months while scaling back to a part-time role at my company. We make custom designs as well.” WHAT IS NEXT FOR YOU AND YOUR COMPANY?

“My goal is to expand Blessed Hands and create a brick-andmortar store where we have a staff that teaches the art of sewing. I have a few apprentices and other kids I teach, and I really want to offer more of that in our community. I’d like there to be classes that show kids how to make clothing. It’s a big dream. It’s something I really love and want to give back to the community and be able to hire people.” David Stegon is a free-lance writer who lives in Stafford County.

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NONPROFITS

A Game-Changer New food truck helps Stafford Food Security combat hunger BY TR ACY B ELL

A

26-foot, $55,000 food truck is expected to be the key to fighting food insecurity locally and will hit the streets in Stafford as soon as soon as warmer weather arrives. Stafford Food Security acquired the new truck after four sponsors stepped up to help pay $10,000 apiece for the vehicle, which boasts an 18-foot kitchen. “The truck is going to be a major gamechanger,” said Stafford Food Security’s

executive director, Tim White, who founded the non-profit. The truck’s sponsors include Ebenezer United Methodist Church and Mount Ararat Baptist Church, both in Stafford; Sheehy Toyota of Stafford and Mary Washington Healthcare, which oversees Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg and Stafford Hospital. White said he’s hoping to obtain a fifth sponsor, because Stafford Food Security

used $10,000 of its operating fund for the truck and another $5,000 to wrap the vehicle. The bright-red wrap reflects the organization’s theme and mission – Hunger Strike Force – which seeks to take the fight against hunger to a new level. “If you’re going to feed hundreds of people you’ve got to get ahead of the curve,” White said. Stafford Food Security focuses on getting food to children in need, but where

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children are hungry, their families probably are, too, White added. “It’s the kids who suffer. I was one of these kids so I know what it’s like to go hungry.” The food truck will allow Stafford Food Security to prep and pre-cook instead of carting a grill and coolers around. Now, with warming ovens and a refrigerator on the truck, White said he can cook a greater variety of food, including chicken. Elhaj Custom Food Trucks of Manassas created the truck, which was white, while Core Prints of Fredericksburg wrapped it for the final touch. Community help through an Amazon Wish List provided kitchen equipment and supplies. Now, the organization is holding a Facebook fundraiser to buy a walk-in freezer and a walk-in refrigerator for its headquarters. The appliances will cost $18,000, but labor is covered thanks to Kelly Electric Services

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Clockwise from top left: Tim White, executive director of Stafford Food Security, often helps prepare meals for distribution and held cookouts in neighborhoods over the summer; White (center) accepts a $1,000 donation from the Aquia Harbor Host Lions Club and President Dan Visone (right) and Treasurer Chris Scott (left); White accepts a commendation from Virginia Del. Joshua Cole for the group's work in the community. of Stafford, White said. The organization has had to turn away perishable donations because of not having enough space to refrigerate and freeze the food. Stafford Food Security brought in more than $200,000 in donations in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic changed life

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everywhere. That compared to $57,000 the previous year – and White is grateful for an “awesome community.” “Everything has gone through the roof because of COVID,” he said. “We’ve almost quadrupled our revenue but spent it all.” His organization fed 2,000 people a month in 2020 and hopes to double that number. “I don’t want to just be a food pantry,” White said. “I want to get food to people.” Stafford Food Security’s headquarters, on Deacon Road in south Stafford, debuted in February 2020, just before the pandemic. Before that, White used a single room as his warehouse in a church off Boscobel Road. White formed the organization in 2017 because he wanted to do something that really mattered, to help his community. The U.S. Marine Corps veteran held an office job, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and felt a sense of uselessness despite bright spots, including his faith and family. He started Stafford Food Security with a meals-in-a-backpack program through one Stafford school in 2017, after pitching the idea to friend and Conway Elementary School Principal J.R. Raybold. White, whose wife, Amy White, works in education, said his idea was to fill backpacks with meals and resources for families of four. They’d be distributed at school by teachers who identified students in need. The program soon grew from one school to 66 in Stafford, King George, Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg. Stafford Food Security is different from most food pantry programs because traditional pantries require parental


participation, which can be a challenge. White sought a way to get food to children who need it without barriers like income limitations or specific qualifications. He used a bit of military intelligence, reasoning that the threat is hunger while the weakness was a passive distribution system. “You can sit there and sulk or get out there and do something,” White said. “I’m a big believer in giving back to the community. I come from a very dark childhood, and I want to break the cycle of poverty.” With his passion, one might guess Stafford Food Security is White’s full-time job — but he actually runs the organization on the side when he’s not in charge of a leadership academy at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren. After COVID-19 prevented students from returning to school in August, the organization restructured its backpack approach and began delivering shelf-stable foods to families in need. It held cookouts at schools and neighborhoods over the summer, knowing that many people struggling wouldn’t ask for help.

WANT TO HELP? Donate money online, by check or PayPal Donate non-perishable food at drop-off locations Commit time via SignUp Genius for a two-hour volunteer window: cook, pack food and more For more information, visit StaffordFoodSecurity. org and Facebook.com/ StaffordFoodSecurity

Backpack meals were successful during a normal school year, White said, but in the summer when children weren’t getting free or reduced lunches, a food truck became necessary. Stafford is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, but people who live here

struggle, too, White explained, so the response is all about hope, empowerment, community and education while shielding children from hunger. “Hunger is not a disease,” White said. “It’s a symptom of a disease.” For that reason, the organization also provides education – from basic finances, job search and life skills to workshops that help teachers identify chronically hungry children. White said his parents moved his family around a lot when he was a child. They didn’t make good decisions and weren’t good with finances, and he often went hungry, so he hopes to improve life for others while treating them with kindness. He described one thank-you card from a woman whose family had no food. It wasn’t just the food she was thankful for, but also how she was treated. White hopes to make people feel at home, like they’re family at a barbecue. “Pack the food with love,” White said. “Let them know you care about them and that they matter.” Tracy Bell is a free-lance writer who lives in Stafford County.

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SPORTS

A Fresh Start Colonial Forge grad Camille Downs returns to Division I basketball BY DAV I D FAWCE TT

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amille Downs needed a do-over. Her grades had dropped. Her team was falling apart. And her freshman season ended suddenly after she tore her Achilles tendon in the third quarter of Coppin State’s season-opener at Baylor. “I was in a dark spot.” Downs said of that time. In search of a place to improve her academics while recharging her basketball career, the 2017 Colonial Forge High School graduate transferred to Butler County Community College in Kansas. The move provided the do-over she sought and changed her life. Embraced by her coaches and teammates from the start, Downs flourished on the court during her two-year stay at Butler. Downs earned all-conference honors and helped the team win back-to-back region championships. And after performing so well, she returned to the Division I level by reuniting with a coach she first met in high school. The most important benefit of her time at Butler superseded all those accomplishments, however. By encountering a group of people she considers “family for life,” Downs overcame her initial resistance in new surroundings far from home and benefitted from a worthwhile experience. “They taught me life lessons,” Downs said. “And they taught me how to be a better person and how to be a leader.”

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Camille Downs is in her first season at UNC-Wilmington after previously playing at Coppin State and Butler County Community College. Credit: UNC-Wilmington

When she tore her Achilles, Downs struggled to see beyond the moment. She’d never suffered such a serious injury in her athletic career. And it happened in such an odd way. After shooting the ball, she felt like someone kicked her once her feet were on the ground. No one, though, was near her. But as she looks back now, Downs sees the injury as a blessing in disguise. She’s grateful for all those who stepped in to help her recover after seven months and move down an unexpected path filled with one positive experience after another. Her journey seemed complete. “Honestly it was probably for the better,” Downs said “People say they never would have thought I tore my Achilles the way I play now.” RECONNECTED AND REUNITED

Karen Barefoot jumped at the chance to recruit Downs to the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Barefoot had always liked Downs’ game, starting when


DID YOU KNOW? Downs’ Downs attended Barefoot’s summer younger sister, camps at Old Dominion University. Cameron, is Capable of scoring in a variety of a freshman at ways, while using her length to defend Butler County at will, Downs reminded Barefoot of Community Jennie Simms, a former second-round College. pick by the Washington Mystics. Cameron Simms played for Barefoot at ODU. took her older As a high school senior, Downs’ sister’s jersey versatility helped her earn 6A state playernumber and of-the-year honors and lead Colonial locker at the Forge to the first state girls basketball title school. in Stafford County history. Downs and Barefoot lost touch after Downs signed with Coppin State and Barefoot left ODU for UNCWilmington. But they reconnected through Roman Tubner, who at the time was recruiting coordinator and assistant coach at UNC-W. By then, Downs was at Butler and looking to transfer back to a Division I program. UNC-Wilmington needed a player like Downs for their upcoming recruiting class. When Tubner told her who coached UNC-Wilmington now, Downs immediately remembered Barefoot. The same held true when Tubner mentioned Downs to Barefoot. Downs’ past experience with Barefoot worked in the coach’s favor. When the two spoke on the phone, the memories flooded back. “I love her energy,” Downs said. “When I’m down and I woke up on the wrong side of the bed that day, I come to the locker room and she’s always positive. It makes me want to play basketball. It makes me want to be a leader. It makes me want to help my teammates. It makes me want to be a competitive player.” Location also worked in the school’s favor. Although she received interest from Midwest schools, Downs wanted to return to the East Coast so her parents could see her play more often. The final piece was the chance to make history at UNCWilmington. Barefoot impressed upon Downs how she could help the Seahawks capture their first conference championship. At first, it took some time for 5-11 junior guard to adjust to her new surroundings and Barefoot’s system. But fellow transfer Za'Nautica Downs assisted in Downs’ transition to UNC-Wilmington. The two players have the same last name and are constantly asked whether they are related (they are not). But that doesn’t stop them from calling each other cousins who share the same goofy personalities. “What’s mine is hers and what’s hers is mine,” Downs said. Although Downs never visited the school because of pandemic restrictions, she felt it was the right place for her and signed with the Seahawks in April. The feeling is mutual. Barefoot keeps pushing Downs, knowing she’s capable of playing pro someday if she desires. “She’s really honestly a triple-double player,” Barefoot said. “I know that the ceiling is really high for her. She’s a player. She really can do everything.” David Fawcett is sports editor of InsideNoVa. You can reach him at dfawcett@insidenova.com.

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COMMUNITY

Filling the Cupboard

Local nurse’s efforts highlighted on ‘The Rachael Ray Show’ BY TR ACY B E L L

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tacy Mason isn’t comfortable with attention, but she was overwhelmed with it after creating a “take what you need, give what you can” food and essentials pantry at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg. The nurse, who works in the hospital’s intensive-care unit and with COVID-19 patients, appeared Dec. 15 on “The Rachael Ray Show” to discuss the pantry, affectionately known as Team Cupboard. “We’re much appreciative that our tiny little hospital sparked enough interest” for the show, said Mason, who lives in Fauquier County. “We’re grateful and it’s been wonderful.” Mason has worked at Mary Washington Hospital for the past seven years, four in the ICU. She became a hometown hero last summer, achieving local appreciation for making a difference during an unprecedented time. Then word spread with the help of social media and news outlets, and Mason ultimately gained national attention. Mason said she is the primary shopper in her family, so she knows that many people working long shifts at the hospital don’t always have time to shop – and doing so has become more difficult during the pandemic. The pantry is a way for colleagues to support one another during this time, she said. Team Cupboard not only exists at Mary Washington

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Hospital, but there’s also one at Stafford Hospital and another at the corporate office of Mary Washington Healthcare, which oversees both hospitals. Because of the pandemic, Mason said, many people are struggling, with some seeing their household grow or double in size, needing to take in other family members. Sharing makes life easier, she said, noting a few sought-after pantry items such as snacks, hygiene items and children’s staples like wipes and baby food. She told host Rachael Ray all about it during a Zoom call that aired live on Ray’s show. “I wasn’t comfortable at all,” said Mason, with a laugh, wondering aloud how people appear on talk shows in person. “I’m not one for attention and this was a very big deal. Rachael was fantastic, kind and nice, but even on Zoom I was anxious — I was a nervous wreck.” On the show, Ray surprised Mason with a $10,000 donation to the Mary Washington Hospital Foundation from Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day and 1,000 bottles of product, including hand soap, dish soap, multisurface cleaner and hand lotion. Xavier Richardson, president of the Mary Washington Hospital Foundation, said,

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“It is deeply humbling for the sacrifice of our dedicated healthcare professionals … to be recognized on a national level. Our associates and their families will benefit from these gifts many times over.” It also meant a lot to Mason and her fellow front-line workers in healthcare. “I am incredibly grateful to Rachael and Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day for sharing this story and supporting us when we need it most,” said Mason. The day she spoke with Stafford Magazine, Mason was busy delivering meals to senior citizens in Fredericksburg through a program that partners with restaurants to get food to 40-50 seniors. Mason

said she volunteers to do so once a week. Much of her time is spent donned in full protective gear as she cares for COVID-19 patients. So, while she appreciates kind community gestures directed at front-line workers, there’s one surefire way people can help the most. “They can do what they’re asked to do. Stay home, wear masks and social distance,” she advised. “We all miss family; we all want connections with people, but those are sacrifices we all have to make. Stay home and stay safe.” Mason noted that members of her own family, as well as friends, have had COVID-19. She sees the devastating effect of COVID-19 through her job at the hospital, with many people unable to recover despite great medical care. “The generosity that people have shown is amazing,” Mason explained, “but what will end this pandemic is less patient population coming through this facility” — and others. “Be cognizant of your actions and how they’re contributing to COVID-19.” As for Team Cupboard, all donations will help stock the pantries and make them permanent, Mason said. “We do intend to keep it going; hunger is a very real need.” Tracy Bell is a free-lance writer who lives in Stafford County.

HOW TO HELP: Monetary donations for Team Cupboard can be made online by visiting Donate.MWHC.com and following a dropdown to select the pantry — or by writing a check and indicating “pantry” in the memo line. For more information or to arrange a drop-off of pantry items to Team Cupboard, email teamcupboard@mwhc.com.


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COMMUNITY NEWS

Merritt Properties announces new light industrial business park

DHL selects Stafford for distribution center

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erritt Properties will build a new business park called Merritt at Austin Ridge on 28 acres at the Courthouse Road exit off Interstate 95. Merritt at Austin Ridge will offer five singlestory buildings ranging from 54,500 to 113,775 square feet, totaling 390,075 square feet of new flex light industrial space. The new business park represents Merritt’s second “spec” investment along Stafford’s I-95 corridor. Merritt Properties is a full-service commercial real estate developer with over 17 million square feet of space throughout Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia. “With their expanded business footprint in Stafford County, Merritt quickly adds to the available inventory for our growing light industrial, distribution and tech manufacturing space,” said John Holden, director for Stafford County Economic Development and Tourism. “This inventory will allow us to capture the growing interest and demand for tech-based targeted businesses in Stafford.”

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The new flex warehouse space will offer a mix of clear heights ranging from 18 to 32 feet, traditional rear-loaded docks, drive-in capabilities, I-95 visibility, and surface parking. The development is slated to break ground in the summer. “Merritt Properties again confirms their confidence in Stafford County’s location, workforce, and value for commercial investment,” said Supervisor Gary Snellings, Hartwood District. In 2020, Merritt broke ground on Merritt Business Park at the Quantico Corporate Center, a two-building flex/light industrial project totaling 171,000 square feet. “Merritt is pleased to expand our footprint in Stafford County,” said Scott Longendyke of Merritt’s Virginia office. “The county’s thoughtful approach toward economic growth and infrastructure has positioned the area to attract and retain key business categories that are prime for expansion.”

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HL Supply Chain is investing $72 million to establish a state-of-the-art distribution center at the southeast corner of Exit 140 (Courthouse Road and Interstate 95) in Stafford County. Governor Ralph Northam announced the new development in December. DHL, the world’s leading third-party logistics provider, will build a 500,000-squarefoot high-bay facility, integrated with high-tech equipment for material handling. This facility will serve the MidAtlantic region. Stafford and Virginia successfully competed with Maryland for the project, which will create 577 new jobs. “It is a pleasure to finalize this agreement to secure over 570 new jobs in Stafford,” said John Holden, director of economic development and tourism for the county. “Stafford County is now recognized as a ‘last-mile’ destination for warehouse distribution and advanced manufacturing. These key target industries diversify and enrich Stafford’s business portfolio.”


First Line Technology opens new location F

irst Line Technology, a Chantillybased company that makes disaster preparedness, emergency response equipment and products for military and first responders, officially opened its new Stafford County location Feb. 1. The new location, at 487 Lendall Lane, adds 20,000 square feet for the organization to continually build upon as new innovative solutions and methods of education come about. “This property is perfect for us as it accommodates our needs for more office space, training capabilities, and production efforts,” said Amit Kapoor, president and chief executive officer. “The growth over the past years has required us to grow our footprint to keep innovating and developing products from our research partners for first responders and the military.” “We welcome First Line Technology to Stafford,” said Thomas Coen, George Washington District supervisor. “As a supervisor and social studies teacher, history has shown that military technology transfer partnerships act as a stimulus to attract more entrepreneurial development to business communities.”

Stafford board elects new chair, vicechair

S

upervisor Crystal Vanuch of the Rock Hill District was elected chair of the Stafford Board of Supervisors at the board’s annual organizational meeting in January, and Supervisor Cindy Shelton of the Aquia District was elected vice-chair. “This last year was an incredible challenge, yet I am proud that throughout all of the pitfalls of 2020 our community, county staff, first responders, and educators worked together to rise to the occasion,” Vanuch said. “Our experience from last year combined with

our dedication to all of our residents will help us continue to address the impacts of the pandemic,” she added. “It is also important we continue the commitment on healthy growth strategies, ensuring we provide a quality education to our children, and work together with the state and federal agencies to address transportation challenges in Stafford.” In a news release, the board said it will continue its advancement of the priorities outlined in its strategic plan: healthy growth; a responsive transportation system; the heartbeat of recreation, history and culture; quality educational opportunities; a vibrant and exciting business community; dedicated and responsive public safety team; and organizational excellence. “One of our strengths is being very agile in looking for solutions with unexpected challenges from the virus such as S TA F F O R D M AG A Z I N E

Crystal Vanuch

Cindy Shelton the renewed urgency for broadband access for adults and students, and our efforts to alleviate the impacts on county businesses,” Shelton said. “We will continue to look for ways to leverage state and federal funding to help our businesses, teleworkers, first responders and students to be successful.” F E B R U A RY / M A R C H 2 0 2 1

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VOICES

Germanna:

A gem in our backyard

BY DAVID S. KE RR

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t’s more than a community college. Even that name, “community college,” doesn’t seem adequate in describing its mission or what it does. In the years since its founding, it has become so much more. However, I don’t think it’s an overstatement to describe Germanna Community College as nothing short of a gem in our backyard. Years ago, when I served on the Stafford County School Board, I remember Germanna was cheerfully helpful in giving our high school students an early taste of post-secondary education. That was great, and they still provide those opportunities, but my first glimpse of the scope and mission of Germanna Community College came with an interview I did for a local cable station. Our guest – and we scored their premier spokesperson – was the college’s president, Dr. Janet Gullickson. One of my first questions was about the recent budget cuts to the community college system. It seemed logical: “What are you going to have to cut?” Dr. Gullickson’s response was friendly and to the point: “We’re not cutting back; we’re reorienting

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of course, but I plan on expanding our mission. If anything, we’re going to work to become even more relevant to the community.” I remember raising an eyebrow at that comment. “Oh really,” I thought. But she was entirely serious. Germanna was restructuring some programs, expanding some, and most of all doing its best to leverage and expand its online programs. That latter initiative, as it turned out, gave the college an edge during the COVID-19 pandemic. Then it was just a blip on the radar screen. Dr. Gullickson said that on top of offering associate degrees, the college also expanded its vocational and job certification programs. A student can go to Germanna and acquire salable skills, and it’s a long list, ranging from the health sciences to electronics and cybersecurity. The college also sponsors apprenticeship programs in HVAC, auto repair, heavy equipment operations, and, yes, one that intrigues me, mining. I was totally captivated. These days, what with competing political agendas in Richmond, budget cuts, and now COVID-19, educational leaders aren’t usually this upbeat. Gloomy is a better descriptor. However, Dr. Gullickson and her team are downright buoyant. I couldn’t deny that it was contagious. Consider this. Germanna Community College, in the midst of the pandemic, reached a record level of enrollment. Indeed, just in December the college awarded 1,257 degrees and credentials. Excuse me, didn’t they get the memo? So, what can you do at

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Germanna? More than I can name in this column, but if you want to start a traditional college degree, begin a career, or reorient your current one, there is probably a course or program to capture your passion. There is one other remarkable feature about our local community college. If you’ve graduated from high school and have your eyes on a name Virginia school, but would like to get the first two years in at economy prices, Germanna can do that. Their guaranteed admission program has helped hundreds of area students. Parents, take note.

“These days, what with competing political agendas in Richmond, budget cuts, and now COVID-19, educational leaders aren’t usually this upbeat.” Perhaps what impressed me most about the interview and my visit to Germanna is that the college understands that the future of higher education isn’t a onesize-fits-all proposition. Best of all, they can help you sort it out. I can’t think of many institutions of higher learning, with thousands of students and five locations, that list the university president’s e-mail address and telephone number as a point of contact. But, I guess, that’s because at Germanna, it really is personal. Like I said, it’s a gem. David Kerr is a Stafford resident and an adjunct professor of political science at VCU. He worked on Capitol Hill and for various federal agencies for many years.


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Stafford Magazine | February/March 2021  

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