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Christendom College promises change in wake of sexual assault allegations

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The main entrance to Christendom College near Front Royal, Virginia – Photo/Roger Bianchini

WARREN COUNTY – Christendom College has responded with a promise of change, after initially sending mixed messages in reaction to a Catholic blogger’s post citing a campus environment of sexual segregation leading to off-campus sexual encounters that sometimes evolve into sexual assaults and rape of female dating partners by male students.

In Simcha Fisher’s blog titled “Are Women Safe in Christendom’s bubble? Part 1” the private, Catholic college teaching a strict conservative brand of the faith was initially cited by two former female students for, first creating an unrealistically sterile atmosphere of sexual segregation, then failing due diligence in investigating reports of the occasionally dire consequences of that atmosphere. The women, one named and one unnamed, said their allegations of sexual violence by student boyfriends off campus were essentially swept under the rug by the college administration with minimal consequences for the alleged male perpetrators; and little in the way of support for them as victims of sexual violence.

According to blog author Simcha Fisher and her husband Damien, an initial response from Christendom College President Timothy O’Donnell alleged “misleading information and serious inaccuracies” in their story, but then went on to apologize to past victims of such incidents within the Christendom student body. The Fishers stand by their posts and told Royal Examiner on January 29, “Any accusation of inaccuracy has yet to be detailed to us by anyone at the school, though we still await their call … We have still yet to hear from the college despite numerous honest attempts to speak to them, and any statements otherwise from the school are simply untrue.”

‘We will do better’

Christendom College President Timothy O’Donnell – Photo/Christendom website

About a week after the initial response from the college president, in a January 24 post on the school’s website under the all-caps headline “WE WILL DO BETTER,” CHRISTENDOM COLLEGE EXTENDS SUPPORT TO VICTIMS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT AND HARASSMENT,” Christendom Executive Vice-President Kenneth Ferguson expanded on O’Donnell’s initial apology, offering to meet with student victims, past and present, and thanking the Fishers for shedding light on the problem. O’Donnell even added to the apology portion of his initial response – “We have failed some of our students,” he stated.

College Vice-President Ferguson then suggested a path forward, saying, “We invite these victims to come forward and be heard. We value their insight on concrete ways we can make this campus as safe as possible for women. And we ask, if possible, for their forgiveness. I want to extend my gratitude to Mr. and Mrs. Fisher for giving these women a platform to share their voices with us.” In the post under the “News” category on the school’s website, Ferguson also offered that meetings with victims include a  “certified trauma counselor” and any “support personnel” those victims wished to have accompany them.

“I am grateful to each woman who has come forward with her story,” Christendom President O’Donnell continued, “We need to hear you and your experience. Disclosing abuse and its aftermath is painful and difficult, and it takes a tremendous amount of courage. To those students who have been harmed, I am deeply sorry. We will do better.”

Contacted January 30 about follow-up questions regarding the Fisher report, the administrative reaction and any potential policy review in the wake of the sexual assault issue surfacing, Christendom Director of Public Relations Zachary Smith said the school administration had no additional comment at this time, but would expand on its response in the future.

A past culture of silence …
For some the administrative apologies come late, particularly from school President O’Donnell. Simcha Fisher reports that some alumni, though no numbers are offered, have called for O’Donnell’s resignation as college president in the wake of the attention garnered by her two blog posts on Christendom’s past failures to appropriately deal with sexual violence by and against members of the student body. Adele Chapline Smith, Christendom College Class of 2012, was the identified victim of an alleged October 2009 rape by a fellow Christendom student that raised the specter “Are Women Safe in Christendom’s bubble?” Smith is one of those voices seeking positive movement forward, though she believes that movement cannot occur under O’Donnell’s stewardship of the school.

“From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank Christendom College and Mr. Ken Ferguson for an excellent first step in repairing the damage done to the women of Christendom and their families under the O’Donnell administration …I am disheartened that this was not their initial response, but I am open to further dialogue with the college and am eager to hear how the administration plans to implement these changes,” Smith stated in Fisher’s second blog on the matter. “I forgive Dr. Timothy O’Donnell for 25 years of negligence toward those women in the Christendom community who suffered sexual assaults … It is my firm belief that Dr. O’Donnell should step down from his position as President of the college, and that Christendom College should implement Title IX regulations to ensure a safe and transparent environment for all current and prospective students.”

As a private school not receiving federal funds, Christendom College is not subject to Title IX regulations. According to its official website, Title IX is a federal civil rights law dating to 1972 that prohibits sexual discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal money. While most famous for improving campus athletic opportunities for women, there are 10 areas addressed by the law, the other nine are: “Access to Higher Education, Career Education, Education for Pregnant and Parenting Students, Employment, Learning Environment, Math and Science, Sexual Harassment, Standardized Testing and Technology.” Due to Title IX, schools receiving federal funding must legally respond to and record reports of “a hostile educational environment based on sexual designation” the website states.

… absent Title IX
In Simcha Fisher’s “Are Women Safe in Christendom’s bubble? Part 1” blog post, Adele Smith traces the history of her experience with the Christendom College administration in the wake of what she described as an off-campus rape that scarred her emotionally, spiritually and academically.

Only over a year-and-a-half later in 2011 did she begin to turn a corner in the realization of the full extent of her situation. She traced that turning point to her and her brother staying on after attending a party hosted by a Theology teacher identified as Eric Jenislawski following a debate society meeting. Talking about her troubles at school she confided in the teacher about what had happened to her.

“I’m so sorry you were raped,” she reported Jenislawski telling her. Fisher then writes of Smith’s reaction, “At first she didn’t want to allow that word, and grew defensive, blaming herself for the assault … But Jenislawski was the first one who made her feel like the rape wasn’t her fault. He encouraged her to get counseling and to tell the school administration what had happened.”

Soon after, Smith reported the rape, as well as some subsequent physical and psychological harassment by her ex-boyfriend on campus. She was promised the school would conduct a “complete and careful investigation.”

Some time later, based on her report of the alleged rape and her ex’s ongoing harassment on campus, the college acted on her allegations – but it wasn’t the action she and her family had hoped for. The school explained that her former boyfriend would be charged with harassing Smith “after a prior incident.” That prior incident is not specified as an alleged rape.

Harassment …
Fisher’s blog quotes the report to the alleged perpetrator: “We have reports that indicate that you have violated the Code of Student Conduct by harassing another student and causing emotional harm. The reports indicate that Adele Smith indicated, after a prior incident with you, that she no longer wanted a relationship with you. Then on November 24, 2009, you sat next to her on a bench and made unwanted contact with her by placing your hand on her knee. Furthermore, it is alleged that you continued to harass her by trying to provoke her to slap you, hit you or kiss you … Therefore, you are being charged with violating the Code of Student Conduct”.

Following a July 2011 disciplinary conference that violation was deemed “Harassment”. The perpetrator’s punishment was cited as not living on campus for a semester and refraining from further contact with Adele Smith. Fisher reports that barred from living on campus, Smith’s accused rapist “was taken under the wing of one of (the school’s) founders and professors, William Marshner,” whose house he lived in that semester.

… and ‘teaching tool’
Smith told Fisher that during her senior year she was alerted that Marshner was talking about her situation regarding the alleged date rape in his moral theology class, “using thinly veiled language.” Simcha Fisher wrote of Marshner’s use of Smith’s situation as a “teaching tool”: “The teacher gave the class a hypothetical example of a young man and woman who were dating and decided to go off campus to Skyline Drive. In the example, they decide to fornicate, but then the young woman regrets her choice, and decides to claim the young man attacked her.

“In what world is this okay?” Smith asks. “It was my story. Everyone knew.” Smith complained to the school, and she says they gave Marshner “a slap on the wrist.”

Dating in the Christendom ‘bubble’
Smith cited a culture of “strict segregation of males and females” on the Christendom campus and a ban on any open displays of affection, including holding hands. Life in this socio-religious environment denying ANY expression of adolescent or post-adolescent emotional connection of a potentially sexual nature – the Christendom “bubble” referenced in the blog’s title – inevitably leads couples who have formed emotional bonds to go off campus, Smith said.

“It’s just a natural human need to connect with someone you’re in a relationship with. Just to hold hands, they’d go off campus for a date; and by ‘off campus,’ it could in be in the woods, or in a field down the road. There are not a lot of options if you don’t have a car,” Smith told Fisher.

“So you end up having couples potentially isolate themselves. They should be able to express themselves romantically in a public setting, which is a safer setting to learn how to navigate as a couple. Instead, you’re put into remote, isolated areas where things can get out of hand.”

And that is precisely what Adele Smith says happened to her, and apparently an unknown number of female Christendom College students over the years. Smith pinpoints what she describes as rape at the hands of her then boyfriend and fellow Christendom student to Friday, October 2, 2009, on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, about thirty minutes away from the college campus.

Fisher’s report on Smith’s experience points to a written exchange between her father Scott Smith and Christendom President O’Donnell after the investigation was concluded. O’Donnell appears to justify the “harassment” finding based on the fact the alleged rape took place off campus.

“The alleged assault of Adele did not take place on campus. Rather, the incident apparently occurred in a national park several miles away from Christendom’s campus,” Fisher quotes from O’Donnell’s letter to Scott Smith. “Moreover, both Adele and Mr. [redacted] are adults — meaning that Christendom faculty and staff have inherently limited options for enforcing standards of appropriate (or even prudent) conduct, especially when students leave the confines of campus.”

Adele Smith also believes the fact that there was no stated prohibition against rape in the student handbook at the time was a factor (a reference was added in 2013). She noted that students are punished if they are found on campus intoxicated, even if their drinking took place off campus.
“We care if you drink off campus, but not if you rape off campus,” Smith said of her perception of the administrative attitude she encountered in 2011.

Exclusion from the ‘bubble’
In Part 2 of her blog report, Simcha Fisher cited the denial of Adele Smith from membership on Christendom College’s official alumni page on Facebook, observing that Smith’s former campus boyfriend and alleged rapist is, however, a member. While some alumni had been added to the group during the timeframe Smith was denied membership, Simcha Fisher reported that, “Several alumni say they have been removed from the group without explanation after they shared Smith’s story.”

Simcha Fisher then traced several posts on the alumni site illustrating an agenda of presenting the allowed membership’s alma mater in the best possible light, under the ongoing stewardship of current college officials. Assistant Director of Alumni and Donor Relations Vince Christe is cited as moderator of the alumni Facebook page.

In her second post on the issue, Simcha Fisher shared a post on the alumni site from a female member citing “the recent controversy that has broken out regarding campus policies and procedures regarding sexual assault.” The woman then suggested a counter-initiative:
“It is my belief, and has been my experience, that the culture of Christendom College promotes the dignity, inherent worth, freedom, and safety of all women on campus, in the community, and the world at large. This page is for the collecting the personal testimonies of female alumni and students who know first hand the ways in which Christendom culture, faculty, staff, and community members do this.”

Simcha Fisher reported that the subsequent “positive testimonies” titled “A Letter about Christendom College Culture” were e-mailed to her, citing the school as a “pocket of fresh air offering an oasis away from the sewage of the culture at large.”

Some female alumni and their supporters might counter that some of that cultural “sewage” has leaked onto campus. – And if so, perhaps it flowed a shorter distance than the secular world at large. Court filings in a civil suit surrounding the case of then Human Life International President Father Thomas Euteneuer indicate the “rock star” of the “pro-life” movement began sexually-abusive exorcisms on a woman he had installed as his secretary on the Shenandoah Shores Road HLI campus in 2008, culminating with Euteneuer’s removal from HLI’s own institutional “bubble” in 2011 and return to his home diocese in Florida by his bishop; and an apology for “lapses in judgment” issued by the priest.

The civil suit was filed by Euteneuer’s victim in 2012, the year Adele Smith graduated from Christendom College.

A chapel and statue near the south entrance to the Shenandoah Shores Road school – Photo/Roger Bianchini

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Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – August 5, 2020; rapid testing, Tropical Storm Isaias, restrictions in Hampton Roads area

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Governor Northam joins the Virginia Emergency Support Team to share the latest updates on the COVID-19 response. Here are the highlights:

  • COVID-Wise app to send alerts to those who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The app is free, and voluntary, to download and use.
  • Joining 7 states to expand the use of rapid antigen testing.
  • Feds to continue to fund the majority of the National Guard’s presence in Virginia in response to both COVID-19 and tropical storms such as Isaias.
  • Increased restrictions remain in place in the Hampton Roads area.
  • Case counts have begun to slowly rise throughout most of Virginia, with a sharp rise in the Eastern Region. Seeing about 1,000 new cases per day, which is similar to the number of new cases per day at the peak. Averaging, statewide, between 15,000 and 20,000 tests per day. Statewide percent positivity is 7.2%.
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Fauquier Health Wellness Center set to re-open August 17th

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Wellness Center Rehabilitation Patients Prior to COVID-19 Pandemic.

Fauquier Health is excited to share that the Wellness Center Gym will begin it’s phased reopening on Monday, August 17, 2020. This includes the Diabetes Education and Massage Therapy.

The Fauquier Health Wellness Center is located at 419 Holiday Ct, Suite 200 in Warrenton, Virginia. The Wellness Center initially closed its doors on March 19, 2020. Around late June of 2020, the Wellness Center resumed Cardiac Rehabilitation and Pulmonary Rehabilitation for patients in need of these vital services. The key to ensuring the safety of patients was by implementing proper social distancing of all equipment and following all of the necessary cleaning and disinfection protocols.

It would be an understatement to say the members missed the gym. We received several comments from community residents that they really missed being there. When asked about the re-opening, Julie Ross, Director of Orthopedics and Ambulatory Services, said, “We are excited to welcome our members back! Social distancing guidelines have been put into place to ensure continued safety of rehabilitation patients and members. Overall gym capacity will be monitored closely to ensure we do not exceed 75%, in keeping with the phase three orders from Governor, Ralph Northam.”

Wellness Center Rehabilitation Patients Prior to COVID-19 Pandemic.

The Fauquier Health Wellness Center will open for independent exercise during the hours below:

  • Mondays: 4:30 – 8:30pm
  • Tuesdays: 6am – 8pm
  • Wednesdays: 4:30 – 8:30pm
  • Thursdays: 4:30 – 8:30pm
  • Fridays: 6am – 8pm
  • Saturdays: 8am – 2pm

No group classes will be offered initially; however, that decision will continually be reassessed. We appreciate the support and cooperation from all of our members.

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LFCC receives significant funding from Claude Moore Charitable Foundation

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LFCC is pleased to announce that the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation (CMCF) has approved $817,050 in grant funding, which will allow the college to greatly expand its health education offerings to area high school students.

The first grant, for $448,529, will benefit nearly all of the college’s service regions through:

  • Allowing the college to start offering an emergency medical technician (EMT) program at the Fauquier County Campus;
  • Buying equipment for anatomy and physiology labs in Clarke and Shenandoah counties;
  • Starting a pharmacy technician program for Fauquier County students;
  • Upgrading the patient care technician program in Warren County;
  • Creating a sports medicine credential program in Frederick County.

A separate grant from the CMCF is for $368,521 and will benefit the Luray-Page County Center currently under construction. It will be used to provide equipment for the health science lab and the general science lab in the new center, called Jenkins Hall, which is on track to open for the spring 2021 semester.

Students studying in one of the allied health programs at Jenkins Hall will be known as Claude Moore Scholars. The health courses that will be offered there include anatomy and physiology, nurse aide, registered and practical nursing, phlebotomy and physical therapy assisting.

LFCC sought the grants due to the need to prepare high school students for jobs in various health fields. Providing opportunities for them to dual enroll in LFCC and gain certifications and credentials will provide them the foundation to get stated on a career pathway. This will lead them to postsecondary education and employment, and can be built upon with more certifications and credentials.

“The LFCC community, including our secondary partners, is grateful to the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation for their support in enabling the region to create pathways for students to pursue health education programs,” LFCC Early College & High School Partnerships Dean Brenda Byard said. “LFCC works closely with healthcare employers and secondary partners to create programs that will meet local, regional, and statewide workforce needs.”

Buying Anatomage tables, or virtual dissection tables, for Clarke and Shenandoah counties will provide greater opportunities for the public schools’ Biomedical Academy, nurse aide, medical system administration, EMT, sports medicine and other pathways.

In Warren County, students can earn their nurse aide certification as juniors, and the grant will allow them to participate in the Patient Care Tech program, which will send them into the workforce with certifications in phlebotomy, EKG and patient care technician.

The grant will also allow the college to expand its EMT Academy to the Fauquier Campus, where students from Fauquier and Rappahannock counties can benefit.

Some of the grant funding will be used to establish an EMT program for high school students in Fauquier County.

Additionally, Fauquier County Public Schools will be able to start a pharmacy technician program that enables students to apply to Shenandoah University’s Pharmacy program after completing a science degree with 63 credits from LFCC. Many of the courses in the science degree are able to be dual enrolled.

The Claude Moore Charitable Foundation was established in 1987 by Dr. Claude Moore, a successful physician and Northern Virginia landowner who left most of his fortune in trust for the purpose of enhancing educational opportunities throughout the Commonwealth and beyond. Dr. Moore left his estate to the Foundation to increase its capacity for philanthropy.

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CARES Act and REBUILD! Virginia informational WebEx on Friday, August 7th, 9:00 am

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The Town of Front Royal in partnership with the consulting firm, Strategic Solutions by Tricia (SST), will host a webinar to Front Royal local businesses to aid in kick-starting business recovery.

The webinar will include guidance and actionable steps for navigating small business relief through CARES Act grants and REBUILD! VA grants. Interested business owners can join the meeting by visiting http://www.frontroyalva.com/meeting

● CARES Act Application: www.FrontRoyalVA.com/CARES

● Rebuild! VA Information: www.governor.virginia.gov/rebuildva/

The Town of Front Royal supports local businesses in getting #BackToBusiness#BackTo Nature. Front Royal has never allowed setbacks to stop our Town from coming together and supporting each other. We are a resilient community. Together, we will recover and be stronger than ever.

About Rebuild! VA

The Rebuild VA Grant Fund is a program to help small businesses and non-profits whose normal operations were disrupted by COVID-19, including restaurants, brick and mortar retail, exercise and fitness facilities, personal care, and personal grooming services, entertainment and public amusement establishments, and campgrounds.

Businesses and non-profits that are approved for a Rebuild VA grant may receive up to 3 times their average monthly eligible expenses up to a maximum of $10,000.

Who is eligible for the grant?

Applicants must meet the following eligibility criteria:

The business or non-profit must be organized as one of the following:

Corporation (C-Corp), pass-through entity (S-Corp, Partnership, LLC), or other legal entity that is organized separately from the owner; A 501(c)(3), 501(c)(7), 501(c)(19) organization or a Virginia tribe; A sole proprietorship; or An independent contractor.

The business or non-profit must also fall within one of the following businesses categories:

Restaurant and Beverage Services
Restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, cideries, distilleries, wineries, tasting rooms, and farmers markets (or vendors within the farmers market)

Non-essential Brick and Mortar Retail
Non-essential brick and mortar retail establishments include everything EXCEPT the following:

Grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retailers that sell food and beverage products or pharmacy products, including dollar stores, and department stores with grocery or pharmacy operations;
Medical, laboratory, and vision supply retailers; Electronic retailers that sell or service cell phones, computers, tablets, and other communications technology; Automotive parts, accessories, and tire retailers as well as automotive repair facilities; Home improvement, hardware, building material, and building supply retailers; Lawn and garden equipment retailers; Beer, wine, and liquor stores; Retail functions of gas stations and convenience stores; Retail located within healthcare facilities; Banks and other financial institutions with retail functions; Pet and feed stores; Printing and office supply stores; and Laundromats and dry cleaners.

Fitness and Exercise Facilities
Fitness centers, gymnasiums, recreation centers, swimming pools, indoor sports facilities, and indoor exercise facilities

Personal Care and Personal Grooming Services
Beauty salons, barbershops, spas, massage practices, tanning salons, tattoo shops, and any other location where personal care or personal grooming services are performed

Entertainment and Public Amusement
Theaters, performing arts centers, concert venues, museums, racetracks, historic horse racing facilities, bowling alleys, skating rinks, arcades, amusement parks, trampoline parks, fairs, arts and craft facilities, aquariums, zoos, escape rooms, indoor shooting ranges, public and private social clubs

Private Campgrounds and Overnight Summer Camps

The business or non-profit must meet the following additional eligibility criteria:

Principal Place of Business is in Virginia
25 or fewer full-time employees
Gross revenue of less than $1.5 million in the last fiscal year
Operating prior to March 12, 2020
Currently, in good standing with the Virginia State Corporation Commission
The applicant must engage in legal activity

The following applicants are ineligible for the Rebuild VA grant funds:

Applicants that are not individually owned and operated; Applicants that have already received CARES Act funding from any federal, state, regional or local agency or authority; Applicants that are delinquent on Virginia state income taxes and do not have a payment plan in place; Applicants that are lobbyists; An applicant, owner, or a principal of the business with 20 percent or greater ownership interest is more than sixty (60) days delinquent on child support obligations.

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VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for August 3-7, 2020

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The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.

*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new entry or a revised entry since last week’s report.

INTERSTATE 66
Mile marker 1 to 15, eastbound and westbound – Overnight alternating lane closures for maintenance of various bridges, Sunday through Thursday nights from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. through August 7.

INTERSTATE 81
No lane closures reported.

PRIMARY ROADS
*NEW* Mile marker 0 to 7, eastbound and westbound – Right shoulder closures for sign installations at various locations, Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

SECONDARY ROADS
*NEW* Route 658 (Rockland Road) – Flagger traffic control for soil and rock testing between Route 620 (Bennys Beach Road) and Kelley Drive, August 3-14 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Vegetation management may take place district wide on various routes. Motorists are reminded to use extreme caution when traveling through work zones.

Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511. Traffic alerts and traveler information also are available at www.511Virginia.org.

The VDOT Customer Service Center can assist with reporting road hazards, asking transportation questions, or getting information related to Virginia’s roads. Call 800-FOR- ROAD (800-367-7623) or use its mobile-friendly website at my.vdot.virginia.gov. Agents are available 24 hours-a-day, seven days a week.

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Girl of Destiny 2020 Awards – A celebration of leadership, service, and empowerment

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This weekend Reaching Out Now held the Girl of Destiny Luau Awards Ceremony. The girls and their families gathered to celebrate, enjoy delicious food by Chef Devin Smith, and wish the graduating 8th graders good luck as they move into leadership roles in 9th grade! There were several tears shed when remembering how far the girls have come.

Watch this video to hear some of the kind words shared by Samantha Barber (Founder and President) and Marlena Conner (Board Member & Mentor Liaison) as they present the awards. Michelle Rutledge (Board Member & Community Outreach) shares the opening prayer and recognizes Samantha for her hard work and dedication. The video also features Kendallee Walker (Samantha Barber’s daughter) as she addresses the group regarding a “Note on Leadership”, Anne Cobb (Vice President) reads a special letter from Dr. Michelle Edwards written to the girls, and closing prayer by Judith James:

To learn more about Reaching Out Now and programs, please visit: www.reachingoutnow.org

Special thanks was given to all of the community supporters who have helped Reaching Out Now throughout the year. Extra shout-out to the Front Royal Women’s Resource Center and Rotary Club of Warren County represented by Jen Avery at the ceremony. Thank you to Royal Examiner for helping to spread the word about Reaching Out Now.

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