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Don’t throw away your shot – ‘Hamilton’ is coming!

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Cast members perform musical selections from the Broadway musical “Hamilton” in the East Room of the White House, March 14, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

 

WASHINGTON – “Hamilton,” the top-grossing musical on Broadway, is coming to Washington. The “room where it happens” is the Opera House at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

People may not have to “throw away their shot” because the show is slated for a 14-week run this summer.

Tickets went on sale Monday to Kennedy Center members and will be available to the public next Monday. The production will run from June 16 to September 20.


Tickets range from $79 to $550, with 40 orchestra seats offered at $10 each for each performance. There is a maximum purchase limit of eight tickets per household, and the Kennedy Center has warned against buying counterfeit tickets from resellers.

“It’s tempting to get tickets any way you can,” said producer Jeffrey Seller. “There are many sites and people who are selling overpriced, and in some cases, fraudulent tickets.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s epic production has long been the most coveted ticket since it debuted on Broadway in 2015, pulling in more than $633 million in ticket sales during that time.

The two-act show tells the story of the rise of Alexander Hamilton and the creation of the United States in the vernacular of modern music and language. It is a reflection of a nation built by immigrants, and invites everyone to see themselves in the story, according to Aaron Rabinowitz, author of “Hamilton and Philosophy: Revolutionary Thinking.”

The upcoming tour will feature a company including Joseph Morales as Hamilton, Jared Dixon as Aaron Burr, Stephanie Jae Park as Eliza Hamilton and Marcus Choi as George Washington.

The cast – originally starring Miranda himself – is comprised of a diverse group of performers that tells the Founding Father’s tale from his emigration from the West Indies to the American colonies, his quick political rise and his fateful duel with Aaron Burr to a hip hop and R&B-style musical score.

Miranda told Broadway News two years ago he wanted to hire a diverse and inclusive group to challenge how theatergoers thought about his subject.

“You rob it of its inevitability, you rob it of its sort of plaster sainthood, and it’s just good storytelling,” he said. And given the genres of music he uses to tell the story, “if it had been an all-white cast, wouldn’t you think I messed up?” Miranda said.

Miranda first rose to prominence for “In the Heights,” which he wrote while he was majoring in theater studies at Wesleyan University. Both that work and “Hamilton” defy convention, infusing hip hop with classical musical theater styles.

At 40, Miranda has won three Tonys, two Grammys, an Emmy, a Pulitzer Prize and was awarded a “first of its kind” honor from the Kennedy Center.

The Kennedy Center typically honors artists for lifetime achievements, but in 2018 it celebrated Miranda, director Thomas Kail, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and musical director Alex Lacamoire for the indelible mark they left on the historical narrative with “Hamilton.”

Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein said at the time: “The creators of ‘Hamilton’ have literally and figuratively changed the face of American culture with daringly original, breathtakingly relevant work.”

Some songs – the opener and recurring leitmotif, “Alexander Hamilton,” and “My Shot” – took Miranda an entire year to write; he spent seven years writing the entire show. It was an overnight hit, selling out to thousands and becoming a pop-culture phenomenon.

“Hamilton” tops long-running classics such as “The Lion King,” “Wicked” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” despite being fairly new to the stage. Tickets at theaters nationwide have to be purchased months in advance – and are still difficult to come by.

The original Broadway cast’s final curtain call on July 9, 2016, came with a surge of “Hamilfans” at the theater and a reselling of tickets as high as $9,975 for a second-row seat in the orchestra, according to CNNMoney.

“Hamilton” is still playing at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway, while touring companies are crisscrossing the United States and Canada.

A film of the original production, assembled from three performances in New York in 2016, will be released by Disney on Oct. 15, 2021.


Charlotte Parker Dulany
– Capital News Service

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Festival establishes and honors first-ever inductees into the Apple Blossom Sports Hall of Fame

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The Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival will honor six individuals who have had a lasting impact on sports across our region. The inaugural class includes the following:

Russ Potts

Russ Potts created the Apple Blossom Festival Sports Breakfast along with Dick Kern in 1965. Former Heavyweight Champion Jack Dempsey was the very first sports celebrity to attend the Sports Breakfast.

Potts is a member of 6 Hall of Fames: National College Sports Marketing Hall of Fame, Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, Handley High School Judges Athletic Association Hall of Fame, Potomac State College Hall of Fame, Shenandoah University Hall of Fame and the University of Maryland Phi Delta Theta Fraternity Hall of Fame



Russ is a former Executive Director of the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival®, serving from 1969 to 1970.  During his tenure he moved the Grand Feature Parade from Friday to Saturday attracting 86 bands in 1969 & 92 bands in 1970.

Potts was elected eight times to the Virginia State Senate from 1992-2008. He served as Chairman of the Senate’s Education & Health Committee.

Russ was the first Sports Marketing Director in the history of college athletics at the University of Maryland.  He was also the Director of Athletics at SMU. During his tenure, both universities set all time average attendance increase records-the only time in NCAA history.

Potts served as Vice President of Marketing for the Chicago White Sox.

Russ Potts headed up the capital campaign for the Handley High School renovation and creation of the Emil & Grace Shihadeh Innovation Center. Russ helped the school raise over $22M for both projects.

Over his career, Russ has staged, promoted, or organized over 1,000 athletic events.  He created the first Women’s College Basketball game on national television – Immaculata vs. Maryland in 1976, created the first Men’s College Basketball primetime television package, and organized the famous Georgetown vs. Virginia game featuring the battle of the 7 footers – Patrick Ewing vs Ralph Sampson which was televised on national TV.

Dick Kern

Dick Kern and Russ Potts were the Co-Chairmen of the very first Sports Breakfast featuring Jack Dempsey in 1965.

Dick passed away on October 1, 2020 at 100 years old and is represented by his grandson, Trey, Owner / Operator of Kern Motor Company. Both Trey and Dick’s son Rick were outstanding athletes at Handley. All three are members of the Judges Athletic Association Hall of Fame.

Kern was one of the founders of the Judges Athletic Association – one of the nation’s most successful high school booster associations. Dick is a past President of the JAA.

Dick was an outstanding athlete having starred at Handley High School as a quarterback in the single wing offense and later at Virginia Tech as the starting defensive halfback and linebacker.

Kern won the Williams Award as the outstanding senior football player in 1941 and was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles. He was unable to pursue an NFL career because of serving in World War II.

Dick was a highly decorated war hero in the U.S. Army during WWII and one of the youngest company commanders in the nation with over 300 men under his command.

Dick created Kern Motor Company, the longest standing automotive agency in Winchester / Frederick County.

Kern served with distinction as Vice Mayor, Chairman of the City Finance Committee, and Councilman-serving for over 20 years.

Dick Kern will always be known as an outstanding community leader and philanthropist.

Walter Barr

Walter Barr’s coaching career bridged five decades.  Barr was a two-sport athlete at Shepherd University where he played football and baseball.  He graduated from Shepherd College in 1962 with a Bachelor of Science and received his master’s degree from James Madison University in 1970.

Walter’s teaching experience spanned from 1962 to 1998.  He taught at James Wood High School, Loudoun County High School, Broad Run High School, Sherando High School, and Lord Fairfax Community College.

Barr began his coaching career at James Wood High School where he was an assistant football coach and head track coach from 1962 to 1967.  In 1967, Coach Barr became the head football coach at James Wood and coached until 1971 where he went on to be the head football coach at Shepherd University until 1986.  In 1994, Barr became the first head coach of Sherando High School.  In 1999, Barr was asked to conduct a football program feasibility study for Shenandoah University which later turned into a head football coaching position with the University.  Coach Barr returned to James Wood High School in 2005 and turned around a program that had not had a winning record in 26 years.  Coach Barr concluded his coaching career with 210 wins, 94 losses and 5 ties.

Coach Barr has one of the most decorated football coaching records in the region.

  • 1966-71
    • James Wood High School (38-2-1)
    • 2 undefeated teams
    • Virginia AAA State Champions 1970
  • 1971-86
    • Shepherd University (104-48-4)
    • 3 WVIAC Championships
    • NAIA National Play-offs 1985
  • 1990-91
    • Loudoun County High School (5-5)
  • 1994-97
    • Sherando High School (38-13)
    • State Play-Offs (3 years)
  • 2000-01
    • Shenandoah University (9-11)
    • Start-up program
  • 2005-07
    • James Wood High School (16-15)

Barr has been induced into the NAIA Hall of Fame, Shepherd College Hall of Fame, Clarke County Athletic Hall of Fame, James Wood Athletic Hall of Fame and will soon be inducted into the Shenandoah University Hall of Fame in 2022 (postponed due to COVID.)Walter Barr is a 3-time WVIAC Coach of the Year and 4-time Winchester Star Coach of the Year.  In 2016 he received the Richard C. Shickle Award and in 2019 was bestowed the honor of having the James Wood High School Football Field named after him.

Coach Barr has been published in The American Football Coaches Guidebook to Championship Football Drills by Jerry R. Tolley 1984 and hosted many football coaches’ clinics while he was at Shepherd University and Shenandoah University.

Paul Wendell “Wendell” Dick  

Last year, on Friday, December 4, 2020, our community said goodbye to a beloved individual and friend to many.  To many of us, Wendell was the face of James Wood High School athletics even after his retirement in 1991.

Wendell grew up in Frederick County, VA and went to James Wood High School (5-12 grades) when it opened in 1950. He graduated in 1958. Dick was recognized as James Wood’s “Outstanding Male Athlete.” While in high school, he was 1stteam District 10 basketball player, earned 14 Varsity letters, and participated in football, basketball, baseball, and track. He was one of the first James Wood High School graduates to have perfect attendance for all 12 years of schooling.

In 1958, Wendell enrolled at Potomac State Junior College in Keyser, WV, on a basketball scholarship where he led the team in free-throw shooting for two years. In 1960, he entered West Virginia University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physical Education. He was a goalie on the WVU men’s soccer team and earned his MS Degree in Health and Safety. After graduating, he joined the Army National Guard in Winchester. While in Basic Training in Fort Jackson, he was selected as the “Outstanding Trainee” and was catcher of their undefeated softball team. Wendell enjoyed playing for a traveling semi-professional basketball team and fast pitch softball.  Wendell was a Cross-County and Track Official for 50 years (1960-2010). For many years, he was also a “Color Commentator” for 92.5 WINC-FM Sports with Joe Pasquali.

Wendell held lifetime memberships in the James Wood Athletic Association, the Potomac State College Alumni Association, the West Virginia University Alumni Association, the Virginia Retired Teachers Association, and the Greenwood Fire and Rescue Company Association.

For several years, he served as Co-Director of the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival Sports Breakfast.

In 1990, Wendell was inducted into the Fast-Pitch Softball Hall of Fame and in 2000, James Wood High Schooled honored Wendell by establishing the P. Wendell Dick Athletic Hall of Fame.

Russ Potts will accept the award on behalf of the Wendell Dick family.

Ken Mease

If you have attended the Partlow Insurance Sports Breakfast over the years, you will know that Ken Mease cherished the opportunity to visit and participate in the Shenandoah Apple Blossom. Ken began attending the Festival in 1999 where he emceed the Sports Breakfast.  There were only two years between 1999 and 2017 where he was not able to participate in our annual celebration. In addition to emceeing the Sports Breakfast, Ken spoke at the Festival’s Ladies Horticultural Luncheon and served as the Court Ambassador for the Coronation of Queen Shenandoah. In 2018, the Festival recognized Ken by presenting him with a life pass to the sports breakfast.  Ken returned to celebrate the Festival with us in 2019 but did not emcee the breakfast that year.  Ken loves the Festival and continually went out of his way to support the Festival in many ways.

Ken Mease has had a tremendous career in sports television and radio in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast region of the US for over five decades.

Ken grew up in Selinsgrove, PA and graduated from Selinsgrove Area Joint High School in 1960. In high school, Mease played basketball and baseball, was band president and served as Lt. Governor and International Trustee in Key Club International. After graduating from high school, Ken attended Susquehanna University from 1960 to 1964.  During college, Mease worked part-time for WKOK-AM-FM as a disc jockey, news, and sports reporter.

In 1963, Ken worked for WUNS-AM in Lewisburg, PA as an announcer and color commentator for Bucknell University Football for their ’64 and ’65 seasons.

Ken joined the Pennsylvania Air National Guard in 1965 where he completed basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX.  He attended tech school as a communications specialist at Shepherd Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, TX.  Ken completed his Guard commitment in 1971.

Between 1965 and 1975, Ken continued his work in communications at radio and television stations in Harrisburg, PA, Charlotte, NC, Pittsburgh, PA, and Providence, RI.  While in Providence, Mease anchored sports six days a week and was recognized in 1973 with the Rhode Island Sportscaster of the Year award from the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.

In 1975, Ken served as Director of Athletics for Robert Morris College (now University.)  Ken was instrumental in the University’s leap from junior college status to NCAA Division I.  Ken did play-by-play of Colonials basketball for three seasons, coached the school’s basketball team for one season. While at Robert Morris, Mease laid the groundwork for the school’s Sports Management program.

In 1979, Ken went back to news television as a sports anchor and weekday reporter in Pittsburgh, PA.  Ken was awarded two Golden Quill Awards (the Pittsburgh Emmy) for the “Steeler Monday” sports feature.

From 1986 to 2003, Ken was the sports anchor and reporter for WUSA-TV in Washington, DC.  Ken primarily worked as the station’s weekend sports anchor with weekday reporting duties. Ken covered Sunday night sports specials including Redskin shows. Mease also freelanced where he covered Navy Football radio and George Mason TV basketball play-by-play.

From 2003 to 2010, Mease joined CBS-Westwood One Sports Radio sportscasting including Redskins post game.

In 2010 Ken joined the Washington Freedom, an American professional women’s soccer club in Germantown, Maryland.

Rodney Cowley will accept the award on behalf of Ken Mease.

Tommy Dixon

Born in Winchester, VA, Tommy is the second youngest of seven children to Rachel and Clark Dixon.  Dixon attended first through seventh grades at Douglas School.  After integration, Tommy attended Handley High School from eighth through twelfth grades. While at Handley, Tommy was a three-sport athlete, playing football, basketball and track and field.  He was voted 2nd team All-State in football and basketball.  After high school, Dixon studied health and physical education at Potomac State College in Keyser, WV and Berea College in Berea, KY.

During Tommy’s tenure, he coached football, track and field, and basketball.  Tommy coached football at Daniel Morgan Middle School for nine years where his team only lost two games and had one tie; the rest were wins.  Dixon was an assistant track and field coach when Handley won several state championships.  Tommy coached basketball for 36 years and compiled a record of 403-228.  Tommy coached his teams to nine regular season championships, 10 regional appearances, 3 regional championships, and 6 state tournament berths.  Coach Dixon was also recognized several times as Coach of the Year at the District and Regional level.  Tommy also was selected to coach in the state all-star game in 2000.

In 2001, Coach Dixon was inducted into Handley’s Hunter Maddex Hall of Fame and the Potomac State College Hall of Fame in 2010.  On Saturday evening, December 17, 2016, during a boys’ and girls’ varsity basketball game inside Handley’s Maddex-Omps Gymnasium, the school announced that the basketball court would forever be known as the Coach Tommy Dixon Basketball Court.

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LFCC and Rotz Pharmacy team up to vaccinate nearly 5,000 at the college

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A public health effort by LFCC and Rotz Pharmacy has resulted in more than 5,000 vaccines against COVID-19 being administered at the college’s Middletown Campus in the past five weeks alone.

Rotz Pharmacy began offering vaccines at its Amherst Street location in mid-January. When he knew he would be getting in a large batch of the Moderna vaccine – more than his independent pharmacy had the capacity to administer – co-owner Jason Rotz reached out to LFCC.

“Of course we said we would be happy to provide the space and the student nurses and the volunteers to pitch in with this massive public health effort,” said Whitney Miller, who as LFCC’s director of facility planning and auxiliary services, has been heading up the volunteer effort.

At the first joint clinic on March 5, LFCC and Rotz got shots into more than 800 arms. There has been a clinic at LFCC every Friday since then.



As of April 16, Rotz Pharmacy had administered a total of 6,800 vaccines, with nearly 4,700 of those at LFCC. About 1,450 people have received both their first and second doses of the vaccine at the college.

The vaccinations are being done by LFCC nursing students, under the supervision of faculty members. LFCC faculty and staff members, and some members of the public, have been volunteering at the clinics, checking in those getting their shots, shepherding them to the correct stations and ensuring they’ve waited 15 minutes post-vaccination before leaving.

“I’m so proud of the time and energy our faculty and staff – and our wonderful nursing students – have given to this effort to bring the COVID pandemic to an end,” said LFCC President Kim Blosser, who will be volunteering at this Friday’s clinic with her teenage son. “This is a wonderful opportunity for the college to contribute to the health and wellbeing of our community. The clinics are also invaluable teaching moments for our nursing students, many of whom have had a hard time getting in their mandatory clinical hours due to the pandemic.

“This week is National Volunteer Week, and I’d like to take this chance to say thank you so much to all of you who have helped at these clinics. You truly are making our community a better and a healthier place.”

Rotz said his pharmacy would continue administering second doses of the vaccine at LFCC until at least May 12, and would offer more first-dose clinics if the demand is there.

“It’s been fantastic,” he said of the partnership with LFCC. “We wouldn’t be able to do this without the participation and all the help that the college has contributed.”

It takes about 70 volunteers to put on each clinic, so “it’s a massive undertaking,” Rotz said.

He noted that the commonwealth is now offering COVID vaccinations to all those aged 16 and over. The vaccine offered by Rotz, Moderna, is only approved for those 18 and older. Go to Rotz Pharmacy’s Facebook page to get the link to sign up for your vaccine.

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Local educator along with US Women’s National Ice Hockey team member announced to speak at the Partlow Insurance Sports Breakfast

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Retired teacher and decorated coach, Tommy Dixon, will join pro football legends Joe Theismann and Santana Moss as sports guests at the Partlow Insurance Sports Breakfast on Saturday morning, May 1, 2021, from 8 – 10 am, at the Frederick County Fairgrounds.

Born in Winchester, VA, Tommy is the second youngest of seven children to Rachel and Clark Dixon. Dixon attended first through seventh grades at Douglas School. After integration, Tommy attended Handley High School from eighth through twelfth grades. While at Handley, Tommy was a three-sport athlete, playing football, basketball and track and field. He was voted 2nd team All-State in football and basketball. Coach Dixon credits three great coaches to his success-James Omps, Ron Rice and Don Welch. After high school, Dixon studied health and physical education at Potomac State College in Keyser, WV and Berea College in Berea, KY.

After college, Dixon returned to Winchester seeking a job. Mr. Clarence Hunter helped Tommy land a substitute teacher job which later turned into a full-time position with Winchester Public Schools. Tommy taught and coached in the city school system for over 39 years.

During Tommy’s tenure, he coached football, track and field, and basketball. Tommy coached football at Daniel Morgan Middle School for nine years where his team only lost two games and had one tie; the rest were wins. Dixon was an assistant track and field coach when Handley won several state championships. Tommy coached basketball for 36 years and compiled a record of 403-228. Tommy coached his teams to nine regular season championships, 10 regional appearances, 3 regional championships, and 6 state tournament berths. Coach Dixon was also recognized several times as Coach of the Year at the District and Regional level. Tommy also was selected to coach in the state all-star game in 2000.


In 2001, Coach Dixon was inducted into Handley’s Hunter Maddex Hall of Fame and the Potomac State College Hall of Fame in 2010. On Saturday evening, December 17, 2016, during a boys’ and girls’ varsity basketball game inside Handley’s Maddex-Omps Gymnasium, the school announced that the basketball court would forever be known as the Coach Tommy Dixon Basketball Court.

Tommy is married to Sharon Wilson Dixon and they have been together for 42 years. They have a daughter Kara, who is a proud Handley and University of Maryland graduate.


The Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival® is also delighted to announce that Haley Skarupa, US Women’s National Ice Hockey team member and Olympic gold medal winner will join Joe Theisemann, Santana Moss and Coach Tommy Dixon to speak to local sports fans on Saturday morning, May 1, 2021 from 8:00-10:00 am at the Partlow Insurance Sports Breakfast at the Frederick County Fairgrounds.

Haley Skarupa was a member of the 2018 United States Women’s Olympic Ice Hockey Team who took home a gold medal from the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. She is a three-time World Champion and a Four Nations Cup Gold Medalist for Team USA as well. Haley graduated from Boston College in 2016, majoring in psychology. While at Boston College, she was a four-year starter and named an All-American Collegiate Athlete.  Skarupa is currently the second highest points leader in Boston College hockey history, men or women, with 115 goals and 244 total points in her four years.

Out of college, she was drafted 5th overall into the National Women’s Hockey League and was a unanimous All-Star Selection her rookie season for the Connecticut Whale. Haley is originally from Rockville, Maryland and graduated from Wootton High School in 2012. She joined the Washington Capitals organization as their Hockey Ambassador for the 2019-2020 season to help promote the growth of the game in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area. Currently, she is a member of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) where she participates in weekend-long hockey events across the USA and Canada year-round.  Haley works full-time in business development for Klaviyo, an ecommerce, email marketing and SMS marketing company.

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Announcing Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley’s 2021 Valley Treasure

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Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley (Alliance) is delighted to share that the 2021 Valley Treasure is Dr. Charles Ziegenfus, well known as Professor Zig and often photographed with a wild bird on his arm.

Dr. Charles Ziegenfus, well known as Professor Zig.

The Shenandoah Valley is an extraordinary place with iconic farming landscapes, beautiful streams, world-class public forest lands, and rich cultural history. By awarding a Valley Treasure, the Alliance hoped to recognize an outstanding community member that has done more than their fair share to preserve the things we love about the Shenandoah Valley. This year, multiple folks reached out to let us know Professor Zig fit the bill.

In addition to his professional work teaching field ornithology at JMU, Professor Zig spent decades researching, banding and tracking migrations and populations of dark-eyed juncos, bluebirds and white-crowned sparrows, to name a few. In partnership with Clair Mellinger from EMU at Highland Retreat, he has monitored the migration of the Northern Saw-whet Owl for twenty years. Recently Professor Zig set up several boxes for American kestrels in eastern Rockingham County and engages landowners up and down the Valley to host bird boxes and help with monitoring on their property.


One nominator of Professor Zig shared that she’d “learned more about birds in the brief time I spent with him at a breakfast discussion he led than I had in my whole life,” and another exclaimed that Professor Zig’s “devotion to studying and understanding bird populations is commendable and his willingness to share it even more so.”

On April 28 at 7pm the Alliance is hosting an opportunity to meet Professor Zig via Zoom and hear from Dr. Amy Johnson, Program Director of Virginia Working Landscapes at Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute about the important role birds play in our natural landscape. In a 2020 TEDxPearlStreet presentation, Dr. Johnson describes how our landscapes rely on birds. “They pollinate our plants, they eat our agricultural pests, they disperse our seeds, they plant our trees. And through all of these actions, they are constantly replenishing the soil with nutrients, the soil that supports our very livelihoods.” Dr. Amy Johnson’s work focuses on the impacts of conservation and land management on breeding and over-wintering grassland bird communities in Virginia.

Dr. Amy Johnson, Program Director of Virginia Working Landscapes at Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

“We are excited to offer this opportunity to hear from both Professor Zig and Dr. Johnson on April 28 about their work and how we can get involved in our back yards or farm fields,” says Alliance Program Director Kim Woodwell. “It was not an easy task to narrow down the excellent nominations we received to choose just one 2021 Valley Treasure, but Professor Zig is certainly deserving.”

Nominations for Valley Treasure were open to anyone in the Shenandoah Valley including landowners, community leaders, community members, natural resource professionals and more. All nominations submitted were reviewed and the 2021 recipient selected by a small committee made up of two Alliance board members, one Alliance staff member and two community members. Valley Treasure winners receive a $500 cash stipend (thanks to a generous donor) to be used in any manner they want so they can continue their good work.

Please go to shenandoahalliance.org to register for the April 28 program or for more information about the Valley Treasure award.

Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley envisions a Shenandoah Valley where our way of life is sustained by rural landscapes, clean streams and rivers, and thriving communities. The Alliance advocates, educates, and connects people to conserve the natural resources, cultural heritage, and rural character of our region.

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Biden administration takes aim at improving Black maternal health care

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Marking Black Maternal Health Week, the Biden administration is moving to put more federal resources behind improving Black maternal health care.

“Make no mistake. Black women in our country are facing a maternal health crisis,” Vice President Kamala Harris said at a virtual roundtable she hosted in Washington Tuesday. “Black women are two to three times more likely to die in connection with childbirth than other women.”

And Black women are also more likely to lose healthcare coverage during their pregnancy, she said.

The United States currently has the highest maternal mortality rates among developed countries – 17.2 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the American Journal of Managed Care.


These rates are even higher among Black women in the United States, regardless of their income and education levels: 37.1 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

“We know the primary reasons why: systemic racial inequities and implicit bias,” Harris said. “And the consequences of both are very real.”

Inequities in housing, transportation, and nutrition all work together to negatively affect Black maternal health, the vice president said.

The Biden administration is asking Congress to approve spending $200 million to implement implicit bias training for healthcare providers and strengthen current programs focused on maternal care, including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

The administration also is requesting a 24 percent hike for the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights and a 19 percent increase for the federal family planning program to advance health equity and access to health services.

The administration also is proposing to spend $6 billion to support low-income women and children under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
In addition, the Health Resources and Services Administration is going to make available $12 million for maternal health care in rural communities.

Lastly, the Department of Health and Human Services approved a waiver for Illinois to allow the state to extend postpartum coverage to all pregnant women under Medicaid beyond 60 days and up to 12 months. It is the first of what are expected to be many such waivers.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said in a statement that systemic health inequities have been made even worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

A founding member of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, Hoyer praised the White House’s efforts to address the issue.

“We must build on these efforts to root out bias in medical services, improve access to key reproductive and preventative health services for all women, and expand access to quality health care in hard-to-reach communities,” the Maryland lawmaker said.

Black mothers at the roundtable shared personal experiences with life-threatening pregnancies, bereavement, and apathetic care from physicians. A common sentiment that the mothers shared throughout their pregnancies was feelings of being dismissed and not being listened to or heard by their health care providers.

Heather Wilson was diagnosed with preeclampsia during her pregnancy, a condition that worsened towards the end of her term. She lost her first child, Kennedy.

“In the aftermath, we struggled to pick up the pieces without direction, support, and resources,” Wilson said. “I felt so alone.”

Wilson is the executive director and founder of Kennedy’s Angel Gowns, a non-profit based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, created in memory of her lost baby. The organization provides families with handcrafted burial gowns for their babies, “angel gowns,” which are sewn from pieces of donated wedding gowns.

Wilson said that each week, her organization helps up to 10 families bury their babies, a striking number that she called “unreal.”

Through her work at the organization and as a bereavement doula, Wilson helps raise awareness about pregnancy loss and provides families with the support and resources to assist them through the grieving process.

Erica McAfee suffered two pregnancy losses. She was diagnosed with preeclampsia during her first pregnancy and experienced cervical insufficiency during her second pregnancy. Her third pregnancy was successful, despite having to undergo eight blood transfusions and a partial hysterectomy at the age of 28.

“I knew that there were other Black women who experienced the traumatic birth or pregnancy complications like me and I wanted to hear their stories – I wanted to amplify their voices through podcasts,” McAfee said.

McAfee is the founder and CEO of Sisters in Loss, a digital media platform providing comfort to grieving Black mothers by replacing their “silence with storytelling.”

“For every maternal death, over 100 women experience a severe complication related to pregnancy and childbirth – something we call severe maternal morbidity,” said Dr. Elizabeth A. Howell, head of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the Perelman School of Medicine.

Severe maternal morbidity affects 50,000 women in the United States, according to Howell. And 60% of maternal deaths are preventable, she added.

Harris said she had heard many stories over the years of poor treatment of Black women by the health care system.

“Black women deserve to be heard,” the vice president said. “Their voices deserve to be respected. And like all people, they must be treated with dignity.”

By JOY SAHA
Capital News Service Washington Bureau

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A look at a family’s journey of adopting amid a pandemic

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Dillion Hopson Allen still remembers the first time Rosa stayed with him and his parents for short-term care. The house was packed with kids running around, laughing, screaming, and playing.
Rosa, however, was lying down on the floor. Wrapped in a plush blanket, the teenager looked peaceful, but alert – as if she were feeling the room a little before breaking out of her shell, Dillion said.

Now as Brown’s foster child two years later, Rosa has more spunk. She is a high-school-age, sweet and lively girl who loves dresses (the pink one is her favorite).

She is also about to be adopted by Dillion, who is 23, and his mother and stepfather, Zina and Michael Brown. Adding their last names to Rosa’s is important to them. Having the courts honoring the kinship matters, Dillion said. But because of the pandemic, the process is taking longer than usual.

In her free time, “Rosa,” the Browns’ foster care child, likes to draw. (Photo courtesy of Dillion Hopson Allen)


Capital News Service is not disclosing Rosa’s real name to protect her identity and privacy. She was not interviewed because she is a minor.

Before the pandemic, the process of adopting a child took six to nine months. But now, it may take up to a year, according to Stephanie King, program manager for the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s therapeutic foster program in Baltimore.

Slower judicial proceedings are just one of the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the foster care system, King said.

It was in the middle of last summer when Maryland had surpassed 45,000 COVID-19 cases, that the Browns decided they wanted to adopt Rosa, who was by then their foster child. They were on their back deck, with Rosa’s social worker — all wearing masks and social distancing.

There was a lot of discussions involved, Dillion recalled. His parents are in their 50s. At some point, Rosa, who has autism and epilepsy, will have to move in with Dillion.

So he wouldn’t just be her brother; he would be a parent, too. But their hearts are set on it. Rosa already feels like part of their family.

“I really couldn’t see my life without her,” Zina Brown, 57, said. “I really couldn’t.”

While Dillion, Zina, and Michael started the adoption process in July, they didn’t sign the paperwork until Oct. 12, when they sent a letter signaling their interest in adopting Rosa to the Baltimore City Department of Social Services. They had their first court session on Zoom on Jan 15.

Amid the pandemic and the start of the adoption process, the Browns hosted five other children. Some stayed with them for one week. Others stayed longer, up to four months. Dillion would give them nicknames based on their personalities, he said.

Two high-energy, elementary school boys stayed with the Browns in the fall. It was a lot to walk them and Rosa through online schooling.

Zina often took the schooling duties because Michael was a lead worker for Johns Hopkins Health System while Dillion had his own online classes to attend at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Zina arranged the three laptops, running three different instructions, in the dining area. She made three partitions, forming mini desks, one for each of the children.

“It was like a marathon,” Dillion said. “She might as well have a teacher status herself because she was definitely running around like she was in the classroom.”

But with time, it got easier, Dillion said.

When December came, it was just the Browns, Dillion, and Rosa again. They were set to receive another child, who was supposed to stay with them for a week.

The day after Christmas, Michael started to feel muscle aches and realized he had a reduced sense of taste. So, Michael and Zina decided to get tested.

The same day Zina tested positive, another child arrived and roomed with Rosa. Michael moved to the guest room. A couple of days later, he also tested positive.

For the next two weeks, Dillion, a pre-med student at UMBC, took the lead in taking care of the household.

When Rosa finally realized that Zina and Michael were sick, she would ask Dillion multiple times a day — are they okay?

And then, on the last day of Zina and Michael’s quarantine, Dillion came to a somber realization that he couldn’t taste.

The next day, he tested positive.

In total, the Browns, Rosa, and the second child were in quarantine for a month. But neither of the children contracted COVID-19.

“It was just a strange ordeal,” Dillion said.

The last day of quarantine was a special date. It was Zina’s birthday and the first online court date for Rosa’s adoption.

At 10 a.m., Zina and Rosa sat at the dinner table, their laptop in front of them. Zina was wearing a shirt that said, “it’s my birthday.” Rosa was dressed up too, wearing a flowing dress, necklace, and earrings.

Zina had thought about becoming a foster parent since her early teen years. Her mother, who worked with special education students, would often bring children to their home.

“I always wanted to help,” Zina said. “I just wanted to be able to make a difference in a child’s life.”

Michael, on the other hand, initially wasn’t as confident. He tends to overthink things, he said, stressing about what could go wrong. At first, when Rosa would call him “dad,” Michael would correct her.

“No, call me Pop-Pop,” he would tell her.

Until one day, he told her – okay, you can call me dad.

“She’s part of my heart now,” He said. “She’s like the daughter I never had… she was placed here for a reason.”

Right now, the adoption process is set to be finalized in May, 10 months after the Browns started.

As for Rosa, she has gotten a new teacher, whom she really likes. When she is not tuned into her online classes, she is dancing or making necklaces. Rosa puts them together in bright, happy colors and gives them to her family.

Once the public health crisis is over, the family is going to throw a big party celebrating the adoption, the Browns said. And while right now that’s still a bit in the air, one thing is for certain.

Rosa will have both Zina and Michael Brown’s and Dillion’s last name — Rosa Hopson Brown.

While Dillion sees why people may view Rosa’s adoption as a big decision, he says it really isn’t. Any sense of burden or fear of what the future holds are outweighed by one simple fact.
Rosa is his sister, he said.

By CLARA LONGO DE FREITAS
Capital News Service Washington Bureau

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