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Empty Bowl Supper to-go



April 30, 2022 @ 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Honey & Hops Brew Works
212 E Main Street
Front Royal VA 22630

The House of Hope is so pleased to offer the Empty Bowl Supper again this year as a “to-go” event. Honey & Hops Brew Works (212 E Main Street, Front Royal VA) will be our host. Ticket table, bowls, and soups will be available inside Honey & Hops on the day of the event. After collecting your bowl and soups, please mosey on down to the gazebo to enjoy everyone’s favorite Country/Folk/Bluegrass band, Passage Creek Rising!

  • Empty Bowl Supper – Saturday, April 30, from 12noon to 3pm
  • Honey & Hops Brew Works: 212 E Main Street, Front Royal VA
  • Location for ticket table, bowls, and soups this year.
  • Passage Creek Rising – LIVE music at the Gazebo during event
  • Tickets:


The soup list is not complete, but our favorite gal, Mary Anne Biggs, is on hot pursuit, collecting commitments from our delicious local restaurants.  We will be sure to share the list of soups as soon as we have it ready.  If you are a business reading this story and would like to donate a soup for our cause, please reach out and let us know!  Email:


As many of you might know, there are two parts to this fundraiser.  1. The event itself on April 30th.  We all gather to pick out our favorite ceramic hand painted bowl and select two soups “to-go.”  2. Bowl painting leading up to the event.  The community works with Arline Link at Explore Art & Clay (501 E Main Street, Front Royal VA) to paint the bowls that she throws for us.  This is a free activity with Arline that is so helpful.  If you are interested in helping to paint a few bowls with your family, or your friends (girls night out), or your business (team building)… call Arline and make a plan!  540.636.6019

If you fall in love with the bowl you paint, you may purchase it for a $25.00 donation to the House of Hope.  If you allow the bowl to go into the event inventory, that’s great too!


Want to know more about the band? Follow Passage Creek Rising on Facebook:

Passage Creek Rising is a local group who has been playing at the Empty Bowl Supper for several years. They are very special to the Supper regulars and we feel so thankful to have them again this year! Bring a lawn chair and your dancing shoes. Your toes will be sure to be tapping to their music.


Tickets are available online.  Click this link to purchase:

If you prefer to purchase in person, you may visit Arline Link at Explore Art & Clay, 501 E Main Street, Front Royal VA. She will have tear away order forms like the one included in this story.  Please pay cash or check.

No Doubt Accounting is another option if you want to use a credit card to purchase in person. See Donna Smedley (House of Hope Treasurer) 126-A W 5th St, Front Royal, VA 22630.


We are looking for sponsors! If you are interested in helping to sponsor this event please contact us. We have three sponsorship levels. Lets find what fits for you! Video shout-outs are available to the Gold sponsor levels, created by Jen Avery/Jenspiration.


This event is to benefit the House of Hope, our local program for homeless men. The House is a place where real transformation takes place for those who are willing and ready to put in the work.  This year we have tried to share more stories than ever about the House and the men who are turning their lives around. You might remember seeing our House Manager, George Huffman jump in the freezing cold water at the Polar Plunge this year to help support the Humane Society of Warren County. Or Assistant House Manager, Terry Caldwell volunteered at the Love Our Community event hosted by the Warren Coalition. Pictures of Terry made it in the local news as freezing cold water balloons burst on his head making the children scream with joy!

The Empty Bowl Supper is the House of Hope’s biggest fundraiser of the year.  Let’s help support them now, as they have helped support others. If attending the event is not an option for you, we welcome donations of any size. Every donation is so much appreciated! Click here to donate:

Local News

Shenandoah University, Valley Health partner to tackle region’s nursing shortage



April 30, 2022 @ 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Honey & Hops Brew Works
212 E Main Street
Front Royal VA 22630

Shenandoah University, in collaboration with Valley Health and the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA), is working to tackle the region’s nursing shortage through a program that will enhance the training of aspiring nurses and create a sustainable pipeline of new healthcare


NextGen Nurses program will draw upon the expertise of semi-retired and retiring nurses to help train the next generation of nurses before they leave the profession. The program, which is designed to provide a replicable model that can be used throughout the state, will create a reliable source of new nurses in the Shenandoah Valley by increasing regional opportunities to meet clinical training requirements through preceptorship and simulation.

This project was funded in part by GO Virginia, a state-funded initiative administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) that strengthens and diversifies Virginia’s economy and fosters the creation of higher-wage jobs in strategic industries.

The NextGen Nurses program is funded by a $496,000 GO Virginia Economic Resilience and Recovery Grant.

“Shenandoah University is grateful to have the support and financial backing of GO Virginia and the Department of Housing and Community Development for such a vital program during a critical period for health and nursing care in Virginia and across the country,” said Lisa Levinson, M.S.N, acting dean of the Eleanor Wade Custer School of Nursing. “We’re proud to partner with Valley Health on such an important endeavor to facilitate an increased nursing workforce in the region. We aim to ultimately improve the quality of life in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and provide a model to be followed across the state to help address the nationwide nursing shortage.”

The pandemic exacerbated workforce shortages in the healthcare sector, including an exodus of nursing professionals and a shortage of clinical trainers for nursing students.

As part of the NextGen Nurses program, Shenandoah University’s highly skilled faculty in the Eleanor Wade Custer School of Nursing – which boasted one of the state’s highest National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) first-time pass rates (97.47%) for the 2021-22 academic year – will develop a series of scalable, relevant and easy-to-use educational on-demand modules designed to accelerate training for retired nurses, and other eligible nurses, to become clinical preceptors.

“Clinical training is one of the most pressing concerns in contemporary nursing education, making this NextGen Nurses program all the more important,” said Shenandoah University Provost Cameron McCoy, Ph.D. “We are grateful for the continued partnership of Valley Health, GO Virginia, VHHA, and DHCD as we collectively improve nursing education in the Shenandoah Valley. At Shenandoah University, our nursing faculty are perpetual innovators and, as such, are exceptionally well positioned to lead and partner in the development of these essential modules.”

Valley Health, with the assistance of the Virginia Department of Health, will recruit and onboard nurses who no longer work full-time at the bedside to complete the SU-developed training modules before being employed as clinical preceptors.

“This academic-practice partnership with Shenandoah University is an important element in our broader workforce development strategy,” said Theresa Trivette, DNP, Valley Health chief nurse executive. “It is critically important that we draw upon the knowledge of our most experienced nurses in the region to help train and support our newest nurses to assure we are able to continue providing the highest quality of care for our community.”

Additionally, NextGen Nurses will increase opportunities to use simulation as a supplemental option in clinical preceptorships. Shenandoah has hired a director of the clinical simulation and obtained the necessary equipment to create a simulation lab capable of fulfilling up to 25% of the 500 clinical hours required for aspiring nurses. The simulation lab will reduce the need for SU’s School of Nursing preceptorships by 25%, relieving some of the burden on local healthcare providers to serve as preceptors and/or clinical sites, a role that has become more challenging due to the growing workforce shortages.

The NextGen Nurses program aims to hire 35 retired or retiring nurses as clinical preceptors by June 2024.

“GO Virginia Region 8 is thrilled to provide funding for the NextGen Nurses project, addressing critical workforce shortages exacerbated by COVID-19,” said Chris Kyle, GO Virginia Region 8 chair. “Region 8 will benefit from this project, which will help rebuild capacity in the health care system as we continue to focus on this critical health care shortage in our region. We embrace the opportunity for replicable projects in the region, knowing economic prosperity will expand from high-paying career pathways. Everyone should celebrate this win!”

About Shenandoah University

Shenandoah University was established in 1875 and is headquartered in Winchester, Virginia, with additional educational sites in Clarke, Fairfax, and Loudoun counties. Shenandoah is a private, nationally recognized university that blends professional career experiences with wide-ranging education. With approximately 4,200 students in more than 200 areas of study in six different schools, Shenandoah promotes a close-knit community rich in creative energy and intellectual challenge. Shenandoah students collaborate with accomplished professors who provide focused, individual attention, all the while leading several programs to be highly nationally ranked. Through innovative partnerships and programs at both the local and global level, there are exceptional opportunities for students to learn in and out of the classroom. Shenandoah empowers its students to improve the human condition and to be principled professionals and leaders wherever they go. For more information, visit

About Valley Health

Valley Health is a nonprofit health system serving a population of more than 500,000 in the Northern Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the Eastern Panhandle and Potomac Highlands of West Virginia, and western Maryland. As a healthcare provider, employer, and community partner, Valley Health is committed to improving the health of the region. The system includes six hospitals, more than 70 medical practices and Urgent Care centers, outpatient rehabilitation and fitness, medical transport, long-term care, and home health. For more information, visit

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Laurel Ridge Community College Workforce Solutions to begin offering in-demand ITIL 4 certification from PeopleCert



April 30, 2022 @ 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Honey & Hops Brew Works
212 E Main Street
Front Royal VA 22630

Laurel Ridge will begin offering ITIL 4 Foundation, an internationally recognized in-demand IT management certification, beginning this June. Students taking the ITIL course will learn the skills they need to lead and manage an IT business service through every stage.

Additionally, the fast-paced, four-week online course will prepare students for the ITIL 4 Foundation exam. It is being offered by Laurel Ridge Community College Workforce Solutions with certification provided through PeopleCert, the global leader in assessing and certifying professional skills.

“Our college is the heartbeat of workforce development, and we are the direct line to providing the skilled workforce local employers need,” said Laurel Ridge Marketing Director Guy Curtis. “The IT realm in organizations, especially in a post-pandemic and hybrid working world, needs so many skilled people, and training in ITIL 4 will meet their needs while also creating long-term careers for our graduates – with average annual salaries for entry-level workers starting at almost $110,000.

“With the number of tough-to-fill jobs in the market, we are inviting more people to gain education and training and move forward in their working lives. And, with the need for IT service management skills on the rise across the nation, ITIL is a great foundation course to obtain management skills, which lay the foundation for other stackable credentials.”

ITIL was originally developed by the British government to improve performance in IT services and has been adopted by IT professionals and organizations in multiple industry sectors worldwide, helping to increase business value through digital and IT services.

“This program is ideal for students currently working as it enhances their current skills and can help them launch a new career and become more marketable in the workforce,” Curtis said. “One of our core values – a passion for lifelong learning – is about the need for individuals to keep pursuing new opportunities, to grow and keep pace with the in-demand skills of today.

“And, with ITIL recognized by both the G3 and the FastForward grant programs as a training course resulting in industry credentials for high-demand professions in the region, this makes it more affordable for students to subsidize their next career move.”

FastForward grant funding covers two-thirds of the tuition costs for Virginia residents, and the G3 program pays for costs not already covered by grants and other financial aid for qualified students. Learn more at

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State News

As Virginia budget negotiations drag on, here’s what hangs in the balance



April 30, 2022 @ 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Honey & Hops Brew Works
212 E Main Street
Front Royal VA 22630

In normal years, Virginia’s budget plan is supposed to be pretty much done by April, except for any late changes recommended by the governor.

But for the second year in a row, the politically split General Assembly is heading into spring under a cloud of uncertainty over when the budget will get done and what will be in it.

According to House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, budget negotiators are taking a deliberately cautious approach to getting a better feel for the status of the broader economy.

‘Buckle up’: Youngkin budget proposal includes another $1B in tax cuts

“We are taking our time and being very deliberate with the stock market volatility, revenues softening some and to see if the bank situation doesn’t proliferate,” Knight said in an email Wednesday, referring to possible ripple effects of the failure of Silicon Valley Bank this month.

Lawmakers are set to return to Richmond on April 12 to take up vetoes and legislative amendments from Gov. Glenn Youngkin. If there’s no budget to vote on by then, the next big deadline is June 30, when the state’s current budget year ends.

Some legislators have pointed out that the General Assembly technically isn’t required to pass a budget this year. Because the state is approaching the middle of its two-year budget cycle, lawmakers are modifying an existing plan, not creating an entirely new budget.

Still, several key priorities won’t get funded if the two parties can’t come to an agreement over the next few months. Here are a few of them:

Tax relief

For a second year in a row, Youngkin and his Republican allies have made broad tax cuts a top priority, and Democrats have again been trying to use their negotiating power to lock in more targeted relief that would help lower-income Virginians.

Democrats have made clear Youngkin’s proposal to cut the corporate tax rate from 6% to 5% is a non-starter for them. But they’ve expressed more openness to broader forms of relief for individual taxpayers, such as raising the standard income tax deduction.

Signs of strength or weakness in state revenues could be a major factor in determining how much tax relief is feasible because Youngkin has indicated he will only pursue tax cuts the state can comfortably afford.

Legislators have also floated the idea of doing another round of one-time tax rebates instead of making more structural tax cuts meant to be long-term. As part of last year’s bipartisan budget deal, the state sent out millions of tax rebate payments worth up to $250 per person.

Mental health investments

Following years of financial and staffing strain that culminated in five of Virginia’s state-run mental hospitals closing to new admissions in July 2021, Youngkin this December laid out a broad package of $230 million in reforms to the government behavioral health system.

While some of the aims in the governor’s “Right Help, Right Now” proposal can be achieved by consolidating current programs, said Virginia Department of Health Chief Operating Officer Christopher Lindsay, the numerous amendments to the current budget would be a “significant contributor” to those goals, which are generally backed by both parties. Those include money for a school-based mental health pilot, the expansion of local crisis centers that provide an alternative to hospitals for people seeking help, and higher Medicaid reimbursement rates for certain behavioral health providers.

Both budgets would also increase pay for staff at the state’s community services boards, the locally based bodies that are the primary providers of behavioral health and developmental disability services in Virginia. The House calls for an extra $37 million, and the Senate an extra $50 million.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin unveils his Right Help, Right Now plan for reforming Virginia’s behavioral health system at Henrico Doctors Hospital on Dec. 14, 2022. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)


Teacher raises

Virginia, like other states, is suffering from teacher shortages, with many policymakers pointing to low pay as one driver of the vacancies. A 2019 report from the state’s legislative watchdog agency found Virginia ranked 33rd among the states in average salary for K-12 public teachers.

The House and Senate are proposing even bigger raises for public school teachers than the existing budget. Under the current budget, teachers get 5% raises, while this year’s amendments would push those up to 7%. Both chambers are also recommending that $50 million in proposed teacher performance bonuses be redirected to other goals, with the House specifically putting that money toward bigger salary bumps and calling for a workgroup to set “appropriate metrics” for teacher compensation.

Help with Richmond’s massive sewer project

Both the House and the Senate are backing a request from Youngkin to put $100 million toward the city of Richmond’s ongoing struggle to fix its 19th-century combined sewer overflow system, which routes storm runoff and sewage through the same pipes. CSO systems, which were built over a century ago in many historic East Coast cities, including Richmond and Lynchburg, cause sewage overflows into waterways whenever heavy rainfall overwhelms the network.

Lynchburg has almost completed its CSO conversion, and Alexandria’s is in full swing. But with an estimated cost of over $1.3 billion, Richmond’s project far outstrips its counterparts in both price and complexity, and the high percentage of residents living below the poverty line has limited the city’s ability to cover costs through rate increases.

The James River in Richmond near Brown’s Island. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)


Hiring more reading and literacy specialists

After sharp drops in reading test results during the pandemic, both chambers have proposed hiring more literacy coaches and reading specialists to help students. House and Senate amendments would allocate $6.7 million to expand the state’s literacy program, which currently covers students up to grade 3 through eighth grade. Both also call for the hiring of more reading specialists, with the Senate proposing more than $27 million and the House almost $14 million for the initiative.

Increased funding for the state’s Business Ready Sites Program

One of Youngkin’s biggest spending priorities was $450 million to boost the state’s supply of economic development sites that could make the state more attractive to big employers looking for somewhere to build.

That funding became a sticking point for budget negotiators late in the regular session, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and it remains unclear how legislators will resolve their differences.

School security grants

Both budgets call for ramped-up spending on school security. The Senate is proposing an extra $50 million in grants for that purpose, while the House is suggesting $12 million be diverted from the Lottery Fund for school security grants, $8 million go toward hiring more school resource and school security officers and $1.5 million go toward security renovations at two elementary schools in Newport News, including Richneck Elementary, where a 6-year-old shot his teacher in January.

Statewide housing needs assessments

While their numbers differ, the House and Senate budgets both provide funding for a statewide housing needs assessment. As home prices rise faster than inflation and many areas of the state see ongoing shortages of affordable housing, the two chambers backed legislation this session to direct the Department of Housing and Community Development to conduct a comprehensive review of the state’s housing stock and need every five years. The Senate proposes $400,000 for the effort, while the House proposes $500,000.

Building construction, Richmond, Va. Parker Michels-Boyce for The Virginia Mercury


An inland port in Southwest Virginia

Both budgets include substantial new funding for the Virginia Port Authority to begin the process of building an inland port in Southwest Virginia’s Mount Rogers Planning District.

The state currently has an inland port in the northern Shenandoah Valley, and proponents of adding a second logistics hub in Southwest Virginia say it could increase the flow of cargo and boost business development in the area.

The House budget includes $55 million for the project. The Senate budget allocates $10 million.

Jury duty pay

Lawmakers passed a proposal this session to raise jury duty pay from $30 per day to $50 per day after initially considering compensation as high as $100 per day.

Youngkin signed the bill setting the new amount at $50, but nearly $1.4 million in new funding to help the courts system cover those costs depends on the budget being approved.


by Sarah Vogelsong, Virginia Mercury

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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With college enrollment dropping, could 529 savings plans help cover workforce credentials?



April 30, 2022 @ 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Honey & Hops Brew Works
212 E Main Street
Front Royal VA 22630

As more Virginians pivot from the traditional path of going to college and earning a degree, state and federal policymakers are considering expanding government programs designed to encourage college enrollment to cover training for middle-skilled positions in high demand.

Two of Virginia’s congressional representatives — Reps. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, and Abigail Spanberger, D-Prince William — are backing one such proposal that would let families saving for college through 529 accounts use that money to pay for workforce credential expenses such as examinations, certifications, and licenses to operate the equipment.

“Whether you’re a young adult just coming out of high school, or you’ve been in the workforce for a while, and you’re looking to gain some additional skills — or pivot careers completely — there are opportunities for folks to grow professionally,” said Mary Morris, CEO of Virginia529, the state’s college savings program. “More and better programs exist than ever before, and the fact that you can’t use a 529 account for some of those just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Beginning in the 1980s, states began offering 529 plans to help families save for college expenses, including tuition, fees, and books. The tax-advantaged investment accounts for educational savings are today offered in most states. Virginia created its 529 programs in 1994.

While 529s provide flexibility for account holders in that they can be used for colleges, universities, vocational schools, registered apprenticeships, and most public, private, or religious K-12 tuition expenses, Morris said the plan is primarily used for eligible educational institutions that qualify for federal financial aid. If a student chooses not to go to college, the funds can be withdrawn, but the account holder may be subject to taxes or penalties.

Earlier this month, Wittman and Spanberger reintroduced legislation that would expand the use of 529 funds to other non-college workforce training and expenses like examinations such as those administered for real estate licenses and heavy equipment operations.

“For students and workers in Virginia, 529 savings accounts have long ensured that the next generation can afford a higher education,” Spanberger said in a statement. “But right now, students can’t use these accounts to pay for necessary credentialing programs and exams.”

The proposal is backed by Virginia529 as well as the Professional Certification Coalition, a group representing approximately 100 professional certification organizations and service providers.

In a March 2021 letter, the PCC called the legislation a way “to ease the financial burden” for people seeking certifications or switching jobs “as an alternative to a traditional four-year college degree.”

David Gillespie, president and founder of Virginia Technical Academy in Newport News, said the passage of the legislation would help “de-stigmatize the trades as a career path, contrary to the current mentality of ‘college is the only choice.’”

Gillespie said passage of the legislation coupled with the Jobs to Compete Act, which would expand Pell Grant eligibility to students enrolled in workforce programs, would also help prevent the academy from turning students away. Since 2020, he said the academy has turned down more than 200 potential students who could have been trained in various trades.

An employment gap

Analysts and advocates for improving skills training said employers are facing a shortage of trained workers to fill middle-skilled positions or jobs that require more than a high school diploma and less than a four-year degree. Some of those jobs include electricians, nurses, dental assistants, teacher assistants, and firefighters.

This November, the Virginia Community Colleges System reported an estimated 300,000 jobs were vacant in the commonwealth, with about half of them considered middle-skilled. The total increased to 333,000 as of January, according to a March 27 report by the Virginia Employment Commission.

This January, newly hired VCCS Chancellor David Doré said one of his priorities is to address the skills gap, which is the disparity between the skills employers expect their employees to have and the actual skills employees possess. 

“The skills gap is a national crisis, frankly, and certainly, that’s not unique to Virginia,” Doré said. “I think that the Virginia community colleges will play the pivotal role in really addressing the skills gap in Virginia.”

But while a 2019 report from the University of Virginia’s StatChat noted a third of U.S. adults have a high school degree as their highest level of education, almost two-thirds of jobs require postsecondary training.

“Is there a solution to this dilemma?” wrote author Spencer Shanholtz in the report. “Shall we begin to rethink the traditional education model by focusing in between the two extremes of either ‘no college’ or a full four-year degree?”

Cultural shifts

The traditional process of graduating from high school and going to college is changing in Virginia. According to analysts and data, fewer students are finishing school, and more are looking for opportunities besides earning a four-year college degree.

Between 2017 and 2022, fall college enrollment in the commonwealth declined by 3%, from 521,445 students to 519,531, according to data collected by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. The commonwealth recorded a low in the fall of 2021 when 516,980 students enrolled in college.

Data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, a nonprofit that provides colleges and universities research services, shows that student career interests also appear to be changing, with growing enrollment in programs in fields such as computer sciences, engineering, health, and education.

“Our nation and economy are not the same as they were 15 or 20 years ago – it’s critical that we equip our students to excel in the future workforce,” Wittman said in a statement. “Not only are the current requirements to obtain [career and technical education] and STEM educations incredibly costly, but we’ve seen that the high school degree does not necessarily provide the same career opportunities it once did.”

A total of 72% of Virginians who were contracted to do jobs said they would be interested in completing training or education to acquire new job skills, according to a 2021 report by a Virginia Department of Labor task force.

That report also found substantial declines in employer contributions to employee training, as well as the will to invest in independent contractors.

Virginia efforts

Since taking office in January 2022, Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration has advocated for strengthening the commonwealth’s workforce and expanding career and technical education.

Youngkin has said one key to workforce development is to have every high school student graduate with a credential that can be used in the workforce. In December, he proposed that an additional $21 million go to the Virginia Community College System to expand dual enrollment programs that allow high school students to take college-level courses or classes that count toward industry credentials. The amendment, like other proposals to update the state’s biennial budget, remains tied up in negotiations between Democrats and Republicans.

Other proposals aimed at strengthening the workforce through career and technical education failed during the last General Assembly session, including bills to expand the state’s tuition assistance program for community college students interested in high-demand industries.

Nevertheless, Wittman said the administration’s work aligns with the federal legislation he and Spanberger are carrying in recognizing the importance of career and technical education and ensuring Virginia students enter the workforce with valuable, in-demand skill sets.

Other state efforts predate Youngkin’s term, including the tuition assistance program called Get a Skill, Get a Job, Get Ahead, or G3, for qualifying residents seeking a career in the commonwealth’s most in-demand industries, including early childhood education, healthcare, information technology, public safety, and skilled trades.

Virginia has also administered apprenticeship programs and training programs through the commonwealth’s 23 community colleges, while VCCS launched HIRE, an initiative to support middle-skilled positions.

“We’ve had many conversations about advancing educational opportunities and educational access across Virginia, and that’s what Virginia 529 is all about,” Morris said. “And a big piece of that is workforce training. It’s becoming more and more important as an opportunity for students.”


by Nathaniel Cline, Virginia Mercury

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Attorney General Miyares returns from Israel and Poland; Urges Virginia State Police to require antisemitism training



April 30, 2022 @ 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Honey & Hops Brew Works
212 E Main Street
Front Royal VA 22630

On March 30, 2023. Attorney General Jason Miyares concluded a nine-day trip to Israel and Poland to learn about the most up-to-date innovative technology for public safety and security and to learn more about antisemitism and the best ways for states to combat it. Along with North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, Attorney General Miyares spearheaded the trip, leading a bipartisan delegation of eight attorneys general from across the country.

Attorney General Miyares with trip co-chair, North Carolina Attorney General Stein (D)

The attorneys general first visited Auschwitz with the foremost Holocaust scholar in the United States, Mr. Michael Berenbaum. There they discussed the historical rise of antisemitism in the 1930s and 1940s, and particularly how it was able to thrive in progressive European cities.

The delegation also met with Ministry Foreign Affairs experts for global antisemitism, where they specifically addressed the issue of boycott divestiture and sanctions (BDS) and the alarming rise of antisemitism in America.

Attorney General Miyares in Auschwitz

“A significant takeaway from our time in Israel was that to eradicate antisemitism once, and for all, we have to understand the trends that have allowed it to thrive and grow throughout time, worldwide,” said Attorney General Miyares. “Virginia’s newfound relationship with Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs experts will greatly help our Antisemitism Task Force in combating this scourge here in the Commonwealth. As attorneys general, it was beneficial for us to learn from Israeli security officials about their nation’s world-class security technology and defense capabilities. Very few nations face the amount of threats that Israel does, and yet they’re able to successfully keep their citizens safe.

“It was also an interesting time to visit Israel during their domestic debate about the future of their judiciary system. The people of Israel were able to voice their concerns to their government, just like the United States and democratic countries around the globe. Unfortunately, there are still nations where this is not possible, like China, Cuba, and many countries in the Middle East.”

The delegation also had meetings with Isaac Herzog, the President of Israel, and Ambassador Ron Dermer, the Senior Advisor to the Prime Minister. The group discussed a wide range of issues, including the historic reforms being made in Israel as well as their constant national security threats.

The trip to Israel highlighted the importance of learning about and understanding antisemitism as one of the key tools for combating it. That’s why Attorney General Miyares today sent a letter to Virginia State Police Colonel Gary Settles, urging them to add antisemitism awareness training for new officer training and recurring training for current officers. This is a recommendation from the new Office of Attorney General Antisemitism Task Force, which was created by Attorney General Miyares in February. Attorney General Miyares also encourages local police departments across the Commonwealth to consider antisemitism awareness training.

Read the letter here.

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Local News

New school division facilities director approved



April 30, 2022 @ 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Honey & Hops Brew Works
212 E Main Street
Front Royal VA 22630

Among several action agenda items, the Warren County School Board, during its Wednesday, March 29 meeting, unanimously approved the appointment of a new facilities director for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS).

Following a recommendation from WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger, School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins voted 5-0 to approve the appointment of Bryan Helmick, who on July 1 will officially replace Greg Livesay, who has retired as the WCPS maintenance director.

The Warren County School Board approved the appointment of Bryan Helmick (above) as the school division’s new facilities director during its regular Wednesday meeting.

Bryan Helmick and his wife, Nina Helmick, who is the principal at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School, raised two sons and one daughter, all graduates of Skyline High School. They currently have six grandchildren attending Ressie Jeffries, Ballenger said.

Mr. Helmick had a successful career of more than 30 years as a mechanical contractor with the Steamfitters Local 602 out of Washington, D.C., performing duties such as journeyman HVAC, mechanic field facility supervisor, service manager, and construction manager, said Ballenger.

Helmick, who also coached football and baseball for years at Warren County High School and Skyline High School, was hired by WCPS in the summer of 2021 to serve as the facility supervisor. He currently serves as the interim facilities director.

“I always knew I wanted to be an employee of Warren County Public Schools, but I never knew in what capacity,” Helmick said. “In June of 2021, the opportunity to become the facility supervisor… was offered, and I knew at that time it was the right move.

“The goal from day one was always to excel and work my way to facilities director,” he added. “I will take this position very seriously and work hard every day to succeed in this new challenge.”

Also, during its meeting, the School Board paid special recognition to the Skyline High School Boys’ Basketball team on Wednesday evening. Head Coach Harold Chunn (above at podium) and Assistant Coach Stephen Rinker (above far right) received the recognition with three of the Hawks’ players: sophomore Dwayne Tucker (above far left) and seniors Elias Carter (second from left) and Zack Diggs (second from right). The Hawks team made it to the state semifinals with a final record of 26 wins and one loss. The team was 14-0 in its Northwestern District division.

“That record is astonishing,” said Rinaldi. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a record that good. It takes a lot of work to get there.
“You guys are leaders of your school; don’t take that for granted because other kids look up to you,” he told the student athletes.

More board action

The School Board also unanimously approved eight other action agenda items during its meeting:

1.) A contract totaling $68,832 over four years was awarded to Document Solutions Inc. for the lease of copiers at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School, which is updating the copiers in the building, according to WCPS Technology Director Timothy Grant. The budgeted item will cost $1,434 a month.

2.) The 2023-2024 Special Education Annual Plan, which includes an application for federal funding in the amount of almost $1.28 million for 611 part-B and $33,545 for 619 part-B for total funding of just more than $1.31 million to be submitted to the Virginia Department of Education.

3.) A Memorandum of Agreement between WCPS and the Warren County Community Health Coalition establishes the guidelines and areas of responsibility between WCPS and the coalition and supports eligible students experiencing trauma in middle and high school. For example, the Warren Coalition, which supports a drug-free county, will provide supervision to the behavioral health coach and anxiety/depression specialist at WCPS, which will provide office space and a computer for the health coach.

4.) A Cooperative Agreement between the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired and WCPS establishes the guidelines and areas of responsibility between WCPS and the department and provides support to eligible WCPS students.

5.) An expenditure of over $15,000 for purchasing the Grand Canyon University Grow Your Own Participant coursework costs $27,740. WCPS Personnel Director Shane Goodwin told board members that growing and retaining the school division’s current workforce is imperative to its mission to keep an exceptional teacher in front of every student every day. “To accomplish this mission, Grand Canyon University provides academic counseling, coursework, and content to nine current WCPS employees in both teacher and instructional assistant roles,” he explained. “These employees will earn licensure through completed coursework in the areas of elementary education, special education, and secondary education, with an emphasis in humanities.”

WCPS will pay for a portion of the coursework (the target is 80 percent), with the employee paying the rest, said Goodwin, noting that the agreement stipulates that employees must work for WCPS for a minimum of two years beyond completion of the licensure eligibility or pay back the amount invested by WCPS on a prorated basis as specified in the related Memorandum of Understanding.

“Our belief is that by investing in our current workforce in this unique way, we can better ensure the workforce we need for our future,” Goodwin said.
“This is a good way to keep teachers in our system,” agreed Rinaldi. “Seems like we’re training facilities for places east of here. Teacher retention is critical for us.”

6.) Renewed contract with Sodexo America LLC as the WCPS food management services company for the period of July 1, 2023, to June 30, 2024, and to accept any administrative (non-material) changes as required by the Virginia Department of Education. There is an 8.4 percent proposed cost increase for the 2023-2024 school year, according to WCPS Assistant Superintendent of Administration George “Buck” Smith.

7.) Authorization for the superintendent to request that the Warren County Board of Supervisors appropriates $28,000 from the amount withheld for the 2023 Operational Budget of $1,215,459 to the school division’s capital improvement fund for the A&E fees that are needed to turn the existing auditorium into a multi-purpose room at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary.

8.) Request that an additional $241,346 in budgeted state funding be appropriated to Category 63000-Pupil Transportation to cover greater-than-anticipated fuel costs for buses and vehicles and that $25,000 be appropriated to the 64000-Facilities budget category. According to WCPS Finance Director Robert Ballentine, the amended state budget for FY 2023 that was adopted on February 25 provides $241,346 in greater than originally budgeted state funding. The increase primarily comes from technical adjustments and membership adjustments. Ballentine also said that WCPS projects that reimbursements for HVAC repair parts purchased for Warren County facilities and reimbursed by the County will total approximately $25,000.

Click here to watch the School Board’s March 29 meeting.

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Thank You to our Local Business Participants:


Aders Insurance Agency, Inc (State Farm)

Aire Serv Heating and Air Conditioning

Apple Dumpling Learning Center

Apple House

Auto Care Clinic

Avery-Hess Realty, Marilyn King

Beaver Tree Services

Blake and Co. Hair Spa

Blue Ridge Arts Council

Blue Ridge Education

BNI Shenandoah Valley

C&C's Ice Cream Shop

Card My Yard

CBM Mortgage, Michelle Napier

Christine Binnix - McEnearney Associates

Code Ninjas Front Royal

Cool Techs Heating and Air

Down Home Comfort Bakery

Downtown Market

Dusty's Country Store

Edward Jones-Bret Hrbek

Explore Art & Clay

Family Preservation Services

First Baptist Church

Front Royal Independent Business Alliance

First Baptist Church

Front Royal Women's Resource Center

Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce

Fussell Florist

G&M Auto Sales Inc

Garcia & Gavino Family Bakery

Gourmet Delights Gifts & Framing

Green to Ground Electrical

Groups Recover Together

Habitat for Humanity

Groups Recover Together

House of Hope

I Want Candy

I'm Just Me Movement

Jen Avery, REALTOR & Jenspiration, LLC

Key Move Properties, LLC

KW Solutions

Legal Services Plans of Northern Shenendoah

Main Street Travel

Makeover Marketing Systems

Marlow Automotive Group

Mary Carnahan Graphic Design

Merchants on Main Street

Mountain Trails

Mountain View Music

National Media Services

Natural Results Chiropractic Clinic

No Doubt Accounting

Northwestern Community Services Board

Ole Timers Antiques

Penny Lane Hair Co.

Philip Vaught Real Estate Management

Phoenix Project

Reaching Out Now

Rotary Club of Warren County

Royal Blends Nutrition

Royal Cinemas

Royal Examiner

Royal Family Bowling Center

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Oak Computers

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Spice

Ruby Yoga

Salvation Army

Samuels Public Library

SaVida Health

Skyline Insurance

Shenandoah Shores Management Group

St. Luke Community Clinic

Strites Doughnuts

Studio Verde

The Institute for Association & Nonprofit Research

The Studio-A Place for Learning

The Valley Today - The River 95.3

The Vine and Leaf

Valley Chorale

Warren Charge (Bennett's Chapel, Limeton, Asbury)

Warren Coalition

Warren County Democratic Committee

Warren County Department of Social Services

Warren County DSS Job Development

Warrior Psychotherapy Services, PLLC

WCPS Work-Based Learning

What Matters & Beth Medved Waller, Inc Real Estate

White Picket Fence

Woodward House on Manor Grade

King Cartoons

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