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Front Royal energy department lends a hand in Hurricane Michael recovery

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As part of a statewide municipal mutual aid agreement, on October 12 a crew from the Town of Front Royal’s Energy Services Department embarked to assist City of Martinsville crews in recovery work in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.

That Town Energy Department crew included Line Crew Supervisor, Carey Saffelle, along with three Line Technicians, Alan Bell, Preston Toms and Hunter Partlowe. Their boss, Front Royal Energy Services Director David Jenkins explained the advent of their mission.

“The Town of Front Royal, along with many other municipalities in Virginia, is part of a Mutual Aid Agreement for Emergency Assistance. These municipalities have agreed to furnish personnel, equipment, supplies and materials in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency that affects or causes damage to their electrical systems,” Jenkins said.

Michael 2018 from space – Photo Wikileaks Commons / Master0Garfield

As Michael began strengthening toward a U.S. landfall on a northern track toward the Florida Panhandle it became apparent Virginia might be impacted.  According to Jenkins, “Beginning on Tuesday, October 9th, the heads of each municipality’s electric department began holding daily conference calls to discuss the possible threat Hurricane Michael would pose; who would be affected; and which municipalities would be available to send aid should it be needed.”

On Friday morning, October 12th, Jenkins received the call that Martinsville, Virginia was in need of assistance. Consequently, Saffelle, Bell, Partlowe and Toms began the 4-hour trip south with two bucket trucks, a line truck and a pick-up truck. Their mission was to assist in repairing the electrical infrastructure that had been devastated by Michael’s path northward through Martinsville.

Michael’s track from the Caribbean across the Atlantic to the Iberian Peninsula – Photo Wikileaks Commons/NASA

What, we wondered, would they find when they arrived.

Michael 2018 was one of the strongest and most destructive hurricanes to hit the U.S. by several measurement criteria, including atmospheric pressure (3rd behind the 1935 Labor Day hurricane and Camille in 1969) and maximum sustained winds (2nd strongest since Andrew in 1992 and 4th strongest ever measured). Michael 2018 was also the strongest storm ever to make landfall on the Florida Panhandle on the western Gulf side of the state.

Approaching the Florida panhandle peak winds were measured at 155 mph, with 13 to 18-foot storm surges adding to the coastal devastation. Michael made landfall October 10 as a Category 4 storm (131-155 mph) with winds just 7 mph under a Category 5 designation. As it traveled inland on a northeasterly path it weakened to a tropical storm designation traveling across Georgia, the Carolinas and portions of Virginia.

The storm regained some strength off the mid-Atlantic coast, being classified as an extratropical cyclone on October 12, and crossed the Atlantic impacting the Spanish-Portugal Iberian Peninsula before dissipating on October 16.

Michael and its massive eye-wall from space – Wikileaks/NASA

Back on this side of the Atlantic, by October 28 at least 60 deaths had been attributed to the storm, including 45 in the United States and 15 in Central America. In Florida great swaths of the towns of Mexico Beach and Panama City looked as is flattened by a nuclear explosion.

Financially Michael was also catastrophic, with a minimum estimate of $11.28 billion in damages, including $100 million in economic losses in Central America; $6 billion in destroyed U.S. fighter jets at Tyndall Air Force Base; and at least $1.5 billion in insurance claims in the U.S. Reports indicate losses to agriculture and timber in excess of $3.68 billion.

And with high winds and rain come power outages.

Power lines down in trees in Martinsville – crew & Martinsville photos/Town of Front Royal Energy Services Department

According to Front Royal Energy Department Director Jenkins, at the time of his crew’s arrival, seventy-five percent of the 7,500 electrical utility customers in Martinsville were without power. The Front Royal crew was immediately pressed into action.

“They were responsible for repairs over a span of 11 streets and right of ways including the replacement of 12 utility poles and 5 transformers. From the time they left Front Royal on Friday morning, to the time they returned on Tuesday the crew had worked a total of 65 hours,” Jenkins told Royal Examiner.

According to Jenkins, crew Supervisor Carey Saffelle was the only one of the four with previous experience in a disaster aide situation.

Front Royal Energy Department Line Crew Chief Carey Saffelle

Let’s get to work

We asked Saffelle and his crew their impressions of the assignment and what they encountered upon arriving in Martinsville.

“Driving down to Martinsville, as we got within 20 miles, I started seeing Fuse Cut-outs open and tap line poles with ribbon on them, trees across lines and thought to myself here it begins. I got excited, this is what we are trained for this is what gets us going,” crew chief Saffelle said, adding, “When we got to Martinsville, we met the Director and learned how bad their system was. He said, ‘You ready to check into a motel?’ I said, ‘No Sir let’s get to work, you figure that out.’

A power pole down in Martinsville

“Their guys had been working almost 24 hours at that point and we were fresh,” Saffelle said of his and his crew’s “let’s get to work” attitude. And what they faced was a daunting task. We asked crew chief Saffelle how what he encountered compared to past experiences with disaster relief.

“Every Storm has its own characteristics. This Storm was comparable to the Derecho Storm in 2012. Parts of the town were untouched other parts were completely destroyed. Huge trees down that you wouldn’t think would come down, down on lines, roads and houses. One street completely destroyed, the next street not touched. It’s amazing actually. The customers were a mix of excited to see us and very appreciative that we were there, while others were not and upset that they had been out of power for 8, 16 and 24+ hours. It is the same with every natural disaster,” Saffelle observed.

Lineman Alan Bell

For his crew of three linemen it was a first experience of disaster relief – what was it like for them?

“I was excited to go work storm trouble but, I didn’t know what to expect,” Alan Bell said. “Upon arrival we met the Director at Martinsville and were told the state of their territory after the storm had passed. We got out to the first job and went to work. One location to the next each job had its own challenges with being in an area we had never been before, but it shared similarities to the work we do at home.

A Front Royal Energy Department bucket truck and crew extricating power lines from a tree

“When it was time to come home power had been restored to nearly every customer and the city was looking nothing like when we arrived. It was an excellent experience with accommodations being better then I expected. I feel satisfied and grateful to have been selected to go help restore the system in Martinsville and wouldn’t hesitate to do it again in the future,” Bell concluded.

“My first thought when we arrived was, man oh man, how bad was the storm? Then after seeing how many poles were snapped and utility lines were ripped down, it was BAD,” Preston Toms told us.

Lineman Preston Toms

“There were very large trees down on roads, lines and even houses. People were thankful for us coming down to help them out. It was an exciting and great opportunity to be able to help Martinsville restore power to their customers,” Toms concluded.

“It was as bad as I thought it was going to be,” Hunter Partlowe added. “There was no real way to prepare for it. It was very long days with long hours. We had a four-man crew and made the best of it. I am glad I got to experience something that bad and help others when the needed it.”

Another downed pole approached on the night shift

Of his crew’s hectic schedule, Saffelle said, “We arrived in Martinsville Friday at 2 p.m. and started working immediately. There were trees down everywhere; every utility line was on the ground, numerous poles broken of all types.  We did what we were trained to do at the best of our ability.  They were long days, no sleep, balls-to-the-wall, getting it done. We worked until Saturday morning at 3 a.m.”

Saturday the crew worked from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and on Sunday and Monday did 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. shifts.

Lineman Hunter Partlowe

“We were released Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. to drive back home. I am very proud of my guys – all of them linemen; they stepped up for the Town of Front Royal and aided a destroyed community that was in need of help. It is always a great feeling to help others when in need; it was exciting to help restore power to the citizens of the City of Martinsville VA.,” Crew Chief Saffelle concluded.

Job well done, men – you did your town and its Energy Services Department proud.

Crews worked day and night to restore power to the 75% of Martinsville households without it in the wake of Hurricane Michael

Jenkins noted that the Town of Front Royal’s Energy Services Department consists of 15 full-time employees, 8 of which are part of the Line crew. With half of their total man power in Martinsville, the remaining Line Technicians were tasked with maintaining day-to-day operations here at home.

Job well done on the home front as well, for those left to tend to more mundane day-to-day energy department needs.

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Traffic changes planned For Walney Road at Route 28 – Starting on or about May 1

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FAIRFAX, Va. — Walney Road will close between Route 28 and Cabells Mill Drive on or about May 1, 2019. Drivers will be temporarily detoured to Westfields Boulevard to access Walney Road from Route 28 through fall 2020. Access to Route 28 North from Walney Road will be permanently directed to Westfields Boulevard. These traffic changes are needed for improvements to the Route 28 and I-66 interchange as part of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway Project.

When work is complete, Walney Road will be reconnected with Braddock Road by a new overpass over Route 28. This overpass will provide direct access to and from both the new I-66 Express Lanes and general-purpose lanes, as well as to Route 28 to and from the south. The Transform 66 Outside the Beltway Project will also remove the four sets of traffic signals along Route 28 between I-66 and Westfields Boulevard.

Walney Road will close between Route 28 and Cabells Mill Drive on or about May 1, 2019. Drivers will be temporarily detoured to Westfields Boulevard to access Walney Road from Route 28. Access to Route 28 North from Walney Road will be permanently directed to Westfields Boulevard.

Details of upcoming traffic changes:

• Temporary closure of Walney Road between Route 28 and Cabells Mill Road through fall 2020.
• Temporary elimination of the right turn and traffic signal from Route 28 North to Walney Road.
• Drivers can access Walney Road from northbound Route 28 by continuing north to the Westfields Boulevard interchange, staying to the right to go east on Westfields Boulevard, then turning right on Walney Road.
• Direct access to Walney Road from northbound Route 28 will be restored in a later phase of construction.
• Permanent elimination of the right turn from Walney Road to Route 28 North.
• Drivers can access Route 28 by taking Walney Road north, then turning left on Westfields Boulevard to the Route 28 interchange.
• Drivers accessing Braddock Road from I-66 and Route 28 North can continue to utilize the left-turn lanes and the existing traffic signal during this phase of construction.

Drivers should expect construction-related detours and additional changes to traffic patterns as work progresses at the Route 28/I-66 interchange and along Route 28. Drivers are reminded to use caution and pay attention to lane markings and roadway signs in construction work zones.

Learn more about the project and sign up for project updates and lane closure alerts at Transform66.org.

When complete in December 2022, the reconstructed Route 28/I-66 interchange will provide access to and from the new I-66 Express Lanes as well as general purpose lanes. Braddock Road and Walney Road will be connected by an overpass over Route 28, with direct access to and from I-66 Express Lanes and general purpose lanes as well as Route 28 to and from the south.

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EDA in Focus

Unsealed State Police documents claim McDonald lied about gambling winnings

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Photo accompanying the February 2018 Royal Examiner article shows Jennifer McDonald displaying envelopes of alleged tax receipts from Charles Town’s Hollywood Casino winnings. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

Unsealed documents related to a Virginia State Police investigation into the finances of former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Director Jennifer McDonald indicate that she lied about slot-machine gambling winnings at the Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, West Virginia.

The documents released on Tuesday, April 23, indicate that between 2014 and September 30, 2018, McDonald lost a total of $753,207.32 – “This figure includes winnings and losses for McDonald,” one page of the unsealed documents states.

“The Hollywood Casino records obtained by Court Order indicated information that was in direct conflict to what Jennifer McDonald has stated publicly,” VSP Special Agent Eric Deel reports in a nine-point affidavit filed in November 2018.

In January 2018, McDonald approached this reporter about doing a story about a recent slot machine jackpot she said she hit at Hollywood Casino. The unsealed VSP documentation summary references the consequent Royal Examiner article published February 8, 2018, citing, “public concerns over real estate investments that appear to be beyond her financial means”.

At the time McDonald told Royal Examiner that word of a recent jackpot she had hit was on social media and she wanted to get an accurate story out. In that Royal Examiner story McDonald claimed three years of slot machine winnings of between $500,000 and $800,000 each year, totaling about $2 million.

EDA Director Jennifer McDonald parlays casino winnings into real estate investments

The timing of McDonald’s report of years of winnings spending a minimal amount of her own money – between $1,000 and $3,000 along with comparable amounts of house money, she estimated – coincided with Royal Examiner Editor Norma Jean Shaw’s exploration of large amounts of cash McDonald was using in her private real estate business.

JACKPOT!! – McDonald said her favorite ‘Quick Hit’ dollar slot once paid off to the tune of a $75,000 jackpot.

McDonald and two real estate companies she owns, along with a partner in those businesses, Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron, are listed among nine defendants named in a civil litigation filed March 26 on behalf of the EDA. That civil suit seeks recovery of a minimum of $17.6 million in alleged misdirected or embezzled EDA assets.

Sheriff, ITFed principal Tran, Donnie Poe named with McDonald in EDA civil suit

McEathron, like Earth Right Energy Solar Commercial LLC principals Donnie Poe and Justin Appleton, has issued a statement denying knowledge of any financial improprieties in transactions related to McDonald business or contractual matters.

McDonald resigned the EDA executive directorship she had held for a decade on December 20, 2018, under increasing scrutiny by the EDA Board of Directors three months into an ongoing forensic audit of EDA finances over the past decade.

Other information gleaned from a quick perusal of the 152 pages of documentation released by the Warren County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office Tuesday morning also indicates VSP subpoenaing McDonald financial records at two bank branches with Strasburg addresses, United Bankshares, Inc at 120 Oxbow Drive and First Bank at 406 Borden Mowery Drive. Both bank record subpoenas date back to January 2, 2014.

Records sought included “all deposits, electronic fund transfer, wire transfers, automated clearing house (ACH), credit card transactions” and ‘supporting documentation for any transaction …”

The ongoing forensic audit of EDA finances and VSP investigation into Jennifer McDonald’s banking and gambling practices overlaps her tenure as Annual President of the Front Royal Rotary three years ago.

An affidavit notes that the Town of Front Royal asked VSP “to investigate fraudulent and misleading conduct and reporting by McDonald in reference to a debt service quarterly billing” to the town government. As result of an internal audit by Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson ordered by council to explore an internal loan, last August town officials approached McDonald and then EDA Board Chairman Greg Drescher about debt service overpayments. Perhaps coincidentally, Drescher resigned his board chairmanship the following day.

“Numerous explanations were given which were later shown to be false and incorrect,” the affidavit states. “When questioned further, McDonald personally provided an amortization schedule to support the bond. The incorrect principal amount, incorrect ending date and incorrect interest rate was shown. After a meeting held … on 8/23/18, McDonald stated that the entire $1.9 million VDOT cash bond was an accounting error, a mistake, made by the EDA bookkeeper and that no such VDOT cash bond has been posted nor any bank borrowing to pay such payment. VDOT has confirmed that they had not demanded the bond.”

The affidavit adds that, “McDonald, as Executive Director, has offered to reimburse the Town of Front Royal tens of thousands of dollars for said discrepancies in billing. She has also asked for an audit that would be confidential and not made public” – Uh oh, too late for that.

While the commonwealth’s motion to unseal the documents notes it would do so after completion of “critical portions of the investigation” anticipated this spring, it adds that “media coverage of the issues in this investigation” has been “particularly dogged” and “comprehensive” rendering those concerns now “a moot point.”

Do we see a change of venue request coming from any potential prosecutions related to this investigation?

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Mission Trip opens eyes and hearts

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Sibo Yang drills skirting onto a mobile home in Belhaven, NC. Photo by Brandon Sloan of Randolph-Macon Academy.

While their peers were enjoying some downtime or visiting colleges, 16 Randolph-Macon Academy students, along with six adult chaperones, spent most of their spring break at the Washington United Methodist Church Disaster Recovery Center in eastern North Carolina.

The group received some on-the-job training the first day. The recovery center had been in operation since Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and was in need of a few repairs itself. The students stained decks and walled in a pavilion for supply storage; this conveniently gave them some training with the tools they would soon be using on someone’s home.

Belhaven, NC, where the students were assigned, was devastated by Hurricane Florence in September 2018, with most businesses and homes being impacted by the high flood waters. The R-MA group was the first one to work on the mobile home they went to. The woman who owned the trailer, Ms. Clark, and her fifth-grade daughter had been out of their home for nearly six months. Because Belhaven is so susceptible to flooding, she had used the FEMA funds she received to lift the trailer higher in hopes of preventing a similar disaster in the future.

“The flood waters were four feet high, so all the mobile homes in the area were severely damaged unless they were raised, which hers was not,” said R-MA Chaplain Joshua Orndorff, who organized and led the trip.

The group worked on skirting the outside of the mobile home and put in flood vents. They also built two 8×8 decks so the groups that would follow them later could get inside the trailer to work on flooring, insulation, and other repairs.

Izzy Spencer and other volunteers paint the outside of the skirting after it has been installed on the mobile home.

Unbeknownst to them, their hard work was being watched. On the last day they were there, the neighbors approached the group and asked for their help. The railing on their house stairs was damaged, resulting in a dangerous fall for an older gentleman. The R-MA group sent a crew over and repaired the railing on the stairs and around the porch.

“It was really neat for the students to realize that they were being watched,” commented Orndorff, “that how they acted and the work that was being done was being noticed in the community. So to be able to help another family while we were there was a blessing for the family, but also our students, to be able to serve, to help them out.”

“It kind of made it real that we were making a difference to someone,” explained Urenna Okoye ’20, who was one of the crew who went to work on the railings.

The week wasn’t all work for the students. They enjoyed s’mores around the fire, music, Kan-Jam, spike ball, and even a trip to the beach (which took place on a windy, rainy day, but the students enjoyed it anyway). On Tuesday evening, they met up with several R-MA alumni from the local area, who took them to a fishing club.

Those who attend mission trips to help others often find that they themselves are the ones who are blessed. This trip was no exception. On the last evening, the group gathered around the fire for the final time for a simple yet meaningful ceremony.

“The most memorable moment for me is when my peers and I sat around the fire and shared many stories and burdens that we had weighing on our shoulders,” said Emma Faust ‘19. “We exchanged vulnerability, trust, tears and understanding.”

Okoye also recounted that evening as being something she would always remember. “We wrote our burdens on paper, and we could speak them or not, then we put them in the fire and symbolically let go of them. Everyone was being so vulnerable. I’ll always remember that…that and the stars. You don’t see stars here like we saw there.”

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LFCC Adult Education program among the best in Virginia

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Adult Education Director Amy Judd seen with GED graduate Gorman Turner, who is now attending college at LFCC.

LFCC Adult Education has been ranked in the top 25 percent of programs statewide by the Virginia Department of Education Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education.

The program’s director, Amy Judd, describes adult education as instruction and services that are below the college level, and designed to help someone improve their reading, writing, math and other skills needed to get a high school diploma or GED, transition to higher education and training, and get a job.

Factors considered by the Department of Education when monitoring adult education programs include what percentage of the program’s enrollment target was met, the percentage of students who achieved measurable skill gain, student retention rates and the percentage of students who were eligible for post-testing, how well the program complied with state and federal instructional policies, and personnel retention.

LFCC’s program met 89 percent of its target enrollment in the 2017-2018 academic year. This compares to the state overall meeting about 82 percent of target.

“We had 691 students who were considered ‘countable’ according to qualifying factors, but we actually had an additional 200 enrolled,” Judd explains. “We’re so pleased we have been able to serve 900 citizens in our area and improve their marketable skills. While the state’s overall enrollment is on the decline, ours slightly increased.”

The 2017-2018 academic year was a pivotal one, as LFCC’s Adult Education program received $2.1 million in state and federal grants – spread out across three years – that led to the creation of several exciting courses. These included integrated English language civics and citizenship classes, as well as English classes geared to specific career pathways, such as the medical field and industrial trades.

This year, the program has received eight grants from the Virginia Department of Education, including an Innovation Challenge Grant that is going to professional development, a workplace ESL class and the establishment of a distance education plan that will bring the Adult Education program to even more learners.

“I’m so proud of the hard work of our instructors and our learners,” Judd says. “And, we’re grateful for the support we’ve received from the Department of Education. Our local K-12 school districts and workforce development partners also make tremendous contributions toward our success. They help us to reach even more people who will benefit from our services.”

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Town Talk: Coming soon to Royal Examiner

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The Royal Examiner  will be starting a new feature, “Town Talk”, hosted by Publisher Mike McCool. This feature will introduce you to local businesses, non-profits, political figures and others who influence Front Royal/Warren County.

We hope to feature many of our Facebook friends – those who have lots to say about how things should be done in our community. Many think they could do better, and we want to talk to them. Maybe it does take a village, so let’s let the Town Talk!

Are you ready? We’re ready to fill the schedule! Send Royal Examiner an email (to news@royalexaminer.com) with the topic you want to discuss and your contact information. Let’s get the conversation started!

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General Darren McDew to speak at R-MA commencement

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General Darren W. McDew, USAF, Retired, as the speaker for the school’s commencement ceremony. Photo courtesy R-MA.

Randolph-Macon Academy will welcome General Darren W. McDew, USAF, Retired, as the speaker for the school’s commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 18, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. in Melton Memorial Gymnasium.

Upon graduating from Virginia Military Institute in 1982, Gen McDew received his commission and began his flying career at Loring AFB, Maine. Over his 36-year career, his staff assignments included “serving as a member of the Air Force Chief of Staff Operations Group, Air Force aide to the President, chief of the Air Force Senate Liaison Division and the director of Air Force Public Affairs. Gen McDew served as vice director for strategic plans and policy for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.” Over the years, he commanded at the squadron, group and wing levels as well as at an Air Force direct reporting unit. He deployed in support of ongoing operations in Central and Southwest Asia as an air expeditionary group commander and later as the director of mobility forces. His last three assignments were at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, where he served as the commander of 18th Air Force, then the commander of Air Mobility Command, and finally completed his service as the commander, U.S. Transportation Command. Gen McDew retired in October of 2018. (For his full list of military assignments and awards, see his official Air Force biography online.)

The commencement ceremony will be the culmination of graduation week at Randolph-Macon Academy. The Class of 2019 will reminisce together during a Class Dinner on the evening of Wednesday, May 15th. On Thursday, May 16th, they will celebrate the Baccalaureate Service in Boggs Chapel at 7:00 p.m. The Final Awards Ceremony will be held at 10:00 am on Friday the 17th, followed by the traditional Senior Luncheon (which includes senior speeches, laughter, and tears) at 11:30 a.m. in Turner Hall. The seniors’ final commitment to the Air Force Junior ROTC program will be the Final Parade at 2:00 p.m., during which they will be “dismissed” for the final time.

Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA), founded in 1892, is a college-preparatory, coeducational day and boarding school for students in grades 6 through 12.  Students in grades 9-12 participate in R-MA’s 91st Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) and have the option to participate in a flight program. R-MA is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and is located in Front Royal, VA.

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Upcoming Events

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1:00 pm LFCC Job Fair @ LFCC - Fauquier Campus
LFCC Job Fair @ LFCC - Fauquier Campus
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LFCC Job Fair @ LFCC - Fauquier Campus
Nearly 60 employers have signed up to meet with job seekers at the Spring Job Fair, 5-8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 24 at LFCC’s Fauquier Campus. A free interview etiquette workshop starts at 4 p.m.[...]
2:00 pm Introduction to Floral Painting ... @ Art in the Valley
Introduction to Floral Painting ... @ Art in the Valley
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Introduction to Floral Painting with Hillary White @ Art in the Valley
Learn to paint flowers in landscapes, vases, close up and loosely! Use your own acrylic paint, watercolor or colored pencils. You must have basic knowledge of your medium. Instructor: Hillary White, MAT, CDA Wednesday afternoons,[...]
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Introduction to Watercolor with ... @ Art in the Valley
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Introduction to Watercolor with Hillary White @ Art in the Valley
Learn the basics of watercolor painting along with some fast and fun techniques. Use what you learn to paint any subject matter including landscapes, still life, floral or abstract. Instructor: Hillary White, MAT, CDA Materials[...]