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School shooting moved three students to take action

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BALTIMORE—The three students at Frederick Douglass High School grew up amid the violence and trauma that plague the city, where crime can begin to feel routine. Yet when a shooter fired a gun inside their school on Feb. 8, 2019, they were stunned.

“I did not believe what was going on,” Jaionna Santos said.

“It was surreal,” Bryonna Harris added.

Damani Thomas couldn’t sleep. “Why did that happen to Frederick Douglass? Why did that happen to us in school?”

As they tried to find answers, the students came to see that the violence that they accepted as inevitable should not be considered normal. So on April 10, 2019, they told their stories to the Baltimore City Council. Their effort was a catalyst for the Elijah Cummings Healing City Act.

Signed into law in February, the act requires all city workers, from police officers to teachers, be trained to respond to the trauma they see as they work with Baltimoreans.

In helping to draft the bill, the three students say they learned about government. They learned they were leaders.

And they realized something else: They came to understand how deeply they had been affected by violence in their own families and how they had to get help in coping.

“I did not understand the circumstances I was in … was trauma,” said Santos, 19, who has lost a cousin and a close friend in shootings.

“Over the years and over the time of living in Baltimore being a student in Baltimore City,” she added, “I learned how to navigate a lot of things and normalize things that I went through.”

Before the school shooting, Harris, 17, said, “I was very quiet about my problems and struggles, and I like to go through it alone.” But now, she said, she realizes “I can’t do everything by myself, especially when it comes to trying to heal from trauma because it’s an all-hands-on-deck kind of process.”

After the gunfire at Frederick Douglass, which wounded a staff member, City Councilman Zeke Cohen called the school’s principal asking how he could help. Cohen also mentioned an upcoming council hearing on the violence that affects youth.

When English teacher Daniel Parsons got word of Cohen’s plan, he decided that Harris, Santos, and Thomas, whom he knew from his AP language and composition class, should go to City Hall to tell their stories.

“It was almost a natural choice for me to pick all three of them,” Parsons said. “All three of them are just amazing kids. Their personalities are so incredibly different and all three of them have just been through such harrowing, personal challenges in their life that they never let go of them and never use them as excuses.”

So a few weeks later, the three Frederick Douglass students nervously entered City Hall and read their statements to a City Council committee.

“Crime and violence impact our lives constantly,” Santos said in her testimony. “Some students don’t make it to school because the walk to the bus stop is too dangerous or someone was shot near their usual stop. Sometimes they have to put up with drunk or high people riding the bus with them. Overage men harass young girls on the way to school.”

“We experience all of this,” Santos said, “before the first bell rings.”

Harris said she watched the council members, saw they were really listening, and relaxed.

“They understood what we were saying,” Harris said.

She realized she was in a new role — testifying on behalf of the students who were not yet ready to speak.

“If I can just be that one voice or we can just be those three voices to speak up for the voiceless, it matters a whole lot,” Harris said.

Thomas said, “I decided to speak out because I felt like certain kids can connect with me and understand that we do have a voice and can serve our peers and kids that necessarily do not have the strength to speak up for each other.”

Harris, whose brother was murdered in 2008, now understands that the apathy she used to feel was a manifestation of the trauma in her life.

She had felt unmotivated to carry on. “Where is my light at the end of the tunnel? It just kind of feels like you’re in this dark place.”

“Whenever I have trauma, I try to push it to the back of my head and try to convince myself that it is normal and this is everyday life,” Harris said. “But eventually I became unhealthy because when you keep everything bottled in, eventually it will explode.”

Her father’s death in 2018 pushed her into depression, and people close to her noticed.

“It puts me in moods that sometimes I can’t control and causes me to push the people that are closest to me away,” Harris said. “I just kind of feel like I have to do everything on my own, even though I really don’t.”

The shooting certainly took its toll on Thomas, who suffered from depression and began isolating himself in his room and sleeping for hours. Even before the shooting, Thomas said, he was dealing with social anxiety. When in big crowds, he felt everything was moving in slow motion and everyone was watching him.

He said his response to trauma—being withdrawn and lethargic—is something other teenagers deal with as well, something he feels adults fail to understand.

“They might describe us kids as self-centered, or we’ve got tough shells, or we might not care because of where we come from,” Thomas said. “If you actually took the time to really speak to the kids and really understand their lives and analyze them, you will understand they were as affected as me, maybe even more.”

Even after the shooting at Frederick Douglass, Harris still feels the school is a safe and comfortable place to be. She believes many teachers care about addressing trauma and about the well-being of their students.

“Teachers are very supportive. They always pushed us beyond our limits and pushed us to exceed our expectations,” Harris said. “So I think that’s something that’s really healthy for my mindset sometimes.”

With the Healing City Act now law, Harris now feels more willing to see herself as a leader.

“I think I took it much more seriously and I was much more willing to take on the challenges of it,” Harris said.

Santos hopes the Healing City Act will start a downward trend in violence and trauma.

“It can slow down violence and trauma because most people don’t even know they are actually traumatized,” Santos said. “This bill will actually teach them, educate them, what you go through shouldn’t be normal.”

Thomas hopes it will help other students have a bigger voice to express their ideas and concerns.

“For kids to have a voice, they can speak up more,” Thomas said. “It could be more Damani Thomases, it could be more Bryonnas, it could be more Jaionnas…. I want the kids to have a voice.”

Harris hopes this legislation can set an example beyond Baltimore, which is not the only city dealing with these issues.

“It is important to start to focus on (trauma) because it has been ignored for way too long.”

Student profiles

Jaionna Santos, 19, of Baltimore, said in spring 2020 that “crime and violence impact our lives constantly.” (Capital News Service photo)

Jaionna Santos, 19
“I would probably call (Santos) the rock,” said Daniel Parsons, Santos’s AP English teacher. “Her strength really is often in listening and being empathetic and encouraging.”

Santos said she is shy and has anxiety about speaking in public. She is a former class president but dislikes being called a leader because she dislikes the spotlight.

“I know people look at me as a leader,” Santos said. “There’s school people who hold me to a high standard, like administrators and students. Me as a person, I don’t like to have all of that attention.”

Santos was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in October and took four weeks’ leave from her school. She wasn’t doing well academically and only wanted to stay home.

“I was not talking to friends and I basically was only going to the appointments with my therapist and psychiatrist,” Santos said. “I just wanted to be by myself.”

Now that she has been able to understand the trauma she went through, she hopes others in the Baltimore community will get the help they need to do the same.

“The main thing I believe in is educating people about trauma and figuring out solutions to actually reduce it,” Santos said.

Santos’s mother is a pharmaceutical buyer who supports Santos and her 16-year-old sister. She also has 27-year-old twin brothers.

Santos views African-American figures in history as her role models because they overcame so much to achieve their goals.

“It gives me hope that I can become something because we had the same background and struggles,” she said.

In the fall, Santos will go to Community College of Baltimore County in Essex. She wants to finish college and become a trauma surgeon.

Why did that happen to us in school?” Damani Thomas, 18, of Baltimore in spring 2020. (Capital News Service photo)

Damani Thomas, 18
Parsons sees Thomas as the most artistic of the three students. Thomas loves drawing and cartoons as well as reading — fiction, nonfiction, biographies, and autobiographies.

He considers himself a leader because “I stayed on the forefront to make (the Healing City Act) possible for the city.”

Thomas has three siblings. His father is a security guard and mother is a teacher’s helper.

Thomas’s definition of success is ensuring “he lived his life to the fullest and he made sure he grasped every conversation and every lesson he got along the way.”

Thomas said he looks up to the people who have encouraged him, “because they made me the person I am today and was able to dedicate their lives making sure that I will fulfill the purpose in my life.”

He hopes to go to college to study graphic design or computer science.

Bryonna Harris, 17, in Baltimore in spring 2020, says dealing with trauma is “an all-hands-on-deck kind of process.” (Photo by Jasmine Jones, courtesy Bryonna Harris.)

Bryonna Harris, 17

“I think she is the natural leader of the bunch,” Parsons said. “She’s incredibly thoughtful, very perceptive and charismatic and persuasive.”

Harris has always considered herself a kind of leader because “I just see things from a different perspective. I feel like I’ve always been an over-analyzer.”

Harris also likes to write. “Writing is like having a conversation with myself,” she said.

She has 14 siblings — eight brothers and six sisters. Harris’s mother is a nurse.

“She came from a different era than me,” Harris said about her mother. “It’s like some of the same issues but things just change with time, so seeing her strengths and her resistance when it comes to life is pushing me to strive to be better. I definitely want to provide for my mother and be there for her and do everything for her when I grow up.”

Working on the Healing City Act taught Harris to be more ambitious and more persistent in reaching her goals. “I feel everything is like perseverance. I had the motivation to push through, that I can do better when it comes to school and make a better life for myself.”

She said she used to accept violence as part of life but that has changed.

“I definitely want to go forward with trying to find ways to deal with trauma or address trauma and then heal from it,” Harris said. “I’m not exactly sure how right now, but I know I definitely want to go forth with kindness.”

Harris wants to study at the University of Baltimore and become a lawyer.

By Mohan Xu and Mike Revollo
Capital News Service

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Fauquier Health employees thank community for support during pandemic by giving back

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COVID-19 has caused a great deal of uncertainty across the region. In early March, the community was quick to rally together in support of Fauquier Health’s frontline healthcare workers and donated endless notes of kind words, treats for staff, meals, care packages and supplies. During trying times, the community’s support gave the Fauquier Health staff members a positive outlook. As the state of Virginia began to slowly reopen, it became a priority for Fauquier Health to give back to the community.

Fauquier Health staff member is pictured here delivering the staff donations to the Culpeper Food Closet.

In the words of Ashley Wharton, Registered Nurse in the Emergency Department at Fauquier Health, “As the months unraveled, I witnessed all of the community support coming into our staff. As a nurse in the Emergency Department, I felt so supported by our community. It made getting through the touch times a little bit easier.”

Fauquier Health staff member is pictured here delivering the staff donations to the Fauquier Food Bank.

During July and August, Fauquier Health partnered with local businesses such as Carousel Frozen Treats, Moo Thru’s Ice Cream Shop, Haute Cakes Pastry Shop, and Red Truck Bakery to provide biweekly treats for staff. This gave staff the opportunity to take a break and grab a sweet treat. As part of the offering, staff were encouraged to bring in a non-perishable item or monetary donation in to enjoy a treat. The local food banks supplied Fauquier Health with a list of requested goods. Those goods were then marketed to the staff members as needed donations. After each treat day, the donations were collectively distributed amongst the Fauquier Food Bank in Warrenton, Community Touch Food Pantry in Bealeton (Clara’s Faith House Food Pantry), and the Culpeper Food Closet. In total, the staff donated $1,376 and nearly a ton of food – 1,787 pounds of food.

Fauquier Health staff members enjoying a cool treat from the Carousel truck after donating for the local food banks.

“It was important that we showed the community how grateful we were for all the support they provided to our team during a trying and stressful time,” said Chad Melton, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Fauquier Health. “This community continues to stand strong in the fight against COVID-19. Our team members, board and medical staff were elated to give back to the community and to say thanks.”

Fauquier Health donates 1,787 pounds of food to local food banks. Clara’s Faith House Food Pantry received nearly 600 pounds of the food and over $330 in staff donations.

Dr. T. Tyronne Champion, Co-Founder & Executive Director of Community Touch Food Pantry in Bealeton, commented, “Community Touch is grateful for the food donation from Fauquier Health. [Their] donation helps us to fulfill our mission of feeding those in need during the pandemic.”


About Fauquier Health

Fauquier Health is a community health system dedicated to high-quality, patient-centered care in a unique environment that considers the multiple facets of healing and respects the individuality of each and every patient. Located at 500 Hospital Drive in Warrenton, Virginia, Fauquier Health serves the residents of Fauquier and several surrounding counties. It comprises Fauquier Hospital, a fully-accredited, 97-bed hospital; Fauquier Health Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, a 113-bed long-term care and rehabilitation facility; the Villa at Suffield Meadows, an assisted living facility; the Wound Health Center and a medically supervised Wellness Center offering health and wellness programs. Fauquier Health also operates nine physician’s offices, including primary care and specialties. More information on Fauquier Health is available online at FauquierHealth.org or by calling 540.316.5000.

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Fauquier Health welcomes Dr. Gurwinder Singh at new Internal Medicine clinic in Culpeper

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Fauquier Health announces grand opening of new Internal Medicine office and the welcoming of Dr. Gurwinder Singh, Internal Medicine.

Fauquier Health announced today the grand opening of their new Internal Medicine office located at 1100 Sunset Lane, Culpeper, Virginia 22701. The new office will be joining forces with the already established General Surgery office, which opened back in October 2019.

The Internal Medicine office will be led by one of Fauquier Health’s newest physicians, Dr. Gurwinder Singh. Dr. Singh is board-certified in internal medicine and maintains a strong focus on adult health, diabetes, chronic disease management (such as heart and lung), preventative education, endocrinology and critical care management.

Dr. Singh graduated from the Sri Guru Ram Dass Institute of Medical Science and Research in Amritsar, India in 2014. He completed his residency training at the Mercy Catholic Medical Center with Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 2018. Prior to joining Fauquier Health, Dr. Singh spent the last several years in Williamsburg, Virginia working simultaneously at Sentara Internal Medicine Physicians (primary clinic) and Williamsburg Landing Primary Care (secondary clinic).

“Fauquier Health is working towards a long-term plan to expand service offerings and care to the residents of Culpeper County. Dr. Gurwinder Singh plays a large part in this,” expressed Chad Melton, CEO of Fauquier Health. “Dr. Singh will be offering Internal Medicine services to a growing, and aging population. By joining forces with our reputable General Surgeons, Dr. Joseph Brown and Dr. Andrew Gordon, we will now be able to offer multi-specialty services to the residents in the region. We hope to keep expanding access to services in the future so residents do not have to travel far for care.”

Dr. Singh is accepting appointments now and will begin seeing patients starting on October 1, 2020 at the Fauquier Health Internal Medicine at Culpeper office at 1100 Sunset Lane. To schedule an appointment today, please call 540.812.2937.


About Fauquier Health

Fauquier Health is a community health system dedicated to high-quality, patient-centered care in a unique environment that considers the multiple facets of healing and respects the individuality of each and every patient. Located at 500 Hospital Drive in Warrenton, Virginia, Fauquier Health serves the residents of Fauquier and several surrounding counties. It comprises: Fauquier Hospital, a fully-accredited, 97-bed hospital; Fauquier Health Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, a 113-bed long-term care and rehabilitation facility; the Villa at Suffield Meadows, an assisted living facility; the Wound Health Center and a medically supervised Wellness Center offering health and wellness programs.  Fauquier Health also operates nine physician’s offices, including primary care and specialties. More information on Fauquier Health is available online at FauquierHealth.org or by calling (540) 316-5000.

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Local farm in White Post, Virginia seeking full-time employee

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CARPENTER’S TRAINEE:
Need immediate full-time help in White Post, VA.

We are looking for an honest, hardworking team player, who wants to develop as a craftsman, and able to follow direction from our Master Carpenter. Must be open-minded and mechanically inclined. Little to no carpentry experience is expected, as our Master Carpenter would like to be able to mold and train. This is an excellent opportunity for a young person, just out of high school or college, to learn a skilled trade and get paid for it!

Monday-Friday from 7am-3:30pm. Excellent fully paid benefit package includes 401k, health, dental & vision insurance and much more.

To schedule an interview, please email your resume to sb546appl@gmail.com or mail it to P.O. Box 98, White Post, Virginia 22663.

  • Applicants must be at least 18 years old to apply.
  • References, background check, valid driver’s license and drug test required.
  • Tobacco-free environment.
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Fauquier Health welcomes new interventional radiologists

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Fauquier Health recently welcomed three new board-certified interventional radiologists to its medical staff this month. Dr. Sandeep Bagla, Dr. Alexander Kieger and Dr. Rachel Piechowiak will bring expanded interventional specialty focuses to Fauquier and the surrounding communities. Interventional radiology (IR) is a subspecialty of radiology. By combining advanced imaging and technology, our interventional radiologists can treat complex conditions — even cardiovascular disease and cancer — less invasively and with unprecedented precision. Since interventional radiology treatments and procedures are typically done as minimally-invasive, patients can experience less risk, less pain, and less recovery time. For example, during a procedure, the interventional radiologist will use the appropriate technology to help guide small instruments (catheters) through the vascular system or other pathways through the skin.

Dr. Sandeep Bagla, Fauquier Health Interventional Radiology

Dr. Sandeep Bagla graduated from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in 2003. He later completed his residency training as Chief Resident and Diagnostic Radiology Resident at Albany Medical Center in Albany, New York in 2007. He received fellowship training in Cardiovascular and Interventional Radiology and has procedural expertise in interventional oncology (minimally invasive cancer therapy), arterial and neuro-intervention (stroke therapy, abdominal aortic aneurysm stent grafting, peripheral arterial intervention), pulmonary thrombolysis and prostate artery embolization.

Dr. Alexander Kieger, Fauquier Health Interventional Radiology

Dr. Alexander Kieger graduated with a medical degree from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, IL in 2012. The following year, he completed his internship from Northwestern University/McGaw Medical Center in Preliminary General Surgery. He brings over 10 years of clinical experience with him. According to Dr. Kieger, “My practice focuses on minimally-invasive procedures that result in quick recovery and rarely require a stay in the hospital. I am dedicated to spending ample time with my patients and being available to them every step of the way.” Dr. Kieger received fellowship training in Vascular and Interventional Radiology and has expertise in vascular specialties such as dialysis access and catheter placement, central line insertion, Peripheral Vascular Disease and venous insufficiencies

Dr. Rachel Piechowiak, Fauquier Health Interventional Radiology

Dr. Rachel Piechowiak is a Board-Certified Vascular & Interventional Radiologist and joined the Fauquier Health team in 2020. She takes a patient focused approach; she said, “I enjoy helping patients understand the procedure from start to finish, so they feel comfortable and know what to expect.” Prior to her arrival to Fauquier Health she worked at the Vascular Institute of Virginia. She completed her fellowship at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center in 2012 and Diagnostic Radiology Residency at Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey, where she was chosen at Chief Resident. She graduated from New York College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2006 and also holds a Master’s Degree in Science (Cellular and Molecular Biology).

“Interventional radiology is an important component of our overall care strategy because it is utilized in so many areas of patient care to diagnosis and treat a wide range of ailments using a myriad of different procedures aided by imaging procedures,” said Christine Hart Kress, Chief Nursing Office at Fauquier Health. “We are excited to welcome Dr. Bagla, Dr. Kieger, and Dr. Piechowiak to the Fauquier Health Team. This specialty allows our entire team of healthcare providers to diagnose and treat patients using the latest minimally-invasive techniques currently available to minimize the risk to the patient and improve health outcomes. Our interventional radiology group brings a variety of specialty focuses and expertise ranging from interventional oncology and treatment procedures to epidural injections.”

Services and areas of specialty include:

  • Dialysis access management
  • Minimally-invasive biopsies
  • Minimally-invasive pain management
  • Peripheral Arterial Disease
  • Prostate artery embolization
  • Uterine fibroid embolization
  • Vascular disease
  • Vein disease and varicose veins
  • Wound healing

For additional information, please visit FauquierHealth.org, keyword “interventional radiology,” or FHDoctors.org.


About Fauquier Health

Fauquier Health is a community health system dedicated to high-quality, patient-centered care in a unique environment that considers the multiple facets of healing and respects the individuality of each and every patient. Located at 500 Hospital Drive in Warrenton, Virginia, Fauquier Health serves the residents of Fauquier and several surrounding counties. It comprises: Fauquier Hospital, a fully-accredited, 97-bed hospital; Fauquier Health Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, a 113-bed long-term care and rehabilitation facility; the Villa at Suffield Meadows, an assisted living facility; the Wound Health Center and a medically supervised Wellness Center offering health and wellness programs.  Fauquier Health also operates nine physician’s offices, including primary care and specialties. More information on Fauquier Health is available online at FauquierHealth.org or by calling (540) 316-5000.

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Locally produced short film “The Killer of Grassy Ridge” winning festivals worldwide

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A debut short film produced in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley is winning film festivals worldwide. “The Killer of Grassy Ridge” has won Best U.S. Short Film, Best Debut, Best Horror, Best Cinematography, and has been selected for nearly 40 film festivals across the world.

The nine-minute independent film was shot in November and December 2019 near Front Royal and Luray’s Lake Arrowhead in the Shenandoah Valley, with additional scenes filmed at a cabin in Rileyville and the mountains of Carter County, Tennessee.

First-time filmmaker Johnny K. of Alexandria wrote and shot the film purely as a personal challenge, giving himself just two months to create a finished product using only the limited gear and resources he had on-hand.

“Last year I became inspired by filmmakers who were out making movies using very little equipment. They were telling amazing stories while I was sitting on the couch complaining that my gear wasn’t good enough to make my first film. I’d been making excuses for long enough, so I wanted to prove myself wrong. Written, shot, and edited in 62 days, “The Killer of Grassy Ridge” is the result. My hope is that my movie will inspire other amateur filmmakers the same way I was inspired.”

With an entirely Virginia-based cast and crew, the film marks the debut of actors Michael Stumbo of Winchester and Arlington native Heather Stone. The movie showcases the natural beauty of the region and the isolated environment and scenic landscapes largely contribute to the tone of the film.

The film has now been selected for nearly 40 film festivals on six continents and shows no signs of slowing down.

“The Killer of Grassy Ridge” is now streaming on YouTube and will soon be available on Amazon Prime.

CLICK HERE to view the entire press kit with more images and details!

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Introducing the 2020 Highland County Barn Quilt Trail Brochure

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The Highland County Chamber of Commerce is excited to introduce a completely revised and expanded version of its popular Highland County Barn Quilt Trail Brochure.  Highland County’s Barn Quilt Trail was the first in Virginia, beginning in 2011 with just 13 barn quilts in the brochure.  The updated brochure has over 50 barn quilts for travelers to explore.

Barn quilts are colorful painted wooden squares and diamonds that hang on barns, outbuildings and homes.  These unique works of art are the merger of traditional roles on the farm, blending the customs of quilting bees together with outdoor barn work into a beautiful combination.

Highland County’s barn quilts have interesting names like “Colaw Apple,” “Tree of Paradise,” “Love in a Mist,” “Five Reds,” and “Spirit Soars.”  There is often a story behind the name that corresponds with the design.  The barn quilt may represent the love of plants, animals or other natural wonders, showcase a business, or memorialize a special friend or moment.  The public is invited to learn about the history and inspiration of Highland County’s barn quilts in the brochure.  Whether viewing the county’s LOVEwork letters in Monterey, striking designs at a former mill in McDowell or an old maple syrup-producing barn with multiple barn quilts on it in Blue Grass, everyone can enjoy the beauty of the towns, hills, hollows, fields and forests of Highland County while experiencing the barn quilt trail.  Can you spot them all?

The Highland County Barn Quilt Trail Brochure will be available at local businesses and The Highland County Chamber of Commerce’s office at The Highland Center in Monterey.  A corresponding website with digital versions of the brochure is available HERE.  For children of all ages, there are even barn quilt design templates online to be printed out and colored in.  For inspiration, use the colors of a current barn quilt on the trail or create your own!  Have fun, and happy trails!

The Highland County Barn Quilt Trail Brochure is brought to you in part through the 2020 Wanderlove Grant from the Virginia Tourism Corporation.


The Highland County Chamber of Commerce is a 501(c)(6) membership nonprofit organization with a mission to lift up local businesses and entrepreneurs, promote Highland County, and champion economic prosperity and quality of life.  For more information, please visit www.highlandcounty.org.

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