It was a surprise party of sorts for Warren County Department of Social Services Program Coordinator Michelle Smeltzer Thursday evening, March 4, as dinner was being prepared at the department’s indoors “thermal shelter” for the homeless at the 15th Street Health & Human Services Complex. Smeltzer was encouraged to show up around 6:30 p.m. as Masonic Unity Lodge 146 was preparing a turkey dinner for shelter residents as part of their last scheduled winter round of meal provision there.
There would be “special guests” she had been told as several District 3 Masonic representatives were visiting the local lodge’s contribution to social services department work on behalf of those in need in the community. Among those guests were District 3 Deputy Grand Master Mark Pennypacker and District Membership Coordinator Wes Hammack. They were joined by Unity Lodge 146 members Scott Truax, Charles Taggart, Dennis Haas, Tom Kivelhan, and Will Bryan, the latter whose So Mote It Beef G BBQ catering service takes point in some of Lodge 146’s food distribution community outreach.
The Masons were joined by County Emergency Services Coordinator and COVID information point man Rick Farrall, County Board of Supervisors Chairman Cheryl Cullers with North River Supervisor Delores Oates, shelter volunteer Robin Townshend with husband Bruce in tow, the latter whom we have encountered recently circulating a petition to get on the November ballot in the 2021 county board elections, and former Interim WC DSS Director Beth Reavis.
What Smeltzer was about to find out as soon as she slowed down from helping staff prep for dinner, was that the real “Special Guest” the District 3 Mason reps and the above assortment of locals were present to acknowledge, was her.
As Will Bryan had told us, Smeltzer was to receive one of two Lodge 146 annual “Community Builder Awards” approved by District 3 as “a token of our appreciation for all that she does in our community. She is an amazing person and a pleasure to work side by side within bettering our community.”
Reavis, now “re-retired” more or less she explained, elaborated on Smeltzer’s contributions to the social services department and its community service efforts, particularly for the homeless in winter. She noted that the previous arrangement for homeless winter accommodation and meal provision had largely been achieved through various local churches on a rotating basis. However, with a sometimes-older volunteer member church base more susceptible to pandemic contagion with the arrival of COVID, some of those face-to-face housing and direct meal provision efforts had been withdrawn as a protective precaution for church members.
DSS approached the County and then County Administrator Doug Stanley about a replacement space and it was settled upon that what was then an unused portion of the 15th Street complex with cafeteria space could be utilized.
“And bless the County’s heart, they jumped right it – it looks nothing like it did before. They cleaned it up, they painted it, they spent months making this a workable solution and a nice place for people to be,” Reavis said. “And the churches are still involved, they bring food” along with Lodge 146’s spot in the rotation, which in addition to dinner, includes supplies to cover a cold breakfast and carryout lunch.
So, now there was a space in need of supervision and oversight. Enter Michelle Smeltzer.
“She works all day at her regular job (at WC DSS) and she does this on her own time,” Reavis explained. “The County has been totally supportive of it, and helpful. And Michelle works all day and then comes here – she volunteers here. She made it a really bigger job. It originally started out that she was going to help people who needed short-term housing with the money that the churches were donating. Then it got to be if somebody needs something, call Michelle. There is paid staff, she’s organized all of this, she’s gotten all the churches on board, she meets with the shelter board … And she just keeps the wheels on the wagon. She’s an amazing person with an amazing amount of energy,” Reavis observed.
And it is that willingness to go above and beyond her prescribed duties and hours to continue to help the community and some of its most vulnerable citizens that made Michelle Smeltzer the “Special Guest” of Masonic Lodge 146, its District 3 officials, and County and other volunteer citizens Thursday evening, March 4.
After having that explained to her, and receiving Lodge 146’s Community Builder Award certification to a round of appreciative applause, we caught up with the evening’s real Special Guest at her “surprise party”.
“I know, I can’t believe people are able to keep secrets – this is amazing to me,” she laughed of the friendly subterfuge. “All of this is really nice, and I’m still kind of in shock over it. I wasn’t at all expecting anything like that. I mean, I know I’m out there and people see my face, but there are so many people that are involved to make it happen. There’s been tremendous support from Social Services, from the County, and then all the churches, pastors, and church members – I mean we just have so much support,” Smeltzer said, deflecting credit to those around her who make her work possible.
EDA gets McDonald company property as part of settlement agreement
On Wednesday, October 20, Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne verified the EDA’s acquisition of the 41-acre “Happy Creek Road” parcel owned by former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s Moveon8 real estate LLC. Acquisition of the undeveloped property assessed at just over a million dollars according to county court records is part of the $9-million-dollar no-fault settlement agreement reached between the EDA, McDonald, and the Harrisonburg Bankruptcy Court handling McDonald’s 2020 bankruptcy filing. The EDA will now be able to market the property as a developable EDA asset. It is located near the intersection of Happy Creek Road and Leach Run Parkway.
Browne said that in addition to receiving full value on the Happy Creek parcel, the EDA was in line to receive a percentage of the sale price of other McDonald assets distributed through the bankruptcy court proceeding. Exactly how close those percentages might get the EDA to the $9-million-dollar settlement figure remains to be seen. It was not immediately clear as to whether the EDA will have an outright full value claim to any other McDonald-held properties or assets.
McDonald is the central figure in the EDA financial scandal that began unravelling in mid-to-late 2018. She resigned in December 2018 under mounting pressure from her board of directors. She has been accused in civil and criminal court of utilizing her EDA position to misdirect EDA assets to her and others personal benefit. Western District of Virginia federal authorities have taken over the criminal side of the EDA case after a state special prosecutor’s office in Harrisonburg dropped criminal charges against McDonald and as many as 23 co-defendants due to speedy trial concerns as it wrestled with the volume of evidentiary material – estimated at 800,000 to over a million pages at the time. With charges against some defendants originating with the county commonwealth attorney’s office that initially handled the criminal investigation during Brian Madden’s tenure heading the department, failure to meet speedy trial timelines could have led to defense motions for dismissal of criminal charges against the defendants.
On August 31, 2021, federal prosecutors made their initial move, handing down a 34-count indictment against McDonald. Of those 34 counts, 16 were for money laundering, 10 for bank fraud, 7 for wire fraud, and 1 count of aggravated identity theft regarding someone identified as “T.T.” – ITFederal principal Truc Tran perhaps?
Joint Tourism Committee soliciting proposals for exclusive retail rights located at the Front Royal Visitor’s Center
The Front Royal & Warren County Joint Tourism Committee is soliciting proposals for exclusive retail rights located at the Front Royal Visitor’s Center. The proposal must include and respond to the following scope of services.
- The retailer will provide a merchandise for sale local to Front Royal and Warren County within a 35-mile radius. Merchandise should include local artists’ and photographer’s works, food items, branded material and other unique items to the Front Royal and Warren County area.
- The retail selection will include curated items exclusive to Front Royal and Warren County. The vendor must be willing to work with the Tourism Committee, and its contractor operating the Visitor’s Center, on merchandise selection. The Tourism representatives will have the right to approve or disapprove of merchandise to be incorporated for sale in the retail location to ensure quality product.
- The vendor will provide a cashless payment method at the vendor’s expense.
- The vendor will provide training to the Front Royal Visitor Center employees on the system and provide seven day a week support when necessary.
- The Front Royal Tourism Committee nor the employees of the Front Royal Visitor Center will be responsible for merchandise set up, inventory, or monitoring stock.
- The vendor will maintain the merchandise in an aesthetically pleasing manner neat and updated on a weekly basis.
- The vendor will provide a monthly report to the Tourism Committee representative on the sale of merchandise and provide suggestions for each season.
- The merchandise will reflect seasonal changes.
- The vendor will carry all necessary insurance and provide a current Warren County business license.
All potential vendors must address all the requirements as outlined including the time frame to begin the retail operation at the Visitors’ Center. A business plan for the merchandising must also be included. Bidders will be required to present their business plan and proposal to representatives of the Joint Tourism Committee.
Respondents are expected to organize their proposal to include:
- Operating model and requirements in response to scope above
- Proposed financial model i.e., lease for square footage or percentage of sales
- Relevant experience
- A minimum of three references
- 1 year with an option of a 2-year renewal.
- Awarded contractor must be operational at the beginning of the contract start date of 10/18/21.
- RFP released: 10/1/21
- Proposals due: 11/12/21
- Interview date: 11/22/21
- Contract begins: 12/1/21
- Contract Initial Term Complete: 12/31/22
- Potential Contract Term Extension through: 12/31/24
Front Royal ready for Fall tourists
The Town of Front Royal has hired three employees to staff the downtown Visitors Center.
Thousands of tourists travel to the area every fall for leaf viewing. The increased number of Visitor Center staff will play a key role in bolstering the Town’s continued effort to welcome tourists and assist them with experiencing the many attractions along with enjoying the fall foliage.
The Visitors Center averages over 150 visitors daily and over 200 each day on the weekends. “Welcoming visitors and letting them know about all the area attractions, lodging, outdoor adventures, arts, and cultural programming, fine food and drink grow the economy,” said Mayor Chris Holloway. “Front Royal and Warren County are committed to increasing visitation beyond a day visit.”
Visitor Center staff are responsible for many customer experience activities, including being ambassadors, providing tourists with information that enhances their visit, and encouraging tourists to return to Front Royal.
Tourism is a major economic driver for Front Royal and Warren County and its hospitality businesses. Visit www.DiscoverFrontRoyal.com for the many things to do.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Southern Flying Squirrel
The most common rodent you never see:
Southern flying squirrels are quite common across Virginia, but since they’re nocturnal and much smaller than Eastern Gray Squirrels, people rarely see them and often have no idea they even exist!
Unfortunately, cats are quite skilled at finding these nocturnal tree squirrels. Approximately 60% of our adult flying squirrel patients, including this one, come the Center as confirmed cat attack victims.
This patient is very lucky. He had minimal wounds and is doing well on pain medications and antibiotics.
In general, only about 30% of cat attacked patients survive to release. We have already received over 480 confirmed cat attack patients so far in 2021. We hope that this flyer will be in that minority!
Though feral cats are estimated to cause two thirds of cat-related wildlife deaths, the patients we see are almost always from owned cats when they bring animals to their owners, or when the finder interrupts a neighbor’s cat with an animal.
Please help our native wildlife by keeping cats indoors, or leashed/in an enclosed space when outside.
Cats cannot change their instincts, but as the species that domesticated them, it is our moral responsibility to do everything we can to keep cats safe and healthy, as well as protect the health of humans and wildlife from the dangers outdoor cats pose.
Despite the name, flying squirrels do not actually fly. They have a fold of skin between their front and back legs that allows them to glide between trees. Their long, flat tail steers them in flight like a rudder. Some can cover more than 150 feet in a single glide!
To donate to Blue Ridge Wildlife Center, click here.
Show your support for the Warren County High School Band with their annual Fruit Sale Fundraiser
The Warren County High School Band has started our annual fruit sales, and we’re looking forward to another great year of sales!
We are offering 3 Whole and Half Box offerings of single types of fruit, and 2 mix box options for those who want variety. Here are the fruit options:
- Navel Oranges, Hamlin Juice Oranges, Pink Grapefruit
- Whole Boxes and Half Boxes: $40 for 40 lbs., or $30 for 20 lbs.
- Mix Fruit Box 1
- Navel Oranges/Grapefruit/Mandarin Oranges: 6 of Each, Total of 18 pieces of fruit – $30
- Mix Fruit Box 2
- Navel Oranges/Grapefruit/Apples: 6 of Each, Total of 18 pieces of fruit – $30
How to Pre-Order Fruit:
(PRE-ORDER Deadline: November 7th, 2021)
You may order online and pre-pay with a credit card or check. There is usually a $1 dollar fee for this, but it saves later on with convenience and for those looking to limit personal contact with others.
Second, you may pre-order with me or with any student in the band and then simply pay when you pick up the fruit. We will accept cash, check, and credit cards on site.
- Pre-Order with a WCHS Band Student.
- Pre-Order with me through email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pre-Order and pay online, and you may select a student to give credit to: order online
Pick up dates:
As of now, we do not have a firm date, but it will be a 1 day pick up sometime in the second week of December. We will email out to let customers know a week ahead of time the firm date. Our hours will be from 8:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m.
We hope you hear from a student to pre-order your fruit, but if you do not, please contact me through email (email@example.com) with the heading “Fruit Order” and I will enter your order.
Thank you for supporting the Warren County High School Band program.
Director of Bands
Warren County High School
Reaching Out Now partners with Warren County and Skyline High Schools to host Senior Planning Night
With the 2021-2022 school year in full swing, Reaching Out Now is partnering with Warren County and Skyline High Schools to host a Senior Planning Night! The event will be held at Warren County High School on November 18, 2021, from 5:30pm – 8:00pm, in the gymnasium and auditorium.
Senior Planning Night will cover important dates to guide senior year, decisions to make before graduation, financial planning, application processes, provide an opportunity to meet with college reps from around the state, and much more. Dinner will be provided! All Seniors and parents are invited and encouraged to attend. Interested Juniors may also attend to begin preparing for their Senior year.
Mr. Knesh, Principal of Warren County High School stated, “We look forward to sharing food and friendship while learning about navigating the college application process. We are also thrilled to give out two scholarships to seniors this evening to give them a head start towards their future college plans.” Mrs. Sperling, Principal of Skyline High School echoed his sentiments sharing “I am grateful for the partnership established between Reaching Out Now, Warren County High School, and Skyline High School. We are excited to jointly host a college planning night… where students and families can learn more about the process of planning for post-secondary education.”
All interested families, please register at: bit.ly/registerSeniorNight