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The 40th Annual Holiday Writing Contest



All area children, grades K – 12,  are invited to enter the Holiday Writing Contest.  This co-sponsored contest encourages talented and aspiring young writers to share with us their written word about the winter holiday season.  Students may submit either short stories or poems.  Simple illustrations may accompany the work.  A student may also submit a thematic holiday drawing which may be selected as artwork for the Holiday Writing Contest book of winning entries.  Entry forms and guidelines are available at Samuels Library as well as in area schools.  All winners will receive a professionally published keepsake booklet, and the first place winners in each grade will receive a gift certificate from Royal Oak Bookshop.

All entries must be submitted to Samuels Public Library by 8:00 p.m. on Monday, November 12, 2018.

Note:  An entry form must accompany the submitted entry and should be stapled to the front of the work.  The author’s name should not appear anywhere on the work itself.  Any entry submitted without the entry form attached will be disqualified.

Please contact Michal Ashby at Samuels Public Library at (540) 635-3153 if you have any questions.

Sponsored by Samuels Public Library and Royal Oak Bookshop

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Valley Health System welcomes new President and CEO



Mark Nantz, Valley Health System’s new President, and Chief Executive Officer

Mark Nantz, Valley Health System’s new President, and Chief Executive Officer began work Monday in true COVID-19 style: appropriately distanced, wearing a face mask, elbow bumping new colleagues, and joining more than 6,000 coworkers to report a daily personal health attestation for the safety of patients and colleagues.

Certainly, neither Nantz nor his predecessor, Mark Merrill, anticipated making this major leadership transition during a public health crisis. Merrill’s retirement farewells and Nantz’s welcomes are occurring via email and video until it is safer to meet face-to-face and travel to Valley Health sites around the region.

During the Valley Health Board of Trustees’ nationwide search and comprehensive interview process with system, physician and community leaders, Nantz stood out as an accomplished and visionary healthcare leader with an impressive record of building advanced clinical programs and successful physician and community partnerships and improving patient satisfaction, quality metrics, and employee engagement at the local, regional and system levels.

“From the moment I first met with the search committee and then stepped on the Valley Health campus in Winchester, I knew I had found a place where people shared my commitment to improving the health and well-being of the community, especially those who are marginalized and under-served,” Nantz says. “During my interview process, every board member, every provider, every leader, and every staff member demonstrated a dedication and commitment to Valley’s Health’s mission of “Serving our Community by Improving Health”. It was clear to me that I had found a new place to call home and caregivers with whom I could join in serving the community.”

Nantz previously served in executive roles with Bon Secours Mercy Health, most recently as Chief Administrative Officer and Atlantic Group President; before that as Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at Bon Secours. He has also held executive positions at Carolinas Healthcare System (now Atrium Health) and Carolinas Medical Center–NorthEast, and leadership roles in the audit practice of a Big 5 accounting firm. A certified public accountant, Nantz holds a Master’s in Health Administration from Pfieffer University and is a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives.

In his first video introduction to Valley Health employees this week, Nantz touched on what motivates him personally and what his priorities are as Valley Health’s CEO:

“Winston Churchill once said, ‘Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.’ I believe that with all my heart and it’s why I have spent nearly 30 years in not-for-profit healthcare. It is at the core of my call to serve in the ministry of care delivery. To be sure, I feel that each of us has been called to serve others by providing access to high quality, affordable health care, and an exceptional patient experience, regardless of whether or not those individuals have the ability to pay. I think we are called to treat everyone who walks through our doors with dignity and compassion and that we must respect and appreciate the unique set of beliefs and experiences that they bring to our organization. That’s what drives me and what gets me up in the morning.”

“These are challenging times,” Nantz continued. “The COVID pandemic has changed much about the way we provide care, how our community views healthcare workers…and even the way we live. You can be confident that Valley Health’s medical and executive leadership have taken steps to ensure the delivery of safe, quality care as we diagnose and treat those with COVID, as well as care for our other patients with emergent healthcare needs. Our health system will continue to respond and adjust in these changing and uncertain times, and we will endeavor to ensure financial stability for both individual employees and the organization as a whole.”

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Face masks are a labor of love for one local woman



“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” may be an old adage to some, but to Warren County resident Redz Castro Downes, it is a way of life.

Castro Downes, a Certified Nursing Assistant, is known to her family and friends as a kind-hearted person who always looks for ways to brighten the lives of those around her.

This pandemic has inspired me to learn how to sew and make the best out of a difficult situation,” Redz Castro Downes said recently. Here, she models a custom mask. / Courtesy photos

While caring for her husband, local attorney David Downes, during a recent illness, Redz realized that the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic was making it harder to find the face masks that were now required for wearing. She was especially concerned that her husband have adequate face-coverings as he recovered.

Having always wanted to learn how to sew, Redz decided to purchase a brand-new sewing machine and try her hand at making masks for her own family. “I’ve always wanted to learn sewing skills, and maybe make clothes for myself,” she said in a Wednesday afternoon telephone interview.

Undaunted by the fact that she did not know how to sew, Castro Downes stocked up on fabric at a local store, and downloaded a pattern to make washable, fabric masks.

In a short time, Redz mastered mask-making, each one taking less than 20 minutes from start to finish. Husband David and step-daughter Gayle have joined in, creating an assembly line. Gayle cuts out the mask pieces, David measures and cuts the elastic that forms ear loops, and Redz stitches the masks together.

Since the family began wearing their stylish masks, friends have taken notice and are asking if they can purchase the washable, cotton face coverings. So far, the Downes’ cottage industry has produced over four dozen masks, and the orders are pouring in!

Customers, such as Front Royal business owner town council candidate Betty Showers says the masks are “light, comfortable, adjustable and absolutely adorable!” She added that the masks were a great price and “I would recommend them to everyone.”

Especially popular among Redz’s customers is the plain black mask, with or without a Virginia Beer Museum logo. The first one was made for David, proprietor of the only beer museum in the commonwealth.

The Virginia Beer Museum mask is a popular design, and can be purchased at the museum when it reopens on Friday, June 5.

Redz says the proceeds from her mask sales will be split 50/50, with half of the money going to her family, who live in the Philippines and have been hard-hit by the pandemic. The other half will go to the Virginia Beer Museum, which is slated to reopen Friday, June 5 at 5 PM after being shuttered nearly three months.

The masks will be available for purchase at the museum, beginning Friday.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced earlier this week that all museums, theaters, and other tourist attractions across the commonwealth can re-open for business.

To order a mask: Message Redz Castro Downes or David Downes on Facebook Messenger.

VBM fabric masks $10 each, fabric masks $10 each or 2/$15

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Front Royal Unites plans peaceful June 5 equality march



Citizens of Front Royal, Va., plan to come together tomorrow to make their voices heard in a peaceful protest of the institutional injustices against people of color across the United States.
The newly formed Front Royal Unites has organized a Friday, June 5 march beginning at 6:30 p.m. at Bing Crosby Stadium on E. 8th Street in Front Royal.

“It is important to remember to remain peaceful — there have been sustained reports of people showing up to agitate the outcome of this event,” wrote Front Royal Unites organizers in a statement released on Wednesday. “But together and through unity, we will not allow them to disturb our peace and take away the focus from the movement. We will lead by example.”

The Front Royal Unites event, like many across the nation and world, was spurred by the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., after a white police officer knelt on the black man’s neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed face down in the street.

Arrests and charges of four police officers followed. Derek Chauvin, the officer who pinned Floyd to the ground by his neck, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. But on Wednesday prosecutors charged him with a more serious count of second-degree murder.

Earlier today, a judge set bail for the other three former Minneapolis police officers charged in Floyd’s death at $1 million each, or $750,000 under certain conditions, including that they do not work in law enforcement or have any contact with Floyd’s family. The officers, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao have been charged with second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

While the arrests and charges have been referred to as a good first step in bringing justice to Floyd and his family members, protests have been held throughout the U.S. and across the globe by people calling for larger changes that would end systemic racism, police brutality and other issues of inequality, such as those related to housing, education, employment, and healthcare for blacks and other people of color.

The mission of Front Royal Unites is to eradicate white supremacy, according to the group’s statement.

“We believe silence is complicit and injustices against minority groups must stop!” according to the group’s mission statement. “From the courthouse to the schoolhouse, bridges must be built and not burnt down. We want to ensure that regardless of your complexion, you are not feared, you feel safe, and you get equal footing. Together we are united. Together we are Front Royal.”
Front Royal resident Justin Thorne, an organizer of Front Royal Unites, said during a Facebook video that the group seeks “multiple changes for black lives,” especially in small towns.

Front Royal Unites organizer Justin Thorne of Front Royal spoke to group members in an online Facebook video earlier this week reiterating the need for a peaceful march.

“We are going to be the better people and try to make a change for the better,” Thorne said in his video. “We are protesting for black lives, for justice, and for unity. We need to educate people. We need to change this system.”

Earlier this week, Front Royal unites met with officials from the Town of Front Royal, the Front Royal Police Department, and the Warren County Sheriff’s Department to develop an agreeable plan for the march, including the route.

Front Royal Police Chief Kahle Magalis told the Royal Examiner that “meetings with Front Royal Unites worked out fantastically.”

In addition, a few of the police department’s officers, along with members of the local sheriff’s department, “will be taking part in the march” and walking alongside the participants, Magalis said.

“We are fortunate for those individual citizens within our community who have helped, are helping, and will continue to help to see this event through,” said Front Royal resident Samuel Leon Porter, a Virginia advisor and head of communications for Front Royal unites.

The rain-or-shine event begins at 6:30 p.m. and will start and end at Bing Crosby Stadium, wrapping up around 8:30 p.m. A rally, several speeches, and a cookout will take place at the stadium following the march. The event is free to the public.

Among the scheduled speakers at the stadium following the march is Front Royal Councilwoman Letasha Thompson, a life-long Front Royal resident.

“Everyone has the right to protest,” Thompson posted June 3 on the Front Royal Unites site. “The key here is to remain PEACEFUL even if someone tries to provoke you. I’m looking forward to a peaceful and UNIFYING event where we all stand UNITED.”

Other speakers include Porter, a retired member of the U.S. Navy; local community leaders Kenny Sonnie and Gene Kilby; and Kori Morris, the volunteer coordinator for Front Royal Unites. The master of ceremonies is Stevi Hubbard, who is head of community relations for Front Royal Unites.

Porter said that for residents concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic, they may still participate by parking their vehicles at the stadium where they will be able to hear participating speakers being broadcast over the stadium loudspeakers.

And while members of Front Royal Unites have received some negative comments, Thorne urged participants not to have that same mindset and to instead remain positive, peaceful and focused.

“Prepare yourself mentally to hold it all in,” Thorne said on his video. “It’s very important. This is a peaceful protest and it needs to stay peaceful so that we can get our point across.”

Front Royal Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick said he thinks the march and rally will be successful. “I have every hope this will be a peaceful event,” Tederick told the Royal Examiner this evening.

The Front Royal Unites march will begin and end at Bing Crosby Stadium.

Watch this exclusive Royal Examiner video with Front Royal Unites organizers:

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Royal Cinemas reopens



Rick Novak of Royal Cinemas and Royal Family Bowling Center announces that the Royal Cinemas has reopened. Rick had the staff in on Thursday, June 4th to get the projections up and running – so what you would call a “soft open’, but really gets underway on Friday, June 5th. Check out the showtimes and movies here.

Mike McCool our publisher stopped by the theater Thursday afternoon and spoke with Rick about the reopening of Royal Cinemas and Royal Family Bowling Center.

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Front Royal/Warren County C-CAP serves over 7,000 residents per year–can YOU help? 



WHAT MATTERS Warren–The Front Royal/Warren County C-CAP is a 100% volunteer-run organization that has been serving our community for 41 years in remarkable ways. Their service statistics are mind-blowing. The organization is seeking volunteers, support and necessary tools to expand their outreach which peaked at serving more than 3,000 heads of households in 2018. In this video interview, President Larry Elliott, VP/Office Manager Janet Harshman, and Clothing Manager Mary Grimsley go behind the scenes at C-CAP and describe the services they are currently providing to over 7,000 residents (including 1,500 children).

C-CAP hands out more than 200,000 pounds of food each year, not including the amount they donate to other charities like House of Hope, Loaves & Fishes, and the Senior Center. In addition to hunger relief, the group provides those in need with over 15,000 items of clothing per year. Approximately 80-90% of their clients request clothing during their visits to pick up their food supplies since there is no cost. Limited financial assistance with utilities and prescription medications is also provided to those they serve as funds are available.

How you can help them help our community:

  1.  Donate seasonal clothing (they don’t have space to store other than summer)–they especially need men’s tees and underwear, girl’s and boy’s underwear and socks for all ages.
  2. Drop off laundry detergent, home cleaning products, and toiletry supplies (even hotel soaps are useful). Food stamps can’t be used to buy such essential items, and they are in high demand.
  3. Provide financial support in the form of donations or gift cards (Aldi cards are ideal for purchasing affordable produce). You can designate your donations to be directed to any area of their service or to their building fund.
  4. Volunteer your time and expertise to help the organization in any way and for any amount of time you are able to assist the worthy cause.
  5. The organization is also in search of a more handicap accessible in-town location with more square footage than their current space. Ideally, the building would offer client drive-through capabilities.

The County of Warren generously allowed them to temporarily move to the Health and Human Services complex on 15th Street during the COVID-19 quarantine but as of June 8th, they’ll be serving completely from their home in the basement of the building that houses St. Luke’s Community Clinic at 316 North Royal Avenue. President Elliott has been serving as the community food advisor during the crisis and his team has been hard at work to safely meet the needs of the hungry throughout these trying months, despite the fact that most all of C-CAP’s volunteers are demographically in the “at-risk” population.

According to a study in 2018 (using IRS guidelines), C-CAP was responsible for infusing over $400,000 worth of goods and services to Front Royal/Warren County citizens (not including the value of volunteer hours). The group currently has a volunteer base of around 35 citizens, and some have been serving for more than 20 years. Please find it in your heart to make room in your calendars and wallets to support this amazing organization full of unsung heroes who make a dramatic impact in the lives of those in need.

To learn more, visit their Facebook page or website.

Feel free to email or call 540-636-2448.


Are you or your group in need of a free video that could be created to help market your cause or event? Beth’s WHAT MATTERS Warren videos post on Facebook and YouTube.

Learn more Beth’s nonprofit, WHAT MATTERS, a 501 (c) (3), at – check out the “Community” section to request a TOWN TIP or WHAT MATTERS WARREN BETHvid or contact her at 540-671-6145 or


WHAT MATTERS is a 501(c)(3) that focuses on local and global outreach to help spread the word, support and raise funds for causes that matter (primarily through Facebook). WHAT MATTERS has ZERO overhead as 100% of the expenses are funded by Beth’s real estate business thanks to her clients and supporters. Every cent raised goes to the cause she’s promoting and most are matched by Beth. If you’d like to get involved or travel to Africa with her on a future trip to work with the children of Light up Life Foundations, please visit

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Warren County Public Schools to submit pandemic-relief grant application



Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) on Wednesday received approval to submit a $786,820 grant application to the Virginia Department of Education for emergency pandemic relief funds.
The Warren County School Board unanimously approved the district’s grant application, which must be submitted to the state by August 1. WCPS seeks a portion of federal funding allotted to states under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund, which is authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

RoyalExaminer file photo. WCSB: Interim Superintendent Melody Sheppard; South River District School Board Member Kristen Pence; Happy Creek District School Board Member James Wells; Chairman Arnold Williams Jr., representing North River District; Vice Chairman Catherine Bower, representing Fork District; Shenandoah District School Board Member Ralph Rinaldi; and Robert Ballentine, School Board clerk and WCPS director of finance.

“Funds to local districts can be used for coronavirus-response activities, such as planning for and coordinating during long-term school closures and purchasing educational technology to support online learning for all students,” said WCPS Director of Elementary Instruction Lisa Rudacille during the School Board’s regular meeting held June 3.

Rudacille gave School Board members a breakdown of how the total amount of grant funds would be used.

First, the largest cut of the funds ($366,941) would be used to buy supplies to accompany the contracted Social Emotional Learning (SEL) training and contracted services. This portion also would be used to buy Chromebooks and licenses for elementary students and materials and snacks for the after-school and summer programs.

Regarding the purchase of new and/or replacement technology, Rudacille said WCPS was “able to provide grades 6-12 with devices to take home [during the pandemic] and many of the elementary students also used some at home. We anticipate that many of them won’t be returned in tip-top shape,” she said.

A total of $273,068 would fund the salaries and benefits for teachers and paraprofessionals who would provide extended learning after school and during the summer this year and in 2021, while another $111,810 would be used for the contracted SEL services, which would support teachers and students as they return to school.

These services would include professional development for teachers on best practices in K-12 online learning, among others, as well as professional development for all staff on sanitation practices.

A portion also would be used for Power School Enrollment to allow parents to register kindergarten and new students online, and for the i-Ready math assessment in grades 6-8 to determine student learning gaps.

“We’re not going to know exactly what students will need when they return,” Rudacille said. “Kindergarten through 5 has assessments that we’ll continue to use, and we have Performance Matters, another system we will use to identify students’ needs.”

Grant funds of $35,000 would cover transportation for after-school and summer programs.

The motion to accept the grant application’s submission to the state education department was made by School Board Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower, with a second by School Board Member James Wells. The motion carried with yeas from Board Chairman Arnold Williams Jr., and board members Bower, Wells, Ralph Rinaldi, and Kristen Pence.

In other action on Wednesday night, the Warren County School Board unanimously approved a 12-month Custodial Service Management Agreement with Sodexo Operation LLC totaling more than $2.05 million for fiscal year (FY) 2020-2021.

File photo: WCPS Interim Superintendent Melody Sheppard

WCPS Interim Superintendent Melody Sheppard told the School Board that eight proposals were received on May 13 in response to the custodial services company bid. The district’s Custodial Service Management Company (CSMC) selection committee — which is comprised of two School Board members, two principals, the WCPS director of facilities, and the interim superintendent — then selected two companies to present their proposal based on qualifications, the experience of the firm, project plan, client references, and pricing. The CSMC selection committee then chose Sodexo.

The negotiated agreement would be paid in 12 monthly installments and Sodexo will employ the current custodians, paying them their current wages. Sodexo also agreed to provide health insurance and a retirement plan for the employees, said Sheppard.

The Warren County School Board also unanimously approved a $48,269.74 contract award to OpenRDA for support of the WCPS finance software system for FY 2020-2021.

WCPS Finance Director Robert Ballentine told the School Board members that the school system has used financial accounting software from RDA (now known as OpenRDA) since the early 1990s. While RDA is considered an open-source software provider—which means they provide the software at no cost—it is necessary for users to contract with them to provide updates, support, and training on the system said Ballentine, who noted: “there is rarely a week when we do not have to contact them and usually it is multiple times.”

While a 4 percent renewal price increase was originally proposed, OpenRDA agreed to a zero-percent increase for next year’s pricing, Ballentine said.

The School Board also unanimously voted to accept with gratitude a $1,344 donation to WCPS from Martin’s to help sustain the food service program and continue to provide school meals for the children of Warren County.

The School Board meets again on June 17 for a regular meeting and work session. To view last night’s meeting in its entirety, watch the video below courtesy of WCSB. There are some audio issues in the first part of the video. The Royal Examiner attempted to enhance the audio as technology would allow.

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