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Therapy dogs make perfect pals for budding readers



Finn (left) supports a reader during Samuels Public Library’s free Books & Barks program. Library photo

FRONT ROYAL — An inspiring program at Samuels Public Library proves that therapy dogs are an aspiring reader’s best friend.

The free monthly Books & Barks program is held the first Saturday of every month. The next session is scheduled for this Saturday, Sept. 7. Children, parents or guardians may register in advance for a 20-minute session to read with the dogs beginning at 10 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 11 a.m., and 11:30 a.m.

“I’m so happy that we can offer this program to the children of our community,” said Kathy Jacob, youth services assistant and outreach coordinator at Samuels Public Library. “They are reading orally, one-on-one, with a caring adult and a comforting dog.

“Personally,” she added, “Books & Barks is what helped my children overcome their fear of dogs when they were little, so this program has meant a lot to our family.”

Kona (left) enjoys quiet reading time with his friend. Library photo

In 2006, Jackie Smith and Sally Petty of Sperryville, Va.-based Waggin’ Hearts Therapy Dogs approached Michal Ashby, youth services supervisor at Samuels Public Library, about getting their therapy dogs together with young readers.

“It was a good fit for our department, and we’ve been doing it monthly ever since,” Jacob said.

While Waggin’ Hearts Therapy Dogs and their owners visit several nursing homes and senior centers throughout the region, some of the members also participate in the Books & Barks R.E.A.D. program at local schools and libraries, including in Warren County at E.W. Morrison Elementary School, Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School, and Ressie Jeffries Elementary School.

Smith, a Waggin’ Hearts volunteer who’s been with the group since 2005, said that when children read to the dogs, both their reading skills and desire to read improve.

“The dogs are non-judgmental, which makes them not afraid to read to the dogs, therefore it helps improve their reading skills,” she said.

Angela Dusenberry (right) and Bonnie (center) support a Books and Barks participant. Library photo

Waggin’ Hearts members all belong to the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, an international organization that provides registration and supports for those involved in Animal Assisted Activities. All that’s required to get your dog involved is for the canine to love what it does and get along with children, adults and other dogs, said Smith.

“These dogs do not have to be a certain breed,” she said. “They just have to love people and kids.”

Over the years, Smith said the Samuels Public Library Books & Barks program has had up to 10 certified team members with their dogs, a sign-up sheet with 25 to 30 children, and a waiting list each month.

Currently, she said six teams go to Samuels Public Library for the two-hour program.

“Kids truly love reading to the dogs and come in ready with books,” said Smith, who noted that Jacob also provides children with a choice of books.

“Kids do not have to know how to read,” she added. “We encourage them to want to read and we will read to them.”

Sydney (top) listens with his eyes closed as Donald Bradner (right) reads with the girls. Library photo

Generally, Jacob described Books & Barks participants as mostly young readers; some are beginning readers while others may be quite fluent.

“It is mostly school-aged children who come, but we don’t turn teenagers away if they really want to read to a dog,” said Jacob.

One of the things Jacob said she loves about the program are “the comments from the parents about how much their children look forward to Books & Barks each month.”

For instance, she’s heard from some parents that their children even practice reading in preparation for meeting with their favorite dog.

Jacob also said she loves “the warm, comforting, relaxed atmosphere the children experience when they come. They feel accepted by the dogs, and they are enthusiastically welcomed by the dogs’ owners, as well.”

Leo (front) hangs on his reader’s every spoken word. Library photo

Because the Books & Barks dogs have been through training and testing to become certified therapy dogs, they have mild temperaments and don’t bite, bark or growl at the children.

“The dogs’ owners are always nearby, and help the children know their dog’s favorite ways to be petted,” Jacob explained. “The dogs let the children pet them, and often the owners will have the children offer the dogs treats.”

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Community Events

Lenten Praise and Worship at Front Royal United Methodist Church



WHAT MATTERS Warren: Need a revival of your new year’s resolution? An excuse to have a fresh start and embrace a new habit (or give up one you’d love to do without)? Welcome to the period of Lent, which runs from Wednesday, February 26, to Thursday, April 9th. Identified as the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter, it encourages the active remembrance of the 40 days and nights Jesus spent in the wilderness. Not religious? The symbolic importance of Lent can be recognized by anyone as a wonderful time to choose to make needed changes to pave the way for a better life throughout the next 40 days and beyond!

Thanks to Allyson Gillispie for her inspiring idea to provide an informal gathering filled with music and praise (and a 5 minute inspirational message) to honor the first Lent of the new decade. Join her and others at Front Royal United Methodist Church at 1 West Main Street, in Front Royal, at 6pm on each Friday of Lent for fellowship, reflection, inspiration and joyful singing:


  • DATE: February 28, March 6, March 13, March 20, March 27 and April 3
  • TIME: 6:00pm
  • LOCATION: Front Royal United Methodist Church Sanctuary | 1 West Main Street


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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The 62nd Highland County Maple Festival: The official maple festival of Virginia returns with new experiences



Photos courtesy of Highland County Chamber of Commerce.

Monterey, VA – The tradition of the annual Highland County Maple Festival returns March 14-15 and 21-22, 2020. Since 1958, visitors have been drawn to Highland County to tour real maple sugar camps for a cultural and culinary adventure. All-you-can-eat pancake and buckwheat cake meals, over 100 arts & crafts vendors, and live entertainment make this county-wide event a fun outing with lasting memories for the entire family.

This year, the Maple Festival features nine unique camps open for the public to tour at no charge. Visitors have the chance to view traditional and modern techniques for creating maple syrup from tree to bottle. In addition to pure maple syrup, some local camps offer a variety of flavored maple syrups infused with native plants or aged in spirit barrels, as well as hickory syrup. New for 2020, Tonoloway Farm is a walk-in, first-generation syrup operation on the wooded slopes of Bullpasture Mountain, just east of McDowell. In addition to wood-fired maple syrup, Tonoloway Farm plans to offer walnut syrup for yet another diverse taste of the Appalachian forests.

Local civic clubs and organizations feature delicious food, including those famous fresh maple doughnuts, pancake and buckwheat meals with sausage and gravy, trout sandwiches, pork rinds and just about anything maple-flavored! Additional food vendors on Water Street in Monterey offer treats like maple-bacon cupcakes, maple fudge, maple-bacon dates and brewery crafted nachos with maple.

Over 100 juried arts & crafts vendors will be available in Monterey and McDowell, providing one-of-akind treasures, tasty treats and special gifts. Browse and shop with new and returning vendors for a seemingly endless variety of handcrafted items, from exclusive artwork to exquisite jewelry. Admission to access vendors at the Highland High School and Elementary School gyms remains at $3, which comes with a collectible 2020 maple leaf keychain that also provides entry to both Saturdays’ 3:00 p.m. entertainment.

The Highland Center in Monterey will have an expanded presence at the festival this year, hosting the Highland County Visitor Center for festival information, children’s activities, vendors, and a “Maple Taproom,” featuring a place to sit down and enjoy an adult beverage, including the 2020 Daylight Cravings: Maple Bacon Breakfast Stout from Brothers Craft Brewing.

Regarding live entertainment, five performances will also be held at The Highland Center. The Little Switzerland Cloggers kick off the shows with a free performance at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 14th. Then, award-winning banjoist and dancer, Tyler Hughes, presents old time music at 3:00 p.m. To round out the night, Bill Jenkins and the Virginia Mountain Boys perform folk music of the Appalachian Mountains at 7:00 p.m.

On Saturday, March 21st, John Bullard plays classical banjo at 3:00 p.m., followed by the all-female trio, After Jack, with their popular “hot folk” performance. Admission to the Saturday 3:00 p.m. shows is $3, or a maple leaf keychain, and the Saturday 7:00 p.m. shows is $10. These four performances are brought to the public by the Highland County Arts Council and are made possible in part by funding from the Virginia Commission for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge. In addition, Hull’s Hideaway Restaurant and Tavern in Monterey will host the acoustic blues trio, Delta Junction, in a 21+ show on Saturday, March 21st at 9:00 p.m. for $10.

Many additional activities can be found on stops while driving around the countryside that features expansive scenic views. These activities include feeding of live fish at the Virginia Trout Company north of Monterey, reliving history with a Highland Museum exhibit at The Mansion House in McDowell, viewing additional vendors at The Church at the Old Oak in Meadowdale, experiencing a local restaurant or store, or enjoying hard craft cider at Big Fish Cider Co. in downtown Monterey.

In 1999, the Library of Congress designated The Highland County Maple Festival a “Local Legacy,” and in 2014, the Governor of Virginia signed a bill into law designating the festival as the “official maple festival of Virginia.” Tens of thousands of visitors arrive in the rural mountain community annually to enjoy the event. The Highland County Maple Festival is coordinated by the Highland County Chamber of Commerce and made possible with the help of countless volunteers and organizations.

Traditional hours of the festival include Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., though visitors can get a jumpstart to the day with an all-you-can-eat pancake meal as early as 7:00 a.m. More details on all the festival happenings can be found at or

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

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This week’s showtimes at Royal Cinemas as of February 27th



Are you looking for the full movie-going experience without having to wait in the long lines that often accompany that experience? Then look no further because Royal Cinemas movie theatre is the answer. Get the whole gang together and enjoy a movie! Here is a list of this week’s showtimes at Royal Cinemas as of Thursday, February 27:

•   Thursday: 7:20
•   Friday: 6:10 & 8:40
•   Sat & Sun: 12:40, 3:25, 6:10 & 8:40
•   Mon – Wed: 6:00 & 8:30
Rated PG  |  Run Time: 1 hour 40 min

•   Thursday: 7:15
•   Friday: 6:05 & 8:45
•   Sat & Sun: 12:35, 3:20, 6:05 & 8:50
•   Mon – Wed: 6:05 & 8:25
Rated PG  |  Run Time: 1 hour 45 min

•   Thursday: 7:00
•   Friday: 6:00 & 8:45
•   Sat & Sun: 12:30, 3:15, 6:00 & 8:45
•   Mon – Wed: 6:10 & 8:35
Rated R  |  Run Time: 2 hours

Ticket prices are as follows:

  • Adult: $9
  • Child (under 12): $6
  • Military: $7
  • Student (college): $7
  • Senior: $7
  • Matinees, All Seating: $6

Other movies coming soon to Royal Cinemas:

  • “A Quiet Place Part II”
  • “Mulan”
  • “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway”
  • “No Time to Die”
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Veterans Service Announcement



Able Forces Foundation will once again be hosting a visit by Andre Miller, Resource Specialist, Virginia Veteran and Family Support, Department of Veteran Services, Commonwealth of Virginia, and Danielle Cullers, Homeless Veteran Advocate-Volunteers of America on Friday, February 28, 2020, from 9 a.m. to noon.

As the VA does not have an office here any longer, Able Forces is making space available each month so that local veterans and their families have local access to VA representatives regarding claims, forms, or any other matter related to Veteran issues.

If you are interested in meeting with Andre or Danielle, please call our office at 540-631-9600 to make an appointment, or just come by 115 Chester Street, Suite B.

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Community Events

Conversation of Hope is Tuesday, February 25th



The WHAT MATTERS community meeting space, “Open House: Meet in the Middle” (213 E. Main Street next to the Daily Grind) serves as a meeting place for community members seeking positivity in this time of controversy for our town and county. At 7 pm on the 4th Tuesday of each month, community leaders and citizens gather to engage in one hour of positive reflections and hope.

This month’s conversation is on Tuesday, 2/25 from 7-8 pm. Check our Facebook page.

During the first “Conversation of Hope” in June, Chief Kahle Magalis shared a fitting quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

Comments shared throughout our times reflecting have included positive feedback about the school system, about the giving & caring individuals in our community, encouragement to focus on the positive and move forward without delay (by sharing concern but finding solutions and moving on), the acknowledgment that we have a strong sense of community that’s full of characters and memories and that we have so much potential and good energy. It has been expressed that this is a good time to be forced to confront what we love and value and to picture the past and what’s good about the area.

“This too shall pass” is often uttered as well as the fact that our community has so much to offer as a busy, active and unique area (full of outdoor assets and beauty) where people care about each other and don’t let tragedy define us. Niki Foster of the FR/WC Chamber of Commerce encouraged everyone to share the wonderful things we see and be louder than the ugly noise. Representatives of area clergy have been in attendance and said they want to support and serve, especially in these times we are facing.

Please join us on the 4th Tuesday at 7 pm at 213 E. Main Street- OPEN HOUSE, to share and witness more encouraging conversations. You are guaranteed to enjoy the hour spent with a wide range of citizens, public officials, volunteers, and kind souls!

*Please note that these gatherings are ones of positivity, not negativity. Politics and current events will not be discussed—instead, we will remind ourselves why we love our community and provide an opportunity to briefly join together those who care together in the spirit of hope…

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Samuels Public Library and Valley Disability Support Group co-sponsor Brain Injury Awareness



The community is invited to join the Valley Disability Support Group’s first annual Brain Injury Awareness and Education event for Brain Injury Awareness Month. Teaming up with Samuels Public Library, Valley Disability Support Group brings an author presentation and book signing by Brian and Sheila Lloyd, authors of “It’s OK, I had a Stroke.” The couple shares their faith journey in Brian’s recovery from a massive stroke.

“Positive stories of how survivors cope, live their daily lives and persevere with an Acquired Brain Injury is how we wanted to kick-off our first Brain Injury Awareness Month,” says an enthusiastic Victoria Newman, PhD, Founder of Valley Disability Support Group.

Dr. Newman is more than a host of this interactive informational session, she returns to her native Front Royal as a Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor and Advocate for individuals and families cross-disabilities. Since the launch of Valley Disability Support Group in November 2019, Dr. Newman has offered monthly information sessions to support individuals and families living with disabilities.

“Counselors agree that scientific statistics prove that belief in something greater than ourselves can improve outcomes. As with the Lloyd’s,” Newman continues, “there can be something very beautiful awaiting us at the end recovery. Healing can manifest in mysterious ways.” A Psychology Today blog post by Nigel Barber, PhD, explains it this way – From a scientific perspective, faith healing is unexplained, incomprehensible, and should not work. Yet it does work.

The event will be held at Samuels Public Library in Front Royal, Virginia, on Saturday, March 7th, from 1:30pm to 3:00pm. Visit for more details.

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Upcoming Events

10:00 am Day of Giving @ Samuels Public Library
Day of Giving @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 27 @ 10:00 am – 8:00 pm
Day of Giving @ Samuels Public Library
In conjunction with “Love Your Library Month,” Samuels Public Library will hold its first “Day of Giving” on Thursday, February 27, 2020. Thanks to an anonymous donor, all donations made in-person at the Library or[...]
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 27 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, February 19 and Thursday, February 20: Come in for some great stories, songs, and a craft about our feathered friends, Birds!  Siblings welcome. Wednesday, February[...]
9:00 am Veterans Benefit @ Able Forces Foundation
Veterans Benefit @ Able Forces Foundation
Feb 28 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Veterans Benefit @ Able Forces Foundation
Able Forces Foundation will once again be hosting a visit by Andre Miller, Resource Specialist, Virginia Veteran and Family Support, Department of Veteran Services, Commonwealth of Virginia, and Danielle Cullers, Homeless Veteran Advocate-Volunteers of America[...]
7:00 pm Love Revival – FREE Monthly Comm... @ Love Revival Ministry Center
Love Revival – FREE Monthly Comm... @ Love Revival Ministry Center
Feb 28 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Love Revival - FREE Monthly Community Dinner @ Love Revival Ministry Center
Free Community Dinner for everyone! Come enjoy a hot meal on the last Friday of every month at Love Revival Ministry Center.
10:00 am Loom Knit a Kitten @ Strokes of Creativity
Loom Knit a Kitten @ Strokes of Creativity
Feb 29 @ 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Loom Knit a Kitten @ Strokes of Creativity
Loom Knit an adorable kitten. In this beginner’s class for teens and adults, you will work on a 24 peg loom to knit a small stuffed toy. *Instruction will be right handed. No prior knitting[...]
11:00 am Kooky Chefs Cook It Up: Soups @ Samuels Public Library
Kooky Chefs Cook It Up: Soups @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 29 @ 11:00 am – 1:00 pm
Kooky Chefs Cook It Up: Soups @ Samuels Public Library
Nothing is more comforting than warm soup on a chilly day! Learn how to make some yummy soup, and do some taste-testing to choose your favorite. For ages 8 and up. Registration begins January 29.
11:00 am Trauma & Resiliency Training for... @ Samuels Public Library
Trauma & Resiliency Training for... @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 29 @ 11:00 am – 12:30 pm
Trauma & Resiliency Training for Early Childhood Providers @ Samuels Public Library
Statistics show us that one in four children will experience trauma by the age of four. This trauma could be abuse, hunger, homelessness, witnessing violence, medical trauma, or grief. We know that a child’s greatest[...]
1:00 pm Bingo Fundraiser @ Elks Lodge
Bingo Fundraiser @ Elks Lodge
Feb 29 @ 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Bingo Fundraiser @ Elks Lodge
2:00 pm Speed Dating with Books @ Samuels Public Library
Speed Dating with Books @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 29 @ 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Speed Dating with Books @ Samuels Public Library
Do appearances, of people or books, influence you?  How much time does it take for you to decide that you are/are not interested? What criteria determines interest? Come spend time in a “speed dating” atmosphere,[...]
10:00 am Read Across America Day @ SPCA of Winchester, Frederick, and Clarke
Read Across America Day @ SPCA of Winchester, Frederick, and Clarke
Mar 2 @ 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Read Across America Day @ SPCA of Winchester, Frederick, and Clarke
Monday, March 2nd, 2020, is National Read Across America Day. Students of all ages are invited to come to the SPCA of Winchester, Frederick, and Clarke’s pet adoption center, located at 111 Featherbed Lane, to[...]