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Warren County School Board resets school-start date for Aug. 27

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The ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Warren County School Board to set a new start date for the 2020-2021 academic school year, which will begin on Thursday, August 27 for students attending Warren County Public Schools (WCPS).

Division administrators have until August 5 to finalize plans for exactly what school will look like this fall, according to WCPS Superintendent Chris Ballenger, who led discussions during the School Board’s three-hour special meeting on Wednesday, July 22 in Front Royal, Virginia.

WCPS Superintendent Chris Ballenger leads the discussions during the School Board’s three-hour special meeting on Wednesday, July 22 in Front Royal, Va.

The School Board voted unanimously — with aye votes from Chairman Arnold Williams Jr., Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower, and members James Wells, Kristen Pence, and Ralph Rinaldi in attendance — to heed advice from Assistant Superintendent Melody Sheppard to set the first day of school for August 27 rather than August 11.


The later start date will allow more time for new and returning teachers to partake in professional development that will prepare them for duties during what is expected to continue to be a pandemic-impacted school year.

The School Board’s vote also set the last day of school for June 8, 2021. The existing school calendar had the last day scheduled for June 4, 2021.

Sheppard explained that the WCPS Calendar Committee, which comprises one teacher from each school and possibly an administrator, got together earlier this month and made the recommendations for changing the school year start date.

Assistant Superintendent Melody Sheppard suggests the first day of school for August 27 rather than August 11.

New teachers will come on August 3-7 for orientation and professional development. All teachers will return for professional development on August 12-21.

“We took all the teacher workdays out of the first part of the school year and front-loaded them so that WCPS would have the opportunity to give our teachers the professional development that they need in order to be successful this school year,” Sheppard said.

“I like the extra training on the front end because that’s really where you’re going to need it with all this shifting around and virtual learning,” said Rinaldi, who represents the Shenandoah District.

Parent training opportunities and back-to-school events are scheduled for August 24, 25, and 26, according to the new calendar, giving local citizens the chance to meet teachers and administrators, and learn about the student curriculums.

Also during those dates, parents will be able to learn how to use the technology that WCPS will utilize during any virtual learning that will be scheduled for the upcoming academic year, said Sheppard.

In fact, all weather make-up days will become virtual learning days this school year, which now lasts only a few days longer than the original end date, a change that Williams said is “a big win for everybody.”

“Pushing the school year back will allow us a little more time to get prepared for the new school year and will give us the opportunity to get our teachers well-informed and well-prepared to deliver new instruction,” Sheppard explained.

Bower moved to accept the new school year calendar with a second made by Rinaldi.

“It’s going to be tough on everybody in our school system this entire year to make sure all of our students are educated,” said Williams, who added that he realizes how difficult it has been for WCPS administrators to rework the calendar, among other challenges.

“And I don’t think it’s going to get any easier this year,” he said. “The bottom line is that we have to take care of our students and our staff.”

The fully revised WCPS 2020-2021 School Year Calendar is available online at: https://www.wcps.k12.va.us/images/DOCUMENTS/Community/Revised_2020-2021_School_Calendar.pdf.

In the only other action agenda item during last night’s School Board meeting, members unanimously approved WCPS joining the Comprehensive Instructional Program (CIP), a consortium of public school divisions in Virginia working collaboratively to improve student achievement as measured by Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL) assessments.

Ballenger explained that the CIP is designed to help instructors by providing them with activities and assessments that are highly aligned to Virginia’s Curriculum Frameworks in content and rigor.

“These resources have been submitted by teachers who have demonstrated superior performance as evidenced by their students’ scores on Virginia’s SOL assessments,” he said, adding that the CIP also analyzes data across the consortium to identify successful schools and divisions and share their practices with other consortium members.

Currently, the consortium consists of all school divisions in Region VII and Region VIII, as well as individual school divisions, such as Botetourt, Alleghany, Nelson, Page, Shenandoah, Essex, King and Queen, Waynesboro City, Danville, and Colonial Heights.

The cost of the CIP is $10,744 annually and Ballenger said WCPS will fund it through instruction and by absorbing an administrative position.

Bower made the motion to accept WCPS joining the CIP, with a second by Wells.

The bulk of the three-hour meeting was spent reviewing the draft WCPS 2020-2021 Reopening Plan, which included four options that will be provided in an upcoming survey to be distributed to the community for input.

The first three options presented last night included variations on in-school learning for different grade levels on alternating days combined with some virtual learning.

Three of the options would make Wednesday a remote learning day for ALL students so that deep cleaning may be performed at all the schools and on all the buses to help sanitize against the spread of the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fourth option would set all instruction at all grade levels to be delivered remotely for the first quarter of the school year.

Regarding the Blue Ridge Technology Center, WCPS is exploring various options for instruction and plans to release more information closer to the start of school.

Likewise, online instruction for students attending Mountain Vista Governor’s School will begin on August 10, with plans to add in-person instruction in September after school divisions have established both instructional and transportation schedules, according to the reopening plan.

Students receiving special education services may include increased time for face-to-face learning and/or direct instruction, as determined by each student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Instructional delivery will be designed to ensure the least restrictive environment as required by each student’s IEP and IEP teams will review individual student data to determine the need for supplemental instruction, according to the plan.

Students with disabilities also will continue to receive access to instructional materials for use at home, as needed, including assistive technology tools.

Happy Creek District School Board member James Wells thanks the WCPS administrators for working diligently on the available options presented to the Board.

School Board member Wells, who represents the Happy Creek District, thanked the WCPS administrators for working diligently on the available options, which may or may not change before being distributed in a survey for the community’s input. “I know you’ve been burning the midnight oil working on them,” he said.

Bower, who represents the Fork District, said she hasn’t “slept the last few nights just thinking about all of this and how it’s going to happen and I absolutely agree that this K through 3 — and most likely K through 5 — they need to be in the classroom every day. They need the socialization; they need the instruction; you can’t teach reading virtually,” she said.

All students also need the safety of attending school, Bower said. “For many of our students, [school] is the safest place they can be. And they need the two meals a day we offer. I worry about our students that aren’t going to be there five days a week. Are we going to need to address getting meals to them?”

Sheppard said the administrators are working on that now. Transportation schedules also are being devised as part of the plan, as are technology needs, with all WCPS students in grades K-12 being provided with a laptop.

“I would like to see all of our students in school every day for equity reasons,” said Bower, who did not wear her mask during the meeting. “But right now, I don’t see how that’s going to happen.”

A lot of parents are ready for their children to return to school, while others remain uncomfortable with that idea, she said, adding that the School Board has “to find a way to accommodate everybody as best we can.”

Superintendent Ballenger said both transportation and classroom space — which must follow federal and state social distancing guidelines — are affecting decisions for WCPS, which is considering how to utilize the space within the middle schools to also accommodate fifth-graders, for instance. In turn, that idea would make more space available in the elementary schools for social distancing.

“It’s a lot to process,” said Williams, who represents the North River District.

Time is a factor in finalizing the reopening plan, Ballenger acknowledged, adding that there is still a lot of planning that must get done by August 3, when new teachers arrive. “The further we push this off, the more difficult it is to make sure we get all of our ducks in a row,” he said.

“The more students we can get in school, the better, I think, personally,” said Williams, who also wore no mask during the meeting.

The School Board requested that Ballenger put together a survey for the community to respond to the options, which is forthcoming.

The next scheduled School Board meeting is Wednesday, August 5 and it is expected that the School Board will approve a reopening plan then. Once approved, the plan then must be submitted to the Virginia Department of Education.

Watch the entire Warren County School Board meeting on this exclusive Royal Examiner video:

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Last call to share library feedback and win!

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Samuels Public Library’s community survey will close on December 31st. The survey opened on September 1st and has drawn in nearly 300 responses so far. The Library hopes to receive 400 responses.

“We are very excited about the number of responses we’ve received so far,” says Executive Director Michelle Ross, “Our community has wonderful ideas about new library services and we hope to gather even more of those ideas before the survey closes.”

Each person who completes a survey may be entered into a drawing for a Kindle Fire HD 10 Tablet. Limit one entry per person. Every Warren County citizen is invited to share their feedback to enhance our community’s Library.

Print copies of the survey can be found at each Samuels Library public service desk. The survey can also be completed online.


Results from the survey will be shared on the Library website, www.samuelslibrary.net.


About Samuels Public Library

Samuels Public Library brings people, information and ideas together to enrich lives and build community. A 501(c)(3) organization, the library annually serves 200,000 visitors, checks out nearly 400,000 books, electronic and digital services, and provides essential computer access, wireless service and public meeting spaces for the community. To learn more, visit www.samuelslibrary.net or call (540) 635-3153.

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Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Canada Goose

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Clean up your fishing line!

This Canada Goose was found and rescued in Sherando Park in Stephens City, VA. The finder came across this bird struggling in the water while entangled in fishing line. Luckily, the goose was untangled and transported to the Center for care.

Photos / Blue Ridge Wildlife Center

We see many cases each year of animals (mostly waterbirds) entangled in fishing line. Please help our wildlife and make every effort to retrieve lost hooks/sinkers/line while fishing, and even if you aren’t the person who left it, remove line and other dangerous debris that you find while out enjoying nature.

This goose did not suffer any fractures, but has muscle damage that will take at least a few days to resolve if all goes well.


The struggle and near drowning experience puts this goose at extreme risk of exertional myopathy (muscle damage caused by extreme stress and struggling that creates physiological imbalances and can result in death). We are doing everything possible to monitor for signs of this condition and address changes quickly.

We are glad to be able to help this bird, but many aren’t so lucky. The best prevention is to clean up the dangerous trash we put out in nature. Please dispose of hooks and line properly!

This goose is our 3,237 patient in 2021! 

Our patients can’t pay for their care and we don’t receive state or Federal funding for what we do. We rely on your donations to help wild animals and return them to their wild homes. Please consider donating to BRWC today.

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Children honor memory of local librarian

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The students at Mountain Laurel Montessori School conducted a book drive to honor the memory of Kathy Jacob, the children’s librarian from Samuel’s Public library who passed away earlier this fall.

Kathleen “Kathy” Ruth (McGillen) Jacob

The children collected some of their favorite books and donated them to the library. The books will be used as prizes for the children’s reading club. They are hopeful that the books will help cultivate the love of reading, just as Kathy did through her work. Kathy Jacob worked with many teachers, staff, and children from Mountain Laurel, whenever they visited the library.

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‘Tis the Season for Kindness

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A local singer/songwriter has a message for the world in his debut release starting with the opening lyrics, “Put the kind back in humankind”. “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” was written by local musician and businessman Shae Parker and recorded in Memphis, TN earlier this year. Parker, who has been playing music semi-professionally for the past three decades is no stranger to helping convey messages. The sign maker and owner of Hanna Sign Company also spent years as a radio broadcaster and as a Front Royal Town Councilman and Vice Mayor.

“I’ve always written songs”, says Parker. “In retrospect, I’ve always helped to convey messages. Whether it was a commercial on the radio, a sign for someone’s business, or as a public servant I’ve always tried to help others convey their message.”

Like many during the pandemic, Parker says he did some soul searching and decided he needed to put his own message out in song. After combing through years of writings and narrowing down a list of about two dozen, he formulated a plan to record as many songs as possible. Shae says he reached out to a childhood friend and fellow former disc jockey, Till Palmer who is the Chief Engineer at Ecko Records in Memphis for help.

“Initially the plan was to take the band with me (River Driven Band), but schedules didn’t align and I realized I either needed to reschedule or refocus on a solo project”, said Parker. “A big part of my pandemic soul searching revolved around doing this before I turned 50, so I headed to Memphis for a solo project”.


Fourteen songs were recorded in Memphis over three days according to Parker, with twelve of those planned for release. Most of the overdubs were handled by Shae before leaving, but he says over the coming months the remaining overdubs will be completed by him and his bandmates from the River Driven Band before being sent back to Palmer for mastering. The other two tracks, “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” and “SHE LOVES ME, BUT” were independently released in November by Parker on most digital streaming platforms.

“SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” has a message that I felt all humans needed to hear”, explains Parker. “It’s about kindness and how easy it is to just be kind, that’s why I had to put it out first”.

Shae says that independently releasing his music has its own challenges. He says it has been a learning curve from researching and finding a digital distributor to upload the songs to Spotify, iTunes, and YouTube Music among others, to registering songwriting credits with BMI and SESAC.

“There is a reason it’s called the Music Business”, quips Parker. “What is an ISRC number or a DDP? Things like that I didn’t have a clue about as a performer, but Till being in the industry gave me a lot of insight of what needed to be done to make this a reality.”

While Parker maintains the music is the best thing to come out of the experience, he is quick to point out the joy of working with a lifelong friend and using a vintage Gibson Les Paul Junior on some tracks that were bought new by Palmer’s grandfather, Ralph Palmer in 1956. He also finds irony in his and Palmer’s past on radio given that a fellow DJ, Rick Dee’s recorded his number one hit “DISCO DUCK” in the same studio in the 1970s. Parker also recounts that his nickname at 4H camp growing up (where he and Palmer first met) was Duckie. Irony indeed, however despite a good beat you can dance to any other similarities in the compositions end there as Parker’s message of kindness prevails.

The Daily Planet/Shoe Productions studio was built by STAX Records founder Jim Stewart and Bobby Manuel (Booker T & the MG’s) shortly after the shuttering of STAX in 1975. In 1995 John Ward bought the studio and changed the name to Ecko Studios/Records, an American Blues and Soul Blues label that has released albums by Rufus Thomas, Ollie Nightingale, Bill Coday, Barbara Carr, and others.

Shae Parker’s first two releases “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” and “SHE LOVES ME, BUT” are available on all streaming platforms or wherever you listen to music. Links to the songs and information on booking can be found on his website at www.SongsByShae.com.

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Community Events

Triple your impact this Giving Tuesday

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Today is Giving Tuesday!

What is Giving Tuesday? It’s the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, and was created to encourage people, after spending money on physical items for the holidays, to give back to charities and their local communities.

It’s an important day to support Blue Ridge Wildlife Center because your donation could be matched twice!

  1. Starting at 8am, donations made through Facebook will be matched with an $8 million dollar match pledged by the social media platform itself until the matching funds are exhausted.
  2. Your donation will ALSO be matched by our generous Board of Directors up to $15,000! (You can donate through our website, by check, or through Facebook to qualify for this match.)

That gives your donation the opportunity to be TRIPLED, going further than any other time!

We receive no state nor Federal funding for what we do. We rely on your donations to save wild animals and return them to the wild. Donations enable us to afford the foods and specialty formulas we feed out to our 3,200+ patients each year. They allow us to build and maintain our enclosures to house these patients and keep the lights on and water running. They pay for the surgical supplies, medications, and anesthetics needed for the 150+ surgeries we perform each year. They pay for the antibiotics and pain medications needed by the >60% of our patients that are suffering from some sort of human-caused traumatic injury.


We need YOUR help to maximize matching funds and to care for the ever-increasing number of patients we’re seeing each year. Please give generously on Giving Tuesday to let your donation go further!

Thank you for supporting our native wildlife!

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Crime/Court

Accused Brinklow murderer gets 30-years-9-months on plea agreement and probation violation charges

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Following emotional testimony from Jennifer Brinklow, the mother of 20-year-old Tristen Brinklow on the devastating impact on her life of her son’s 2019 murder, and a perhaps surprisingly emotional series of apologies from his accused killer for his role in that murder, the Commonwealth and defense counsels debated at which end of sentencing guidelines 38-year-old Richard Matthew Crouch should be incarcerated on Second Degree Murder and related and unrelated charges he submitted guilty pleas to as part of a plea agreement.

By plea agreement already accepted by Warren County Circuit Court Judge William Sharp, the sentencing range was between 8-years-and-7-months and 28 years-and-9-months. The other involved suspect, George Good, received a 10-year prison sentence with 25 years suspended on August 13, on a similar plea agreement involving two charges of helping Crouch dispose of Brinklow’s body and a variety of unrelated charges. Good was 29 at the time of his sentencing three months ago.

After hearing about an hour and a half of testimony, questions, and arguments Judge Sharp adjourned to chambers at noon, Monday, November 29th to consider his sentencing decision. After 17 minutes Judge Sharp returned to deliver his ruling. That ruling was the high-end 28-years-and-9-months according to sentencing parameters of the plea agreement, after imposing two, 5-year sentences on concealing and defiling (allowing to decompose) a dead body; and 30 years on the Second Degree Murder charge. Crouch will also get credit for time served, about two years. It was said that currently it is estimated that inmates will serve about 85% of their sentence with good behavior time taken off. Crouch also had four, 5-year sentences related to an earlier attack on an ex-girlfriend and his drug possession with intent to distribute charges imposed with all 20 years suspended. He will be on supervised probation for five years after his release.

While getting credit for his time served, two years was later tacked on to the 28-year-9-month sentence, on a probation violation charge argued outside the plea agreement. Arguing that aspect of the cases, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Nick Manthos countered defense co-counsel Eric Wiseley’s call to waive the two additional years of active incarceration after his client received nearly three times the sentence George Good did for their respective roles in Brinklow’s murder.


Richard Matthew Crouch in July 2021 mug shot from Northwestern Adult Regional Detention Center. Below, charged as an accessory in the murder of Tristen Brinklow, George Lee Good (Oct. 2020 RSW Jail mug shot). Good received 10 years of active incarceration for his believed role in the killing. On Monday Crouch was sentenced to a total of 30 years and 9 months.

Manthos, as Commonwealth Attorney John Bell had earlier, noted that while Crouch held to his story that it was Good who actually beat Brinklow to death, the physical evidence matched Good’s story that it was Crouch who attacked and strangled Brinklow to death in a methamphetamine-induced paranoid delusional state. Crouch did admit to being up for at least five days straight, perhaps as many as 10 days, doing an extraordinary amount of methamphetamine – he estimated at 3.5 grams (an 8-ball) to twice that amount per day – while trying to finance being on the run from police from an incident several days earlier in which he non-fatally had strangled an ex-girlfriend.

The Commonwealth noted that in his earlier attack on the ex-girlfriend, Crouch had not only choked her but cut off a large portion of her hair. When Good led authorities to Brinklow’s decomposed body, a bone in the neck was discovered broken at autopsy indicative of strangulation, and a large portion of Brinklow’s hair was discovered cut off. Those aspects of the earlier Crouch attack on the ex-girlfriend were not known to Good, the prosecution told the court.

The fact that all the crimes he enter guilty pleas to, including the assault on his ex, the methamphetamine use, and dealing, as well as Brinklow’s murder, occurred while Crouch was on probation led Judge Sharp to side with the prosecution on the necessity of imposing the two probation violation years hanging over Crouch – “There has to be a consequence, otherwise probation means nothing,” Judge Sharp said in rendering his decision on that second part of the day’s hearing on Crouch’s fate behind bars.

While admitting to the drug use and paranoid state leading him to believe that he was going to be robbed of his meth stash worth several thousand dollars, Crouch insisted that Brinklow coming at him with a knife and Good’s response of pulling him off Crouch and beating him to death was not a part of his drug-induced delusions. However, it seemed Crouch and his attorney in the plea sentencing, Howard Manheimer, may have been the only two in court buying into that scenario. It appeared seven relatives and friends accompanied Jennifer Brinklow to court Monday.
Several times asked by the court if he had anything to say before decisions were rendered, Crouch in a low, emotional voice expressed remorse, saying, “I am so sorry, I am so sorry with all my heart.” Crouch told the court and Brinklow’s mother that he had become involved in a jailhouse ministry conducted at RSW and related drug abuse counseling to try and steer inmates away from drug addiction upon their release.

He also looked at Tristen’s mother testifying from the witness box directly in front of him as she recounted the multiple impacts, including being told she now suffers from PTSD (Post Traumatic Shock Disorder) in the wake of her son’s murder. “I didn’t know a person could live without a heart and soul,” Mrs. Brinklow told the courtroom of her life since December 13, 2019, when she was informed it was her missing son’s body discovered in an abandoned freezer near the river. The murder occurred in September 2019.

She said tears came often, stimulated by “a smell, food, a cloud – ANYTHING. I never had anxiety, now there are places I can’t go without breaking down … It’s beyond obvious those two did not know Trey – a few minutes with him and he’d give you anything he had … Four days after he turned 20 you took his life – he was just a kid.”

 

Tristen Brinklow’s photo from the family social media page was reproduced and displayed in court Monday in support of his mother Jennifer Brinklow’s testimony as an auxiliary victim of her son’s murder. The second photo of him with his mother and grandmother was also displayed. Below, ‘Justice for Trey’ demonstrators outside George Good’s plea agreement hearing in August. More support was promised during Monday’s plea hearing for Richard Matthew Crouch.

Following the rendering of his plea agreement sentence of 28-years-9-months, Judge Sharp told Crouch he hoped he made the best out of the portion of his life that will now be spent in prison; that he was truly remorseful for letting a dangerous, illegal drug get a grip on his life that led to this point; and that he would continue to work to counsel others away from a similar fate, and turn his life in a positive direction.

“I wish you luck,” the judge told Crouch.

“Thank you,” Crouch replied.

 

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Santa is coming to Strokes of Creativity. Bring your kiddos by and visit with Santa this Thursday evening, December 2nd. We will have a cookies to decorate with icing and sprinkles (while supplies last). Make[...]
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Senior Painting Class with Dottie at Strokes of Creativity. Tickets: CLICK HERE Cost: $80 for 6 weeks Dates: Thursdays – Oct 21, Oct 28, Nov 4, Nov 11, Nov 18, Dec 4 Time: 10 am[...]
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The Nutcracker 2021 @ Skyline High School
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The Nutcracker 2021 @ Skyline High School
Italia Performing Arts is pleased to announce its own student production of the seasonal ballet The Nutcracker, to be presented in Front Royal, VA, on Saturday, December 4th, 2021. 1:00 and 5:00 pm Tickets: $35[...]
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Astronomy for Everyone @ Sky Meadows State Park
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Astronomy for Everyone @ Sky Meadows State Park
Meets in the Historic Area behind Mount Bleak. Discover our International Dark Sky Park! Our evenings begin with a half-hour children’s “Junior Astronomer” program, followed by a discussion about the importance of dark skies and[...]
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4:00 pm Sweeter, Still… Holiday Concert @ First Baptist Church of Winchester
Sweeter, Still… Holiday Concert @ First Baptist Church of Winchester
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Sweeter, Still… Holiday Concert @ First Baptist Church of Winchester
Sunday, December 5, 2021 4:00pm First Baptist Church of Winchester 205 West Piccadilly St. | Winchester, VA 22601 COVID-19 Guidelines: Masks are required for attendees Friday, December 10, 2021 7:30pm Front Royal United Methodist Church[...]
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Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
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Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
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7:30 pm Sweeter, Still… Holiday Concert @ Front Royal United Methodist Church
Sweeter, Still… Holiday Concert @ Front Royal United Methodist Church
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Friday, December 10, 2021 7:30pm Front Royal United Methodist Church 1 West Main Street | Front Royal, VA 22630 COVID-19 Guidelines: Masks are required for attendees Sunday, December 12, 2021 4:00pm Trinity Episcopal Church 9108[...]
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Valley Chorale’s Christmas Concert @ Calvary Episcopal Church
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This year’s yuletide concert is titled THIS SHINING NIGHT.  Join us for a selection of seasonal songs — ranging in style from classical to spirituals to pop — sure to brighten your holiday and lift[...]
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Sweeter, Still… Holiday Concert @ Trinity Episcopal Church
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Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
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Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]