Reston, VA

UPDATED at 2 p.m. — Tysons Reporter received new information from area hospitals about current needs and shortages. At this time, area hospitals are NOT in need of homemade medical masks, according to the spokesperson from Reston Hospital Center

A Reston father and his two sons teamed up to make a group to help people who could be severely impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

After feeling bored in self-isolation, Colin, Hayden and their dad, Ray Whitney, researched how they could best assist their community and discovered a group called Caremongers out of Canada. After some guidance from its volunteers, the trio founded one of their own chapters for the Reston community.

Caremongers Reston VA is a group that writes letters and shares ideas with others on how to help and delivers groceries or medicine to people around the area who are elderly or immuno-compromised, according to Ray.

Ray said he founded the Facebook page for the group around March 18, and already, the group has helped roughly 40 people — and continues to grow its outreach efforts through a partnership with the United Christian Parish Reston, where the family attends services.

“Right now it’s really just me and my sons trying to push things through and get things set up,” Ray said.

The group said they were able to write a letter to a 100-year-old WWII veteran who celebrated his birthday on Sunday (March 22) without a group of friends due to health concerns.

Currently, Ray said Caremongers Reston isn’t accepting donations.

“This is a unique opportunity for everybody to help,” according to Ray, who added that everyone is in a position to do something, even if it’s digitally reaching out to someone who might feel lonely in self-isolation or quarantine.

For people posting on social media, the group is using the hashtag #SpreadLoveNotCOVID19 to promote thoughtfulness during this time. 

To protect themselves, the family is ensuring that they wear gloves during curbside deliveries, leaving the house only when they have to and making sure to practice social distancing — i.e. keeping 6 feet away from people — when they are out, Ray said.

Ray added that they are trying to be cautious but not fearful.

For kids, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that not every child will react the same way to stress from the pandemic and suggests that parents share facts with their kids and reassure them that they will be safe.

Colin is a 4th-grade student at Lake Anne Elementary and Ray said he is simply excited to be helping his community and that he seems to be handling everything okay. Hayden is currently a 9th-grade student at South Lakes High School.

“We are really proud of the fact he wants to step up and help people,” Ray said.

Photo courtesy Ray Whitney 

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Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn is encouraging residents to give back to their communities as growing concerns about the coronavirus prompt event cancellations and working remotely.

Alcorn, who represents Vienna and Reston on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, took to social media last week to let local organizations and nonprofits know that his office wants to connect them to volunteers and needed assistance.

“Whenever we have the opportunity to step up and help, we should,” Alcorn said. “There’s a lot of concern in the community.”

As of Sunday, March 15, the Virginia Department of Health says there are 10 presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Fairfax County — a number that officials say is expected to grow.

Alcorn said that local organizations are expecting higher demands for food and assistance, especially from people who work in the service industries who have limited or no sick leave and for seniors, who are at a higher risk of getting more severely ill from the virus.

“The anxiety level, particularly for seniors, is very high,” he said, noting that there is a “sizable” elderly community in the Hunter Mill District. “I think we can do a lot as we get through this public health challenge by reaching out to our more vulnerable communities and our neighbors and let them know that we care.”

By Friday (March 13), Alcorn’s office had created a “How to Help Your Neighbors” list on the Hunter Mill District page on the Fairfax County website.

“Locally, specifically in Hunter Mill, we’re focusing on giving folks something to do,” he said, adding that his office is helping to connect people who want to help with organizations that need extra volunteers.

Expecting a higher demand for underresourced families, Cornerstones, a local nonprofit organization that aims to promote self-sufficiency, is looking for donations to help with meal delivery and its food pantry.

Embry Rucker Community Shelter, which is run by Cornerstones, is seeking donations of tissues, hand sanitizer and cleaning products, Alcorn said.

The Herndon Neighborhood Resource Center and Connections for Hope Partnership in Herndon are also looking for cleaning products, he said.

Several organizations, like Second Story in the Vienna area, are asking for gift cards instead of volunteers.

Other opportunities on Alcorn’s list in the Reston area include “non-contact” drivers needed for Meals on Wheels deliveries in the Lawyer’s Road area and donations to Reston-based Shelter House.

People interested in the local organizations’ opportunities focused on the coronavirus can also check out Alcorn’s email newsletter and social media accounts.

“You can contact any of the organizations or call [my] office,” he said. “We’re going to continue expanding the list of needs.”

Alcorn emphasized “one overall need that also we want to make sure gets out there” — blood donations.

“A lot of folks donate blood to Inova,” he said. “We don’t want to get into a situation where [there’s] a low blood supply.”

Additionally, Alcorn is urging people to take “normal precautions,” like practicing good hygiene and frequent hand washing.

“My hope and expectation are that our community will rise to the occasion,” he said.

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If the coronavirus spreads in Fairfax County and Northern Virginia, homeless shelters and other services for low-to-moderate-income individuals and families could be hit hard, officials warn.

Cornerstones, a local nonprofit organization that aims to promote self-sufficiency, is preparing for the potential impact of the respiratory disease. So far, 17 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Virginia, a number that officials say is expected to grow.

Kerrie Wilson, the CEO of Cornerstones, says that nonprofit organizations are at risk. The cascading effect of today’s school closure is expected to produce additional strains on services. Wilson said the nonprofit organization will need to balancing competing needs.

“We’ve seen this with other crises such as hurricanes, pandemics, and the federal government shut down impacts a huge number of households in our region. The Coronavirus poses a real and prolonged threat that can undermine the safety net and our undo the upstream workaround opportunity.”

So far, the nonprofit organization is working to protect the health and safety of its employees, staff, and individuals who depend on Cornerstones’ support and services. All non-essential meetings and community events have been postponed and the center is working with local government and schools to develop plans to continue operations for emergency food and shelter, as well as child and family services.

“While we have been fortunate to have only four documented cases in Fairfax to date, we are preparing for when, not if.”

The nonprofit is looking for donations to help with meal delivery after it requested that volunteers refrain from visiting the Embry Rucker Community Shelter until March 27.

Individuals interested in providing raw food donations can email [email protected] and individuals providing bagged meals can contact [email protected] for further assistance.

Other items — which can be dropped off at a shelf outside the center — are also needed:

  • Shampoo
  • Body wash
  • Men’s and women’s underwear
  • Cleaning products (bleach, Lysol, paper towels, laundry pods, Windex, empty spray bottles)
  • Gift cards for fast food, grocery stores, Target
  • Tissues
  • Hand sanitizer

The food pantry is also in need of the following, especially for seniors who may be shut off from family members and under-resourced families:

  • Grocery store gift cards
  • Gas gift cards
  • Rice
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Cooking Oil
  • Oatmeal
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Clorox Wipes

“We have to balance risk against decision to expand childcare hours to ensure kids and parents have options,” Wilson said. “For people experiencing homelessness and in need of emergency housing and other services, our doors need to remain open – but with options to protect medically fragile guests from those who might have been exposed to risk and to ensure the safety of staff.”

The organization will continue to monitor the situation, which is evolving rapidly, and make additional changes as needed.

“The Coronavirus poses a real and prolonged threat that can undermine the safety net and our undo the upstream workaround opportunity,” Wilson said.

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Since early 2014, a little over 10,000 residential units were approved in Reston. Just under 15 percent are considered affordable.

As the more residential development begins in Reston’s Transit Station Areas (TSAs) and Metro’s Silver Line ushers in more activity, nonprofit leaders and area community organizers wonder if Reston will hold true to Bob Simon’s vision for housing affordability.

“Reston was originally a very inclusive community. We have to ask ourselves, are we keeping that promise? Yes, we are a changing and growing community. But how can we achieve that balance between old and new?” said Kerrie Wilson, CEO of Cornerstones, a nonprofit organization that helps neighbors overcome economic hardship.

Achieving greater housing diversity is an aim of Reston’s comprehensive plan, which notes that most new affordable housing should be in multi-family units.

“Future development should ensure that a diversity of housing is available in the TSAs,” the plan states. “The residential component of mixed-use development should meet the needs of a variety of households such as families and seniors.”

But as Reston grows, will inclusive affordable housing keep up?

Tackling affordable housing is a regional problem and Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn (D) and other elected representatives have stated they expect to reexamine the county’s policies and procedures soon.

The county’s rejection of a proposal to redevelop Reston Town Center North — which would have delivered affordable housing units and redeveloped a homeless shelter and Reston Regional Library — was a significant setback for some local housing advocates.  The need for affordable housing — particularly workforce units — is expected to grow as more workers take up jobs in new mixed-use centers.

From a policy perspective, the county has aggressively pursuing affordable housing in every development that requires it, according to county officials. A variety of techniques — including land-use policies, federal funds, and nonprofit and for-profit housing partnerships — are used to preserve housing units and create new ones.

Last year, a panel created by the county to study affordable housing outlined several strategies and recommendations to the county’s board for considerations. The 37-page report – which was incorporated into the county’s housing strategic plan — is part of an ongoing conversation on how to tackle housing affordability.

“Reston has traditionally been a welcoming and inclusive community and a leader in affordable housing,” said Tom Fleetwood, director of the county’s Department of Housing and Community Development. “Still, Reston, like the rest of Fairfax County, is a challenging housing market for low-to-moderate-income families because this is a very desirable place to live.”

Per goals outlined in planning documents, the county aims to reach a net 15,000 new affordable units at up to 60 percent of the average median income within the next 15 years.

“We have certainly made significant steps forward. But a significant amount of work remains,” Fleetwood said.

Since early 2014 through June 2019, the county approved 10,045 residential units, including a 2,010-unit proposal by Boston Properties and a 668-unit proposal by Comstock for Reston Station. Developers are set to pitch $18.1 million into the county’s housing trust fund once the first non-residential use permit is issued, according to county data released to Reston Now last year.

Private developers have delivered 453 workforce dwelling units for rent and 188 affordable dwelling units for rent in Herndon and Reston, according to county data.

“We are trying to work through every application to get affordable housing and we have gotten some affordable housing through every development,” said Bill Mayland, branch chief of the county’s zoning evaluation division.

He noted that it can be challenging to incorporate inclusive affordable housing units — whether workforce units or affordable dwelling units — in high-rise buildings, especially if condominium fees are charged in addition to rent.

Creativity is a common word used by experts as a solution for affordability challenges. Working outside of county land use and zoning provisions, some communities across the country have embraced more unconventional means to secure affordable units for rent and purchase in existing and new development.

At Cornerstones, the staff has successfully pursued a scattered-site model by working with developers to make specific units affordable. Recently, the nonprofit doubled its Reston housing stock by adding 48 units from the Apartments at North Point.

But in the town center and other rapidly growing areas, developers are not always open to experimentation beyond the county’s existing requirements. The hope is that the oncoming Silver Line train at Reston Town Center — which could begin operation by early 2021 — will boost developer’s confidence in the residential market and add more pressure to incorporate more affordable units as more people and jobs come to the area.

Others say that the county should consider dedicated one penny of the real estate tax to affordable housing projects.

Fleetwood says that he expects renewed discussions on housing affordability – including reaching more income levels – to continue in the coming weeks.

“My assessment is that the county’s policies have been productive and helpful. I think they are going to continue to evolve so that we have a policy that works over the long-term and for our developers. It is a continuing and evolving partnership.”

Editor’s note: Interviews were conducted in late 2019

Photo by Bako Glonto/Flickr

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Later this month, the Reston Community Center will host a three-day celebration honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

On Saturday (Jan. 18), Sunday, (Jan. 19) and Monday (Jan. 20), people can attend a variety of events ranging from performances by the Reston Community Orchestra to community service projects, along with a keynote speaker luncheon. This year marks the 35th anniversary of Reston Community Center’s annual celebration.

Each day will feature different speakers and activities at various venues throughout the community.

Though most of the events are free, a few require registration or are accompanied by a fee, like the keynote address by Bakari Sellers. Tickets are $5 for Reston residents and can be purchased online.

This year’s community service project includes a winter coat drive for Cornerstones, a local non-profit. The RCC is also seeking volunteers for the community service project, the luncheon and a youth volunteer. Anyone interested can explore details online and register for positions.

A gallery will highlight artwork honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s accomplishments and life by local elementary school students. The works will be on display at the Reston Community Center Hunters Woods (2310 Colts Neck Road) from Jan. 11-31.

Image via Reston Community Center

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Restonians have banded together to launch “Light Up Reston,” a community-wide initiative that aims to encourage residents to support charities and decorate homes for the holidays.

The initiative aims to show residents’ community spirit and raise funds for Public Art Reston, Friends of Reston, and Cornerstones. It draws inspiration from Lake Thoreau Entertainment Associations’ “Festival of Lights,” which raises money for local charities and brings lights to the lake.

This year, residents — some friends and others strangers — decided to spread the initiative throughout the.

With expanding this effort across Reston, we are hoping to raise holiday spirit as well as  awareness of these wonderful Reston based charities by raising $25,000,” said Mary Prochnow, one of the organizers.

So far, $400 has been raised as the initiative kicks off. Last year’s “Festival of Lights” raised more than $8,500 for local charities.

Residents can donate funds to charities by contributing the dollar amount used to put up holiday decorations, the number of homes decorated in your neighborhood, or the number of times residents’ have thought about falling off a ladder while putting up lights.

Melissa Romano, who is also helping organize the initiative, said Restonians involved in lighting up Reston were drawn by their common desire to promote “great events in Reston.”

Photo via Charlotte Geary Photography

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The Hunter Mill District’s Winter Coat Closet is open for another season through Jan. 16.

The closet, which is a partnership between the Hunter Mill District Supervisors Office and Cornerstones, offers winter coats for those in need since the program started in 2001.

Donations of new or gently-used winter coats, as well as hats, gloves, mittens and scarves are accepted. Items are needed for all ages.

The closet accepts donations at the Coat Closet, which is located at 1801 Cameron Glen Drive on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5-7 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Individuals in need can get a coat from the closet at the North County Governmental Center through March 14.

For questions, email Cornerstones at [email protected] or call 571-323-1410.

Photo via Unsplash

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As winter approaches, Cornerstones in Reston asks the community to come forward and donate cold-weather gear for those in need.

The annual Winter Coat Closet Charity Drive, which started on Thursday (Nov. 14), collects new or lightly used jackets, hats, scarves and gloves for men, women and children.

People who want to donate or are in need of winter clothing can stop by the Hunter Mill District Supervisor’s Office (1801 Cameron Glen Drive) and ask for the community room on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The location will be collecting jackets until Jan. 16, but those in need can come collect gear through March 14.

Kids’ coats, as well as men’s XXL sizes, are in high demand, according to the drive’s website.

Anyone wanting to volunteer their time can contact Morgan Grant, Community Resource Coordinator, at 571-323-3674.

Photo via Unsplash 

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Herndon High School and Cornerstones have received $191,000 from the Virginia Department of Education, a grant that will allow the school to expand afterschool activities for at-risk students.

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant will help the Herndon High School 21st Century Community Learning Center, which will provide afterschool programming to improve academic performance and support developmental wellbeing.

Students will receive guidance on college, careers, life skills, community involvement, and cultural awareness. An eight-week program will supplement the school-year program.

The program will be open to between 50 and 60 students. The success of the program will be measured through objectives like improved reading and math skills, increased family engagement, reduced dropout rate, and increased emotional and social learning competencies. Rising ninth-grade students will also be involved in the center.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Education covers 32 percent of the total cost of the three-year program. Additional funding will be provided from the following community partners:

  • Herndon High School
  • Fairfax County Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services
  • Cornerstones
  • Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services
  • Childcare Resources
  • Herndon United Methodist Church
  • Town of Herndon

Cornerstones will help develop the curriculum and activities for the project.

Photo via FCPS

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The Town of Herndon is working with Cornerstones to provide a free workshop for owners.

The workshop, which is set for Sunday, Oct. 6, will guide attendees through the many issues of owning and maintaining a home.

The event is set to take place at Herndon Community Center from 1-3 p.m. Contractors, housing specialists, real estate brokerage and attorneys will present information about preventive maintenance, home repairs, foreclosure prevention, and legal documents.

Attendees can RSVP by emailing [email protected]. Space is limited.

Cornerstones is a local nonprofit organization that helps resident overcome economic challenges.

Image via Google Maps

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The trio behind Reston Farmers Market was awarded for more than 20 years of community work. The managers received the Elly Doyle Park Service Award from the Fairfax County Park Authority.

From a program that gives dollars for low-income families to an initiative to reduce plastic waste, the managers have put on the market on Saturday mornings from April through December.

John Lovaas has managed the market for 22 years. His wife Fran Lovaas joined him after her retirement 16 years ago and Keith Strange joined the initiative a decade later.

Northern Virginia magazine featured their efforts in a recent article:

“Community service is probably the number one thing that sets them apart for this award,” says Mary Olien, site operations manager of the Fairfax County Park Authority. “They know the farmers and vendors very well, so they can promote the products in an honest way. They are highly respected, which makes for a very fun and organized market.” 

The market managers have worked with local nonprofit Cornerstones since 2012 to enable low-income families to use their SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps, to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at the Reston Farmers Market. Plus, after all the shoppers have cleared out, vendors gather all of the untouched produce together and bring it to local shelters, decreasing food waste.

The managers partnered with Clean Fairfax to decrease plastic use by encouraging the use of reusable mesh bags. So far, five vendors have joined the sustainability initiative thus far.

FCPA established the Elly Doyle Park Service Award in 1988 to recognize the service of former ParkAuthority Board Chairman and member Ellamae Doyle. The award publicly recognizes a volunteer or group of volunteers for outstanding contributions to county parks.

Photo by John Lovaas

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Parents and students looking to prepare for the new school year can do so at the annual “Back 2 School Bash” next week.

The event, which is set for Saturday, Aug. 17, at South Lakes High School from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., is designed to be a one-stop destination to prep for the return to school.

Local schools, government entities and non-profit provides will be on-site to provide information and resources for local community members.

The bash is co-sponsored by Fairfax County Public Schools, Cornerstones, Reston Community Center, YMCA Reston and Fairfax County Neighborhood & Community Services.

The first day of school for FCPS is on Aug. 26.

File photo

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Several Reston communities will be holding special events to mark National Night Out, an annual campaign of solidarity against crime.

The nationwide, community-building campaign — which promotes policy-community relations and neighborhood camaraderie — is set for Tuesday August 6 from 6 to 9 p.m.

Activities include keeping the lights on all night outside to fun and games with local polie officers.

In particular, the Hunters Woods Neighborhood Coalition and Cornerstones are partnering up to host a kick off cook out at Hunters Woods Plaza from noon to 2 p.m.

The cook out is open to all and will take place on the plaza in front of the Reston Community Center.

More information about local events in the Reston area is expected to be released soon.

Neighborhoods interested in hosting an event are encouraged to register online.

Photo via FCPD

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Small Change Consignment, a relic of Reston’s history and Bob Simon’s vision for the community, is closing its doors at historic Lake Anne Plaza on Saturday.

The children’s consignment shop — home to hundreds of items and the hearts of consigning families — has cemented its role in the community as a place to buy used clothing and a community gathering place. On a recent Wednesday evening, customers and friends came in to say goodbye to owner Susann Gerstein, 70, who has operated the shop for the last 37 years.

A group of teenagers lined up empty hangers in rainbow form — an organizational style Gerstein loves. She spent most of the night on Tuesday packing away clothes and coordinating donation drop-offs with local nonprofits.

Not much has changed since three young mothers and friends  started the venture on Nov. 21, 1981 in the vacant offices of an optician across the lake. The friends embraced the dark interior — with its Marimekko wallpaper and lime green carpeting. Gerstein’s husband built wooden clothing stands. Gerstein stitched hand-sewn clothing tags.

The paint was still drying when the store first opened. From the first day, customers embraced the business as a place to buy used clothes, chat over the racks and build community. The store has averaged 1,200 consigning families annually.

Eighteen years later, the shop moved to its current location, giving it a bigger space to work with. Gerstein’s paper ledger and the same Rolodexes from its opening day sit on the counter.

“Friendships grow for me here and they’ve grown for me too,”Gerstein said. “That’s the hardest part of saying goodbye.” She said the store brought out the extroverted side of her otherwise introverted personality.

Rents, which had been steadily increasing over the years, skyrocketed this year, making it hard to make ends meet, Gerstein says.

“I tried and we just couldn’t make it work,” she said.

She describes herself as a Reston booster and a big believer in Simon’s vision. Her involvement with Cornerstones, a nonprofit organization that promotes self-sufficiency; the Reston Historic Trust & Museum; and other organizations is clear in the store. She was the founding president of the Reston Museum and helped found the Reston Historic Trust for Community Revitalization.

A Cornerstones donation jar sits on the counter and Gerstein often donates clothing to local nonprofits and domestic violence victims through various community partnerships.

Politics entered her shop following the November 2016 presidential election. Gerstein put up a sign, “Stop Tearing Families Apart” in the window of her storefront. She began selling “Hate Has No Home Here” signs. A fabric banner of children holding balloons — which was made by the friend in the original space — hangs from the ceiling. On weeknights, she tries to ride with members of Herndon-Reston Indivisible to hold lighted letters at the White House several times a month.

“I wanted my store to be a safe space for everyone. Some people didn’t like it but everyone knows where I stand,” Gerstein said.

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Cornerstones, a nonprofit organization that helps individuals overcome tough economic times, is hosting a forum on affordable housing next month for candidates running for the Hunter Mill District Supervisor seat

The event, which takes place on Monday, May 13 from 7-9 p.m. at Heritage Fellowship Church (2501 Fox Mill Road), was organized in response to the “housing affordability crisis” in Fairfax County, according to Cornerstones. More than 44 percent of renters and 22 percent of homeowners spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to the county’s strategic plan.

Candidates for the Hunter Mill District Supervisor seat will answer questions about affordable housing and economic development in Fairfax County from a panel of businesses and community leaders. A meet and greet reception will follow the question-and-answer period at 8:30 p.m.

Rev. Debra Haffner of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston will moderate the event. The forum is free and open to all, but attendees should register online. Hunter Mill District residents can submit questions about affordable housing to [email protected]. Questions will be selected prior to the event.

The Hunter Mill District Supervisor election is set for June 11.

Photo by Reston Association

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