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Virginia First Lady Suzanne Youngkin presents the Spirit of Virginia award to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association (official photo by Shealah Craighead)

The nonprofit responsible for historic preservation at Mount Vernon collected a state-level honor last week.

The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association received the first of six 2024 Spirit of Virginia awards from Gov. Glenn Youngkin and First Lady Suzanne Youngkin on Friday (March 15).

“It is fitting that during Women’s History Month we celebrate the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association’s centuries-old commitment to preserving one of our Commonwealth’s most historic homes,” Suzanne Youngkin said in a press release.

The Spirit of Virginia awards recognize people and organizations nominated by the governor’s cabinet secretaries and then selected by the first lady and governor. The criteria, per the first lady’s website, requires that honorees be service-oriented, pioneering, innovative and industrious, reinvigorating, imaginative, and transformative (in other words, have “spirit”).

The MVLA, which has owned the Mount Vernon estate since 1858, is a privately-funded organization that preserves, maintains and restores George Washington’s mansion, along with the surrounding grounds.

“We are honored to be the first recipient of the 2024 Spirit of Virginia Award,” Margaret Hartman Nichols, 23rd regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, said in the press release. “The Association’s legacy of stewardship began with our trailblazing founder, Ann Pamela Cunningham, and has continued for the last 166 years uninterrupted. It is fitting that the home of the man who was first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen was rescued by the women who were first in preservation.”

The MVLA isn’t the first local organization to get this recognition from the governor’s mansion.

Last year, Fairfax City’s Cameron’s Coffee & Chocolates (9639 Fairfax Blvd) made the list for its work with young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. One of 2022’s awards went to Vienna’s Jill’s House (9011 Leesburg Pike), a Christian non-profit that offers one-to-two day overnight respite care to kids, teens and young adults with intellectual disabilities.

Woodson High School student Heman Bekele speaks after getting recognized by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for winning the 2023 3M Young Scientist Challenge (via Channel 16)

A local teen who was recently named the “Top Young Scientist in America” got a round of applause this morning (Tuesday) from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Heman Bekele, a ninth-grader at Woodson High School, won the annual 3M Young Scientist Challenge in October for developing a soap that could potentially be used to treat skin cancer. He beat out nine other finalists for the 2023 contest’s grand prize, which came with $25,000 and the aforementioned title.

The Board of Supervisors recognized Heman’s accomplishment with a unanimously approved resolution at its meeting today.

“This is a legitimate breakthrough that Heman discovered and produced,” said Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw. “Especially for those of us whose science experiments ended with our ability to glue a picture of a tree on a board, to see and read about what you have done here is really amazing.”

According to the resolution read by Chairman Jeff McKay, Heman was inspired to create his Skin Cancer Treating Soap (SCTS) by his background as an immigrant from Ethiopia, where cancer is a significant but underreported cause of death. Though he was only 4 when his family moved to the U.S., Heman has said that he remembers seeing people work long hours under the hot sun.

Now 14 years old, Heman wanted to come up with a more affordable treatment option, as costs for existing treatments for the most common cancer in the U.S. have climbed.

According to a Fairfax County Public Schools profile, Heman created the soap by experimenting with different chemical compounds like alicylic acid, glycolic acid and tretinoin that can reactivate dendritic cells, which are part of the body’s immune system.

The final product could be manufactured for just 50 cents a bar. The county board’s resolution lauded Heman for his “enthusiasm and dedication, including long hours of researching and testing in his family’s kitchen and basement.”

For the 16th annual 3M Young Scientist Challenge, Heman was paired with one of the company’s scientists and spent four months turning his concept into a prototype. He was named the competition’s winner at 3M’s global headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Oct. 9 and 10.

After the board approved its resolution, Heman thanked his parents — including his mother, who works as a special education teacher at Lynbrook Elementary School in Springfield — as well as the teachers who have supported him since he began attending FCPS as a kindergarten student.

“What I’m hoping to do is turn this passion project into more than that,” Heman told the board. “I’m hoping to turn it into more of a nonprofit organization where I can provide equitable and accessible skin cancer treatment to as many people as possible, so that’s the end goal, just to help people, see a real change and a positive impact on the world.”

Annandale High School Orchestra Director Annie Ray with some of her students (courtesy FCPS)

(Updated at 2:25 p.m.) Annandale High School’s orchestra director is on her way to Los Angeles for the upcoming Grammy Awards.

Annie Ray, who teaches music and leads the orchestra program at the school, is the winner of the 2024 Grammy Music Educator Award, CBS Mornings announced today.

Given out by the Recording Academy and Grammy Museum, the award honors music teachers who make a “significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education and who demonstrate a commitment to the broader cause of maintaining music education” in schools. It can go to public and private school teachers of students in preschool through college.

Ray’s family, students and colleagues erupted in cheers when her name was announced during a watch party in Annandale High School’s auditorium, according to Fairfax County Public Schools.

“It’s been a whirlwind experience!” Ray said in a press release. “I’m so thankful to all the people who have poured love into me to allow me to make music. I am honored to have been selected from a remarkable group of educators.”

As the award winner, Ray will get a $10,000 honorarium and a matching grant to support her school’s music program. She was chosen from 10 finalists and more than 2,000 nominees.

Recognized by FCPS just last year as its Region 2 Outstanding Secondary School Teacher, Ray’s three-year tenure at Annandale High has already included the creation of a Crescendo Orchestra for students with severe developmental or intellectual disabilities and an FCPS Parent Orchestra where parents learn to play the same instrument as their kids.

The parent orchestra attracts over 150 parents every year, according to FCPS, which describes Ray as a “passionate advocate for universal access to quality music education.”

“Annie is known for her passion, skill, and belief that every student can achieve greatness,” Annandale High School Principal Shawn DeRose said to FCPS. “Her impact and dedication has made a positive difference in the school community. She truly is an inspiration, and we are so proud of her.”

Before joining Annandale High, Ray taught at Glasgow Middle School in Lincolnia and Annandale Terrace Elementary School.

In an interview with CBS News correspondent Jamie Waxman, Ray said playing in Annandale’s symphony orchestra teaches students confidence and gives them the willingness to make a wrong note. Students describe her as a leader “who doesn’t lead” but instead talks to and encourages them.

The show surprised Ray with a congratulations video from British singer-songwriter Jacob Collier, whose song “Little Blue” became a source of solace after a close friend of hers died.

Ray will officially receive the Music Educator Award at the 66th annual Grammy Awards ceremony, which will air at 8 p.m. this Sunday (Feb. 4) on CBS.

The koi pond at Fairview Park’s 2941 Restaurant, a semifinalist for the 2024 James Beard award for Outstanding Restaurant (file photo)

A longstanding fine dining establishment in West Falls Church near Merrifield and a rising star in the Tysons culinary scene are both representing Fairfax County this year in the semifinals of the prestigious James Beard Awards.

The only Virginia eatery recognized in a nationwide category, 2941 Restaurant (2941 Fairview Park Drive) was named a semifinalist for “Outstanding Restaurant” by the James Beard Foundation, which announced competitors for its 2024 Restaurant and Chef Awards yesterday (Wednesday).

The list also includes Joon chefs Najmieh Batmanglij and Christopher Morgan, who made the semifinals for the regional “Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic” category. Their Persian restaurant opened at Fairfax Square (8045 Leesburg Pike) in Tysons last June.

“The James Beard nomination recognizes how food can join chefs from different backgrounds and generations together to create a delicious and enticing experience for guests,” Joon co-founder Reza Farahani said in a statement to FFXnow. “We are humbled and appreciate the James Beard Foundation’s nomination of Chef Batmanglij’s and Chef Morgan’s talents and their modern take on this ancient cuisine. These two chefs’ approach to presenting a rich and diverse cuisine is a testimony to their artistry and skill.”

Named after the influential American chef, the James Beard Foundation has handed out awards lauding “exceptional talent and achievement in the culinary arts” annually since 1991.

Tucked away on the ground floor of an office building, 2941 has been recognized for seasonally-rotating menu — currently designed by Executive Chef Bertrand Chemel — and elegant setting, which includes a koi pond and a view of an artificial lake. Back in 2005, The Hill described it as a “gleaming example of suburban fine dining,” and it was called the best restaurant in Northern Virginia last year by Northern Virginia Magazine.

Dishes on Chemel’s current January tasting menu include baked Wellfleet oysters, a grilled venison chop and a chocolate biscuit with fig marmalade.

Before joining Joon, Batmanglij wrote cookbooks credited with helping introduce Iranian cuisine to the U.S., and Morgan co-founded the D.C. restaurant Maydan, which earned him a Michelin star. At the Tysons restaurant, they make kabobs and other Iranian dishes intended to showcase the country’s ethnic diversity, according to Joon’s website.

Located in the former Chef Geoff’s space, Joon also hosts a “virtual” food hall called The Kitchen Collective where local residents can pick up food from other concepts curated by Farahani, such as the D.C. restaurants Pizza Serata and Yasmine or the cookie shop Franki’s, which was inspired by Morgan’s daughter.

The finalists for the 2024 James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards will be announced on April 3, and the winners will be revealed at a ceremony on June 10 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

With former board chairs John Mason and Shelly Hazel, and current chair Scott Cryer, ArtsFairfax president and CEO Linda Sullivan announces at the 2023 ArtsFairfax Awards that she will retire (courtesy A.E. Landes Photography/ArtsFairfax)

The woman who oversaw ArtsFairfax’s transformation from an events programmer into the top advocate for Fairfax County’s arts and culture community will soon step down as leader of the nonprofit.

Linda Sullivan announced her plan to retire after 14 years as president and CEO on Oct. 26 at the 2023 ArtsFairfax Awards, an annual celebration and fundraiser that she established to honor notable local artists, arts and cultural organizations and their supporters.

At the awards ceremony, which was held at Capital One Hall in Tysons and raised $175,000, Sullivan said she was “very proud” of her tenure leading the county’s official arts agency.

“It has been a privilege to work with all the elected officials, community leaders, board members, and staff members as we met our strategic goals and grew both the organization and the strength of its services,” Sullivan said. “Serving and supporting the arts in Fairfax County has been a labor of love and joy.”

When Sullivan first joined as a consultant in 2009, ArtsFairfax was still named the Arts Council of Fairfax County and most known for producing the annual International Children’s Festival hosted by Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts from 1971 to 2011, according to the organization.

Even as the county government made deep budget cuts in the wake of the 2008 recession that included eliminating the children’s festival, ArtsFairfax sought to pivot and expand its mission from programming events to actively working with the county and providing support services to local artists and arts organizations.

John Mason, a former Fairfax City mayor who chaired the arts council’s board of directors at the time, says hiring Sullivan in 2010 to lead the organization through that transition as its president and CEO is “the best thing that I did as chairman.”

“Her term led to a more dynamic, engaged board and staff,” Mason said. “Commendable initiatives included engaging Fairfax County and contributing to its Comprehensive Plan with a strong arts program and, importantly, a comprehensive arts facilities plan for the next decade or so. Additionally, she initiated the challenge of engaging arts organizations and helping to ‘market’ them.”

An arts management consultant with prior experience leading museums and art centers, Sullivan told FFXnow in an interview that she remains proud of the council’s rebranding as ArtsFairfax. Since then, the nonprofit raised its profile and doubled both its budget and the amount of grants it offers to arts organizations.

Recipients of the most recent round of operating support grants, for instance, ranged from theater companies and dance troupes to orchestras and George Mason University’s Fall for the Book Festival. Read More

Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck announces the 2023 Environmental Excellence Award winners (via Fairfax County)

A senior at Langley High School, a county planner who helped craft an environmental plan for Reston, and a local business dedicated to reducing waste are among the recipients of this year’s Fairfax County Environmental Excellence Awards.

Handed out annually since 2000, the awards recognize residents, county staff, businesses and other organizations “who demonstrate extraordinary leadership within the community and exceptional dedication to the preservation and enhancement of the county’s natural resources,” according to the Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination.

Announced at the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday (Sept. 12), the winners were selected by the Environmental Quality Advisory Council, an advisory group appointed by the board. The council administers the awards with OEEC’s support.

“By giving their time, passion and expertise for the betterment of our environment, these awardees are true climate champions,” said Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, who chairs the board’s Environmental Committee. “We applaud them for leading by example and helping to ensure that our county residents and visitors can enjoy a healthy and beautiful Fairfax County for decades to come.”

The lone winner in the individual county resident category was Mei Torrey, a rising senior at Langley High School who “promotes and actively seeks opportunities to increase awareness of, and take action on, local sustainability issues,” the OEEC says.

Now president of her school’s Saxons Go Green environmental club, Torrey has organized fundraisers and worked with the nonprofit Clean Fairfax to design and distribute reusable bags to local retailers and low-income communities, according to the county.

The 2023 award lineup features three winners in the “county employee” category:

Hugh Whitehead, an Urban Forester with the Urban Forest Management Division. In 2016, Mr. Whitehead initiated a tree planting program in partnership with Fairfax County Public Schools. Since 2016, a total of 494 trees have been planted at twenty-one different K through 12 schools including seven Title 1 schools. This program not only supports the Board’s Sustainability Initiatives, reforestation goals, and recommendations from the Joint Environmental Task Force, but furthers educational opportunities throughout the county.

Joe Gorney, a Planner with the Department of Planning and Development, Environment and Development Review Branch. Mr. Gorney works collaboratively with other county agencies on a diverse range of environmental review topics, working to create a sustainable future for residents and employees. He was the staff lead for the Environmental Plan guidance update for the Reston planning study, designating Reston as “biophilic” community.

Craig Carinci, Director of Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, Stormwater Planning Division. Mr. Carinci provides excellence in leadership through monitoring and improving stream health. During his tenure as Director, Fairfax County has restored over 100,000 linear feet of streams, facilitated by his open-minded leadership and business acumen that fearlessly encourages his team to push forward on initiatives and collaborate with partners to achieve cost savings.

The Environmental Excellence Awards for organizations and businesses went to Trace the Zero Waste Store, which can be found at 140 Church Street NW in Vienna, and the grounds committee of the Montebello Condominium Unit Owners Association. Read More

Winnie Evans holds her Living Legend proclamation with representatives from the Military Women’s Memorial (courtesy Chesterbrook Residences)

Chesterbrook Residences has a certified living legend residing in its halls.

Major Winifred Evans, a resident of the McLean assisted living community since 2018, was honored last Thursday (Aug. 17) with a “Living Legend” proclamation from the Military Women’s Memorial in Arlington.

At 105 years old, Evans devoted her life to public service as a nurse in the U.S. Air Force, the Peace Corps and her local community, Chesterbrook Residences said in an announcement of the award.

“Acknowledging her sweet demeanor and friendly interactions would only be scratching the surface, as Winifred Evans is one of the most accomplished women we’ve ever had the privilege of caring for,” Chesterbrook Residences Executive Director Bremda Riggs said. “She is the epitome of a true living legend, and we are proud to call her not only our resident but also our friend.”

Born in 1917 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Evans is the great-granddaughter of Horace Bennett, a sergeant who served in the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry during the Civil War.

Her interest in nursing was fueled by a desire “to make a positive impact on the world” after her younger sister, Betty, died from an illness, her niece Patricia Garrett told the Falls Church News-Press earlier this month.

Here’s more on Evans’s career from Chesterbrook Residences:

After receiving a B.S. in nursing from the University of Pennsylvania and a Master’s from Catholic University, Ms. Evans traveled to Oslo, Norway, and received a graduate certificate.

In 1955, Ms. Evans joined the U.S. Air Force, where she became Chief Nurse and eventually retired as a Major. After joining the Peace Corp in 1962, she traveled to Togo, West Africa and set up immunization centers vaccinating thousands of children. She continued to serve as a nurse in Thailand, Latin America, and the United States. She has traveled extensively, visiting every continent except for Australia and Antarctica.

Following her retirement from nursing, Ms. Evans continued to serve others and her community in roles at the Red Cross and Georgetown University, and as a clinical nurse in local homeless shelters. She is also supported the building of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial located in Arlington.

Opened in 1997, the Military Women’s Memorial has documented the stories of more than 300,000 female service members, though the memorial estimates that accounts for less than 10% of all the women who have served in the U.S. military since the American Revolution.

The Living Legend program recognizes female veterans who have reached the age of 100.

Evans credits her mother as the person who inspired her to attend college and pursue her dreams.

“I’ve learned that every challenge I had was experience for me and lesson for others,” Evans said in an emailed statement to FFXnow. “This award isn’t just mine; I believe it belongs to all those who supported me. I’ve been blessed my entire life!”

Several local employers were honored for their participation in Bike to Work Day (via DATA)

More than two dozen local businesses were honored last month for their commitment to “green commuting.”

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn honored the 29 businesses for taking part in this year’s Bike to Work Day employer challenge, which rewarded companies that encouraged their employees to commute via bicycle.

Alcorn said the new Silver Line stations from Reston to Ashburn mean more employees than ever have the option for cycling to and from a bus or train stop.

“Employers who encourage a healthy and green commute, and employees who enjoy our scenic trails on the way to work all contribute to Fairfax County’s sustainability efforts and quality of life,” Alcorn said.

The challenge by the Dulles Area Transport Association (DATA) recognizes local medium and large companies with five or more employees for participating in Bike to Work Day. DATA is a nonprofit public-private partnership between businesses, government, and the community in the greater Dulles area.

The July 28 ceremony also recognized participating small businesses with two or more employees.

A list of this year’s participants is below.

Read More


Fairfax County residents don’t have to cross the Potomac to taste some of the best cuisine that the D.C. area has to offer, as decreed by the 2023 RAMMY awards.

Announced at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D.C. on Sunday (July 9), the annual honors from the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) feted four restaurants with ties to the Fairfax area — including three in Merrifield’s Mosaic District.

Kirby Club owner Rose Previte was named Restaurateur of the Year by the association, which represents and advocates for the region’s food service industry.

Previte launched Kirby Club (2911 District Avenue) with co-founders Mike Schuster and Mayu Horie last December. Since then, the Mediterreanean restaurant has drawn praise for its atmosphere and flexible portions, landing a spot among the top newcomers in the Washington Post’s spring dining guide.

In addition to Kirby Club, Previte is a co-owner of D.C.’s Maydān, which also focuses on Mediterranean cuisine, and Compass Rose, which serves food from around the world. All three restaurants are part of No White Plates, a collective she co-founded that aims to showcase the culture and stories behind each meal.

“I’m still in shock about this incredible win,” Previte said. “It’s been nearly 10 years since I was working around the clock to open Compass Rose and as anyone in hospitality can tell you it takes a village to run a restaurant, let alone three. Opening Kirby Club was a new level of learning and every day I am grateful for the team that makes every day possible.”

This year’s RAMMY winners also include the fast-casual Indian chain RASA, which was chosen as the region’s Favorite Fast Bite in one of five categories determined by a public vote.

Started by two friends in D.C. who wanted to introduce the area to the diversity of flavors in Indian cuisine, Rasa opened its first Fairfax County location at the Mosaic District (2905 District Avenue, Suite 160) on July 30, 2022. Its menu includes salads and rice and noodle bowls, with chef-created and build-your-own options.

“We are absolutely humbled and thrilled to win the Favorite Fast Bites RAMMY this year,” Rasa co-founder Rahul Vinod said. “Our team works tirelessly day-in and day-out so it is amazing for them to be recognized by the community. We are excited to continue sharing our food and culture with more people!

In addition to the main awards, the RAMMYs bestowed honorary awards on several area restaurants that reached notable milestones, including Artie’s — which has been in Fairfax City for 45 years now — and Four Sisters.

For the latter, the recognition of its 30th anniversary was no doubt bittersweet. Started at Falls Church’s Eden Center in 1993, the family-run Vietnamese restaurant relocated to Merrifield in 2008, but it closed up shop at the Mosaic District in May.

The Lai family is still operating Four Sisters Grill in Clarendon and the 4 Sisters Snack Bar in Ashburn.

Determined by the public or a panel of anonymous judges, depending on the specific category, the RAMMY awards are intended to celebrate the accomplishments of the D.C. area’s food service industry. Last year, the only winner with local ties was Annandale’s A&J Restaurant, which won the Best Brunch category.

An art installation at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fifteen years after it emerged from the shell of the former Lorton prison, the Workhouse Arts Center will take the spotlight at Capital One Hall in Tysons as the top honoree of the 2023 ArtsFairfax Awards.

The center will receive the Jinx Hazel Award at the annual ceremony and fundraising event on Oct. 26, ArtsFairfax, the county’s official arts agency, announced earlier this month.

Awards will also be bestowed on developer and philanthropist Lola Reinsch, George Mason University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and the Inova Schar Cancer Institute.

“The 2023 ArtsFairfax Awards honorees all demonstrate how the arts revitalize communities, improve our wellbeing, and spark creativity in unexpected places,” ArtsFairfax President and CEO Linda Sullivan said. “We’re thrilled to celebrate each of these awardees for enriching the lives of Fairfax County residents.”

Given to Capital One Hall last year, the Jinx Hazel Award recognizes “an individual or organization whose vision and commitment has helped shape the cultural life of Fairfax County,” ArtsFairfax says.

Opened to the public in September 2008, the Workhouse Arts Center is the only multi-disciplinary arts facility in the area of southern Fairfax County recently rebranded as Potomac Banks, according to ArtsFairfax.

The 55-acre campus hosts art studios, galleries, performing arts space, classrooms and the Lucy Burns Museum, drawing about 100,000 patrons annually with exhibits and special events like Fourth of July fireworks or the upcoming BrewWorks Festival.

The center is still being built out, with a new location for Bunnyman Brewing expected to open in a recently refurbished building this year. Future developments could include an amphitheater, more events and educational venues and even housing, depending on the master plan that the county is currently finalizing.

Reinsch is this year’s recipient of the ArtsFairfax Philanthropy Award, which goes to a person, corporation or foundation “that has provided leadership funding or long-term monetary support to the arts.”

As president, owner, and CEO of the Reinsch Companies, a residential and golf course developer, Reinsch has been a regular donor for numerous local arts nonprofits, including the McLean Project for the Arts (MPA), the Virginia Chamber Orchestra, 1st Stage theater in Tysons and the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.

Her contributions to MPA include a matching gift to support a future art and education center at Clemyjontri Park, according to ArtsFairfax.

Meanwhile, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute will be recognized with an Education Award for providing arts education classes, clubs and events to older residents of Northern Virginia.

The ArtsFairfax Impact Award will go to the Inova Schar Cancer Institute for its Arts and Healing program, which supports a permanent art collection, ongoing exhibitions, performing arts events and 20 artists-in-residence to help patients and their families going through treatment or recovery.

Tickets and sponsorships for the awards ceremony are now for sale. Reston Community Center is the visionary sponsor for the awards, which typically attract over 300 guests, according to ArtsFairfax.

“The arts are the heartbeat of all truly great communities, and we can’t envision any world in which the arts aren’t central to what makes us human,” RCC Board Chair Beverly Cosham said. “The arts play a central role in Reston’s neighborhoods and Fairfax County has embraced their vital importance to building vibrant places to live and learn. ArtsFairfax is the catalyst for these successful efforts.”


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