A local nonprofit organization is hoping to expand its therapeutic riding services for people with disabilities in Great Falls.
Based at 9700 Georgetown Pike, Lift Me Up hopes to extend its services to a new horse barn with eight stables across six acres at 1051 Kelso Road near Difficult Run Stream Valley Park.
The expansion would allow the organization to offer “unmounted” wellness programs for groups such as first responders, veterans, seniors, and youth with mental challenges. The barn would serve as an equine-assisted wellness center for Lift Me Up.
“Wellness sessions are unmounted programs where participants interact with horses to learn lessons from equine behaviors. Riding lessons are not included in Wellness Sessions,” the special permit application says.
Received by Fairfax County on March 28, the application notes that the property could have been purchased by a developer and redeveloped with residential units. Instead, the current owners bought the house and barn to preserve the “serenity of fields with horses grazing.”
“Using the Kelso Road property as a horse barn INCREASES the harmony desired in the general purpose of the zoning district as it keeps the open and rural character of the district,” the application says.
The nonprofit organization was founded in 1975 by Colleen Zanin. It has 11 horses, according to its website.
An app created by a trio of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology students to help kids with autism may someday be deployed in Fairfax County’s special education classrooms.
Sophomores Soham Jain, Rohan Kotla and Samvrit Rao have already earned recognition from Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-10) for RoutineRemind, an app designed to help parents and kids keep track of their schedules.
RoutineRemind was the 10th District’s winner in the 2022 Congressional App Challenge, Wexton announced on Dec. 22. The annual competition aims to encourage science, technology, engineering and math education by inviting students from across the country to develop and submit their own apps.
The 2022 contest drew over 500 submissions, a new record, according to organizers.
“I was so impressed by not only their remarkable technical skills in designing this winning app, but also their ingenuity and care in developing a way to help kids with autism and their families,” Wexton said in a statement, congratulating the TJ students.
A big congratulations to #VA10's Congressional App Challenge winners, team RoutineRemind—Rohan, Samvrit, & Soham!
I was so impressed by their creation of a scheduling app to aid kids with social and cognitive impairments like autism.
Bravo, RoutineRemind! You've made us proud. pic.twitter.com/Q6stdx5rQ2
— Rep. Jennifer Wexton (@RepWexton) December 22, 2022
In joint comments to FFXnow, Soham, Rohan and Samvit said they have regularly worked together on school projects and share an interest in “the intersection between computer science and biology.”
Seeing the challenge as an opportunity to put their tech and teamwork skills to the test, the students turned to personal experience when brainstorming ideas for an app.
In a demonstration video, Rohan said he has a younger brother with autism and has always been interested in finding ways to improve the lives of people with autism and other cognitive disabilities.
His brother sometimes struggles to remember his schedule, leading him to frequently ask for reminders. Individuals with autism often find comfort in routine, but many also experience executive functioning challenges, affecting their ability to plan or focus.
“After surveying the special needs community in [our] area, we found that this is a mutual problem across children with autism, since many of them are schedule-oriented,” the students told FFXnow. “Given the prevalence of the problem, we wanted to develop a simple, adaptable, and user-friendly schedule and reminder app to help those with social and cognitive impairments.” Read More
Special Olympics Virginia is ready to make another splash at the Mosaic District.
The nonprofit’s annual Polar Plunge fundraiser will return to the Merrifield community for a fourth year on Saturday, Jan. 14. As in previous years, participants will jump into a pool of icy water to raise money for the organization’s more than 18,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities.
The event is Special Olympics Virginia’s first fundraiser of the year and one of five planned in the state for 2023, according to Senior Director of Development Ellen Head.
“I love that we start things off with a plunge because long before we had unified sports (where people with and without disabilities play on a team together instead of segregated) we had plunges which, by nature, are unified,” Head told FFXnow by email. “We have Special Olympics athletes alongside of everyone else jumping into the cold pools!”
The Mosaic District hosted a plunge for the first time in 2019. The event returned in early 2020 before taking 2021 off due to the pandemic.
Like last year, the Polar Plunge will be held on Strawberry Lane in front of Target. Check-ins will start at noon, followed by a costume contest and award presentation at 1 p.m. and the actual plunging at 1:15 p.m.
@polarplungeva is back at Mosaic on Jan 14! 🌊 🥶
Gather your friends and GO ALL IN. It’s time for a chilly pool plunge with the coolest Special Olympics supporters in Northern VA! All proceeds support @specialolympicsva
🔗 Tap link to sign up: https://t.co/Zy3SkLixeS pic.twitter.com/xCPKvi83zT
— Mosaic (@mosaicdistrict) December 14, 2022
Advance registration is currently open, and participants have already raised over $20,000, according to Special Olympics Virginia’s website. Proceeds from the Mosaic District plunge have grown every year, from roughly $35,000 in 2019 to $50,000 last year, according to Head.
For this year’s event, the nonprofit has partnered with Archer Hotel, which replaced the Hyatt House at the Mosaic District last year. As an incentive, the hotel will provide access to its suites before and after the plunge for the two teams and two individuals who raise the most money.
Collectively, the polar plunges raise close to $1.5 million each year, though Special Olympics Virginia hopes to exceed that mark in 2023, Head says.
The organization also hopes to see its program enrollment bounce back to pre-pandemic levels, which surpassed 23,000 athletes.
In addition to organizing free local and state-level sports programs and events, the nonprofit provides health and fitness resources. A clinic at its annual Summer Games offers free physical and mental health services, including dental, vision and hearing care.
“This is important since many of our athletes lack this care due to the limitations of Medicaid,” Heard said.
(Updated at 3:05 p.m.) A transgender woman’s lawsuit alleging discrimination at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center will be allowed to move forward in a potentially landmark decision in the fight for trans rights.
Former inmate Kesha Williams can pursue her complaint arguing that the harassment she experienced at the county jail violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, a U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled in an opinion released today (Tuesday).
The decision overturns a lower court’s dismissal of Williams’s lawsuit, which was filed on Sept. 20 and details her incarceration from November 2018 to May 2019.
“Kesha Williams faced horrible treatment at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center,” Joshua Erlich, Williams’s attorney, said. “We’re thankful that the Fourth Circuit ruled in her favor and we are excited to get back into court to vindicate Kesha’s rights.”
Williams, now a resident of Silver Spring, alleges in her lawsuit that the jail housed her with men after deputies learned that she is transgender and had not undergone genital surgery, The Washington Post reported in May.
Williams reported that the bras and other clothes she was initially given were taken away, she was misgendered and harassed by deputies as well as inmates, and a nurse delayed or neglected to provide the hormone treatments she had received for the past 15 years.
The inability to regularly access the medicine Williams was prescribed to treat gender dysphoria led to “significant mental and emotional distress,” Judge Diana Gribbon Motz recounted in her opinion, which was also backed by Judge Pamela Harris.
Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid and the other defendants have argued that Williams has no grounds to seek relief, because the ADA doesn’t protect “gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments.” A U.S. District Court judge agreed and granted a motion to dismiss the case.
In her majority opinion, Motz says that argument reflects an outdated understanding of gender identity. Gender dysphoria is now recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a distinct clinical condition that some, but not all, trans people experience.
“While the older DSM pathologized the very existence of transgender people, the recent DSM-5’s diagnosis of gender dysphoria takes as a given that being transgender is not a disability and affirms that a transgender person’s medical needs are just as deserving of treatment and protection as anyone else’s,” Motz wrote.
With the appeals court’s ruling, Kincaid could now seek a rehearing before a larger panel of judges or appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Otherwise, the lawsuit will be sent back to the district court, where it could eventually go to trial, according to Erlich.
“We will not be commenting on a case that is still pending,” the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office said.
The Fourth Circuit is the first federal appeals court to rule specifically on whether gender dysphoria constitutes a disability protected by the ADA. While the lawsuit focuses on the treatment of trans individuals in jail, the outcome could have broader implications at a time when states are restricting access to gender-affirming health care.
“This is not limited to individuals who are incarcerated; any individual seeking accommodations for gender dysphoria will be affected by this ruling,” Erlich said. “This applies in employment, public accommodations, and in any other context in which the ADA provides disability protections.”
It took a team effort to get Best Buddies its new office at Tysons Corner Center.
The nonprofit’s Virginia and D.C. affiliate moved into a first-floor suite near the mall’s former Lord and Taylor in March, but the office didn’t get an official grand opening until July 13, according to Molly Whalen, the affiliate’s state director.
While the site is mostly for staff, the office is also intended to serve as a gathering space where Best Buddies can host events, trainings, and meet-ups for participants in its programs to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
In addition to its signature friendship program, which pairs people with and without disabilities to encourage socializing, Best Buddies provides job assistance, leadership development, and two live-in residences in D.C. and Florida.
“We try to raise awareness of inclusion and friendship and employment and leadership advocacy for people with IDD,” Whalen said. “So, just being in the mall and having that Best Buddies sign is a big deal, because people will want to learn more.”
Best Buddies Virginia and D.C. decided a change was needed from the more traditional office it had in Seven Corners after employees pivoted to working from home in March 2020 in response to COVID-19.
According to Whalen, the rent proved too much for a space the organization wasn’t using, and it was set to increase “considerably” each year.
“By end of last year, like October, we were kind of desperate to get out of the contract, because it was just so much money that, as a nonprofit, we were just kind of burning,” she said.
In stepped NBC4’s “The Scene” reporter Tommy McFly, who chairs Virginia and D.C. affiliate’s advisory board and helped secure a discounted lease for a vacant retail storefront for Best Buddies.
The nonprofit was also the recipient of furniture donations from National Association of Manufacturers, which happened to be relocating, and Heather Cooper — a Best Buddies volunteer who happens to be a former White House floral and interior designer — decorated the windows and wall with a mural.
Though the office isn’t open to the public, except for scheduled events, Best Buddies plans to take advantage of the location’s visibility by putting a video and QR codes in the front windows that will enable passersby to get more information about its mission and programs, according to Whalen.
“The new location will provide Best Buddies the opportunity to grow their work and increase its exposure to new audiences while being metro accessible to those they serve,” Tysons Corner Center said in a press release.
The accessibility of Tysons is under a microscope after community members pointed out oversights at The Boro that make the development challenging to navigate for people with disabilities.
In a presentation to the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s Tysons Committee last week, county staff said they’re looking more closely at how developments are designed — from the availability of drop-off zones to the slope of a sidewalk — and flagging potential issues earlier when reviewing new proposals.
“We’re going to continue to raise these concerns with applicants during the review and working toward continual improvement as the development of Tysons builds out, so we’re keeping a really close eye on these and trying to get better and better as we go,” Suzie Battista, the Department of Planning and Development’s (DPD) urban centers section chief, said at the July 14 meeting.
Accessibility Issues Found at The Boro
Since its first phase came online in 2019 and 2020, The Boro has exemplified both the promise of Tysons and the obstacles facing the county’s vision of a walkable, inclusive urban center.
Built by The Meridian Group, The Boro brought 1.7 million square feet of development to two blocks near Leesburg Pike and the Greensboro Metro station, including 677 housing units, 500,000 square feet of office space, and retail anchored by Whole Foods and the ShowPlace ICON Theater.
After all that construction, the new neighborhood failed to consider the needs of people with mobility issues, says retired architect and The Boro resident John Colby, who shared his concerns in a Washington Post op-ed last year.
None of the 34 street parking spaces were reserved for people with disabilities, as all 31 Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant spaces are inside garages. There are no drop-off or loading zones, and the button for the entrance to the Verse condominiums, where Colby lives, is frequently broken, he told the Tysons Committee.
“ADA-compliant entry doors are minimally required at public-to-private interfaces, such as entry doors from the street, but not private-to-private internal doors,” he said. “Contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of the ADA law, those dependent on a wheelchair are thus denied unaccompanied access to our building’s fitness and meeting rooms, the half-acre skypark, and similar amenities.”
Other issues are more subtle, such as a garage entrance and utility manhole cover on Silver Hill Drive that make those areas of the sidewalk steeper than the adjacent street — putting it out of compliance with the ADA, according to Fairfax County Tysons Urban Center Coordinator William Marsh. Read More
What to Know About Monkeypox — “More monkeypox cases have been reported in the United States since the first illness was reported in Massachusetts last week. But there’s no need for Virginia residents to panic, health officials say as they learn more about how the viral disease is spread.” [Patch]
County to Talk About Youth Mental Health Issues and Drug Use — “As a parent, our kids’ wellbeing is my top priority. Today, the Board supported my motion to convene a roundtable with reps from [Department of Family Services], our Opioid Task Force, clinical pros, the BOS and school board to directly tackle youth mental health & substance use.” [Jeff McKay/Twitter]
McLean Woman Settles Fraud Case — A McLean resident has agreed to pay $107,347 to settle allegations that she falsified information to obtain two Paycheck Protection Program loans, totaling $42,601, federal prosecutors said yesterday (Tuesday). The Justice Department prosecuted the woman as part of its efforts to crack down on fraud related to COVID-19 relief funds. [DOJ]
Arlington Doughnut Shop Plans Tysons Kitchen — “Good Company Doughnuts & Café has inked a lease for roughly 5,000 square feet at 8524-G Tyco Road…for a kitchen commissary, where it will produce and assemble its products for off-site retail sale…Good Company hopes to have the commissary operating by the end of 2022, [co-owner Charles] Kachadoorian said.” [Washington Business Journal]
Metro Introduces Navigation App to Help Blind Riders — “Metro has partnered with Waymap, a new UK-based start-up, to bring the technology to the Brookland, Silver Spring, and Braddock Road Metro stations…The app will be available in at least 30 Metro train and nearly 1,000 bus stops by September; the entire system is scheduled to be brought online by early 2023.” [DCist]
Cybersecurity Company Moves Within Tysons — “Codehunter…relocated from 1660 International Drive to 1775 Greensboro Station Pl. and expanded their corporate headquarters. Codehunter, represented by Timothy Jacobs and Edward Saa, needed to expand their office footprint due to business growth while also needed to re-strategize their office footprint to support their hybrid work model.” [CityBiz]
New School Board Student Representative Chosen — “Michele Togbe, a junior at South County High School, has been elected by the countywide Student Advisory Council (SAC) to serve a one-year term as student representative to the Fairfax County School Board, beginning July 1…Togbe has three main focuses as student representative: transparency within students’ voices, furthering civic education, and maintaining an equitable lens.” [FCPS]
Local Students Relax with Yarn — “About a dozen third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders gather at lunch several times a week at Little Run ES to knit and loom together. The program was initially launched as an after-school effort paid for with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief aid, or ESSER III funding.” [FCPS]
It’s Wednesday — Overcast throughout the day. High of 64 and low of 56. Sunrise at 5:50 am and sunset at 8:25 pm. [Weather.gov]
Fairfax County has officially expanded its tax relief program for seniors and people with disabilities for the first time in more than 15 years.
At a Tuesday (Dec. 7) meeting, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved expanding the county’s real estate tax relief program by allowing people with higher incomes and net worth to qualify. A 75% tax relief bracket was also added, and the program gives some residents the option to defer payments.
The changes are expected to serve an additional 2,500 Fairfax County residents, according to Jay Doshi, director of the county’s Department of Tax Administration.
Doshi said the county’s tax relief program is now three times the size of Virginia Beach’s program, which is the next largest jurisdiction in the state.
“These proposals represent the largest change and an increase for our residents,” Doshi said.
The maximum gross income to qualify for tax relief was raised from $72,000 to $90,000, while the limit on net worth increased from up to $340,000 to $400,000.
The program also allows homeowners to exclude up to five acres of land that can’t be subdivided when calculating their net worth.
The 75% relief bracket would be available to households with a combined income of between $60,0001 to $70,000. But the amount of tax relief for all brackets would be capped at 125% of the mean assessed value of county homes.
Residents can also defer payment of real estate taxes if the household has a combined total income not more than $100,000 and a net worth of $500,000. Deferred taxes would be subject to interest.
Changes will go into effect on Jan. 1 and will be phased out over the next two years.
Older adults pushed for the changes at Tuesday’s board meeting.
“Having a tax relief program designed for the economic reality of 2006 does not make sense in the economic reality of 2021,” said Catherine Cole, chairwoman of the Fairfax Area Commission on Aging.
Cole noted that rapid inflation, rising economic insecurity among the county’s older populations, declining assets, and rising housing costs have strained many seniors, pushing some to leave Fairfax County.
“It would make sense to encourage those who are growing older to remain in their homes,” Cole said.
But others said the changes did not go far enough.
Daniel Campbell, a Fairfax County resident with two adult sons who are handicapped, said the county should consider freezing property tax assessments once residents retire and remove net worth as a requirement for seniors to qualify for property tax relief.
He said the net worth requirement penalizes people who have significant savings. Campbell and his wife hope to leave savings for their sons in the form of a special needs trust.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said the changes — though imperfect — were long “overdue.”
“This has become an acute need at this point,” McKay said, calling the changes a significant advancement. He said the changes increased the yearly fiscal impact on the county from $28 million to $48 million.
McKay said he would like to evaluate tweaks to the program in the future.
Others said the county needs to find other ways to diversify its income beyond real estate taxes as the primary revenue source.
“Tax reform is really where we have to go,” said Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn. State law limits sources of revenue for jurisdictions.
But Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity — who supported the changes — said that controlling spending, not diversifying revenue should be the priority.
“It’s unfortunate that it took the pandemic for us to do this,” he said.
Graphic via Fairfax County Government