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Reston Regional Library (file photo)

The Friends of Reston Regional Library (FRRL) is celebrating Fairfax County Public Library’s theme for 2022 — the year of literacy — with a record-setting gift.

The nonprofit organization, which has been supporting the Reston library since 1985, is providing a grant of $200,000 to the county library system to expand its printed and digital materials for the library collection.

According to Eileen Evon, a spokesperson for FRRL, this is the largest single gift the organization has ever given to FCPL.

“The gift will give a much needed boost to the library’s ability to add more copies of popular titles already in the catalog, while also expanding the depth and breadth of many subject areas, including fiction for all ages, as well as non-fiction books, bi-lingual books, and books in other languages for young readers,” FRRL said in a news release.

FRRL issued the following statement regarding the gift:

The truth is, between the hard wear and tear on highly circulated print materials, the increased demand for digital materials, and the increase in total checkouts and library card holders, the County budget to the Library for collections just hasn’t caught up to the need. We know they are reviewing this and hope that it will change in the future as the library system continues to grow and change.

In the meantime, we thought the Year of Literacy was the perfect time for us to call public attention to this pressing need, and pitch in ourselves with the monies generated — one book at a time — by our hardworking volunteers who sort and sell books and media from over 40 tons of donated materials each year. After talking with Director Hudson and the head of Technical Operations, Dianne Coan, we know the Collections Development team will work hard to make the most out of every dollar to strengthen and expand the collection to best serve all of its patrons.

The gift will be formally handed over in a ceremony on June 8 at an FCPL Board of Trustees meeting. FCPL director Jessica Hudson, the board, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Water Alcorn, and other local officials plan to attend.

The Friends are also providing one-time grants to local organizations in an effort to support and promote literacy in the community. Grants range from $5,000 to $50,000 and will be awarded to a group that provide hands-on programming that directly impacts literacy in Reston, Herndon, and the county overall.

The news comes as FRRL positions itself to support the creation of a new library for Reston — which has been contemplated for several years. While county voters approved a bond in 2012 to fund the project, FRRL president Brian Jacoby noted that more funds may be needed.

“Every branch has its own unique requirements to best support its staff, volunteers, and patrons,” Jacoby wrote in statement. “New furniture, materials and equipment, or facilities space specific to the needs of our local community may not be covered by either the developer’s plans or the County’s funding. Our volunteers and our patrons are long-time active users of the Reston branch and they have a strong love for the library and what it provides to our community.”

The Friends’ board recently affirmed its commitment to set aside savings for needs related to the future building.

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Wesley Housing’s The Arden apartments, currently under construction near the Huntington Metro station, is a recent recipient of Fairfax County’s annual federal funding from HUD (via Fairfax County Housing and Community Development)

Fairfax County has gotten a little help from the federal government for its efforts to increase the availability of affordable housing.

The county was awarded a total of $8.9 million in grants and other funds by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner announced on Friday (May 13).

The funding comes from three different programs:

  • $5.9 million in Community Development Block Grants, which can be used for housing construction, homeowner assistance, infrastructure, economic development, and other community projects
  • $2.5 million from the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which supports partnerships with nonprofits to provide affordable housing and direct rental assistance to low-income individuals
  • $515,135 from the Emergency Solutions Grant program, which funds emergency shelters, services for people experiencing homelessness, and homelessness prevention programs

The county typically receives approximately $8.5 million each year from those programs, according to the Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says federal funds “are critical” to helping the county achieve its affordable housing goals, which was recently doubled to 10,000 new units by 2034.

“I thank Senators Warner and Kaine for helping us to advance housing opportunities for veterans and their families, providing supportive housing for those with special needs, enabling older adults to age in place, and much more,” McKay said. “Fairfax County is working every single day to ensure that everyone here access to a safe, secure, and affordable home.”

With the block grant and HOME funds, the county says it has been able to create or preserve over 800 affordable housing units, along with 220 affordable rental units, in the past five years. Projects that have benefitted include Wesley Housing’s The Arden in Huntington, the new Lee District Community Center, and a planned acquisition of 12 condominiums by the nonprofit Pathway Recovery.

According to Housing and Community Development spokesperson Benjamin Boxer, the new funds will be allocated in accordance with the county’s Five-Year Consolidated Plan and the related One-Year Action Plan, which set housing goals and establish services for older adults, people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, and households earning 30% or less of the area median income.

The newest One-Year Action Plan, which is currently under review and will take effect for fiscal year 2023 on July 1, calls for funding for 13 different projects, ranging from rental assistance vouchers to home repairs for seniors and people with disabilities in Falls Church and Herndon.

Overall, Virginia will receive $114.7 million from HUD.

“All Virginians deserve access to safe and affordable housing, but rents and home prices have skyrocketed across Virginia in recent years,” Kaine and Warner said in a joint statement. “We’re glad that this funding will go to supporting the construction of new affordable housing units and help Virginians access more housing options.”

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Reston pretzel bakery Nordic-Knot (via Studio-M Photos & Jennifer Heffner Photography)

A Reston-based pretzel bakery is vying for up to $60,000 in prize money from a national small business competition sponsored by Barclays Bank.

The only finalist from Virginia, Nordic-Knot was chosen from a pool of nearly 5,000 entries based on criteria like creativity, innovation, and perseverance during the COVID-19 pandemic. The “Small Business Big Wins” contest is intended to give businesses impacted by the pandemic a big boost.

“Nordic-Knot is both thrilled and humbled to have been chosen as one of ten finalists in the Barclay’s Small Biz Big Wins competition,” Nordic Knot co-owner Melissa Romano said. “The pandemic years have certainly been a ‘twisted’ time for many small businesses, including Nordic-Knot, but we are incredibly thankful for the support of our customers and community. Your votes will help us win the ‘dough’ so that we can keep twisting our pretzel dough to make the knots you crave.”

Contest voting will continue through Friday, April 22. Only one vote is allowed per email address.

Owners Melissa Romano and Eric Lundberg plan to use the money to boost their market reach and production capabilities.

Nordic-Knot offers a mix of pretzels, pretzel dogs, party boxes, and pretzel croissants. It’s based out of Lake Anne Plaza in Reston, but doesn’t have a specific storefront.

The pandemic hit the business right after it developed a strong footing as a manufacturer and distributor of handmade soft pretzels for wholesale resale.

But when the pandemic forced most of its resellers to shutter its doors, the business quickly pivoted to establish an online presence and provide direct retail sales to individual consumers.

The business was also able to provide flour and yeast in bulk to customers when those items were scarce in supermarkets.

Last year, even as more businesses opened up shop, the owners stayed in the retail sales realm. Lundberg built a vending cart that would arrive at Lake Anne on Saturday mornings and offer customers with a pick-up cabinet for pre-ordered parcels.

“Nordic-Knot was born from a love of pretzels, and as a way of twisting together family, friends, and community is our motto, and we stand by it every day as we hand mill our flour, proof our dough, then hand shape, roll, twist and bake our pretzels,” Romano wrote in the contest statement.

Only 10 finalists were selected in the national contest. In 2020, Barclays named Frank Gourmet Hot Dogs, a New-York-based restaurant, the winner of the grand prize of $50,000.

“There has been a tremendous response from the small business community to share their stories of resilience and recovery,” said Nancy Parnella, director of US Business Cards at Barclays. “We have been inspired by the many personal and deeply impactful stories submitted, and we hope these stories encourage other small business owners and aspiring business owners to keep working to make their dream a reality.”

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Student working on computer (via Annie Spratt/Unsplash)

(Updated at 12:30 p.m.) Fairfax County Public Schools and the Fairfax County Public Library are recipients of federal funding to help provide internet access and necessary devices for students, school staff and library patrons.

Announced on Tuesday (Oct. 26) by Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, the funding comes from the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Connectivity Fund Program to help close the “homework gap” for students who lack internet access.

The county’s library system will receive $41,330 and the school district will receive $17.9 million from the $7.17 billion program, which gives nearly $50 million to Virginia overall. The program was created by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which was authorized by Congress earlier this year.

“We’re proud to see these federal dollars go toward keeping Virginia’s communities connected,” Warner and Kaine said in their joint statement. “This investment will help close the digital divide, while improving access to job opportunities and educational resources for Virginians as we continue to recover from the impacts of COVID-19.”

The funding is intended to help public schools and libraries support remote learning by reimbursing them with up to $400 for each laptop or tablet and $250 for Wi-Fi hotspots, a spokesperson for Kaine told FFXnow.

Other eligible equipment covered by this funding include modems, routers, and devices that combine routers and modems.

Schools and libraries may purchase more expensive devices or Wi-Fi hotspots with their program funds, but they will only be reimbursed for the aforementioned amounts.

Recipients can also use the funding to provide commercially available broadband service with a fixed or mobile connection off-campus for students, school staff, or library patrons. The administrating company for the program, Universal Service Administrative Company, will review costs and applications for other eligible equipment and services.

Funding has been issued in three waves since late September, with the latest round getting distributed this week. However, the schools and libraries ultimately control the timeline for carrying out purchase agreements with internet providers and vendors.

An FCPS spokesperson deferred comment to state officials because the program is in its early stages.

“The school system is correct that this is very early stages,” Fairfax County Public Library told FFXnow when contacted for comment.

While broadband access is less of an issue in Fairfax County than in other parts of the state and country, 4% of households still have no internet, county staff reported in June. Access is uneven across the county, ranging from 1.4% of households lacking internet in Springfield District to 8.9% of households in Mason District.

Even with FCPS back to five days of in-person learning, internet access remains critical for students, particularly with some having to stay out of class due to COVID-19 contact tracing and quarantining procedures.

Since Sept. 1, FCPS has quarantined 3,942 students because they were identified as close contacts of someone who tested positive for COVID-19, according to the school system’s quarantine data dashboard. That does not include students who have had to pause in-person learning for contact-tracing purposes.

Photo via Annie Spratt/Unsplash

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