Building Community

Building Community

Mount Vernon Woods invites its neighbors to mingle with each other and learn about local services.

What flashes into your mind when someone says “Route 1 Corridor?” BRAC? New businesses? New housing developments? Traffic? The fear of new traffic? The controversy over new housing developments? All these preoccupations have one element in common: change.

But amidst all the change, and the fear of change, is something being obscured? Eric Dyson thought so. Dyson, a PTA member at Mount Vernon Woods Elementary, helped organize a Community Day, which took place on May 6, to emphasize that although families may come and go, there will always be a community to be appreciated. He described seeing new developments sprouting up seemingly every few weeks, “It’s easy to get lost.” The PTA wanted to send that message that “even though this is all growing, this is still your community,” Dyson explained.

In order to help people find their community, the school invited a host of public and commercial entities so that neighbors could, in the words of Mount Vernon Woods Principal Reggie Romaine, “mix and mingle and become acquainted with the various agencies in the county.”

While children were having their faces painted, handling animals at a petting zoo set up by Leesburg Animal Park and participating in sports competitions, their parents had the chance to meet representatives of the various public and private organizations that bind communities together and help them run smoothly, including the police, the libraries and county human services. There were booths set up by Long and Foster and Wachovia Bank’s loan department, with information on how to purchase a home. Like many of the volunteers working that afternoon, the representatives of these businesses were bilingual and had information brochures in both English and Spanish.

At another table, Megan Podboy, of Inova’s Partnership for Healthier Kids, used baggies of sugar to graphically display the amount of sugar that is mixed in with many popular bottled drinks. She also had plastic representations of muscle and fat to demonstrate the fibered density of one pound of muscle compared to its chunky, jiggly counterpart.

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue’s Mount Vernon Station Number Nine was represented by firemen who mingled with the crowd and hoisted children into the driver’s seat of one of their trucks. Lieutenant Joseph Merritt said that although their first priority was fire and rescue, “the second best thing we can do is get out here, be approachable by the general public and let them ask questions … All they know is we show up in big trucks and squirt water on stuff … ultimately we work for the public.”

The PTA listened to their neighbors when planning the event. “What was important to the community was knowing what was available,” said Dixon, including government, athletics, business and schools. He said that the PTA also knew it would be a cultural event, “because of the community diversity.”

The culture on display included an exhibition by students at the Tukong Martial Arts Academy, which teaches Tae-Kwon Do, a martial art that originated in Korea; a fifer from the Fife and Drum Corps; singing and dancing by the Hope Aglow Empowerment Center and story-telling by Baba C, a traditional West-African griot.

Dyson beamed as he shot pictures and mingled with his neighbors, many of whom had walked to the school on this perfect, sunny afternoon. “It’s about the community and growing up in a place you know you belong,” he said.