As I struggled to hoist the Jaws of Life, I nearly toppled over. Lifting a 50-pound piece of equipment designed to cut open cars is a lot harder than it looks in the movies.
Luckily (for both me and, more importantly, anyone truly in need of being extracted from a car), I was not using the Jaws of Life in an actual emergency situation. I’d been given the opportunity to examine this tool and other lifesaving equipment on a recent Saturday morning, thanks to the City of Alexandria’s City Academy.
The City Academy is a free, nine-week program available to people interested in learning about the city of Alexandria. Held in venues all over town, the Academy offers insight into Alexandria’s long history, its vibrant present, and its plans for the future. Dan Lee, one of the city’s historians, told us about the enslaved Edmonson sisters, who tried to escape from Washington, DC on the schooner The Pearl. City Manager Mark Jinks outlined the nuts and bolts of running the city and Mayor Justin Wilson shared thoughts and answered questions. Emergency 911 operators showed us their “command central” location. Bryan Porter, our Commonwealth Attorney, and Melinda Douglas, our public defender, presented their cases with regard to our city’s judicial system. We were invited to tour the West End Wellness Center, located at the Alexandria Health Department. The Wellness Center is a beautiful, inspiring sanctuary that offers psychosocial rehabilitation for those with mental illness. We also heard about Alexandria’s dedication to the arts and education, through hearing from Rose Dawson, our library system’s executive director, and members of Alexandria’s Commission on the Arts.
We boarded DASH buses, toured government facilities, and watched one of the city’s drug-and-bomb detection canine teams demonstrate some amazing skills. In every instance, city representatives were knowledgeable, friendly, and impressively dedicated to the city and its residents.
The City Academy is one way in which the city is living out its commitment to an engaged citizenry. In 2014, the city adopted a resolution establishing “What’s Next Alexandria.” This policy laid out principles defining and encouraging civic engagement. The City Academy provides an invaluable opportunity for city residents to engage: to ask questions, make suggestions and get detailed answers from our civic leaders. Even better, it’s only one of a wide variety of the city’s academies: new to the city this year is the “Eco-City Academy,” a venue for those seeking to find out more about Alexandria’s commitment to the environment.
If you want to play a role in shaping Alexandria’s future, the City Academy is a wonderful place to start.