Newsletter

Morning Notes

Idylwood Shooting Was a Suicide — Fairfax County police confirmed community reports that they responded to a shooting in the 7600 block of Virginia Lane near the W&OD Trail over the weekend. A spokesperson told Tysons Reporter that an individual died by suicide in a backyard, explaining that the department generally doesn’t publicly report suicides. [FCPD]

Funding for New 911 Model Approved — A budget review approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (Jan. 25) included Covid relief funds for 26 positions to support the first phase of a permanent program where police work with behavioral health specialists when responding to 911 calls. The county began piloting the co-responder model last year. [Jeff McKay]

“City View” Tysons Site Sold to Developer — An affiliate of D.C. developer Four Points LLC bought the former Association for Manufacturing Technology building site at 7901 Westpark Drive for about $10 million in late December. AMT was poised to build a 10-story office tower on the lot east of Tysons Galleria, but the site’s future under Four Points, which generally works on primarily residential mixed-use projects, is unclear. [Washington Business Journal]

McLean Gift Shop to CloseThe Artisans will close in February after 32 years of selling handmade clothing, home decor, and other items, starting in 1990 at Marketplace of McLean before moving to its current location in the Langley Shopping Center. The owners plan to retire and are selling everything for 20% off. [Patch]

County Retains AAA Bond Rating — “On Wednesday, Jan. 19, Fairfax County completed a successful bond sale, generating $300 million to fund various project areas, after once again affirming its AAA bond rating with all three major rating agencies.” [Fairfax County Government]

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A therapy dog and his handler at Kilmer Middle School (via FCPS)

From state exams to college-prep tests, James Madison High School 11th-grader Aidan Jones knows how stressful it can be as a student.

With the pandemic adding to concerns about students’ mental health, Jones is working to turn therapy dog visits into a regular occurrence and possibly have one pet make its second home in Madison’s counseling office.

“My goal is to try to get a therapy dog as an extension to the counseling staff,” Jones said, noting that ideally, a teacher would take care of the dog and bring it to school during the day.

Jones developed the idea of a permanent therapy dog program while taking an interdisciplinary course last year, where one assignment had students come up with plans to improve people’s circumstances.

Students shared their ideas in “Shark Tank“-like online presentations, and 1970 Madison graduate Ted Dintersmith, a filmmaker and author who advocates for education reform, agreed to fund some projects, including Jones’s, according to Madison High School Principal Greg Hood.

In the cross-curricular program, Jones met and spoke with Melanie Meren, who represents the Hunter Mill District on the Fairfax County School Board. He says working with her allowed the idea to morph into an actual thing.

Meren said in a statement that she’d like to see therapy dogs serving in more schools.

“This is something close to my heart — as a dog owner, I’ve experienced the calm and reassurance that a trained dog can bring to humans with its unconditional love,” she told Tysons Reporter by email. “As a parent, I’ve seen how dogs trained for reading therapy support can encourage reluctant readers to read aloud to gain confidence in their abilities.”

Research has shown that even petting a dog can help relax people, one of numerous mental health benefits.

“Therapy dogs are nonjudgmental, and that really lowers the anxiety,” Jones said.

Therapy dogs aren’t entirely new to Fairfax County Public Schools. Several schools, including Madison and Aldrin Elementary School in Reston, have partnered with nonprofits to organize visits.

However, Jones says he would like Madison to have a dog as part of its counseling staff, or at least make the outreach more regular. He noticed that having a therapy dog at the school made a difference not just for students, but also for teachers.

Jones has been working with school leaders to move the project forward. He suggested that the school target particularly stressful periods for a group to bring in a trained dog to help students.

“I think this would be really beneficial to just help…the Fairfax County Public School system in general, starting with Madison High School,” he said.

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Morning Notes

COVID-19 Infections Contribute to Metrobus Driver Shortage — “More than 50 Metro bus routes are experiencing delays and increased wait times due to a driver shortage across the city. WMATA cites the spread of new COVID variants, such as delta and omicron, as one of the causes of the shortage, as employees take sick leave to recover.” [WUSA9]

County Urges Awareness of Unhoused People — As the winter solstice, last night (Tuesday) was the longest one of the year, prompting Fairfax County to acknowledge its 1,000-plus residents who experience homelessness every winter. The county advises community members to call its Department of Public Safety Communications at 703-691-2131 if they see someone in need of shelter, and the annual Hypothermia Prevention Program is now underway. [Fairfax County Government]

Nearby: Mary Riley Styles Library Goes Virtual — “Due to concerns about the recent increase in COVID-19 transmissions in the area, all in-person library programs and use of library conference rooms are suspended until mid-January 2022. Group study rooms may still be reserved, but are limited to groups of three or less.” [City of Falls Church]

Transit and Amenities Drive Fairfax County Office Demand — “New office buildings in transit-oriented mixed-use developments in Tysons and Reston have generated leasing and investor interest as office tenants court young workers. But as these projects soak up the pandemic-weakened demand for new leases, the older suburban-style office buildings have suffered.” [Bisnow]

Student Mental Health Support Staffing a Concern in FCPS — “Many Fairfax County Public Schools students were experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression even before the pandemic struck nearly two years ago and county officials are struggling to maintain adequate mental-health staffing to address those concerns.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

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A service dog wearing a U.S. flag vest (via Jeremy Bezanger/Unsplash)

Dogtopia will salute its first year in Falls Church by helping bring comfort to a veteran in need.

After opening its doors on Oct. 14, 2020 despite the challenges of starting a business during the COVID-19 pandemic, the dog daycare has now achieved its goal of raising $6,000 — enough money to help cover the cost of training a service dog for a military veteran.

Dogtopia of Falls Church (108 W Jefferson Street) will officially announce the news tomorrow (Thursday) to coincide with Veterans Day.

“We’re hoping that this announcement will be powerful enough to help us accelerate our intended support of a second dog funded in much less time,” said Jim Hannesschlager, who owns the franchise with his wife Allie.

The fundraising effort was part of the franchise’s work with the nonprofit Dogtopia Foundation, which helps close funding gaps for community partners that focus on three main causes: service dogs for veterans, youth literacy programs, and employment for adults with autism.

To support the first cause, the Dogtopia Foundation is currently partnered with K9s for Warriors, a Florida-based organization that trains and provides service dogs to veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, sexual assault, and other challenges.

K9s for Warriors covers the costs of its training programs, which can run up to $30,000 to $40,000, but as a nonprofit, it relies on donations for at least some of that funding, according to Hannesschlager. The Dogtopia Foundation assists in filling that gap.

Hannesschlager and his wife, who both have family members that have served in the military, started working to raise money for a service dog even before their Dogtopia franchise opened, as he told Tysons Reporter in August 2020.

They found an eager supporter in Idylwood-based Settle Down Easy Brewing, which offered to contribute a portion of its sales from the September leading up to Dogtopia of Falls Church’s debut.

For Settle Down Easy owner Frank Kuhns, helping veterans is a personal mission. His father served during the Vietnam War, and his brother Bryan worked as a bartender at the Veterans of Foreign Wars outpost in Brockway, Pennsylvania.

The brewery’s name is a tribute to Bryan, who died in 2015, just two days shy of his 36th birthday. It comes from a lyric in the Grateful Dead song “Ramble on Rose,” which Bryan played at the bar at the end of every night.

“When Jim approached me asking for support to help raise funds for a service dog, we were honored and so proud of our customers who purchased beer with $1 going to Dogtopia’s Fundraiser,” Kuhns said by email.

Settle Down Easy, which announced expansion plans over the weekend, donated a total of $1,000 at the grand opening of the Falls Church Dogtopia, which matched those funds.

Dogtopia contributed another $1,000 to match the money raised by its customers over the past year, and the Hannesschlagers decided to personally give the remaining $2,000.

The money will go to the Dogtopia Foundation, which will then pass it onto K9s for Warriors.

While the dog and the veteran with whom it will be placed haven’t been identified yet, Hannesschalger says he is excited to receive updates over the next few months. He hopes raising awareness of Dogtopia’s effort will boost its next fundraising campaign for a second service dog.

“[Dogs] can — and many times do — perform an incredible service to people, whether it’s just companionship in the house or it’s all the way up on the other end of the scale being a service dog,” Hannesschalger said. “So, the fact that we can marry that with those who have served and protected our country is extremely important to my wife and I.”

Photo via Jeremy Bezanger/Unsplash

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Rock Creek Park’s main tennis stadium during the Citi Open in August 2021 (Photo via USTA Mid-Atlantic Section, Inc.)

A junior tennis tournament series is coming to the nation’s capital this weekend, bearing the name of McLean tennis coach Matt Stevenson, who died at age 32 in 2017.

Launched in San Diego, California, in September, coinciding with National Suicide Awareness Month, the Matt Stevenson Junior Tennis Tournament Series takes place in D.C. this Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 2-3) at the Rock Creek Tennis Center, which hosted professional players for the Citi Open in August.

It’s the first and only junior tennis tournament event series to promote the importance of mental health for adolescents, according to the nonprofit U.S. Tennis Association’s Mid-Atlantic Section.

“The inspiration behind the MSJTT Series came from the late Matt Stevenson, a young tennis professional who lived and ran successful junior tennis programs in McLean and the DC region,” USTA Mid-Atlantic said. “Before tragically taking his own life in 2017 at the age of 32, he had written extensively about his own mental health issues and had asked that kids be made aware of the importance of staying mentally healthy and to seek help if they needed it.”

The tournament first started in 2019 in San Diego and expanded to D.C. and New York City last month as a collaboration between the nonprofit ProtoStar Foundation and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

It seeks to “address the national teen depression, anxiety, and suicide crisis by engaging adolescents through a sport they love and promoting dialogue and understanding of these issues,” according to the Sept. 8 press release.

Talking to Tysons Reporter, Judith Stevenson recalled how her son came up with tennis games to entertain kids and teach them the basics of the game.

One game, King of the Court, involved players trying to get the ball past the instructor. When they scored a point against him, they would run around and get on top of him while he did push-ups.

“The fun that they were having was great,” she said. “He loved teaching the sport.”

Stevenson attended high school in Alexandria and college at Marymount University, coached young players and adults at McLean Racquet and Health Club, and served as the tennis director at Langley Club. He chose coaching as his profession.

Matthew Stevenson’s struggles with depression started in his early teens, with bouts of depression beginning in high school, his mother said.

Judith noted that it can be difficult for parents and coaches to figure out how to support a player who is experiencing challenges without becoming intrusive. However, she said it’s important to be willing to listen and to show respect by supporting a young person when they take charge of their own treatment.

She hopes events like the junior tennis tournament can help make talking about mental challenges akin to physical problems, such as sports injuries.

ProtoStar president and founder Gary Poon remarked that Stevenson built tennis programs from the ground up and was well loved in the community.

USTA Mid-Atlantic shared more details on the event, saying:

Mental health awareness among adolescents is crucial today as the youth mental health crisis continues to grow in the U.S., exacerbated most recently by the pandemic. The USTA Mid-Atlantic Section is emphasizing the important of mental health wellness among youth tennis players and has deemed Oct. 2-3 a mental health weekend featuring this and only one other sanctioned tournament that players may participate in the region, or they can choose to have a quiet weekend to rest, reset and focus on mental health. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and National Institute of Mental Health will have practical information available for parents and players in the tournament.

Matt Stevenson also wrote nearly 2,000 articles for the Mad in America (MIA) Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to rethink and change how the psychiatric community uses medications, particularly over the long term.

Judith Stevenson said her son expressed concerns about the names of mental health disorders as well as the stigma attached to them, taking issue with language describing different conditions that he saw as pejorative.

Following Stevenson’s death by suicide in 2017, the MIA Foundation posted a tribute to his work interviewing experts and writing about mental health issues online, highlighting his efforts to read scientific literature on borderline personality disorder and books criticizing the validity of psychiatric disorders.

“The theme he sounded most often was about the spurious nature of psychiatric diagnoses and the harm such labels could cause,” the organization said.

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Morning Notes

Vienna Restaurant Requires Vaccinations to Eat Indoors — The Latin American restaurant Blend 111 announced on Friday (July 30) that, effective immediately, indoor dining will be limited to people who are fully vaccinated with unvaccinated people still free to eat outside. Patrons are asked to confirm their vaccination status when reserving an indoor table, but at some point, proof may be required. [Blend 111]

Police Arrest Spa Worker for Sexual Battery — “On July 29, 2021, officers with the Vienna Police Department executed a search warrant at the Green Spa located at 111 Church St. NW. Concurrent with the search warrant, officers arrested Hongsub Song, a/k/a ‘Greg’ for the sexual battery of a female client and for performing unlicensed massage. Mr. Song was held at the Fairfax County adult detention center without bond.” [Vienna Police]

Kennedy Daughter Wins Court Case over McLean Urn — “The daughter of Robert F. Kennedy has won a federal legal battle to claim a six-foot-high urn planter from the front yard of ‘Hickory Hill,’ the family’s former home in McLean, Va., after a judge ruled that an agreement made in 2010 by the estate’s new owner to relinquish it was binding, even though he made it under the mistaken belief that the urn was a family heirloom.” [The Washington Post]

Inova Proposes Adding Behavioral Health Capacity — “Inova Health System filed a letter of intent with the Commonwealth of Virginia last week to build 20 additional inpatient behavioral health beds at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital…If approved, the completed project will increase behavioral health capacity at IMVH to 50 beds, a 67 percent increase over the current capacity.” [Inside NoVA]

Vienna Firefighters Participate in Cancer Study — “Several VVFD firefighters, along with other volunteer firefighters from @ffxfirerescue, are taking part in the National Firefighter Cancer Cohort Study and had their first blood draw this morning…Our participation will play a small part to determine risk factors & develop cancer prevention & risk reduction strategies.” [Vienna Volunteer Fire Department/Twitter]

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People using 911 in Fairfax County can now provide medical details and other information to help first responders know more about a situation before they arrive.

The county rolled out the change on July 1, allowing people to sign up ahead of time with information about a resident who has a special need or needs ranging from anything from Alzheimer’s to autism.

“It could make the difference between someone being saved and not saved,” 911 systems administrator Steve McMurrer told Tysons Reporter.

A person with an iPhone or Android phone can sign up for the free service by clicking on the Emergency Health Profile section on the county’s Department of Public Safety Communications web page. It will direct them to emergencyprofile.org, and that information is also shared with other 911 centers, McMurrer said.

In a person’s emergency profile under a section for additional medical notes or relevant information, people can list if they’re wheelchair-bound, blind, or have any other condition that first responders might need to be aware of.

A person’s emergency contact information, allergies, address, and other details can also be listed for a caller.

“Any first responder prefers to have more information,” McMurrer said.

The county’s new system relies on RapidSOS, which has been servicing the county with improved location for mobile 911 calls. It doesn’t charge emergency providers but instead device and app makers, according to a TechCrunch article.

Tony Bash, who represents Springfield District on the Fairfax Area Commission on Aging, noted it could help a person who is having a heart attack or is deaf, blind, or in a wheelchair. He also said a child with a disability might confront a police officer when they hear a siren, so the information can be vital to help first responders understand and address a situation.

Without the additional information, emergency responses can lead to injuries and deaths of people in need of help.

State officials noted that a lack of training and awareness can escalate situations for people with disabilities. State agencies for criminal justice, disabilities, and behavioral health partnered with Niagara University in 2017 to introduce additional law enforcement training.

“This is quite possibly the biggest revolutionary change in technology that we’ve witnessed in 50 years,” Eddie Reyes, director at the Prince William County Department of Public Safety Communications, said in a promotional video for RapidSOS.

Fairfax County officials have introduced elements of the service previously, but they were scattered across a variety of places:

  • The Yellow Dot Program involves putting information on a card that people can take with them in their vehicles to show special medical needs.
  • The File of Life, which can be placed on refrigerators, shares similar information.
  • A functional needs registry with the Office of Emergency Management’s Fairfax Alerts has a database with information like if a person needs oxygen or an elevator, but the information can be outdated and was unavailable to the 911 center.

“It’s much, much better than what we have now,” Bash said of the new 911 capabilities. He described previous information on file for emergency responders as 20th-century solutions.

The county had previously looked at using Smart911, but its estimated cost in 2015 was $125,000 per year and $300,000 annually in 2019.

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A Vienna-based nonprofit dedicated to supporting young wrestlers is encouraging residents to take a self-guided walking tour of the town this week for Mental Health Action Day.

The Eric Monday Foundation announced yesterday (Tuesday) that it has partnered with the Falls Church marketing agency Focused Image and the construction technology company RPG Squarefoot Solutions to create a walking map of the Town of Vienna for a “Take It to the Streets Walking Challenge.”

Starting Friday (May 21), community members will be able to pick up the poster-sized maps from Vienna Inn (120 Maple Ave. E), Greenheart Juice Shop (208 Dominion Rd NE), and Social Burger (350 Maple Ave. W).

“Walking can do wonders for your mental health. It improves your self-perception, sleep and helps to reduce stress and anxiety,” the foundation said in a press release. “We challenge you to get out with your family and friends and on each walk highlight the streets on the map until you have walked every street in this town!”

The challenge is part of the Eric Monday Foundation’s plans to participate in the first-ever Mental Health Action Day, which will be tomorrow (Thursday).

Boasting more than 500 nonprofits, companies, government agencies, and other organizations as partners, Mental Health Action Day is a nationwide campaign organized by MTV Entertainment Group as part of its new “Mental Health Is Health” initiative, which launched in April to promote the destigmatization of mental health conditions.

Spurred by reports of more people experiencing psychological challenges like anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mental Health Action Day encourages people to take action to address mental health issues, whether by seeking counseling or other services for themselves or by advocating for systemic changes to make it easier for people get access to mental health resources.

In a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released in August, 40.9% of respondents said they had symptoms of at least one mental or behavioral health condition, including anxiety or depressive disorders, increased substance use, and trauma or stress related to the pandemic.

10.7% of respondents reported seriously considering suicide within the 30 days prior to completing the survey, with rates especially high among young adults, Hispanic and Black individuals, caregivers, and essential workers.

“Though more people than ever are comfortable discussing mental health, finding effective resources, and knowing how to get help remains a challenge,” the Eric Monday Foundation said.

In addition to organizing the “Take It to the Streets” Walking Challenge, the foundation is participating in Mental Health Action Day by urging people to sign its Take Down the Stigma pledge, a commitment to talk openly about mental health, get educated, and show compassion by listening to people’s stories and paying attention to the language people use.

The foundation also marked Mental Health Awareness Month by hosting a parent education seminar and raising a Take Down the Stigma banner over Maple Avenue that includes the PRS CrisisLink hotline (800-273-TALK) and textline numbers (“CONNECT” to 855-11).

“We are honored to have our Town and its businesses participating in Mental Health Action Day by highlighting and bringing awareness to #takedownthestigma,” Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert said. “The Town of Vienna is a welcoming place for all people and the Take to the Streets Challenge encourages us to come together, get some exercise with friends and family and support the mission of the Eric Monday Foundation.”

Vienna Inn owner Marty Volk says he was glad his business could do its part to support the foundation, which is named after a former James Madison High School wrestler who died in 2009 at 21.

“We are all about supporting the community and happy to be able to play a role in the important efforts of the Eric Monday Foundation and their mental health mission,” Volk said.

Photo courtesy Eric Monday Foundation

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Updated at 4:05 p.m. — The situation involving a man experiencing mental health issues at Avenir Place this afternoon has now been resolved.

“Officers were able to peacefully resolve this situation and the man was safely taken into custody,” Fairfax County police told Tysons Reporter. “He will receive the appropriate resources.”

The police department added that all officers at the scene “should be clearing out shortly if they have not already done so.”

Earlier: Fairfax County police officers are currently gathered near the Dunn Loring Metro station in response to calls about a man reportedly experiencing a mental health crisis, the department confirmed.

Tysons Reporter received a tip that there was a “huge police presence” outside Harris Teeter around 1 p.m., including at least 15 to 20 marked and unmarked police vehicles. The tipster said that both entries to the grocery store on Avenir Place and Prosperity Avenue had been blocked off.

The Fairfax County Police Department says that officers responded to the 2600 block of Avenir Place after receiving reports of “a man who is experiencing a mental health crisis.”

“Officers are working to peacefully deescalate the situation and provide necessary resources to the man,” the FCPD said. “Preliminarily, the man is believed to be alone in the apartment.”

The department did not respond by press time when asked whether the streets in the area have been opened, but it says that the incident “has not been classified as a barricade” at this time.

“We will provide an additional update as the situation evolves,” the FCPD said.

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The Women’s Center is taking its annual leadership conference online for the second year in a row.

The Vienna-based nonprofit (133 Park St. NE), which provides mental health services and education, announced yesterday (Thursday) that its 35th annual Leadership Conference will be held virtually from 1-5 p.m. on Apr. 9.

In the past, the conference took place at the Hilton McLean hotel in Tysons, drawing over 700 attendees, but last year’s event had to be rescheduled and reorganized for an online setting after the COVID-19 pandemic put large, in-person gatherings on hold, according to a press release.

The 2021 conference has been titled “Learn, Pivot, Grow” and will focus on the mental health challenges that many people are experiencing in their professional and personal lives during the pandemic.

“This isn’t just an economic crisis. It’s a mental health crisis, too,” The Women’s Center CEO and Executive Director Rachna Singal Krishnan said. “That’s why we felt the theme ‘Learn, Pivot, Grow’ was so timely. It gives us an opportunity to explore the issues of the times and forge our best path forward.”

Krishnan notes that the pandemic has been particularly disruptive for women, who tend to work in the industries hit hardest by the public health crisis and have been more likely to take time off work or leave their jobs altogether to shoulder childcare responsibilities.

Founded in 1974, The Women’s Center aims to provide accessible and affordable mental health care through offices in Vienna and D.C. On top of offering counseling services that are funded in part by Fairfax County, the nonprofit runs a training program for mental health professionals.

In addition to speakers and panels, the leadership conference will feature an auction and luxury vendors that will donate a portion of their proceeds to the center.

An initial lineup of speakers can be found on the conference website. Tickets will be available for sale starting on Mar. 9.

Photo via Google Maps

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