December 2020

  1. Charles Ruffin Sykes

    Graveside Services

    Monday, January 4, 2021 at 11:00 A.M.

    Hollywood Cemetery
    Middlesex, NC

    Charles Ruffin Sykes, 92, passed away on December 7, 2020. He was the husband of Betty Brantley Sykes. He was the son of the late Garland Reid Sykes and Annie Lou Marshbourne Sykes. He was preceded in death by his parents, brothers, J.G. Sykes, Alvin Johnson Sykes, sisters, Alice Edwards, Julie Sykes Upchurch, Pauline Sykes. He is survived by his daughters, Debra Day (Jimmy) of Emporia, VA., Gail Kansler (Mike) of Raleigh, NC., brother, Everett Sykes (Sallie Ann) of Reidsville, NC., along with two grandchildren, Jamie Poythress (Jason) of Emporia, VA., Alexandra Kansler of Raleigh, NC. Charles was a longtime member of Calvary Baptist Church. He worked for many years in HVAC and Plumbing Supplies business but his true love was farming, gardening, and sharing his produce with his neighbors. He was a man of integrity, character, and strong work ethics.

    Charles and Betty were married for 67 years and are now together in their heavenly home.

    A graveside service will be held on Monday, January 4, 2021, for Charles and Betty Sykes, at Hollywood Cemetery, Middlesex, NC., at 11:00 A.M.

    Memorial Donations may be made to Calvary Baptist Church, 310 North Main Street, Emporia, VA., 23847.

    Online Condolences may be made at www.echolsfuneralhome.com

  2. Betty Brantley Sykes

    Graveside Services

    Monday, January 4, 2021 at 11:00 A.M.

    Hollywood Cemetery
    Middlesex, NC

    Betty Brantley Sykes, 87, passed away on December 12, 2020. She was the daughter of the late Bernice Marvin Brantley and Lona Murray Brantley. She was preceded in death by her parents, husband, Charles Ruffin Sykes, sisters, Dorothy Brantley Kemp, Geraldine Brantley, brothers, John Brantley, Pete Brantley. She is survived by her daughters, Debra Day (Jimmy) of Emporia, VA., Gail Kansler (Mike) of Raleigh, NC., sister-in-law, Bertie Mae Brantley of Middlesex, NC., two grandchildren, Jamie Poythress (Jason) of Emporia, VA., Alexandra Kansler of Raleigh, NC. Betty was a longtime Member at Calvary Baptist Church. She had a long and distinguished career in Banking and her most cherished role in life was being a loving wife, mother, and grandmother.

    Betty and Charles were married for 67 years and are now together in their heavenly home.

    A graveside service will be held on Monday, January 4, 2021, for Betty and Charles Sykes, at Hollywood Cemetery, Middlesex, NC., at 11:00 A.M.

    Memorial Donations may be made to Calvary Baptist Church, 310 North Main Street, Emporia, VA., 23847.

    Online Condolences may be made at www.echolsfuneralhome.com

  3. Santa’s Elves Come to Jackson-Feild

    On December 17th, Christmas carols radiated from the activities center at Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services as it turned into Santa’s workshop for the day. Members of the Chapter CD P.E.O. Sisterhood of Littleton, NC and the Lake Gaston Flying Aqua Babes spent the day wrapping Christmas presents for the JFBHS residents.

    The funds to purchase the presents were provided by caring donors and the gifts will be given to the children Christmas morning. Members of the Flying Aqua Babes also purchased hoodies for all the children and presented VP of Advancement also with a contribution for the gifts.

    The annual wrapping “party” has been an annual tradition for the past twenty years. The ladies maintained social distancing and wore their masks. The activities center had been disinfected prior to their arrival. By the end of the day over 250 presents were lovingly wrapped by these special elves.

    The event always spreads Christmas cheer and brings home the spirit of the season of giving.

  4. VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital Thanks Local Businesses for Employee Donations

    (South Hill, VA) – Local businesses donated items and gift certificates to VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital employees as a thank you for everything they’ve done for the community during the pandemic. Team members were randomly drawn to win the items, spreading holiday cheer.

    A big thanks to the following businesses for their generous donations: The Bobbin’ Cork, Bringleton’s Coffee House, Busy Bee Southern Deli, Copper Kettle Restaurant, The Donut Shop, El Saucito, Freedom Life Fitness, Grandfather’s Country Creations, Kelly Wells Photography, Knot Therapy, The Lamplighter, Los Bandidos, Los Cocos, Lundy Layne, Off the Chain Food Truck, Sass & Sawdust, Southernly Sweet Teas and Tabitha Gaulding Photography.

    Shawntay Alexander received maple bacon dip and a Swedish dishcloth from Lundy Layne.

    Allison Beagle received a gift card and travel mug from Bringleton’s Coffee House.

    Eunice Kim received a gift bag from Lundy Layne.

  5. USDA to Open Signup for the Conservation Reserve Program and CRP Grasslands in Early 2021

    WASHINGTON, Nov. 12, 2020– The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced the signup periods for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the CRP Grasslands in 2021. Signup for general CRP will be open from Jan. 4, 2021, to Feb. 12, 2021, and signup for CRP Grasslands runs from March 15, 2021 to April 23, 2021. Both programs are competitive and provide annual rental payments for land devoted to conservation purposes.

    “The Conservation Reserve Program and the many focused programs that come under it, like CRP Grasslands, are some of our most critical tools we have to help producers better manage their operations while conserving natural resources,” said Richard Fordyce, Administrator of USDA’s Farm Service Agency. “As one of our nation’s largest conservation endeavors, CRP has proved to protect our valuable resources, and next year’s signup gives our farmers and ranchers an opportunity to enroll for the first time or continue their participation for another term.”

    Enrollment Options

    CRP―General Signup

    Through CRP, farmers and ranchers establish long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees, to control soil erosion, improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat on cropland. Farmers and ranchers who participate in CRP help provide numerous benefits to the nation’s environment and economy. CRP general signup is held annually. The competitive general signup includes increased opportunities for enrollment of wildlife habitat through the State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE)initiative.

    Grasslands Signup

    CRP Grasslandshelps landowners and operators protect grassland, including rangeland, and pastureland and certain other lands while maintaining the areas as grazing lands. Protecting grasslands contributes positively to the economy of many regions, provides biodiversity of plant and animal populations and improves environmental quality. A separate CRP Grasslands signup is offered each year following general signup.

    Signed into law in 1985, CRP is one of the largest private-lands conservation programs in the United States. It was originally intended to primarily control soil erosion and potentially stabilize commodity prices by taking marginal lands out of production. The program has evolved over the years, providing many conservation and economic benefits. The program marks its 35-year anniversary this December. Program successes include:

    • Preventing more than 9 billion tons of soil from eroding, which is enough soil to fill 600 million dump trucks;
    • Reducing nitrogen and phosphorous runoff relative to annually tilled cropland by 95 and 85 percent, respectively;
    • Sequestering an annual average of 49 million tons of greenhouse gases, equal to taking 9 million cars off the road;
    • Creating more than 3 million acres of restored wetlands while protecting more than 175,000 stream miles with riparian forest and grass buffers, which is enough to go around the world seven times; and
    • Benefiting bees and other pollinators and increasing populations of ducks, pheasants, turkey, bobwhite quail, prairie chickens, grasshopper sparrows, and many other birds.

    The successes of CRP contribute to USDA’s Agriculture Innovation Agendaand its goal of reducing the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture by half by 2050. Earlier this year, Secretary Perdue announced the department-wide initiative to align resources, programs, and research to position American agriculture to better meet future global demands.

    For more information on CRP, visit fsa.usda.gov or contact your local FSA county office. 

    USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.

  6. DON’T RACE THROUGH THE HOLIDAY SEASON

    Celebrate Responsibly to Ring in the New Year  

    RICHMOND – Everyone wants to say goodbye to 2020, but racing to get there may increase your chances of not reaching the finish line. Throughout 2020, Virginia has seen a spike in fatal speed-related crashes according to data from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles Highway Safety Office. Year-to-date there have been more speed-related traffic deaths than in all of 2019. This year has been one of challenges and this holiday season will be like none in recent memory, but speeding, driving under the influence and not buckling up is no way to finish out 2020.

    “Not only have speed-related traffic deaths increased this year, so have alcohol-related traffic deaths. Virginia is on pace to have more total fatal traffic crashes in 2020 than in 2019,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Superintendent of Virginia State Police. “And all of this while overall traffic crashes in Virginia this year are down significantly. This means each crash has been deadlier – deadlier because of speed, alcohol, distractions and individuals not wearing seatbelts.”

    Virginia State Police is urging every motorist on the road this holiday season to be responsible, obey the traffic laws, ditch distractions and wear a seatbelt. Whether heading to the grocery store, the post office or delivering gifts to family and friends, choose to do it safely and do it responsibly.

    Every year during the holidays, there is an increase in drunk-driving related fatalities and crashes across the nation. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in December 2018, there were 839 lives lost in drunk-driving crashes nationwide. Of the 839 deaths, 285 occurred during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday period.

    “Remember, drinking and driving is never an option,” says Settle.

    Drivers and passengers have many alternatives to arrive home safely. If you plan to attend a party or celebrate with a small group of friends during the holidays, please remember:

    • Plan ahead. Designate a sober driver or call a friend, call family, call a cab or use public transportation.
    • If you know someone has been drinking. Do not let them drive. Arrange another safe way home.
    • If you believe you see an impaired driver on the road, call police. Remain alert and don’t hesitate to dial #77 to notify your nearest Virginia State Police Emergency Communications Center. Your actions could save someone’s life.

    In addition to complying with traffic laws, drivers are reminded that effective January 1, 2021, it will be illegal to hold a handheld personal communications device while driving a moving motor vehicle on Virginia highways.

    Get into the habit of putting down your cell phone now, before the state-wide law goes into effect. For more information on the new law, visit phonedown.org.

  7. “Bringing Joy to Others”

    Some say it’s the Christmas Spirit
    A fact we do not know
    Yet love in the hearts of everyone
    At this time begins to show.
     
    Groups and individuals in our city
    Are devoting much time to try
    Bringing joy and happiness to others
    Less fortunate than you and I.
     
    Now their needs will often vary
    And so the supply of goods must too
    No one, no where will criticize
    Some heart felt gift from you.
     
    Our Citizens are coming together
    Showing the greatest of respect
    Supplying food, drink and shelter
    Which are equal in effect.
     
    Yes it is the time of giving
    Which all can be a part
    Why not join the many others
    With a gift true from the heart.
     
                             - Roy E. Schepp
  8. Central Virginia food bank provides hunger relief during pandemic

    By David Tran, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND, Va. – When COVID-19 was declared a national emergency at the beginning of March, Feed More, a hunger-relief organization serving Central Virginians, was serving roughly 161,000 food-insecure individuals. 

    Fast forward to early June, Feed More was assisting more than 241,000 food-insecure individuals, according to Doug Pick, CEO and president of Feed More. 

    “It (the pandemic) increased the number of folks that weren’t sure where their next meal was coming from by about 50%,” Pick said.

    That 50% increase, he said, was largely from those who were newly unemployed as a result of the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity throughout Virginia and across the country. With 2020 coming to a close, food insecurity is lingering in many Virginia households as hunger-relief organizations and local officials scramble to curb one of the pandemics’ consequences.

    Food insecurity is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as limited or uncertain availability or accessibility to nutritionally adequate food. Nearly 10% of all Virginians -- or almost 843,000 people -- are struggling with hunger, according to Feeding America, a nationwide hunger-relief organization.

    An additional 447,000 Virginians will experience food insecurity because of the coronavirus pandemic, Feeding America estimates. Across the country, millions of Americans have lined up in their cars or by foot for miles at food banks awaiting their next meal.

    Nationwide, food banks also have to grapple with the dilemma of increased demand while maintaining their agencies network. In 2019, Feed More distributed about 32 million pounds of food, Pick said. This year, he estimates the organization will distribute between 40 to 44 million pounds of food. The nonprofit distributes food with the help of agencies, including churches, emergency shelters, rehab centers, soup kitchens and other organizations. 

    “We worried about that network collapsing because most of those agencies are run by volunteers, and a lot of them are seniors,” Pick said. At one point this year, Feed More lost 13% of its 270 agencies.

    Feed More did not witness the phenomenon of long lines other regions experienced and was able to meet the community’s food crisis, Pick said. 

    “We put out some guiding principles early on that said: stick with our infrastructure, never abandon the infrastructure you built unless you have to,” Pick said. “So, we didn't panic.”

    Those guiding principles upheld Feed More’s mission while adhering to COVID-19 safety precautions. 

    Feed More’s Meals on Wheels program usually serves meals daily, but it is now delivering these meals frozen, once a week. The organization’s community kitchen that preps approximately 20,000 meals a week now is divided into two kitchen spaces – a prepping kitchen and a cooking kitchen – in two separate buildings, according to Pick.

    Recent research found that the number of families who experienced food insecurity increased by 20% in the United States as a result of the pandemic. The study was co-authored by Elizabeth Adams, a postdoctoral fellow at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Center. 

    “We all know (the pandemic) had so many profound effects across so many aspects of people’s lives and has gone on for a long time,” Adams said.

    The study methodology surveyed households across the country in late April and May with different food security levels – high food security, low food security and very low food security – about food consumption during the pandemic.

    The survey saw a 73% increase in home cooking across all food security levels. The amount of in-home food availability increased 56% for food-secure families but decreased 53% for low food-secure families.

    “For very low food-security families, we saw an increase in pressure to eat,” Adams said, “which means that parents are pressuring their children to eat more.”

    Adams said she hopes the government takes notice of the data on how widespread food insecurity is across the country, which she said disproportionately affects low-income Black and Hispanic families. 

    While bringing awareness to the importance of government assistance programs and other food assistance initiatives, Adams called for these programs to “really up the benefit that they are providing at this time, because we see that a lot more people likely need them.”

    Programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, saw an increase in enrollment during the initial months of the pandemic’s spread in the United States, reported the New York Times. According to data collected by the New York Times, SNAP grew 17% from February to May, three times faster than any prior three-month period.

    In March, 687,984 Virginians were enrolled on food stamps. That number jumped to 746,608 the following month, an 8.5% increase, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    Since March, eligible Virginians have been granted SNAP emergency benefits during the pandemic, according to The Virginia Department of Social Services. The agency recently expanded these benefits through December, with more than 245,000 households eligible for emergency benefits.

    The state recently launched the Virginia Roadmap to End Hunger initiative that seeks to end hunger by developing policies, programs and partnerships.

    Feed More and its partners had a stable food supply and community support because of government assistance, Pick said. Such assistance includes the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program. Food banks, such as Feed More, and other nonprofits were able to give out family-sized boxes of produce and meat products that the department purchased from farmers and distributors affected by the closure of restaurants and other food-service businesses.

    Northam also announced in November $7 million in Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act funding. The funding will be allocated to the Federation of Virginia Food Banks, which Feed More is a member.

    “The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the already serious problem of food insecurity in Virginia and across the country,” Northam stated in a press release. “This funding will help Virginia food banks and other food assistance programs meet the increased demand for their services and ensure every Virginian has continued access to nutritious food during these challenging times.”

    Feed More will use its allocated $1 million to provide refrigeration, freezer, racking and vehicles to its partner agencies.

    However, Pick said he is concerned for the following year as the pandemic continues. He said there needs to be long-term government policies to address food insecurities beyond food banks’ control. 

    “The food banks have always been here for emergency purposes. When people get to a tight bind,” he said. 

    For now, Pick said Feed More will continue its best to provide food assistance to Central Virginians.

    “The need is out there,” Pick said. “The jobs are not coming back overnight, and this (food insecurity) is just going to continue on.”

  9. Governor Northam Announces 2020 Governor’s Honor Awards Recipients

    Thirty-nine state employees recognized during virtual broadcast

    RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam and First Lady Pamela Northam today announced the recipients of the 2020 Governor’s Honor Awards during a virtual broadcast. The annual award program has 11 categories and recognizes state employees who have demonstrated exemplary service and commitment to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

    “This has been a challenging year for everyone, but our state employees continue to reach beyond themselves to improve the lives of their fellow Virginians every day,” said Governor Northam. “Ensuring state government delivers high-quality services, and does so efficiently, largely depends on the hardworking, competent, and professional workforce that diligently responds to the needs of the people they serve. I am pleased to recognize these outstanding individuals for demonstrating just how important and purpose-driven public service really is, and for making a difference in communities across our Commonwealth.”

    “I am so proud of our state employees and their tremendous accomplishments,” said Secretary of Administration Keyanna Conner. “These awards showcase the spirit of our employees, whether they are working as champions for change, providing innovative services, helping reduce the cost of government, or showing their commitment to our shared values of diversity, inclusion, and outreach to the communities we serve.”

    A full list of award winners is available here.

  10. Governor Northam Welcomes First Shipments of COVID-19 Vaccine to Virginia

    Frontline health care workers to begin receiving vaccine in coming days

    RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today welcomed one of the first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to a Bon Secours hospital in Richmond, Virginia. This initial allotment of 72,150 doses is arriving today and tomorrow at health systems across the Commonwealth and will be administered to frontline health care workers as early as tomorrow.

    “These initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are a much-needed symbol of hope for our Commonwealth and our country,” said Governor Northam. “With this remarkable medical achievement, we are beginning to see the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Yet even in this moment of celebration, we must remember that this is the first step in a months-long process to receive, distribute, and administer the vaccine as it becomes available. I ask everyone to stay vigilant, take care of each other, and continue following the public health guidelines as we work to vaccinate Virginians in a safe, efficient, equitable manner.”

    Initial shipments are being delivered to health systems across the Commonwealth this week, as expected, with vaccinations for health care workers beginning tomorrow. Health care workers that directly care for COVID-19 patients will receive top priority among providers in Virginia.

    Virginia health systems expect to receive an estimated 480,000 doses of vaccine from two manufacturers, Pfizer and Moderna, by the end of December. This initial allocation will begin the inoculation process for nearly all health care personnel and long-term care facility residents. The Virginia Department of Health estimates that there are up to 500,000 individuals in these two top priority groups in the Commonwealth.

    Governor Northam was joined by Kelly Sweet, PharmD, MSHA, Director of Pharmacy for the Bon Secours Health System today. Photos from the Governor’s visit are below and unedited b-roll footage is available here.

  11. VCU Health Employee is the Mastermind behind the Elliott Family Holiday Extravaganza

    (South Hill, VA) – The Elliott Family is well known in South Hill for their annual holiday light display on Callis Road. Word of mouth travels fast and people line up 20 minutes early on a weeknight to get a good spot to watch the light show. No need to drive to Richmond to battle traffic for their Tacky Light Tour. This house blows them all out of the water.

    New for 2020 is an additional 26,000 pixel lights for a total of more than 36,000. Zeb Elliott uses RGB pixel technology that choreographs lights to music from a radio station he hosts from his home. Signs on the property remind viewers to tune to 99.7FM on their automobile radio. Special effects include a “moving” spotlight that instinctually makes you turn around to see where it came from. Familiar characters like Olaf and Minions entertain between sets.

    It all started five years ago when Zeb’s wife asked him to install some icicle lights on the house. Appropriately, Zeb’s day job is the Director of Technical Services for VCU Health in Richmond. Zeb likes to exceed expectations and bring joy to his family. He has three girls, ages 3, 5 and 7. What started small has become a huge undertaking he begins in late August and completes by mid-November. “I want to leave a legacy my kids can be proud of,” he explains.

    Photos don’t do it justice. To see the light show for yourself, visit 1899 Callis Road in South Hill from 6:00-10:30 p.m. until January 3, 2021. Head west on Route 47 like you’re going to Chase City and turn right on Callis Road, about three minutes past the Food Lion. Take Callis all the way to the end of the road. There is an overflow parking lot past the End State Maintenance sign on the right that parallels the driveway to expand capacity up to 40 cars. The show goes on rain or shine, but check the Facebook page if it is windy because the pixel trees have to be lowered to avoid damage: facebook.com/elliottfamilyholidayextravaganza. Each night has a theme: Friday is Kids Night (including five songs from “Frozen” and “Frozen 2”) Saturday is Old and New Christmas Hits, Sunday is The Reason for the Season and Monday-Thursday runs a mix 3-hour loop. Enjoy the show!

     

     

  12. ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING DEFENDING RURAL BROADBAND ACCESS IN COURT

    ~ Attorney General Herring has intervened to defend Virginia’s new broadband policies in court; Internet access has become even more critical as much of Virginians’ daily lives have moved online ~

     

    RICHMOND (December 10, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has intervened in the lawsuit Grano v. Rappahannock Electric Cooperative to defend Virginia’s new policies that make it easier to expand broadband in rural areas of the Commonwealth. Internet access has become even more critical for basic needs over the past months while millions of Virginians have been working, learning, socializing and seeking healthcare from home, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced so many Virginians to move school, work, healthcare, and almost every other part of daily life online,” said Attorney General Herring. “Transitioning to an almost exclusively online lifestyle has really highlighted just how critical rural broadband access is. This is why I’m fighting to defend this important policy in court, because we need to make rural broadband access a top priority throughout the Commonwealth.”

    This year, the General Assembly passed legislation that authorized utility companies in Virginia to expand broadband networks, especially in rural areas of the Commonwealth, by using existing “easements for the location and use of electric and communications facilities.” Allowing these utility companies to expand their broadband networks makes it that much easier for them to bring critical broadband access to portions of Virginia that have previously not had that access.

    Ensuring that individuals who live in more rural areas have access to quality, affordable broadband has been important to Attorney General Herring, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how desperately it’s needed. In May, Attorney General Herring joined a bipartisan coalition of 39 state attorneys general in urging Congress to help make sure that all Americans have the home internet connectivity necessary to participate in telemedicine, teleschooling, and telework as part of any legislation that provides relief and recovery resources related to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

  13. Alternate: Advocates, inmates want more from DOC as COVID-19 spikes

     

    By Joseph Whitney Smith and Sam Fowler, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND, Va -- Prisons are divided into “zones.” Inmates have been given personal protective equipment. Visitation is canceled. Testing has ramped up. Still, the positive COVID-19 cases continue to climb within Virginia prisons.

    The Virginia Department of Corrections reported on Dec. 10 that there are 593 active cases among inmates and 227 among staff, which includes employees and contractors. There have been over 5,200 positive COVID-19 cases and 35 deaths reported among inmates since late March. More than 1,250 staff cases have been confirmed since the spring.

    The recent spike in cases came after a dip in October and November, which followed a flurry of positive cases in September. Outside of prisons, COVID-19 is rippling through the state with a new high daily record reported this week. 

    Advocates question the safety of inmates and why the virus has spread so quickly in prisons that are removed from day-to-day activities that contribute to spread. 

    Eden Heilman, the legal director of the Virginia American Civil Liberties Union, said that Coffeewood Correctional Center in Culpeper County has received multiple complaints from inmates regarding the facility’s handling of the virus. Almost 600 inmates at Coffeewood have tested positive for COVID-19—the prison ranks third in the state with the most cases. 

    “I know the department is working really hard and the state is working really hard to address these issues,” Heilman said. “That being said, I think that there are a lot of problems with the way that the Department of Corrections and the state have handled the spread of COVID-19.”

    Keith Hill, an inmate at Buckingham Correctional Center located outside of Dillwyn, informed the Coalition for Justice that there have been issues with proper isolation within cells and that individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 have not been properly isolated from inmates who haven’t contracted the virus. The Coalition for Justice is a Virginia-based nonprofit that seeks to drive positive social change. 

    However, VADOC said prisoners with COVID-19 are separated from others. Offenders who test positive are placed in medical isolation so they don't infect others and treatment follows the department's COVID-19 medical guidelines, according to Lisa Kinney, VADOC spokesperson. 

    Prisons are divided into three “zones” to help mitigate the spread of the virus, according to VADOC spokesperson Greg Carter. The red zones are COVID-19 areas, yellow zones are quarantined areas or busy areas with undifferentiated patients, and green zones are low traffic areas and places with no known COVID-19 cases and no symptomatic offenders. 

    Christopher Wright, an inmate of over five years at Coffeewood, contacted a Capital News Service reporter by phone. He said the facility was doing a good job until they took in transfer prisoners from Buckingham Correctional at the end of September. Wright said he tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 4.

    Wright said that in order to create more social distancing at Buckingham, inmates were sent to Coffeewood. There are three active COVID-19 cases currently at Coffeewood. The facility has reported a combined 590 positive cases among inmates. Buckingham currently has 118 positive cases on site and reported a total of 345 positive cases. Both facilities rank within the top five for most combined cases among inmates.

    VADOC suspended facility-to-facility transfers in March. Carter said that transfers remain suspended except “under special circumstance,” warranted by medical or security issues. He did not have information on which transfers have been completed. 

    VADOC provides inmates with masks, gloves, gowns and face shields, Kinney said in an email. Inmates and employees are required to wear personal protective equipment at all times, Kinney said. The department also provides oxygen on-site and inmates are transported to hospitals if necessary, she said.

    Kinney said VADOC spent approximately $2.7 million through June 30 on PPE, hand sanitizer and cleaning and sanitation supplies. The department anticipates it will spend an additional $2.5 million from July 1 through Dec. 31.

    VADOC is also manufacturing masks for use by staff and inmates at its four apparel plants. The agency said in March that they hoped to produce 15,000 masks per day. 

    Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran said during a Nov. 15 press conference that close to 50,000 tests had been administered in prisons. Moran said that roughly 3,812 inmates recovered from the virus. In November, VADOC said it began weekly testing of infirmary staff.

    Bryan Lewis, an epidemiology expert at the University of Virginia, said although he doesn’t closely follow the number of cases or distribution of protective equipment within prisons, that “clearly there have been sizable outbreaks in the prison system.”

     “So one could conclude that perhaps the current levels of PPE and the stringency of infection control measures have not been sufficient to keep disease at bay,” Lewis wrote in an email. “In some ways this is an impossible situation, either you have to cut off visitors and institute very strict screening etc. on employees, and even if you do, eventually the disease will get in somehow.”

    VADOC did not respond to an inquiry asking how effective the zones are given the spikes in new cases. VADOC was asked to elaborate on what could be contributing to the increase in cases, and if it was planning to change anything about its procedures, such as the zone management of inmates. 

    VADOC has issued guidance on food service for inmates and staff throughout the pandemic.

    Margaret Breslau, a chair of the Coalition for Justice, said she has received multiple letters containing complaints by inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    “They’re shutting kitchens down, so they developed an emergency menu,” Breslau said.

    VADOC created an emergency two-week menu in March to be used in the event of reduced staff. The menu consisted of items such as boiled eggs, hotdogs or chicken patties for lunch, served with chips and MoonPies or a fruit snack. Whether or not it was implemented, Breslau said, “no one in the administration is saying so, but given what is being reported, it sure seems to be the case.” Breslau said that in some places this menu has lasted for a long time.

    VADOC did not respond to two CNS inquiries asking if the emergency menu was still in place, or if food service was operating as normal.

    Multiple prisons within the state have reported outbreaks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Five prisons with the most confirmed total cases and deaths include: Deerfield (835 cases), Greensville (690), Coffeewood (590), Dillwyn (350) and Buckingham (345). Deerfield has the state’s largest population of older inmates, and an assisted living unit on site. Many have physical disabilities or medical issues, according to VADOC.

    VADOC reports daily the cases from 40 state prisons. Jails in Virginia are run locally and overseen by the Board of Local and Regional Jails. More than 230 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Chesapeake Correctional Center in Chesapeake County as of November, according to a news release. 

    The Virginia General Assembly approved a measure earlier this year that allows VADOC to release inmates with less than one year left to serve in their sentence while the COVID-19 emergency declaration is in effect, according to a press release. Offenders convicted of a Class 1 felony or a sexually violent offense are not eligible for consideration. The exact number of individuals eligible for early release consideration will change depending on the length of the emergency declaration order. Part of the criteria considered for early release also includes that the inmate has a low recidivism risk ranking and an approved home plan, according to VADOC’s website

    Regarding early release for inmates with COVID-19, VADOC is moving incredibly slow and is tied up in a “bureaucratic review process,” Heilman said. As of Dec. 8, 786 inmates had been issued early release, according to VADOC. Almost 430 inmates have been released from local jails whose cases fell under VADOC jurisdiction.

    Wright, who said he is serving an 8.5-year sentence for robbery that ends in three years, is frustrated by the pandemic and the lack of attention to issues in the prisons. He said “nobody really cares about us.”

    “We're the bottom of society,” he said.

    Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

  14. Virginia State Police Investigating Mptorcycle Accident that Claimed the Life of Emporia Resident

    Virginia State Police are investigating a single vehicle motorcycle accident that results in the death of the driver. 
     
    On December 12, 2020 at approximately 2:41 p.m., the state police responded to a single vehicle with injuries on Route 611 (Dry Bread Road) west of Route 673 (Reavis Gin Road).
     
    The driver of a  2000 Harley Davidson motorcycle, Jerry Wayne Hubbard, of the 400 block of Cleveland Avenue, Emporia, Virginia, lost control of the motorcycle, ran off the road and into a ditch, ejecting Hubbard. Hubbard was taken to Southern Virginia Regional Medical Center where he later died from the injuries sustained from the accident. 
     
    Speed nor alcohol were contributing factors in the accident.
  15. William Lee Carter

    November 13, 1929 ~ December 9, 2020

    Visitation Services

    Sunday, December 13, 2020, 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM and

    Monday, December 14, 2020, 9:00 AM to 10:45 AM

    Knox-High Mortuary, Inc.
    568 Halifax St.
    Emporia, VA 23847

    Monday, December 14, 2020, 11:00 AM

    Knox-High Mortuary, Inc.
    568 Halifax St.
    Emporia, VA 23847

    William Lee Carter took his earthly rest to begin his heavenly life in God’s infinite wisdom on December 9, 2020. William Lee Carter was born November 13, 1929 as he turned 91 years young. William L. Carter was the fourth child of 13 children to the late Herbert Lee and Alsie Jordan Carter in Southampton County, Virginia. 

    At an early age, William Lee joined the Jerusalem Baptist Church in Jarratt, VA. William Lee loved God and often quoted scriptures or a favorite song. William Lee attended the public schools in Sussex, VA. At the age of seventeen, William Lee left Virginia and moved north to Plainfield, New Jersey, where he worked as a machinist. During this time, in 1966,  William Lee met and married the love of his life Mary Edna Burts formerly of Greenville, SC.

    In 1992, William Lee and Mary Edna left New Jersey to build a home in Emporia, Virginia, on a portion of land formerly owned by his father, Herbert L. Carter. They had a relaxing life of farming, family and fellowship.

    William Lee was a loving and dedicated husband, brother, father, uncle, cousin, grandfather and friend. William Lee was a man of quiet strength and integrity. William Lee was a genuine person with a heart to help his fellow man. William Lee’s compassion, kindness and generosity was extended to all he encountered. William Lee was a simple man who enjoyed peace, encouraging young people and supporting his community.

    William Lee was preceded in death by: his parents, Herbert L. & Alsie Carter; daughter, Celestine Carter and siblings, Clarence Carter, Ruby Maryland, Willie Carter, Joseph Carter, Susie Moore, George Carter, Albert Carter and Fannie Parham. 

    Cherishing his memory is: his wife of 53 years Mary Edna Carter;  four children, Deborah Ferguson (Anthony) of Maryland, Cornell Brown (Laverne) of Hopewell, VA, Faye Hines of Emporia, VA and Darin Hester (Wanda) of New Jersey; eleven grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; his siblings, Carroll Carter (Clara) of Emporia, VA, Shirley Powell (George) of Hampton, VA, Margaret Robinson of Emporia, VA and Richard Carter (Christine) of Jamesburg, NJ, sisters and brothers-in-law, Susie Carter (Clarence-deceased) of Emporia, VA, Milton Burts, Douglas Burts and Evelyn Burts all of Greenville, SC; close cousin, Reginald Carter;  a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.

  16. Virginia State Police Investigate Fatal Accident In Greensville County

    On December 11, 2020 at approximately 1:36 p.m., the Virginia State Police was called upon to investigate a single vehicle accident that resulted in a fatality. 

    The accident occurred at the 7500 block of Dry Bread Road, 25 miles west of Doyles Lake Road. 

    The driver of a 1989 Mercury Cougar, 30 year old Barbara Harris Rose, was traveling eastbound on Dry Bread Road when she lost control of the vehicle, ran off the roadway, and over corrected. Upon overcorrecting the vehicle, the vehicle began to flip several times before coming to rest in a field off the roadway. 

    Harris was not wearing her seatbelt and was ejected from the vehicle, dying at the scene from injuries sustained. Harris had two children in the vehicle, a 6 year old that was med-flighted to MCV Richmond with life threatening injuries, and a 4 year old that was transported to Southern Virginia Regional Medical Center with serious injuries but non-life threatening. 

    Speed was a contributing factor. At this time it is unknown if alcohol was a  contributing factor.

    Notification was made to family members.

  17. Norma Jones Vacca

    February 23, 1932 - December 9, 2020

    Norma Jones Vacca, 88, passed away on Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at her home. She was the daughter of the late Gerald Jones and Grace Starkey Jones and was a longtime member of St. Richard’s Catholic Church. Mrs. Vacca was preceded in death by her parents and husband, Daniel Vacca. She is survived by her two daughters, Gay Little, Christy Suttles (Don), two sons, Danny Vacca (Ann), Steven Vacca (Lu), two brothers, Keith Jones (Marie), Jerry Jones (Jean), along with seven grandchildren, thirteen great-grandchildren, along with two great-great grandchildren. The family would like to send a special thanks to Mrs. Vacca’s primary caregiver, Mona Drake, for the excellent care she provided.

    Online condolences may be made at www.echolsfuneralhome.com

  18. Statement by President-elect Joe Biden on Human Rights Day

    Seventy two years ago, Eleanor Roosevelt and other leaders from around the globe adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, affirming that all human beings are “born free and equal in dignity and rights.” From the horrors of a world war, they championed a simple yet revolutionary truth — that peace, prosperity, and justice rely on our obligation to uphold the universal rights of all. 

    Today, we recognize Human Rights Day and honor those who work tirelessly, often at great personal risk, to defend fundamental freedoms and fight oppression. Around the world, authoritarian leaders desperate to maintain their grip on power deny this truth: internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms are each — equally — the entitlement of all. It makes no difference where we live and no matter how we look, how we pray, or whom we love. In too many countries, people are imprisoned and face torture or death for speaking their minds, reporting the news, or demanding their rights. 

    This year, amid a pandemic and global protests, we are reminded of how much work remains to be done to root out the systemic inequities that continue to cut short lives and imperil livelihoods. And as we work with partners and through international organizations to advance human rights globally, we must also recognize that our task begins at home. Every American — regardless of race, ethnicity, zip code, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability — should be free to flourish in a society that values and defends equal justice for all. We must lead by the power of our example, standing in solidarity with generations of brave women and men who have fought for our common dignity.

    My administration will build on this legacy and stand with human rights defenders here in the United States and the world over as we put universal rights and strengthening democracy at the center of our efforts to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

  19. Women in academia report increased gender gap amid COVID-19

    By Katharine DeRosa, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND, Va. – Political science professor Deirdre Condit put up a sheet as a makeshift door for her home office to maintain privacy when she started teaching from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Condit, who has taught at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond since 1994, knows what it’s like to juggle work and home life. She said that while the house is often thought of as a woman’s space, women tend to have less places designated for productivity. “Man caves” have existed in family life, Condit said, and women are beginning to claim spaces such as “she shacks” to cultivate home territory.

    “It’s harder to build that separation,” Condit said.

    Women in academia are publishing less than they were before COVID-19. Gender gaps have long existed in the workplace, but the pandemic appears to be exacerbating them, according to a recent review authored by Merin Oleschuk, a sociology professor at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada.

    Oleschuk tracked the gender gap with research publications. She found that reports about international studies, political science, economics, medicine and philosophy have increased in number, but these reports are being authored by women at lower rates.

    In heterosexual partnerships, women tend to bear more childcare labor, according to Oleschuk’s study, which focuses on gender inequities in academia. Oleschuk’s study also pointed out that studies about childcare burden and gender equity often assume heterosexual, nuclear families, which leaves out large demographics of women without children; women with nonmale partners and single women.

    Condit said that women in queer nuclear families face the same situation as heterosexual families, since “somebody has to pick and choose” who will watch the children. She added that queer nuclear families are already at a disadvantage since women on average make less money than men. 

    U.S. men’s median weekly earnings were $1,104 in the third quarter of 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Women’s median weekly earnings totaled $902 during that time period, or 81.7% of men’s earnings. Women face career interruptions in the workplace due to motherhood more often than men do due to fatherhood, according to the Pew Research Center. Reduced hours, taking time off, quitting jobs and refusing promotions all contribute to more career interruptions for mothers.

    “The really tough situation is for single parents or single elder care providers, since you have no one else you can hand off every part of it to,” Condit said.

    Kimberly Brown, an associate professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies at VCU, said that as a professor, her performance is based most heavily on research. 

    Research is one of the three criteria considered for VCU faculty seeking tenure, an indefinite academic appointment. The other two are teaching and service, according to VCU’s website

    Brown said that in addition to racism in the workplace, women of color disproportionately bear the emotional labor of students which can contribute to a lack of productivity. She said Black students were coming to her in increasing numbers this summer due to “dealing with overt racism, overt images of police brutality being often put in their face on social media.”

    “I was trained to be a literature professor, not a psychologist,” Brown said.

    Brown described emotional labor as emotional support without compensation and said that as a Black woman the labor is exhausting. 

    “I’m feeling the same sort of ways,” Brown said.

    Brown suggested that student evaluations of professors be reconsidered during this time, since many professors haven’t been trained in online teaching. She said that students should be more lenient with professors if professors are expected to be more lenient with students in the face of online learning.

    In light of the pandemic, teaching faculty in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences will receive a default “excellent” rating on evaluations, according to an email Jennifer Malat, the college’s dean, sent to faculty. 

    However, faculty who don’t perform their duties will not receive “excellent” ratings, Malat said. Evaluations include “multiple dimensions,” Malat said in a statement to Capital News Service. Faculty will receive feedback on their performance as well as recommendations for how they can improve their research, teaching and service in the future.

    “A strategy for evaluations during the pandemic was challenging,” Malat said to CNS. “Many faculty, like students and staff, faced challenges in their work and personal lives. The committee recommended reducing stress on the particular rating of the evaluations and focusing on comments that will help improve performance in the future.”

    Brown also suggested that universities extend the amount of time between promotions, colloquially known as tenure clocks, to allow professors more time to research. 

    There have been more than 50 requests for tenure clock extensions by junior faculty on the Monroe Park campus at VCU, according to Mary Kate Brogan, public relations specialist at VCU.

    Oleschuk’s publication created 10 suggestions for universities navigating tenure promotions, including providing a one-year extension to tenure track faculty, taking teacher evaluations out of consideration during the COVID-19 pandemic and excusing nonessential service requirements for those with caregiving demands.

    “I don't think that it's fair to evaluate a person for a situation nobody predicted was going to happen,” Brown said.

    Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

  20. VDH Announces New Contact Tracing Prioritization and Reduced Quarantine Guidelines

    Virginia is Following Newly-Issued CDC Guidance

    (Richmond, Va.) — Today, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced because of substantial levels of COVID-19 community transmission, local health departments may need to prioritize  contact tracing efforts for key elements of the population.  During this time of significantly high case volume,  traditional methods of contact tracing are less effective. This means that some local health departments, as necessary, may not be contacting everyone with COVID-19 infection or close contacts to someone with COVID-19 infection.  Per new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), VDH may prioritize follow-up of cases and tracing of close contacts for the following groups:

    • People diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past six days and their household contacts
    • People living or working in or visiting congregate living facilities
    • People involved in known clusters or outbreaks
    • People at increased risk of severe illness

    “As cases of COVID-19 increase across the Commonwealth, this change will allow us to deploy resources where they will have the most impact,” said Virginia State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A.  “We urge residents to continue to follow public health guidance on wearing masks and physical distancing, and to notify their circle of friends and family quickly if diagnosed with COVID-19.  Also, please answer the phone if a VDH Contact Tracer calls.  All these things are helping us in the fight against COVID-19.”

    Case investigation and contact tracing are an essential and impactful part of the COVID-19 response in Virginia, and nearly 2,000 public health professionals have been hired since May 2020 in local health departments to do this work.  Although not all cases and not all contacts can be called when the number of cases is high, contact tracing will continue in Virginia in accordance with these new recommendations.  VDH continues to work closely with the CDC and follow federal guidance.

    During times like these, everyone must be proactive in following public health recommendations that include:

    • Wear a mask
    • Practice social distancing
    • Wash your hands on a regular basis
    • Stay home whenever possible
    • Avoid gatherings outside of your household
    • Download COVIDWISE, the VDH exposure notification app
    • Use the CDC and VDH websites for accurate, reliable, and updated information

    If you test positive for COVID-19 or are diagnosed with COVID-19, you need to stay at home, away from others, and self-isolate for at least ten days.  You should also help identify and notify the people that you had close contact with while you were contagious.  If you have been exposed to COVID-19, you need to stay at home, away from others, self-quarantine, get tested for COVID-19 five-to-seven days after exposure, and watch for any symptoms.

    VDH and CDC continue to recommend a quarantine period of 14 days.  However, CDC  guidance now includes two additional options for how long quarantine should last.  The safest option is still to quarantine for 14 days after last exposure.  Any quarantine shorter than 14 days balances reduced burden against a small possibility of spreading the virus.  The two additional options for shortened quarantine are for people without symptoms to end quarantine after day 10 without testing, or after day 7 with a negative PCR or negative antigen test performed on or after day 5.  It is still important to watch for symptoms of COVID-19 until 14 days after exposure and to take other prevention measures including wearing a mask, distancing, and frequent hand washing.

    Today, VDH is adopting this revised quarantine guidance for everyone except healthcare workers or healthcare facilities.  CDC’s healthcare-associated infection prevention and control experts are currently reviewing the revised guidance; in the meantime, VDH recommends that healthcare personnel and residents and staff in healthcare facilities continue to use a 14-day quarantine.

    Always seek medical care if symptoms worsen or become severe.  Severe symptoms include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or bluish lips or face.

  21. Virtual learning a mixed bag for special education students, teachers

    Marjorie Loya and a Softball team with Special Olympics. Photo Credit: Marjorie Loya

    By Hunter Britt and India Jones, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND, Va. -- Sebastian and Gabriel Saxon wake up at the same time every day and log into online classes. Sebastian has Cerebral palsy and is diagnosed with autism. Gabriel has hearing loss and wears hearing aids. 

    The twins’ mother, Judi Saxon, said that Google Meet, the platform used to conduct online classes, has worked well for her sons, who are freshmen in high school this year. 

    “They're both rule followers,” Saxon said. “They like a routine.” 

    Saxon said she is involved in her sons’ education and the special needs community. Her husband, Michael Saxon, sits on the Board of Directors of Special Olympics Virginia. She said that switching to all virtual learning was an adjustment, but it had a positive effect on her teenage sons.

    “Our family is pretty low key, and our boys are not super sports fans, and they don’t have a lot of extra curricular activities,” she said. “So they weren't really missing out on that. And they are homebodies, so they really enjoyed it.” 

    The COVID-19 era has restructured education for everyone, especially students with disabilities. The lack of peer interaction has negatively impacted some students with disabilities, while allowing others to thrive in the digital classroom, according to parents and educators.

    The Virginia Department of Education reported a decrease in fall term enrollment for all students, including students with disabilities. Enrollment for students without and with disabilities declined by 3% and 4% respectively from the 2019 to 2020 academic years, according to VDOE.

    Gov. Ralph Northam announced guidelines in June for phased reopening of pre-K through 12th grade schools for the 2020-2021 academic year. The announcement prioritised special education students to return to in-person education before other groups. 

    But many school districts, including Richmond, opted to remain remote since the beginning of the school year. Some districts are allowing only students with disabilities to return to in-person learning. VDOE Assistant Superintendent of Special Education Samantha Hollins said that for students with disabilities, the virtual learning environment may be more of a challenge.

    State and public agencies are required to provide early intervention, special education and related services nationally to more than 6.5 million people with disabilities, according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The VDOE oversees special education for children and youth with disabilities between ages 3 to 21. 

    “It has become more challenging of course, but the students’ rights remain,” said VDOE spokesman Charles B. Pyle. “The services that are required to be provided to those students do not go on holiday because of the pandemic.”

    Local school divisions offer special programs and resources for students with disabilities, but remote education may be inaccessible during the pandemic for such students who rely on hands-on education, according to Hollins. There are almost 168,000 students with disabilities in Virginia public schools, according to VDOE’s latest enrollment numbers. Disabilities range from intellectual and emotional to hearing and visual impairments, including the deaf and blind, Hollins said. 

    “Certain populations of students are more at-risk and not able to access virtual learning or remote education as easily as other students, for example, students with disabilities,” Hollins said. “When you talk about students with disabilities, there is a pretty wide group of those students.” 

    Students are often required to attend multiple courses per day via Zoom or Google Meet, including out-of-class assignments. Hollins said her department has provided a lot of information on assistive technology. For example, virtual education may be accessible to a hearing impaired student with screen reader software. 

    “Students who have a visual disability, or blind, or a hearing impairment, or deaf, will require special tools to be loaded onto their Chromebook,” Hollins said.

    The VDOE sponsors training and technical assistance centers across the state to provide support to teachers test-driving new technology, Hollins said. Public and private special education schools have a collaborative approach to improve educational services for students during COVID-19. According to VDOE, technology provided to public schools is accessible to private educational facilities. 

    “We’ve had countless meetings with public schools during these difficult times,” said Sarah Ulmer, principal of Grafton School in Midlothian.

    Grafton Integrated Health Network is a nonprofit with group homes and schools serving students with autism, intellectual disabilities and mental health challenges, according to its website. Seventy-four students are enrolled on the Midlothian campus, Ulmer said. During the COVID-19 mandated closure, students with disabilities received in-person instruction from their residential group homes, while teachers provided virtual instruction to students who do not live on-campus.

    Although Grafton School reopened its community day school to in-person instruction five days a week, many parents have not sent their children to school, Ulmer said. 

    “Our students benefit from learning with hands-on activities,” Ulmer said. “The teachers and clinicians have worked hard to create work activities that are sent home to our students to complete with their families.”

    Distance learning plans at the school include individualized sessions throughout the week with the student’s teacher and assigned therapists.

    Many educators as well as parents have differing views on online platforms being used for virtual education. Some also question how effective online education is as a whole and said it is a struggle for teachers and students. 

    Donna Marshall, a special education teacher at Lakeside Elementary in Henrico County, said that both she and many of her students have had issues with the online format.

    “It was very difficult for them at first,” Marshall said. “This is such a change for them. Many of them need different things like the sensory breaks, and it's really hard for them to just sit in front of a computer.”

    The primary platform Marshall and her students use is Microsoft Teams. She said that while it works well in business settings, she believes that it is less effective in a classroom setting due to audio issues.

    Marshall said that some of her students have done well with virtual education, but the format has had a negative impact on other students.

    “I have seen several kids majorly regress because they don't have the in-person connection,” she said. 

    Marjorie Loya, a Special Olympics coach and a retired special education teacher from Chesterfield County who is now a substitute teacher, said the biggest concern she has for the children learning virtually is the lack of interaction with peers.

    “They just don't see the other kids, which is the shame,” she said. “That's the big piece that I see that they're missing. They're interacting with adults, but they're not interacting with their peers.”

    Loya said she believes that online education in the special needs community is ineffective, especially in the long run.

    “I don't think it's very good at all, because there's so many things, so many aspects that you can’t deliver services for,” she said. “Virtually, you just can't do it. One of the biggest issues that people with autism have is interacting with other people, and now we're taking almost all of that away and putting a computer between them.”

    Anteal Gargiulo, a special education teacher at Goochland High School in Goochland, said that while some students she teaches have adapted well, others are struggling with the lack of structure and in-person interaction.

    “My autistic kids that I thought were going to have the biggest issues actually have been more outgoing and verbal because they are on the computer, by themselves, and in their own space,” she said. “For other kids, the lack of structure has really thrown them.”

    As a whole, virtual learning “has not been the best thing” for the special needs community because many students are used to teachers being physically present to help them, Gargiulo said.

    “On a case-by-case basis, it’s been good for a couple of our autistic kids. As far as the rest of the kids, it has been a struggle because they don’t have the teachers right there with them.”

  22. New Virginia laws seek to close ‘school-to-prison pipeline’

    By Brandon Shillingford and Anya Sczerzenie, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND, Va.-- The near future of in-person schooling is uncertain due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Virginia students will return to a system where several penalties for misbehavior have been taken off the table. 

    Two new laws seek to stop criminal punishments in elementary, middle and secondary schools. Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, sponsored two measures that passed the Virginia General Assembly earlier this year. The bills went into effect in July but have not yet been widely implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    Senate Bill 3 prevents students from being charged with disorderly conduct during school, on buses, or at school-sponsored events. SB 729 removes a requirement that school principals report student acts that constitute a misdemeanor to law enforcement. These are acts that may be considered misdemeanors, such as assault on school property, including on a bus or at a school-sponsored event. 

    McClellan’s bills are a victory, said Valerie Slater, executive director of RISE For Youth, a group that seeks to end youth incarceration in Virginia. 

    “It gives the control back to principals in their own schools about what actions have to be taken further,” versus which actions can be handled within the school, Slater said.

    Suspension and expulsion are used disproportionately against Black students, other students of color and those with disabilities, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Those punishments, along with arrests at school, often lead to students having a criminal record, according to the NAACP. The trend is known as the school-to-prison pipeline.

    McClellan said she was compelled to introduce these bills after looking at data released by the Center for Public Integrity in 2015 and seeing that Virginia led the nation in nearly three times the rate of referral of students to law enforcement. She then worked with the Legal Aid Justice Center to find trends in what kind of behaviors were being punished and whether there were discrepancies involving which students were being charged. 

    “When we started sort of digging into some of the cases that they had had, one of the biggest things kids were referred for was disorderly conduct,” McClellan said. “It was things like a kid on a bus in Henrico County was charged for singing a rap song and a kid in Lynchburg was sent to the principal's office and kicked this trash can on the way out of class.”

    McClellan was the co-patron of bills in 2016 which addressed these issues, including a failed bill which would prevent students from being found guilty of disorderly conduct if the action occurred on school property, school bus or at a school-sponsored activity.

     Lawmakers also passed McClellan’s measure that relieved school resource officers from the obligation to enforce school board rules and codes of student conduct as a condition of their employment. Now that the Virginia General Assembly has a Democratic majority, House Democrats felt that they could pass other legislation to curb the school-to-prison pipeline, according to McClellan.

    “The thing that happened in between is we had started making progress on the discipline side with things like suspensions and expulsions,” McClellan said. “And once you saw we could make progress on that, that gave us the confidence to try again with a new Democratic majority.”

    A statewide analysis by Virginia Commonwealth University Capital News Service found that Norfolk City Public Schools in the Tidewater district had the most out-of-school suspensions in the state over the past five school years. This includes short-term and long-term suspensions. The data is from the Virginia Department of Education. A student is not allowed to attend school for up to 10 days during a short-term suspension, according to Virginia law. Long-term suspensions last 11 to 45 school days. Virginia students suspended from school are more likely to fail academically, drop out of school and become involved in the justice system, said a 2018 Legal Aid Justice Center report. 

    Norfolk’s school district issued 21,223 out-of-school suspensions in the past five years. Norfolk school officials did not respond to a request for a statement by the time of publication. Richmond City Public Schools was the second-highest district with the most out-of-school suspensions (19,768). Virginia Beach, Newport News and Fairfax County public schools were also in the top five. The majority of students in Norfolk, Richmond and Newport News public schools are Black, according to VDOE 2020 fall enrollment data. Almost half of students in Virginia Beach are white and about a quarter are Black. Nearly 40% of students in Fairfax County Public Schools are white and almost 30% are Hispanic. Black students face out-of-school suspension at higher rates at a higher rate than white students in schools throughout the Central Virginia region. Even in districts such as Henrico and New Kent counties that are a majority white student population, often Black students were issued suspensions at a higher rate. Black students in Henrico faced out-of-school suspension almost five times the rate of white students in the 2015-2016 school year. Such racial disparity was presented to the Henrico County School Board as far back as 2012, in a published report analyzing the disproportionate suspension rate. 

    Aside from incidents involving weapons, Slater said that instances of misbehavior in school should not be handled by law enforcement.

     “We should not be so quick to involve children in the justice system,” Slater said. “We know that after that first contact, the likelihood that there will be continued engagement exponentially goes up. Once a child has been engaged with the juvenile justice system, they’re more likely to be involved with the adult justice system.”

    Slater praised McClellan’s legislation for taking away schools’ ability to charge students with disorderly conduct, saying that the criteria for being charged with that crime is too vague. 

    “It basically says that ‘you have caused a disruption.’” Slater said. “Is wiggling in my seat causing a disruption? Is asking to go to the restroom, repeatedly, causing a disruption? Is clicking my pen a disruption? It’s so vague that it’s become a catchall for whatever a particular officer wants to say a student has done.”

    David Coogan, a Virginia Commonwealth University English professor and author of the book “Writing Our Way Out,” teaches a writing workshop at the Richmond City Justice Center He said he has worked closely with incarcerated people whose criminal records stemmed from childhood. 

    “Most broadly, it starts in the structure of society, before you even get to school,” Coogan said. 

    Coogan said that he sees a pattern in the people he works with at the jail. Children who grow up with few resources and who experience trauma and violence in the school setting later develop addictions or become incarcerated—often both. 

    “We all do stupid things as kids, as teenagers,” Coogan said. “When you’re Black and traumatized and living in poverty, the stupid thing you do, to fight back at a school resource officer, is going to land you in a juvenile detention center and it’s not fair.”

    Though Coogan says McClellan’s bills are steps in the right direction, he believes that more still needs to be done. 

    “If you think about all the money and time spent on school resource officers—who are like cops—we need to stop thinking about having cops in school,” Coogan said. “What if we had five times as many guidance counselors -- people with training to intervene? What if we had five times as many programs to keep kids engaged after school?”

    McClellan agreed with Coogan, and said it starts with how adults in school treat kids. She pointed to cases in which kids with autism or other disabilities are treated unfairly or disciplined by adults who have no idea how to interact with them. 

    “Everyone in the school building that interacts with kids, but especially school resource officers and school board members who ultimately make decisions about the code of conduct and discipline, need to have basic training on child brain development,” McClellan said.

  23. Governor Northam Signs “Breonna’s Law”

    Virginia is the first state to ban no-knock search warrants in response to Breonna Taylor’s death

    RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam ceremonially signed “Breonna’s Law” today. Sponsored by Delegate Lashrecse Aird and Senator Mamie Locke, the law prohibits the use of no-knock search warrants in the Commonwealth. Virginia is the third state in the country to ban this practice—and the first state to do so since the tragic death of Breonna Taylor, 26, who was killed in March during the execution of a no-knock search warrant in her Louisville, Kentucky home.

    Governor Northam was joined at the ceremony by Bianca Austin and Tahasha Holloway, Breonna Taylor’s aunts. Also participating was civil rights advocate and attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the family of Breonna Taylor in ongoing litigation and has represented the families of George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery, and Jacob Blake.

    “Virginia is leading the way on policing reforms like this one, which will make our communities safer and our criminal justice system more fair and equitable,” said Governor Northam. “While nothing can bring back Breonna Taylor, and so many others, we honor them when change laws, when we act to right long-standing wrongs, and when we do the work to make sure more names do not follow theirs.”

    Video of the signing ceremony is available here, courtesy of WTVR CBS6, and phots can be found below.

    Governor Northam formally signed House Bill 5099 and Senate Bill 5030 on October 28, 2020. This year, Virginia passed sweeping new laws to advance police and criminal justice reform, including reducing the militarization of local policing, strengthening law enforcement training and the decertification process, and limiting the use of neck restraints. Additional information on these measures can be found here.

  24. Bakeries Overcome Challenges to Sell Sweet Treats

    By Aaron Royce, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND, Va. -- Local bakeries are rising to meet obstacles and setbacks produced by the coronavirus pandemic.

    The year was marked with numerous restaurant closures, but most local bakeries remained open due to customers’ affection for sweets and through some strategic reinvention.

    When Gov. Ralph Northam issued a lockdown in March, events were canceled and many businesses had to reduce operating hours.

    One bakery that depends on events was hit hard but quickly adapted. Sweet Fix, located in Richmond, was threatened with massive financial losses when COVID-19 reached the U.S. Advance payments were postponed or gone entirely as customers downsized or canceled large event orders. The losses totaled over $40,000, Sweet Fix owner Amanda Robinson said.

    Robsinson said five employees were laid off. She said non-refundable deposits helped keep Sweet Fix in business. The bakery implemented a policy requiring a 50% deposit for each order up front to help maintain revenue while facing a decline in orders.

    “Trying to run a business with one person was a nightmare,” Robinson said. 

    She worked 14-hour days and counseled couples whose wedding cakes she would have been designing.

    “One of the challenges was trying to coordinate a date change with dozens of vendors who are also trying to coordinate date changes with dozens (if not hundreds) of their clients all eagerly seeking new dates,” Robinson said. “Some clients lost vendors who they were excited to work with as it was impossible to reschedule everyone on the same date.”

    Robinson was able to bring some staff back in part-time roles. Without the typical flow of spring wedding orders, she began more curbside sales for birthdays and other events. As lockdown restrictions lifted, a steady flow of business—including weddings— returned to Sweet Fix.

    “Oddly enough, the wedding inquiries are just as high as they’ve been,” Robinson said. “It’s hard for me because I know where we are still in the midst of this pandemic, so to think that people are just moving along as usual, like nothing’s going on, expecting 2021 to be absolutely normal,” Robinson said. She said she is concerned for a second coronavirus wave.

    Whisk, in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom, is still providing customers with cakes, cookies and various sugary treats. Owner Morgan Botwinick said there were minimal employee losses despite the initial lockdown, and the bakery stayed open with reduced hours and customers. 

    Botwinick believes Whisk operates by bringing customers positivity through food. She said it is “helpful for morale to be able to treat yourself, or treat someone else.”

    “It brings a little bit of joy to their day,” Botwinick said.“You know, pastry is not something you have to eat, obviously, but it is—it’s a treat.”

    Whisk also got a boost through online ordering, which Botwinick didn’t use before the pandemic. Now, it’s become a convenient way for bakeries like hers to more safely serve customers.

    “I think the online ordering has really been the biggest new innovation that I see almost everyone doing,” Botwinick said. 

    Reinvention has helped bakeries stay open with menu changes, revised hours and adapted business plans. Sugar & Salt, in Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood, opened its storefront in February. Owner Sara Ayyash said a lack of staff and supplies posed a strong threat to the new business. Despite those obstacles, Ayyash added new products. She started selling at-home baking kits with help from her brother and husband. 

    “So, it was more of a, let’s try and think of new items with what we have to work with, and sell those,” Ayyash said.

    One innovation came from a yeast shortage near the beginning of the pandemic. Ayyash replaced her menu’s donuts and cinnamon rolls with coffee cake and quiche—now Sugar & Salt staples.

    Another adversary to the bakery business is that people are baking more at home during quarantine. Despite this, consumers have favored specific sweets that can’t be easily homemade. They appreciate “having the ability to just pick something up when they’re in need,” Ayyash said.

    Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

  25. SVCC Announces 2021 Spring Semester Plans

    Southside Virginia Community College (SVCC) will continue with a full schedule of classes for the spring semester beginning January 11, 2021. 

    The college is taking a “HyFlex” approach to course delivery.  This means class options (depending on the needs of each discipline) may include a mix of in-person instruction, expanded online offerings, and a “Zoom to Home” option.

    According to Dr. Quentin R. Johnson, SVCC President, "SVCC's partnership with communities to establish off-campus centers, in addition to our Alberta and Keysville campus locations, is a real benefit to students during this unprecedented time in our history.  Our locations allow the college to offer students the flexibility to utilize classroom space and computer labs, and to access high speed internet; while complying with the appropriate Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines."

    While priority for in-person instruction will be performance-based classes and labs that cannot be delivered online, additional seated courses will be offered as room availability allows.

    SVCC's Fast Forward workforce programs will be offered in small groups. The college's flexible approach allows for appropriate social distancing, while making alternatives available for those students who do not have adequate high-speed internet at home and, therefore, would not be able to participate in online or at-home Zoom classes.

    Aware that the outlook can change at any time, Dr. Johnson stated, "We will remain nimble and adjust, as needed, to remain safe and to better serve students." SVCC's COVID-19 Task Force has a plan in place to pivot to fully remote and online if public health and safety requires it."

    Since the pandemic began in March, SVCC has complied with guidelines from the CDC for physical distancing, hygiene and safety.  This will continue for the spring semester as all SVCC locations require face coverings; classrooms are configured to comply with social distancing; and access to facilities is limited.

    “As we navigate this pandemic together, we want everyone to know that we are still open for business and remain committed to assisting our students in every way possible,” Dr. Johnson added.

    Registration for the 2021 spring semester is going on now; for more information, please visit southside.edu or call 434-949-1000.

  26. Timothy “Tim” Sparrow

    April 14, 1969-November 30, 2020

    Mr. Timothy Paul Sparrow, age 51, a resident of Emporia, VA and a former resident of Beaufort County died Monday November 30, 2020.

    A private graveside service will be held for the family officiated by Pastor Shad Watters.  Pallbearers will be Kelly, Everett, Gary Chrismon, Brad Smith Daniel Lewis Jeremy Surratt and Tony L. Whitlock.  Honorary pallbearers will be Redwine International VA family.  A public visitation will be held from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Sunday December 6, 2020 at Paul Funeral Home & Crematory of Washington.

    Tim was born in Beaufort County on March 14, 1969, son of the late Jacob Cedric Sparrow and the late Carol Faye Waters Sparrow.  He was a graduate of Bath High School and continued his education at Beaufort County Community College.  He was a service and parts manager with Redwine International in Emporia.  Tim attended First Presbyterian Church of Emporia.  His hobbies included watching Dallas Cowboys football, attending theme parks, riding rollercoasters, and watching NASCAR racing.  His love of NASCAR prompted him to pursue and fulfill his dream of driving Richard Petty’s car.

    Survivors include his stepchildren: Kelsey N Whitlock, Hillary M. Whitlock who affectionately called him Paw Paw; a niece: Rhesa Jo Walston (Ryan) of Chocowinity; a nephew: Cameron David Sparrow of Chocowinity; a great niece: Breelyn Walston of Chocowinity; a sister-in-law: Michelle Brown of Washington;    a grandchild: Adelaide Britt; a special friend Nora Lynch Smith and numerous cousins.  Tim was predeceased along with his parents by his special parents: Hubert and Helen Johnson, a sister: Elisabeth C. Sparrow and a brother: David M. Sparrow.

    Flowers are welcome and the family asks that any memorial contributions be made toThe Masonic Home for Children at Oxford, 600 College Avenue, Oxford, NC  27565.

    Online condolences may be offered to the family by visiting www.paulfuneralhome.com

    Paul Funeral Home & Crematory of Washington is honored to serve Tim’s family.

  27. William Sherrod “Billy” Harris, Jr.,

    November 23, 1938-December 1, 2020

    Visitation Services

    Saturday, December 5, 2020 from 5:00 P.M to 8:00 P.M.

    Greenaville County Rescue Squad Building
    513 South Main Street
    Emporia, Virginia

    2:00 P.M. on Sunday, December 6, 2020

    Calvary Baptist Church
    310 North Main Street
    Emporia, Virginia

    William Sherrod “Billy” Harris, Jr., 82 of Emporia, VA, departed from his earthly life on Tuesdday, December 1, 2020 to enter his Heavenly home for eternity. 

    Billy was transported by his fellow squad members to the local hospital on November 14th and was then transported to Southside Regional Medical Center, in Petersburg, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia.  He fought to survive, but succumbed to his illness and went home to be with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

    He was the son of the late William Sherrod and Elva Everette Harris.  He was their only child. 

    He is survived by his loving wife of 55 years, Martha Allen Harris, their daughter Sherron Lane Harris Talbott (Michael), and two grandsons, Edward Grant and William Cole Bradley.

    Billy was a graduate of Greensville County High School.  He attended East Carolina University, where he was a member of Theta Chi fraternity.  He then transferred to Campbell University where he graduated in 1965. 

    He was a lifelong member of Monumental United Methodist Church, where he served as a Sunday School Teacher, a Lay Speaker and as the Chairman of the Administrative Board.

    He began his career with the City of Emporia as Deputy Treasurer in 1967, and was then elected Treasurer in November 1969. He served as Treasurer until the time of death. 

    He was one of the original 33 Founding Members of the Greensville Volunteer Rescue Squad in 1963, where he continued to proudly and unselfishly serve his community for 57 years, serving 35 of those years as President.  During his years with the Rescue Squad he served as a mentor, leader, teacher and friend to all of its members.  In 1978 he was certified with the Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Health as an EMT Instructor and was awarded Life Membership to the Squad in 1978.  He was also a Governor’s Award nominee from the Office of EMS.

    During his lifetime, he served as President of the Local Rotary Club, where he was recognized by the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International, and he also served as President of the Emporia Jaycees, where he was recognized with the National Distinguished Service Award.  He was later honored and proud when he received the Eugene H. Bloom Lifetime Achievement Award which he was presented by the Emporia Greensville Chamber of Commerce in recognition of his leadership, professionalism and eagerness to serve his community, as well as being a living example to others.  In addition, he was also awarded the 2013 Hometown Heroes Award by Allen and Allen Law Firm. 

    He also received the Community Hero Award from Virginia Tech and Virginia State University through the Virginia Cooperative Extension. 

    Billy will be remembered for his love for his family, his love for serving the Greensville Volunteer Rescue Squad, his love for Monumental United Methodist Church, and his tireless and unending love for his local community.

    “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” – John 15:13

    In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Greensville Volunteer Rescue Squad or Monumental United Methodist Church.

    A visitation will be held at the Greensville Volunteer Rescue Squad Building on Saturday, December 5, 2020 from 5:00 P.M to 8:00 P.M.

    A funeral service will be held at Calvary Baptist Church at 2:00 P.M. on Sunday, December 6, 2020 with Rev. Rick Franklin and Rev. Jerry Wicker officiating. Masks will be required for those attending the funeral service. The service will be broadcast on FM 90.7 while in the church parking lot.

    In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Greensville Volunteer Rescue Squad or Monumental United Methodist Church.

    Online Condolences may be made at www.echolsfuneralhome.com

  28. THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY WEEKEND CRASHES CLAIM 10 LIVES

    Excessive speed continues to claim lives in the Commonwealth

    RICHMOND – Over the Thanksgiving statistical counting period, preliminary data shows that speed played a factor in at least four fatal traffic crashes. Those four crashes led to the deaths of six people, including a teenager and 6-year-old boy. In addition, the teenager and young boy were not wearing appropriate safety restraints.

    “Speed and lack of personal safety restraints continue to cost Virginians their lives,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “As we continue through the holiday season, I am pleading with Virginians of all ages to respect and comply with all traffic safety laws. Virginia State Police and your loved ones want you to arrive at your destination safely.”

    In total, during the five-day period which began at 12:01 a.m. Nov. 25, 2020 and concluded at midnight Nov. 29, 2020, 10 people lost their lives in eight traffic crashes in Virginia. The fatal crashes occurred in the cities of Lynchburg, Newport News and Richmond and the counties of Frederick, Pittsylvania, Rockingham and Shenandoah. Of those crashes, one was alcohol related, four were speed related and one involved a pedestrian.

    This is an increase from 2019 when there were eight traffic fatalities during the five-day Thanksgiving statistical counting period. There were 12 traffic fatalities during the same period in 2018. *

    In an effort to prevent traffic deaths and injuries during the Thanksgiving holiday, the Virginia State Police participated in Operation C.A.R.E. - Crash Awareness and Reduction Effort. Operation CARE is an annual, state-sponsored, national program during which state police increases its visibility and traffic enforcement efforts during the five-day statistical counting period.

    The 2020 Thanksgiving Holiday C.A.R.E. initiative resulted in troopers citing 4,930 speeders and 1,706 reckless drivers statewide. Virginia troopers charged 67 drivers for driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, and cited 498 drivers for failing to buckle up themselves and/or juvenile passengers.

    State police responded to 733 traffic crashes across the Commonwealth, with 117 of those resulting in injuries. State police also assisted 1,609 disabled/stranded motorists during the Thanksgiving weekend.

    Funds generated from summonses issued by Virginia State Police go directly to court fees and the state’s Literary Fund, which benefits public school construction, technology funding and teacher retirement.

    *Source: Virginia Highway Safety Office, Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles

  29. Bernard Hooker Blake

    Dates

    Services

    2:00 P.M. on Friday, December 4, 2020

    Monumental United Methodist Church
    300 Southampton Street
    Emporia, Virginia

    Bernard Hooker Blake, 89, died Monday, November 30, 2020.

    The son of the late Henry Turner Blake Sr. and Ruby Dickerson Blake, Hooker was also preceded in death by a brother, Henry Turner “Pinkie” Blake Jr. and a sister, Alice Blake Eason. A United States Army Korean War Veteran, he was a lifetime Member of Monumental United Methodist Church, a founding member of the Gravel Pit Hunt Club, and the former owner of B.H. Blake Well Boring and Septic Company.

    Hooker is survived by his daughters; Becky Blake Gayle, Penny Sue Blake of Virginia Beach, Theresa Blake Vick and her husband Melvin, Bonnie Blake Gibson and her husband Pete of Youngsville, NC, grandchildren; Jennifer Gayle, Brandi Partridge, Amy Bain, Kevin Allen, Nicholas Allen, Blake Gibson, seven great grandchildren and four adoring nieces.

    Funeral Services will be held at 2:00 P.M. on Friday, December 4, 2020 at Monumental United Methodist Church with Rev. Rick Franklin and Rev. Jerry Wicker officiating. Burial will follow at Greensville Memorial Cemetery. The family will receive friends after the Graveside at the Cemetery.

    Online condolences may be left at echolsfuneralhome.com.

  30. Social Security Commissioner Saul Honored as a Top Influencer in Aging

    Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security, recently received an honor as a 2020 Influencer in Aging by PBS’s Next Avenue, a digital publication dedicated to covering issues for people 50 and older.  The list honors advocates, researchers, and thought leaders who are changing how people collectively age and think about aging. Commissioner Saul earned the distinction for being an innovative leader and making customer service his top priority since his confirmation in 2019.

    “When I came in, the first thing I did was make it very clear that our job at the agency, meaning the whole team, was to serve the public.  Customerservice is the most important feature--that's the mojo here, and that's what we are dedicated to do,” said Commissioner Saul.  “The global pandemic has changed the way we do business, and I think it will be changed forever.  We must provide the public with additional online, remote service, and self-service options that we all expect from organizations today.”

    The agency has made tremendous progress in improving service delivery, despite the unprecedented times.  Commissioner Saul has led the agency to significantly reduce the wait time for a disability hearing, offer remote hearings via video or telephone, hire new  employees, improve staff training, and streamline workflows and communications.  His full interview with Next Avenue is available at www.nextavenue.org/for-social-securitys-chief-andrew-saul-customer-service-is-job-1/.

    During his interview, Commissioner Saul highlighted two topics that are especially relevant during the COVID pandemic and holiday season: scam calls and Social Security’s online services.

    Social Security continues to raise public awareness, particularly during the holiday season, about telephone impersonation schemes.  These calls include scammers pretending to be government employees or requesting cash or gift card payments to avoid arrest for purported Social Security number problems.  The agency urges the public to remain vigilant, hang up on these fraudsters, and report the call to Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General atoig.ssa.gov.

    A safe and secure way to conduct business with Social Security is through the agency’s website, where people can create theirmySocial Security account, a personalized online service. Through a personalmySocial Securityaccount, people can request a replacement Social Security card, check their Social Security Statement, apply for benefits, manage their benefits, and more.  Visit www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount for more information.

    Agency employees continue to work remotely to provide the vital services the public relies on through online services and phone services, and offices are not able to accept in-person visitors at this time, except by appointment for dire need situations, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  Please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/coronavirus for more information about services during the pandemic.

  31. Governor and First Lady Northam, Cabinet Members Volunteer at Food Banks Across Virginia

    Ongoing pandemic has put thousands of Virginia families at risk of food insecurity, increased demand for food banks

    RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam, First Lady Pamela Northam, and members of the Governor’s Cabinet volunteered at food banks throughout Virginia today, highlighting the critical role food banks are filling for Virginians facing food insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “Food banks are an important first line of defense against hunger and food insecurity,” said Governor Northam. “Virginia food banks have gone to extraordinary lengths to increase capacity and streamline the distribution of food amid a growing need for their services. Our administration will continue to use a variety of programs and funding to ensure no Virginian goes hungry during this health crisis.”

    Governor Northam, along with Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring and Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball, volunteered at Feeding Southwest Virginia in Abingdon, packing bags with fresh fruit and vegetables to be distributed to people in need across Southwest Virginia. First Lady Northam volunteered at the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, and Chief of Staff Clark Mercer, Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dan Carey, Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos Hopkins, and Secretary of Administration Keyanna Conner volunteered at Feed More in Richmond. Chief Diversity Officer Janice Underwood volunteered with Congressman Bobby Scott, Congresswoman Elaine Luria, and Mayor Donnie Tuck at the Virginia Peninsula Food Bank in Hampton. A number of state legislators also participated in each event.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has increased food insecurity across the Commonwealth and as a result, more Virginians are using the services of food banks and other food programs. Prior to the pandemic, approximately 850,000 Virginians, including 250,000 children, did not know where their next meal would come from. Feeding America estimates that the ongoing pandemic could make up to 275,000 more Virginians food insecure.

    “We rely heavily on volunteers to get donated food items packaged in a way that we can distribute it to our local partner agencies,” said President and CEO of Feeding America Southwest Virginia Pamela Irvine. “Volunteers are the backbone of our organization, and we welcome everyone who wants to come help provide this critical service in our community.”

    The Federation of Virginia Food Banks operates seven regional Feeding America food banks across the Commonwealth that distribute food to partners within their regions. To support Virginia food banks or to learn more about volunteer opportunities, please visit vafoodbanks.org.

    In July, the Commonwealth committed an initial $1.4 million in CARES Act funding to help launch a new statewide initiative with Sentara Healthcare, Truist, and the Federation of Virginia Food Banks called the “We Care” COVID-19 Virginia Emergency Food Support Plan, providing approximately 100,000 food boxes to Virginia families.

    Earlier this month, Governor Northam allocated $7 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act dollars to help Virginia food banks to continue to provide food to Virginians who need it. This funding is in addition to $650,000 in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding to support food bank services. In October, Governor Northam and the Children’s Cabinet released the Virginia Roadmap to End Hunger, a set of goals and strategies to prioritize food security during the Commonwealth’s response to COVID-19 and beyond.

    Photos from Wednesday’s (November 30, 2020) events are included below.

  32. VBCF Partners with Trulieve to Present Medical Cannabis Webinar for Breast Cancer-Related Issues

    VBCF Hosts Free Webinar: Medical Cannabis Use for Breast Cancer-Related Issues with Dr. Terel Newton

    RICHMOND, VA - The Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation continues to host a series of free webinars aimed at topics of interest for breast cancer patients, survivors, and their caregivers. Cancer doesn’t stop during a pandemic, and cancer education and screenings shouldn’t stop either. VBCF stands strong in its mission to educate, advocate, and eradicate breast cancer through these discussions for our community. 

    Join us as Dr. Terel Newton provides some guidance on types of cannabis compounds that can be helpful for the various side effects of breast cancer treatment. Dr. Newton is a Board-Certified Anesthesiologist, Regenerative Medicine Consultant, and Medical Cannabis and Pain Specialist. He began his work with medical cannabis recommendations in Vermont back in 2011, and has been based in Florida since 2015. He specializes in trauma and injury patient evaluations, uncovering missed diagnoses, pre-anesthetic/pre-surgical evaluations, and advanced techniques in Interventional Pain Management.

     

  33. Boar's Head Provisions Donates to Create SVCC Scholarship

    Dr. Daryl Minus, Vice President, Enrollment Management & Student Services, Southside Virginia Community College, accepts a donation from Jeff Hoye, Plant Manager, Boar's Head - Jarratt, that will establish a new scholarship fund.

    The Southside Virginia Community College Foundation is delighted to announce that it has received a donation from Boar's Head Provisions to establish a scholarship fund earmarked for residents from the counties of Brunswick and Greensville who are enrolled in either business administration/management, science, or general studies with an agribusiness specialization.  The scholarship is designed to encourage interest in pursuing a management trainee position.

    Boar's Head Brand was established in the New York City area in 1905.  A family business, the company began with the belief that consumers deserved a better quality ham, than what was available.  

    Today, Boar's Head Provisions Co., Inc., is one of the leading manufacturers of premium delicatessen meats and cheeses while remaining family owned and committed to quality.

  34. Governor Northam Hosts 343rd Annual Indian Tax Tribute Ceremony, Commemorates Native American Heritage Month in Virginia

    RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today hosted a small delegation from the Mattaponi Indian Tribe and the Pamunkey Indian Tribe at the Executive Mansion in Richmond for the 343rd annual Indian tax tribute ceremony. This follows a proclamation issued by the Governor earlier this month designating November as Native American Heritage Month in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

    The Indian tax tribute ceremony dates back to 1677 with the signing of the Treaty of Middle Plantation between a group of tribes and the Virginia Corporation—the predecessor to the Commonwealth of Virginia—establishing the first reservations in the United States. Each year, the chiefs of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes honor the spirit of the treaty with a symbolic tax of wild game and hand-crafted gifts presented to the Governor of Virginia in return for continued possession of their tribal lands. The ceremony is the oldest continuing nation-to-nation ceremony in the country. While song and dance are a central component of the annual event, this year’s ceremony did not include these traditions to protect the health and safety of all participants amid the pandemic. Photos from this year’s ceremony can be found below.

    “Virginia’s native people enrich our Commonwealth with their vibrant heritage, traditions, and continuing contributions,” said Governor Northam. “Native American Heritage Month is a celebration of the resilience of our tribal communities, and an opportunity to reflect on how we can better address the unique challenges they face and recommit to cultivating strong government-to-government relations with Virginia’s Indian tribes. Even during these difficult and uncertain times, let us remember that our diverse backgrounds only strengthen the Commonwealth we love.”

    Governor Northam also released a video message to mark Native American Heritage Month in Virginia, in which he highlights a portrait from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts that was unveiled in the Executive Mansion in 2019 depicting former Chief of the Pamunkey Walter Bradby wearing traditional regalia. The work is by Ethan Brown, one of his descendants.

    “Virginia Indians are an integral part of our past, present, and future,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson. “We are committed to working with Virginia’s Indian tribes to protect the health and vitality of these communities and ensure that Virginia remains an inclusive place for all who call the Commonwealth home.”

    Virginia is home to 11 state-recognized Indian tribes, which include the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe, Chickahominy Indian Tribe, Chickahominy Indians Eastern Division, Mattaponi Indian Tribe, Monacan Indian Nation, Nansemond Indian Tribe, Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia, Pamunkey Indian Tribe, Patawomeck Indian Tribe of Virginia, Rappahannock Tribe, and the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe. Seven of these tribes are federally recognized.

    In October, Governor Northam designated October 12 Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the Commonwealth, the first such proclamation in Virginia history. And last year, Governor Northam announced a land acquisition by the Chickahominy Tribe and signed a land trust agreement with the Mattaponi Indian Tribe, two significant actions that help to rectify past wrongs when the Commonwealth allowed their reservation land to be encroached upon and ensure the sustainability of Virginia’s Indian tribes for future generations.

    The Virginia Department of Education has instructional resources on the history of Native Americans in the Commonwealth available here. To learn more about Virginia’s Indian Tribes, visit commonwealth.virginia.gov/virginia-indians.