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Pouches' Community Corner

Rappahannock Adult Activities

RAAI and PouchesPouches planting flowers with some of the adults at RAAIShare a bit about Rappahannock Adult Activities.
Rappahannock Adult Activities, Inc. (RAAI) is a community-based developmental day program for adults with an intellectual disability. RAAI promotes dignity, independence, individualization, inclusion, and productivity of people with intellectual disability here in their own community.

RAAI was formed as a private, non-profit in 1976 by the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board (RACSB) and a group of concerned citizens. We originally operated out of the old Little Falls School Building on Kings Highway.

Why was Rappahannock Adult Activities created?
There was a recognized need to provide local services to adults with an intellectual disability. More families were choosing community-based services over state institutions. RAAI provided a safe place with a structured day to support these individuals and their families.

How large is the organization?
Rappahannock Adult Activities has grown substantially since 1976. We serve more than 170 individuals at seven (7) sites located in the City of Fredericksburg and the Counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania, and Stafford. We employ nearly 80 staff members.

Why is awareness important?
In Virginia, individuals with an intellectual disability are guaranteed an education through age 22. Once they graduate from high school, there are no guarantees. Without RAAI services, many of these individuals would be isolated, their families would not be able to work due to care responsibilities, and our community would not benefit from inclusion. The Medicaid Intellectual Disability Waiver pays for day support services provided by RAAI along with other community-based services. In our community, there are more than 350 individuals waiting for this funding source. The alternative to community-based programs is to reside in an institution that is several hours away. Virginia has made the decision to begin closing state training centers for those with an intellectual disability. The result is more individuals being successfully supported right here, in their community, near their family and friends.

Why a plant sale and Mayfest?
RAAI received a donation of a greenhouse from the Mary Ball Woman's Club in 1980 and we started with poinsettias. It helped build our horticulture therapy program. Participants work in our greenhouses throughout the year. Tending to the plants is more than a job for these individuals. There is a great sense of satisfaction in watching a seed grow into a beautiful plant. There is a correlation to the lives of many individuals served by RAAI as they grow and bloom into active and engaging community members.

The spring plant sale will feature more than 100 different types of plants – vegetables, herbs, annuals, perennials, hanging baskets and planters. In the fall, we now sell mums and pansies. Of course, poinsettia orders start coming in before Thanksgiving.

This is our 29th Mayfest celebration. It's an opportunity to celebrate these individuals and their families; to help them feel community support. Always held on the first day in May at our 750 Kings Highway location, it's a family fun event in support of these individuals with an intellectual disability. There will be plant sales, food, games, raffles, silent auction, live entertainment, moon bounce, and so much more.

What has been the response of the community?
We used to start the spring plant sale two weeks prior to Mayfest and we would be nearly sold out by the date of the event. We now start one week prior to Mayfest (April 25th this year) and continue for one week after Mayfest as long as supplies last.

RAAI appreciates numerous partnerships with local churches that provide us space during the day for activities and cooking classes. There are so many restaurants and stores that are welcoming. RAAI participants love to explore and be active in the community. We are regulars at the YMCA as well as recycling at Rappahannock United Way and the University of Mary Washington. RAAI participants can often be found at the local parks and Dixon Pool. Our physical sites are bases for individuals to start and end their day; the individuals spend most of their time out in the community being active.

Tell us how volunteers can get involved.
We have a wonderful group of volunteers from the Master Gardeners who work with participants in the greenhouses and help with the plant sales. We also welcome therapy dogs and those who would like to lead RAAI participants in activities like art and music.

How can local businesses get involved today?
We are always looking for business partners in the community. We can always use extra help around our three plant sales (spring, fall, and poinsettia) and Mayfest.

Where do you see RAAI in the next 5 years? 10 years?
RAAI will continue providing quality, person-centered supports. We will continue serving those with the most profound and severe needs. We will also continue to adapt to meet the changing needs of the individuals served – those with Autism and those aging.

Historical Notes:
1975: ARC and Stafford County Public Schools develop a cooperative plan for three-days-per-week program at Brooks Park Activity Center.

1976: Rappahannock Area Community Services Board (RACSB) forms a non-profit corporation for an expanded program, Rappahannock Adult Activities, Inc., which operates out of the old Little Falls School Building at 750 Kings Highway in Stafford County.

1977: Stafford County Public Schools rents the old "Little Falls School" to RAAI.

1980: Mary Ball Women's Club donates greenhouse and RAAI has its first crop of poinsettias the following year.

1983: Ron Branscome becomes Executive Director of RACSB.

1984: Jim Gillespie becomes RACSBs Director of Community Support Services.

1986: Begin use of greenhouses at National Park Service site at Chatham. RAAI Board of Directors develops a yearly plant sales fundraiser to provide a gathering in our community to increase awareness of individuals with intellectual disability.

1989: RAAI experiences the first wave of special education graduates (in 1973, a federal law known as the "Right to Education Law" guaranteed the right of education to all, regardless of the severity of their disability). When Stafford County donated the land to RAAI that year, plans for a new building were underway, making it possible to serve individuals with more severe disabilities.

1991 – 1994: Develop offsite location programs throughout the Planning District.

1996: Celebrate 20th anniversary! After six years of planning and construction, RAAI opens its new site, the Harper A. Gordon Building, dedicated in honor of Ethel Wright, a committed volunteer. The building provides the environment to serve individuals with significant physical disabilities and behavioral challenges while meeting the growing demand for services.

1998: RACSB negotiates a lease for a licensed offsite location, known as "Twin Lakes," located within the City of Fredericksburg.

2000: RAAI opens a state of the art 1,440 square foot "Discovery Center." This, along with a 660 square foot production house and 1,500 square foot lath house, allows for a year-round horticulture therapy program.

2005: RACSB completes the Marie O. Kunlo Building on St. Anthony's Road in King George County and the Charles A. Cooper Building on Hope Road in Stafford County. Both facilities are licensed RAAI offsite locations and provide county residents easier access to services.

2007: RACSB completes the Patricia K. Spaulding Building on Rogers Clark Boulevard in Caroline County. The site includes a licensed site for RAAI and a greenhouse.

2008: The largest influx of Medicaid Waivers in Virginia history provided 42 individuals in Planning District 16 with funding to choose their own services.

2009: RACSB joined a national grant program on Becoming a Person-Centered Organization, transforming our services and supports.

2010: RAAI provides services to more than 150 individuals with an intellectual disability.

2011: Construction to expand RAAI's day support services in Spotsylvania County is nearing completion at the Edith O. Fleming Building on Brock Road.

RAAI celebrates its 35th year of service and the 25th anniversary of Mayfest!

2014: RAAI opens off site location at Christ Church in Spotsylvania County. RAAI expands services to serve individuals returning to the community from Central Virginia Training Center in Lynchburg, VA. These individuals reside in new Intermediate Care Facilities constructed by RACSB.

Looking ahead: RAAI remains dedicated to meeting the needs of individuals with an intellectual disability and their families. Our continued growth and success would not be possible without the hard work and dedication of our staff, volunteer Board Members, partner agencies, and community supporters. Thank you!

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The Doctor Yum Project

Dr Yum PouchesPouches and Doctor Yum cooking up some yummy eats!Share a bit about yourself.

My name is Dr. Nimali Fernando, and I am a pediatrician who has been practicing for about thirteen years. I also love running and cooking new recipes. My family, including my two sons, is very committed to our own family culture of wellness, and we prioritize time in the kitchen. 

Why did you create The Doctor Yum Project?

Over the years that I have been a pediatrician, I have seen a staggering increase in diet-related illnesses. Of course, pediatric obesity and its associated diseases like diabetes and hypertension are the most obvious ones I see. However, I also noticed so many kids with normal weight who have symptoms like acid reflux, chronic constipation, attention and concentration issues that were directly related to the diet. I observed that families often could not clearly see the connection between those illnesses and their diet, and if they see it they not know exactly how to make a change. With the help of my husband, also a local physician, I created a recipe and parenting website called to help families get back in the kitchen.  The results were so encouraging that I thought we could do even more by teaching kids how to cook local seasonal produce with hands on classes. The Doctor Yum Project is now a 501c3 nonprofit with many nutrition and cooking programs. 

How large is the organization?

We still are a fairly small organization with a dynamic Board of Directors and two wonderful employees. Jen Miller is a Holistic Health Coach who serves as our Cooking Programs Coordinator. She helps to develop and instruct our adult and kids cooking classes. Wendy Cannon is our Preschool Curriculum coordinator who helps to coordinate the sixteen area preschools that use Doctor Yum’s Preschool Food Adventure Curriculum. 

Why is awareness for pediatric obesity important?

It’s more important than ever that parents realize that what they feed their children can affect them for a lifetime. So much of the risk for adult diseases like heart disease and cancer is established in childhood. The diet of all children, not just those who are overweight, can be improved so that kids have the best chance for a long and healthy life. 

What has been the response of the community regarding the project?

We are lucky to live in such a supportive community with so many organizations that serve children. We have been able to partner with some of those organizations to bring nutrition education and cooking instruction to kids who are at risk for diet-related disease. Some of those organizations, like Stafford Junction, Young Lives, and Big Brother Big Sisters have reached out to us to help educate the kids that they serve. With some great community support we have been able to offer classes to those children. With another recent grant we are now able to offer some nutrition and cooking instruction for scouts as well. 

How many families have you educated on nutrition and cooking?

Last year was our first year in our own instructional kitchen. We held over thirty classes on a variety of topics, like baby food preparation, lunch packing, canning and more. We have had many themed children’s classes, spring break and summer cooking camps. We also have exhibited and preformed demonstrations at numerous events around town this year, reaching hundreds of families. Although most of our reach is local, our website reaches thousands of users each month all over the world, too!

Tell us how volunteers can get involved.

We have a brand new volunteer portal, which makes it so easy for people to sign up online, update their profiles and availability, check schedules and schedule themselves for volunteer opportunities. We love student volunteers as well, and this is a great way for students to help in their community, earn volunteer hours and help to promote a culture of wellness. There are many chances for volunteers to help in our teaching kitchen in adult and children’s cooking classes. For those who enjoy the outdoors, this spring will be a perfect time to get involved in the planting and maintenance of our instructional garden. We welcome kids as helpers with their parents in our garden, too! Volunteers can learn more and sign up at

doctor yum projectHow can local businesses get involved today?

We are always looking for help with our project from the local business community. We have a number of giving levels that can also give businesses and their employees access to our cooking and nutrition education programs. We have a variety of projects, so businesses can find ways to help us with those that suits their own needs and interests. 

Where do you see the project in the next 5 years? 10 years?

We are very excited to have had the growth we have had in two short years as a nonprofit. We would like to be able to spread our message and to have a wider and more lasting impact on people in our community. Our message is really to spread a culture of wellness and impact the way that people live on a day-to-day basis. For children to learn to eat better, their families need to learn the skills to feed them, and their community needs to be one that supports wellness. That’s really our goal is to impact wellness on all of those levels by scaling up our efforts. With success in our own community we would love to take a similar approach in other communities in Virginia and beyond. An example of that would be our preschool nutrition curriculum, which we first implemented in eight schools, then branched into sixteen schools this year, including four of the local YMCA preschools. One of our goals would be to have our program in YMCAs across Virginia. Again, this kind of expansion will require much community support and volunteer involvement. We are hopeful that folks will continue to support our efforts to build a healthier Fredericksburg. 

You can read more about The Doctor Yum Project here.

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Fairy Godmother Project

FGP-and-PouchesPouches with AndieMeet Andie McConnell, Director and Co-Founder of the Fairy Godmother Project.

Share a bit about yourself.

I graduated college in 1994 with a degree in elementary education and English literature and relocated to Virginia after a year-and-a-half working as a nanny in Philadelphia.

I loved Stafford County Schools and made it my goal to get a job here and was hired to teach at Grafton Village Elementary School in 1997. From 1997-2005, I worked as a teacher in K-8 in three different states.

I became a stay-at-home mom to my son, Aidan, in 2005 and in 2007, I completed my M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction—a month before my twin girls, Annalise and EV were born.

I had different jobs through those years before starting Fairy Godmother Project, including freelance education writing, online teaching and working for an au pair placement service. So when the opportunity to start FGP came along, everything felt right.

Why did you create the Fairy Godmother Project?

In 2003, I lived down the street from a family whose child had survived brain cancer. The family shared the struggles of facing a crisis of this kind and how alone they felt over the course of their child's treatment. This really stuck with me and six years later when I learned that the daughter of an acquaintance was diagnosed with brain cancer, I felt compelled to help this woman and her family. Over time, the mom and I became friends which gave me insight into the life of a family facing pediatric cancer—the change in routine and finances, the struggles, the worries, the difficulty of keeping up with everyday life and the heartache. Seeing this made me want to do more for these mothers and fathers as they faced the unthinkable.

How large is the organization?

We have two chapters—Fredericksburg and Southern Maryland.

Why is awareness for pediatric cancer important?

Pediatric cancer awareness is important because 13,000 children a day are diagnosed and 25 percent of those children will not survive. It is underfunded and research has not made many strides through the years. In the last 20 years, there has been only one new drug approved by the FDA to treat childhood cancer. Like most diseases, people don't give pediatric cancer much thought until it impacts someone they know or love, but the reality is they should.

Often it is thought that once a child beats cancer, the effects are over, but that isn't the case. Few people know the stats or the realities of the long-term physical side effects of the treatment, which can include learning problems, developmental delays, heart problems, infertility, developing a second type of cancer and many more. Plus the emotional strain of the cancer can impact the family for years.

How many new cases are diagnosed in your coverage area each year?

I don't have any stats on our particular community because most stats are based on the hospitals, and we do not have any pediatric cancer treatment facilities in Fredericksburg. According to a group in Richmond, in 2012, there were 52 new diagnoses at MCV, which includes children from our community who received treatment there, but many families in our community go to other hospitals for treatment.

Do you work with any hospitals? If so, how?

We have recently developed a great working relationship with The ASK Clinic at MCV, which is the hospital in Richmond. They refer families to us regularly and help us get the paperwork in for new families. From time to time, families are referred to us by The Life with Cancer Center at Children's Hospital in D.C.

How do families come into contact with you?

It varies, but often through word-of-mouth from families who are already receiving services from FGP. Because of our working relationship with ASK, we often get families sent to us by them.

What is the process for receiving aid from FGP?

Families fill out an online application where they tell their story and needs. Then they have their oncologist fill out a confirmation of treatment form and then we match them to one of our lead volunteers. Then, if time allows, the family's lead volunteer and I go to the home to meet the family, share with them what we do and how we will support them during their child's treatment.

What has been the response of the community regarding the project?

Fredericksburg is an amazing, supportive community. Never did I imagine the support we would receive from individuals and businesses in Fredericksburg. We have volunteers who have been involved since our inception which is amazing. Plus, we have business partners who signed on in October 2011 and are still with us. One man who we call our Fairy Godfather donates every month both gas cards and money. Alis at Bangz does hair cuts for the families and Grass Roots Lawn Care donates some of their services to our families. The General Store got on board in 2013 and is providing meals to our families, too. We have many businesses that have sponsored events, donated meals and continue to support our efforts. We have too many to list here but are so very thankful for all of them. MacDoc Realty has been a huge supporter for us as a sponsor, donor and providing us with many volunteers! We also have many individuals who donate both time and money to our organization.

How many families have you helped?

In 2014 in the Fredericksburg area, we provided our family services to 18 different families. We also oversaw the support of another 10 families located in Southern Maryland and Richmond, VA for a total of 28. It was wonderful to see some of these families transition out of our support and move on to life in remission.

Tell us how volunteers can get involved.

We have all sorts of volunteer positions that can fit into different schedules and lifestyles. Volunteers can easily double the meals they are already making for their own families to deliver to the families we serve though we do not do in home meal making during Flu Season. Also, we have monthly meal making sessions at local churches. Volunteers can help with yard work and house organizing. They can also help with behind the scenes stuff, like event planning, administrative tasks, fundraising and marketing. People can always plan awareness or fundraising events for FGP. We are happy to put anyone to work!

There is a volunteer application on our website and they will also need to sign a waiver and provide references. Depending on what types of activities they want to get involved with, they may need a background check. Volunteer training is held every couple of months to provide additional information and training about various volunteer aspects.

How can local businesses get involved today?

We are always looking for business partners in the community to help provide services for our families. Businesses such as house cleaners, lawn services and restaurants that feel they can provide something helpful for our families are invited to contact us. The more support from our community the more families we can support.

Where do you see the project in the next 5 years? 10 years?

Our hope is that FGP will become a national organization with chapters all over the country. Right now we are working on making Fredericksburg, our core chapter, stronger with strategic planning so that goal can be achieved.

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