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EDITORIAL:Never again

- Party-run political nominating contests need to be a thing of the past. They're designed to limit voter participation, even among voters in the parties themselves. First, there's the moral argument that absentee voting should be allowed in a primary contest, especially for members of the military stationed overseas.

UPDATE: Community protests Sterling’s Calvary Temple church amid allegations of sexual abuse

- For former congregants of Sterling's Calvary Temple church, March 29 was more than just a protest. It was a reunion of sorts.

Families who all say they had experienced some type of abuse at the hands of the Pentecostal church's leaders – whether it was physical, sexual or emotional – found they had a safe haven with each other.

Some had not seen each other in decades. Others had been communicating via social media about their experiences for years, but together they found a camaraderie: expose the public to practices they say have gone on for years behind Calvary Temple's closed doors.

Michelle Belyea drove from Pittsburgh on March 29 to join the protest. She attended Calvary for 10 years.

“When we left here, for some stupid reason, I thought the abuse, I thought this kind of control would die down … and to find out that it continued 30 something years, it's disheartening,” Belyea said.

She and Michelle O'Brien of Alexandria spent the day talking about their time at Calvary together – how its leadership used “positive peer pressure” to cower its students.

“How many times did we hear that one?” Belyea asked O'Brien.

“Twenty times a day,” O'Brien replied.

“If you didn't go along with the masses there, you were marked or spanked or disciplined,” Belyea continued. “We all have our demons that we don't talk about from this place still.”

As of publication time, representatives of Calvary Temple have not talked about the allegations, though representatives told various media outlets a statement would soon be released.

More victims

The protest, which close to 100 people attended, was sparked after a March 25 Loudoun Times-Mirror article in which two women said they were physically and sexually abused for years by members of the church's leadership and teachers.

The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office has launched an investigation into at least one woman’s claims of sexual abuse. Last week, detectives asked the public to come forward if they had any information about the case.

Since the article published, at least two more people have come forward to the Loudoun Times, alleging they were physically and sexually abused while attending Calvary.

Former congregants, who dressed in black to show they were either shunned from the church or left after disagreeing with what head pastor Starr Scott was preaching from the pulpit, held signs that read “You Have A Voice #exposecalvarytemple” or “We Believe You.” They say they plan to continue protesting until something is done to shut the church down or Scott steps down from the pulpit.

“I think at this point, this is just the beginning. I don’t know if it took a 14-year-old girl to get it started but I don’t think it’s going to stop,” said O’Brien, who attended the church from fifth to 11th grade. Her mother taught at the church and her father was a deacon.

She said Scott used the fear of hell and punishment to keep his congregants in check.

“I was getting uncomfortable with the message … One day the pastor’s up there and he’s talking about a woman who had cancer and the reason her cancer came back was because she had sin in her life and none of us were supposed to talk to her,” O’Brien said.

Following the service, O’Brien told someone she was uncomfortable with the message. But it didn’t end there. The next day at school she was summoned to the vice-principal’s office where a group of leadership told her to sit in a chair and began to berate her for questioning the message.

“He got up in my face and said ‘Who do you think you are to question the word of God?’That was the beginning. I cried, went home and told my mom. My mom took my side, my dad took theirs. The church instructed [my father] to leave with my mom and I. He didn’t but he did everything but [leave]. My family’s never been the same,” O’Brien said.

O'Brien said she and her father have since reconciled.

She described Starr as a “very charismatic and very intelligent” person who uses the Bible as a way to brainwash congregants.

“By the time they hook you, they use the guilt and it’s just awful,” she said.

O’Brien said when she was in 11th grade her mother sent her to live with an aunt to get her away from Calvary Temple.

“When I came back my diploma was in the mail,” she said.

Still living in fear

Some people at the protest still have children inside the church who they were separated from after questioning what was going on inside Calvary’s walls.

They declined to speak on the record for fear of repercussion to their family members. Others, still dealing with the aftermath of their abuse, were too frail to attend the protest and were fearful of what might happen to them if they did, their friends at the protest said.

Still, the exposure has prompted many families to share their stories, including Ken and Marian Marino, who wrote a letter to the editor, sharing their experience of broken trust at Calvary.

“In 2007 the leadership got wind of our plans to leave. During a worship service we were summoned to a pastor's backroom office for an hour long interrogation. 'Get your things and go. Nineteen years, just like that. A few tearful goodbyes and phone calls. Within 24 hours every relationship was obliterated,” the couple wrote.

'He's loving this'

The protest’s organizer, Samantha Haas of Sterling, said she planned the event in support of a friend who was physically and sexually abused by a member of Calvary years ago.

“Once we started bringing this all to light, more and more victims starting popping up. We really wanted to do something, so I organized it,” Haas said.

Haas said they plan to protest the church’s annual car show, its Easter egg hunt and possibly its summer camps – all free events that she said the church uses to try and draw in new members, “especially children.”

Former congregant Chris Trent of Leesburg said he believes Scott is using the sexual assault allegations and the protest to further his presence in the church.
“He’s loving this. He’s like Madonna. Bad press is good press for him,” Trent said when asked what he thought Scott might be telling the church as the protest went on outside. “He’s an egomaniac with an inferiority complex.”

Trent remembers his last day at the church. It was a Wednesday and he said Scott threw his Bible down, enraged that congregants were not constantly giving tithe to the church.

“He said some of you only tithe sometimes. He said according to the Book of Leviticus, as your high priest I can ask for double tithe every three years. Now all you people that broke ground here and help put down the roots to the foundation of this church ... I want you to give 20 percent … A lot of people from Calvary gave it to him,” he said.

One of those families was that of Michael Foster of Sterling. Foster, who is in a legal battle to get his wife out of the church after he said the church instructed her to place a protective order against him, said he’s given at least $10,000 in tithe to Calvary. His parents, who are no longer with the church, gave at least $100,000, he said.

Foster had only one word to describe Calvary: cult.

He’s estranged from his sister, he said, because congregants are not allowed to have relationships with anyone outside its walls.

Jessica Yummit of Sterling, who attended the church for years, said she endured touching from a teacher that started in the third grade.

Yummit said the teacher would often rub his hand across her back and at one point described himself as her boyfriend. When she came forward and told someone how the touching made her uncomfortable, she said she was told she had a “lying, lustful spirit.”

“From that point on, I was marked as a bad person,” she said.

Past coverage:
Spiritual warfare at Sterling’s Calvary Temple church


Saving lives at their own expense: Loudoun native starts charity for living organ donors

-
Sigrid Fry-Revere of Lovettsville wanted to donate her organs.

It's not a decision a person makes every day, especially when they decide to donate while still living.

But there are plenty out there who've made that choice. In 2013, almost 6,000 people were living donors out of 28,954 people who chose to give their organs, whether alive or not.

What the vast number of U.S. citizens might not know is the invisible issues living donors face, namely financially.

Fry and co-founder Michael Mittelman of Philadelphia decided to do something about it with a charity they set up in December: The Living Organ Donor Fund.

“Clearly [living] donors are a kind of patient as well who have been ignored. They're treated like resources and that's not right. They're heroes,”

When Fry's son was born 25 years ago, she and her husband were told he had kidney cancer.

Fry spent years “on pins and needles” with the constant expectation that she would be called to donate her own kidney for her child.

When the danger passed, Fry wanted to help someone with her organs while she still could.

After trying with one friend, whose illness was too far advanced to undergo a procedure, Fry found another friend who needed a kidney.

Fry owns a farm in Lovettsville. Her organ donor coordinator said she couldn't do heavy lifting in the two months after having abdominal surgery.

Her recipient offered to pay for a part-time hand to help while she recovered. When her coordinator asked her the plan, she told him the truth, not seeing an issue.

But the answer was a denial of the entire coordination. They told her it was illegal.

“Instead of giving me more time to find an alternative [to my recipient helping financially], they just denied it, which surprised a lot of people … I realized 'my gosh how many people are suffering like this?'”

Through research, she realized that a lot of people bend the rules and pay under the table to help their donors with the burden.

The law that makes it illegal to pay someone for their organs is the National Organ Transplant Act from 1984 which created a network for organ sharing.

Fry said already one-third of donations come from living donors.

She also said that's the same fraction for how many want to donate and can't.

Considerable obstacles keep potential living donors from making the choice:

-Out of pocket expenses, including cost of transportation and living.

-Time off work for recovery, which cuts down on pay.

-Physical discomfort.

Federal laws furthering the cause of organ donations and charitable organizations focus by-and-large on transplant recipients.

Fry began lobbying for language changes in the laws on organ donation to make it possible for people and organizations to help with the practical financial burdens for donors. But she was disappointed in the response from decision-makers in D.C.

Fry saw that without much incentive for lawmakers to change the laws, it was hard to get them to back an idea that sits so deeply in the legal gray area.

So she wrote a book, which led her to give a TED Talk, an event sponsored by TED, a nonprofit with the goal of spreading people's ideas to a wider audience.

Little did she know, Mittelman was in the audience.

A three-time organ transplant recipient, Mittelman received two kidneys from deceased donors and finally a third from a living donor. He'd developed a passion for the subject through his experience.

“There's got to be something we can do about this,” he thought at the time of the shortage of living donors due to hurdles they face. “There's got to be a way we can help right now, not just through policy [change] ... We've helped a number of donors out there with very limited funds.”

It's not paying people for their organs or trafficking organs, she said. It's allowing people who've made an independent decision to carry out their own mission.

Organs from living donors last longer than those from deceased donors, and it's more cost effective from a federal standpoint, according to both Fry and Mittelman.

It's been rough for the young charity. While receiving pro bono work from attorneys working to help them navigate the law and continue lobbying, fundraising has been a large hurdle. You can't help people with their expenses if you don't have enough money yourself.

So they run campaigns. In the beginning, they managed to raise $17,000, which allowed them to aid in 81 transplants since the group began its work.

They're also working to create a network of living organ donors who can help each other with simple tasks, like transport to and from the hospital.

They also want to develop more partnerships. Airlines and car shares are prime. The hope is to have groups offer their services for living donors in return for the positive public exposure.

But they're also searching for grants and forming partnerships with academic medical centers and notable transplant doctors and pathologists who can inform the work they do with papers and research.

Despite the charity's own struggles, it carries on. It already has 10 new donors its looking to help through its new financial campaign.

“There's no reason that anyone should not be able to be a living organ donor [because] they have to go into debt,” Mittelman said. “What an amazing thing they're going to do.”

Loudoun signs $65,500 sponsorship agreement with Fairfax Games

-
The World Police and Fire Games are expected to bring tens of thousands of visitors into Northern Virginia later this year.

Billed as an Olympics for public safety employees from across the country, the event consists of more than 60 sports, twice as many as the Olympic Games, and athletes from 70 countries.

"The only thing remotely close to this is the Olympics or Pan American Games," said Bill Knight, the CEO of the World Police and Fire Games.

The county is expected to reap an additional estimated $65,500 worth of transient occupancy taxes from hotel stays for athletes, families and friends.

Fairfax 2015 officials originally asked for a $500,000 agreement to help promote the games, which went down to $250,000.

At the March 18 Board of Supervisors meeting the board approved a sponsorship agreement with the World Police and Fire Games for the $65,500 figure, citing the return in taxes expected from the games.

It is not clear what economic impact the games may have outside of the transient occupancy, but eight of the events will be held in Loudoun, and the county is expected to host roughly 3,400 athletes.

Knight said the money approved for the sponsorship agreement will go into the overall games budget to support the marketing of the events.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the games.

"They are sort of unknown," said Knight, even though the number of participants has blossomed in recent years.

The games have grown to such a significant size its officials have begun more aggressively marketing and organizing the event.

"We have an enormous social media presence," said Knight.

The Fairfax 2015 website had 18 million page views in 28 days, according to Knight.

The games also work with trade magazines and public safety associations as well as working hard to grab earned media from television, radio and print.

To support the event on a budget, Fairfax 2015 has made the event into a public-private partnership.

"The overriding mission is to create the best environment for our athletes," said Knight. "Our number one client is the public safety athlete."

"Our second mission is to engage the community," Knight followed up.

For certain sports, registration doesn't close until 48 hours before the games start.

Other sports, especially team sports, must be registered prior to the bracketing process, which begins as soon as a month from now.


For more info on the games visit fairfax2015.com.


CORRECTION: In the April 1 edition of the Times-Mirror, a headline read "Funding games: Loudoun backs Fairfax event with $250K." The headline should have read "Funding games: Loudoun backs Fairfax event with $65K."


Bi-County Parkway action draws mixed analyses from Loudoun elected officials

- Is the Bi-County Parkway project, a controversial north-south thoroughfare linking Loudoun and Prince Williams counties, dead?

That depends who you ask.

The roadway, which would link Interstate 66 with Route 50 in Loudoun County, is intended to relieve congestion by providing an alternative to Route 28 and to increase access to the Dulles Airport. But opponents fear the highway will increase sprawl and disrupt scenic Virginia landscape.

A letter this week from a top state official indicated the parkway is no longer a top priority.

“VDOT is not actively working on this project including pursuing the Programmatic Agreement or the environmental approvals from the Federal Highway Administration,” wrote Charles A. Kilpatrick, commissioner of highways, to Del. Tim Hugo, a critic of the project.

Those words led Hugo and other opponents, including Loudoun state Sen. Dick Black and Prince William Del. Bob Marshall, to claim victory in the parkway's defeat.

“Continuously from the start, I have stood with local residents and vigorously opposed the whole project,” Black said in a statement. “The Bi-County Parkway’s design would have closed Pageland Lane and trampled the property rights of hundreds of families. The construction would have closed Route 234 and Route 29 and dramatically disrupted local traffic flow. The four lanes would have redefined the landscape of Manassas National Battlefield Park and Manassas Historical District.”

Yet several Loudoun supervisors on Wednesday expressed bemusement at the notion the project’s fate has been determined.

Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York (R-At Large) said he finds it “somewhat hilarious the stories coming out saying the project is dead when it’s really not.”

“Quite frankly, there is no real desire by this administration, I think, to move forward with it,” York said during a business meeting Wednesday night. “But, quite frankly, if the localities feel it’s a necessity, which we do -- it’s in our countywide transportation plan and it is in the comp plan of Prince William -- then we have the option of requesting state funding, we have the option of requesting NVTA funding, we have the option of using our own funding … whether it’s NVTA or state, we would have to submit it for the appropriate scoring.”

Kilpatrick's note speaks to that point. The letter highlights recent legislation that requires a “quantitative evaluation” of potential transportation projects aimed at reducing congestion.

“The Bi-County Parkway is subject to this legislation and would go through both the evaluation and funding process before it could move forward. We will support the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and counties should they require technical assistance in preparing this project for scoring,” Kilpatrick notes.

Loudoun Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) said he still wants to see a new north-south connector in some fashion, but he voiced a belief that plans for the Bi-County Parkway, as they stood, were no longer realistic.

“The project, as described by VDOT that was being studied, was never going to happen anyway. And everybody knew that,” Letourneau said.

On the Prince William County side, Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart (R) said he’s doubtful the road will come to fruition.

“We simply cannot divert the limited funding we have from local and regional priorities to the Bi-County Parkway,” Stewart said.

No final direction on the parkway project is likely to be determined until VDOT calculates the final congestion relief score of the project, a specific time frame for which is unknown.


Reporting from the Prince William Times is included in this story.

Contact the writer at tbaratko@VirginiaNewsGroup.com or on Twitter at @TrevorBaratko.




Gary Nicely, you have two minutes ...

- It's 10 on a Monday morning. The sky is a mixture of overcast blues and grays; the temperature is hovering around freezing.

At the end of a stretch of road, near the point of a cul-de-sac sits a ranch-style home.

Gary Nicely, a man with a full white beard opens the door in a Maryland Terrapins beenie.

He smiles and walks back to his kitchen, which gives way to a living room, with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

In his gravely voice Nicely says, "There's my hero over there," while pointing to a framed portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower sitting on one of the shelves.

"I shook his hand once."

C-SPAN is playing on a TV, muted in his living room, periodically showing news about Ted Cruz's bid for president.

He says he tries to watch Washington Journal every morning until 10, and then on most weekdays he heads down to a VA hospital in Washington D.C. to "bother the old people."

A certificate of service to the community from the hospital is pinned to a board in his kitchen.

On nights when the county's Board of Supervisors convene, usually a Wednesday, he heads down to 1 Harrison St., the Government Building in downtown Leesburg.

He sits in the audience and waits for the public input session, where like clockwork, he is signed up to speak for his allotted two minutes.

"Our next speaker is Gary Nicely," Chairman Scott York will say.

Nicely has a tendency to speak in a stilted staccato manner, which makes him seem eclectic or erratic.

He is prone to speak about topics of national concern, not always focusing on the Board of Supervisors agenda items. It makes some people in the room chuckle.

Some might think he doesn't have anything to say, but in reality he has many things, too many to fit into his two minutes once every other week.

Nicely is well informed on issues of the day, and historical matters, reading multiple newspapers a day and voraciously watching the news.

He has a better attendance record at board meetings than some of the people who are required to be there.

Since the mid-90s, he has been the county's most prolific civic voice.

Nicely started in 1996 because he says, "Originally up there where that Kohl's is at they had a virgin Chestnut Oak Grove. They were going to knock that down to put in a parking lot. I thought 'that's crazy,'" said Nicely.

So he went to speak.

And he hasn't stopped speaking since. In the last four or five years especially, Nicely began going to nearly every meeting.

Whether it's a fence row or saving trees, Nicely mostly speaks in the name of preservation.

"It's about the heritage of the land," said Nicely.

"I commend the guy for working for what the county needs. It takes a lot of time to do what he's been doing," said Supervisor Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge). "I think his message for clean air has been very appropriate."

One of his most recent points of contention was the county's use of petroleum instead of compressed natural gas for its fleet of vehicles.

"We need to change to natural gas. It's cleaner and cheaper. I used to run a forklift run on natural gas. We would change oil once a year, whereas the gas ones we had to change the oil five times a year," said Nicely.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the county is in the process of studying the feasibility of a transfer from petroleum to compressed natural gas in its fleet of buses and other county vehicles.

"I would have to credit Mr. Nicely for coming in and discussing this," said Chairman Scott York, who brought the study to the full board for consideration. "In this case it is an opportunity to save budgetary dollars and provide a cleaner fuel for the vehicle fleet."

On one of Nicely's days off, he settled into a kitchen chair and explained a little bit about his life.

Starting with his childhood he says his family moved to the county in the nascent phase of the planned neighborhood developments of eastern Loudoun.

Then he and family members moved.

"I stowed away on a ship when I was 13," says Nicely, who says he moved to Panama when he was young. He's always noncommittal on dates and ages.

As he tells it, he was a swashbuckling youth, hanging out in shipyards and skipping school.

He moved back to the states when he was in his late teens or 20s and hitchhiked across the country six times.

"I hitchhiked to work every day for 10 years, when I worked at the Navy Yard and in a television repair shop in Merryville," he said.

Nicely didn't get his license until he was 22 or 23.

The list of occupations he held for the next few decades is as varied as his anecdotes, most of which deal with history, preservation and politics.

"I've done a little bit of everything: oceanography, cartography, merchant marine," said Nicely.

He's been a bricklayer and a handyman.

"I even picked fruit for a time."

He began his life anew in Loudoun in the early 70s.

"I'm a newcomer [to Loudoun], I got here in 1971," said Nicely.

In '74 he married a schoolteacher, which is when he said he calmed down, though he says he continued to battle with alcohol until the late 80s, when he says he quit drinking.

Talking about the 70s and 80s Nicely says, "They wanted houses in Loudoun County, seems like some things never change."

Next he says he plans on talking about using new technologies to design and bid our transportation infrastructure projects.

Perhaps other civic-minded residents with an eye toward change can take a page from Nicely's book and use their two minutes to affect change and engage elected officials on issues they are passionate about.

TOP LOCAL SPORTS

Cyclists create their own Culpeper mosaic of color

- Nearly 300 cyclists turned the pedals on their bikes of various colors, designs and shapes at the start of the 5th Culpeper Cycling Century just after 8:30 a.m. last Saturday morning.

Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III signs with Redskins

- Robert Griffin III is officially a member of the Washington Redskins. The dual-threat quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor University has agreed to terms on his initial contract with the team, just a week in advance of training camp starting at Redskins Park in Ashburn.
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