- Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 August 2009 05:00
- Published on Wednesday, 05 August 2009 05:00
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King George, Va. - A large bus rolled up in front of Katherine Smith’s mobile home just before 9 a.m. last Wednesday.
But the passengers on the bus were not just casual riders. They were an assemblage of high-ranking commonwealth officials.
Led by Gov. Tim Kaine, his cabinet and members of his senior staff disembarked from the large coach and rolled up their sleeves.
The team was joined by representatives of the Rappahannock Area Agency on Ageing (RAAA) at Smith’s Passapatanzy area home on the first stop of their 3rd Cabinet Community Day of 2009.
Kaine announced that there was increased funding for the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s Weatherization Assistance program as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
In a telephone interview Smith said although they were in their shirtsleeves, it wasn’t all work. She said, “The governor spent time playing with my new kittens at the house.”
Then the team got down to work adding insulation and sealer to her home. While the governor attempted a plumbing upgrade the new energy saving faucet went on the attack and sprayed water across the room.
Smith didn’t know immediately that the faucet got the better of him, but wondered why her blouse hanging in the room was wet.
Although the governor’s entourage only worked on the property for about an hour, a team of workers spent another day and a half at the home working on other upgrades including installing a new water heater, two new kitchen windows, and new light bulbs.
She was extremely grateful for the work done on her home, but Smith was also thrilled to have met the governor and his staff.
“It was a great experience fro me,” she said. “I never met anyone really important before.”
However, the team had four more stops in the area that day and the bus rolled on down Rt. 218 and headed up Rt. 1 in Stafford County.
Kaine and his team cut the ribbon at the new Germanna Community College (GCC) facility. Located in Aquia Park, it is expected to serve about 1,000 students.
The Stafford Center GCC is expected to offer 52 classes this fall. Built in partnership with the Stafford Economic Development Authority, which invested $300,000 over three years, the project is expected to promote economic development through workforce training.
The school is also expected to help meet the needs associated with the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) expansion at Quantico as well as the new Stafford Hospital Center.
The third stop of the day was at the main campus of GCC where the governor attended a session of the Virginia Department of Business Assistance’s Fredericksburg-area Business Sales Growth seminar.
He and Secretary of Commerce and Trade Patrick O. Gottschalk addressed and met with attendees at the free advanced seminar that provided information on growing sales by targeting appropriate government and private sector markets.
The coach riders got a chance to again rollup their sleeves when they visited the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank.
According to food bank director Oya Oliver, the number of people needing assistance has increased exponentially with the downturn in the economy.
Although it takes several months to get all of the reports entered into the system, she said 365 King George families received assistance from the food bank just during the first two month of the year.
“We assist Project FAITH, Salem Baptist Church, People Union Church, Little Ark Baptist Church, and King George Church of God,” said Oliver.
She also said, although they provide services to older residents in some communities, if a person is receiving SSI (Supplemental Social Security Income) the age restriction of 55 is waived.
Kaine presented a ceremonial check for $1 million to the state federation of food banks.
However the funds were already equally distributed among the 7 food banks. The money enabled the agencies to purchase 1.5 million pounds of food.
All of the food was purchased from Virginia suppliers and the first truckloads were already delivered.
Kaine said the food bank funding was an indication of what can be achieved through bipartisan effort. He told the members of the press covering the event that he hoped they would write a story to help get people to volunteer or donate to the food banks.
“I hope Virginians will do what they always do,” he said, “and open their hearts to help others.”
He began his presentation saying he would not speak long, as there was a lot of work to do. And true to his word, he and his cabinet rolled up their shirtsleeves and joined an assembly line to fill boxes with nonperishable food.
But it was soon time to again board the bus for the final stop of the day.
Arriving at the Rappahannock Goodwill Industries (RGI) laundry facility, Kaine and his staff toured the building. Although the large machines added to the heat in the laundry on a hot and sultry day, the temperature was no match for the warmth with which the governor greeted the workers.
While walking through the sorting room to the pressing room, Kaine shook hands and posed for pictures with workers.
The organization has displayed an entrepreneurial spirit that has grown the business from an initial employee base of 12 in 1996 to a current 119. Fifty-seven percent of the employees in the 24,000 sq. ft. facility have disabilities.
The RGI staff at all of their operations was lauded as the most stable, loyal, productive people an organization could employ.
The laundry only handled a few pounds of laundry when it first opened. But now they wash, dry, press, and fold 6 ½ million pounds of laundry annually for a client list that reaches from local businesses right up to Air Force One.
A total of $5 million dollars in ARRA funds will be distributed to target the needs of people with disabilities. Kaine said that some of that money is already being used to train 1,000 Virginians with disabilities.
“We expect 500 to be able to join the workforce in the next year,” said the governor.
The local organization also runs a cleaning business. Kaine announced that RGI was one of 12 recipients of ARRA grants and would receive $25,000 to purchase a van to transport employees form Culpeper to Quantico Marine Corps Base.
RGI also provides training in computer technology to area residents, as most jobs require a person to apply on-line. President Woody Van Valkenburgh said the 501 (c) 3 charity organization also has a mission as an Employment Services Organization (ESO).
“We serve people with barriers to employment,” he said. “And some people need more than education. They also need wrap-around services such as child care.”
He joked with the governor’s staff about the capabilities of the ESO helping to find work for those “soon to be out of work government employees.”
According to RGI Director of Skills Development Albert Darlington from 2008 through the present RGI assisted 31 King George residents. Thirteen residents sought assistance at their job help centers; 5 completed transitional services; and 13, including 11 with disabilities, hold positions with RGI.
“They work in a variety of settings including our Commercial Laundry Facility, retail stores, retail warehouse, FBI campus contract, and our downtown production facility,” he said.
At the end of a long day, the governor and his staff boarded their bus to roll back to Richmond.
The governor holds four Cabinet Community Days annually, visiting eight regions of the state twice over the course of the administration.
Marty van Duyne