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Seeds of a new environmental endowment grow in Tri-Cities area with an industrial past

A new fund aimed at helping the environment is growing in the Tri-Cities area, which has a long industrial past.

The Tri-Cities Environmental Endowment Fund could help pay for such projects as stream restorations, green technologies and renewable energy projects, as well as environmental education programs for local public school students, said Hopewell City Councilor Johnny Partin, who has been spearheading efforts to create the fund.

“Local governments and nonprofits and churches and civic organizations, a lot of them want to do a lot of these projects, but with limited funds, it’s hard to do as much as you want,” said Partin, who has a bachelor’s degree in environmental and civil engineering from Virginia Military Institute. “We’re trying to make it easier to fund these projects and make money more accessible.”

The group in December reached its goal of raising its first $10,000 in donations, Partin said. That’s the minimum threshold where the funds can start being invested to generate earnings, said Lisa Sharpe, the executive director of the John Randolph Foundation, a nonprofit group that’s overseeing the new endowment and investing its assets.

The funds have to be invested for a full calendar year before grants can be made from it, said Sharpe, adding that they could help pay for projects to restore local ecosystems and lower pesticide use.

“I’d love to see it grow to at least $1 million and hopefully a lot more,” she said.

The idea is that a share of the annual earnings in the fund will go toward grants and that the rest of the investment returns will help grow the fund over time, Sharpe said.

In addition to Partin, the fund’s other founders include his sister, Allison Partin; former Hopewell Mayor Jackie Shornak; former Hopewell Vice Mayor Wayne Walton; and Tripp Wilson, a Prince George County farmer.

Shornak said she would like to see businesses step up and provide additional money for the endowment.

“I would like to see some of the bigger companies to kind of come to our aid and say, ‘We want to help,’ ” she said.

The former mayor said she hoped the new fund would help bolster how people view Hopewell, which rests next to the James River that decades ago was known as one of the most polluted waterways in the U.S. after the Kepone insecticide was dumped there.

“I really do think we’ve got to change our image,” Shornak said.

Hopewell has been working to make strides along those lines with the April opening of Riverwalk, a boardwalk running along the shoreline that offers sweeping views of the confluence of the Appomattox and James rivers just east of Route 10.

“That’s one of our successes, and we need to feed off that and make sure we have more successes like that,” Shornak said.

Shornak said the fund’s grants will be matched by the groups that are applying them, which will bring added money for environmental projects. She said she would like to see the new fund help pay for river cleanups and clearing trash around the waterways as well as education programs showing students the impact that litter has on the environment.

“We have big dreams and plans to grow this environmental fund to produce results and make a larger impact in our neighborhoods and in our Tri-Cities,” Shornak said.

Next year, the fund is hoping to raise an additional $50,000 to $100,000, Partin said. He added that a 10% share of the fund’s annual earnings are expected to be dedicated to the Friends of the Lower Appomattox River, a nonprofit group that’s working to establish a 23-mile trail system in the Tri-Cities area.

Anyone looking for more information about the fund can call Sharpe, the John Randolph Foundation executive director, at (804) 458-2239.

Lohmann: Overcoming obstacles and making music

As his fellow musicians began to arrive at The Virginia Home for a recent evening performance, Harold Hausenfluck was busy connecting microphones and cords so he could record the session and later have it burned on a compact disc for others to hear.

Trying to find the right spot for each cable in the mixing board was a confusing enough task, but especially so since Hausenfluck cannot see.

Blind since birth, Hausenfluck, 67, is not one to let such obstacles hold him back. He merely figures out a way around them.

“He always loves solving problems,” said Lily Bowers, the music therapist at The Virginia Home, where Hausenfluck has lived for the past decade. “He’s all about doing things hands-on. He just keeps pushing forward.”

While Hausenfluck is something of a technological wiz — his infatuation with short-wave radio greatly broadened his world when he started listening to international broadcasts as a kid with a radio that was a gift from his parents — he also is a talented musician. He’s won numerous prizes over the years, including first place at the Old Fiddler’s Convention in Galax in the clawhammer banjo competition in 1984 and a half-dozen years later in the old-time fiddle category.

He possesses a remarkable memory with an ability to rattle off a recollection of dates and places he has seen only in his mind’s eye. Ask what tunes he played when he took those firsts in Galax, and there is no hesitation. “For the banjo, I played ‘Fortune.’ For the fiddle, I played ‘Flop-Eared Mule.’”

Years ago, he played gigs around Richmond at places such as Main Street Grill and Fox Elementary School, where he and his fellow players provided the music for square dances.

His ability to play, however, took a serious hit when he suffered a stroke — “July 22, 1999,” he says when I ask when it happened — and he can no longer play the banjo or fiddle. Harmonica is his only instrument now, and, even then, he says, “I’m not that good at it,” which might say more about his high standards than his actual playing.

Yet, music has been a constant throughout his life — it has allowed him an almost magical way of expressing himself that lifted him above the crowd — and it remains so today.

At The Virginia Home, a private, nonprofit 130-bed home near Maymont that provides nursing, therapeutic and residential care for adults with irreversible physical disabilities, Hausenfluck continues to share his love of music with fellow residents through a monthly musical jam.

Several of his musician friends come to The Virginia Home on the second Monday evening of each month and, with Hausenfluck on harmonica, perform an hour of foot-tapping, old-time music.

Hausenfluck doesn’t seem the sort to pull a muscle trying to pat himself on the back, but his role in bringing these top-flight musicians together to play every week — they are considered the Home’s “house band” — is a gift.

His friend the Rev. Michael Hamilton, who serves as chaplain of The Virginia Home and considers himself part of “Team Hausy” — he is known among friends both as “Harold” and “Hausy” — describes Hausenfluck as “fascinating, cranky, creatively persistent.”

“He is a one-of-a-kind curmudgeon who can be both charming and disagreeable all at the same time,” Hamilton said in an email. “He cheers up many a staff and resident’s day with his greetings — such as ‘I’m as happy as 107 larks,’ or ‘fit as seven fiddles’ (the numbers of larks or fiddles change daily depending on his mood).

“He has a former piano tuner’s remarkable ear and is an expert sound engineer. He has remarkable instincts and has never let his lack of sight keep him from realizing his remarkable vision.”

Hausenfluck has spent his entire life in Virginia. He was born in Charlottesville and moved around a lot — Culpeper, Norfolk and Richmond, among other places — as his father relocated often for his job with C&P Telephone. He spent many of his growing-up years attending the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind in Staunton.

He started playing music early — around the time he was in the first grade, he says — and harmonica was his first instrument. In those early years, he came to know and love old-time country music, in part by listening to the 78 rpm records that came with the crank-up Victrola his grandmother “purchased from a lady up there in the mountains,” he said.

He remembers being enthralled by the Carter Family and Fiddlin’ John Carson, among others.

A buddy at VSDB who played guitar got him interested in that instrument. He learned a few chords, and his playing took off. A 12-string was a Christmas present in 1966, he said, at a time when folk singers were making 12-strings the guitar of choice.

RTD senior photographer Bob Brown, who was one of those folk singers in the 1960s, said of 12-string guitars, “They sound good, but you never want to change the strings.”

Hausenfluck laughed. “You got that right!”

Hausenfluck added fiddle to his musical repertoire, having learned bowing techniques largely by listening carefully to players at festivals he attended in Southwest Virginia as a kid. He turned to banjo in 1969, an instrument he couldn’t quite master until he met Louie “Aunt Lou” McCray, of Highland County, who taught him the clawhammer style with an assist from his father who sat in on the sessions and knew exactly how to describe to Hausenfluck what McCray was doing.

Besides performing and winning prizes, Hausenfluck made records and developed a following.

Mark Campbell is a champion fiddler who has known Hausenfluck for decades — “Lithia Fiddlers Convention, 1974,” Hausenfluck said later when I asked about the first time he met Campbell, “and I think it was held in June” — and is a member of The Virginia Home’s house band.

Campbell described Hausenfluck as “one of the best Southern bowers I ever heard and one of the strongest musicians you would ever hear. Just unfailing in the rhythm and the intensity. Strong, strong playing.”

He was such a good player, Campbell said, that “he might have been too strong for a band to hang with him long because he expected them to be as strong as he was, and nobody was as strong as he was.”

Hausenfluck is very particular about his playing, and his insistence on the highest quality possible could make him come off to some, Campbell said, as a bit “ornery.”

Hamilton, the chaplain who also has a musical background, recalls a musician who used to play with Hausenfluck telling a story about one group jam in which Hausenfluck stopped in the middle of a song and said, “Somebody’s B-string is flat.” A while later, he stopped again, turned to this particular musician and said, “Your B-string is flat.”

“I appreciate when I play with him that he doesn’t point out things like that too often,” Hamilton said.

“Notice,” Hausenfluck added with a laugh, “he said, ‘not too often.’ ”

Music, whether he’s listening, playing or sharing, seems to remain Hausenfluck’s lifeblood.

“No matter what has happened in his life,” said Bowers, the music therapist who plays piano in the house band, “the music has always been there.”

Someone mentioned they thought Hausenfluck, based on his career as a piano tuner and his ability to hear flat B-strings in a crowd, has “perfect pitch.”

“No such thing,” Hausenfluck said. “It’s called ‘good relative pitch.’”

Well, I said, whatever it’s called, it seems like you’ve still got it.

Yep, Hausenfluck said with a smile, “I think I still got it.”

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Faces of 2019: After gaining citizenship, Romanian native can't wait to vote in 2020 election

How you know him: In 2007, while on a temporary work visa from his native Romania, ice cream vendor Danny Teodorescu was shot and seriously wounded in Richmond.

He was befriended by Dr. Joe Niamtu III and his wife, April, who took him into their family. In a follow-up article last July, just before he was sworn in as a U.S. citizen in a July 4 ceremony on the grounds of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture, Teodorescu talked about his marriage to Ruxandra Zait, his successful career as a systems engineer and his home he was renovating. “A great ‘American dream’ story,” Niamtu said.

What’s new: After the citizenship ceremony, Danny and Ruxandra celebrated with friends at the beach and were surprised with a cake and a framed copy of the Richmond Times-Dispatch article by his work friends at CodeBlue Technology. Later, there was a family vacation to Japan.

“When we returned back home, we were very surprised by the customs agent from the airport,” Teodorescu said. “After we presented our documents and passed the checkpoint, he said, ‘Welcome back home, sir.’ This statement made me feel incredibly good and gave me goosebumps. It feels incredible.”

As a new citizen, he also is looking forward to voting in the 2020 election.

“Now my vote will count, too,” he said. “It is a great feeling.”

Through everything, Teodorescu said he has been “blessed with many great friends and so much kindness.”

Since the July story, he and Ruxandra have added another family member: a Shih Tzu they have named Bruno.

“He is very cute and brings so much joy,” he said.

Making a Difference: Nigel Williams using passions of art, football as avenues to give back

Growing up, Nigel Williams was always into some aspect of the arts.

Early on, it was music. He remembers playing saxophone in his middle school band.

But after Williams entered high school at Benedictine, visual art grabbed his attention. It was a passion that grew as he learned more.

The newfound interest came as Williams made a name for himself in another arena: football. It was a sport Williams had played since he was 6.

At Benedictine, Williams rose to become one of the premier defensive tackle recruits in the country. He went on to a successful career at Virginia Tech, and garnered NFL interest.

Now, back in Richmond and establishing a career as a portfolio/investment administrator at Agili, Williams is using his dual pursuits of art and athletics as avenues to give back.

Williams, 26, rejoined the Benedictine football program last year, as a defensive line coach. He also teamed up with one of his former Benedictine art teachers, Elizabeth Scolaro, to teach art to inmates at the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center.

The two have their sights set on establishing a new nonprofit to back art initiatives, too.

“His professionalism, definitely,” Scolaro said when asked what makes Williams the right person for the work he’s doing. “But he carries himself with integrity, and he is very kind and loving to people. And just authentic, you know? And you want that.”

Williams began opening up to various mediums and facets of art as a student at Benedictine. He learned the theories behind art. Every few weeks, he was trying something different.

Scolaro taught Williams his sophomore through senior years, as he took a variety of classes — from pottery to AP studio art.

For Williams, art became a way to decompress throughout the day.

“I know by the time I got to my senior year, I was in the art room almost all day,” he said. “I was trying to squeeze in a couple pieces during lunch break. I had a class in the morning, another class [in the] afternoon.”

Meanwhile, Williams, who elevated to become the 15th-ranked football recruit in Virginia, committed to play at Virginia Tech before his senior season.

Once on campus in Blacksburg, there wasn’t much time for art instruction around Williams’ football schedule. But he did squeeze in some doodling on the side, continuing to use art as a way to unwind.

On the field, Williams redshirted his first year in 2012, but played 51 games, with 20 starts, over the next four years, while earning a degree in economic management. He was not selected in the 2017 NFL draft, but signed with the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent that spring. He spent the preseason months with them, but was waived in early September.

All the while, Williams continued to stay in touch with Scolaro. The two connected again when Williams returned to Richmond from Buffalo.

It was around that time that the opportunity at Bon Air presented itself. One of Scolaro’s friends, Virginia Maitland, reached out to her about helping with a Christmas pizza party at Bon Air.

Maitland’s husband, Jerry, is a small group leader coordinating volunteer activity at Bon Air through Thrive Church in Richmond. Scolaro agreed to lend a hand.

As she walked in the first time, one of the boys who came out for the party was holding a pack of oil pastels. Scolaro remembered her own similar habit as a child, walking to the dinner table with her colored pencils.

She hit it off with the boy at Bon Air and began discussing color theory with him.

“And he was like, ‘I don’t know about those so we need to do more,’ ” Scolaro said.

So, in January 2018, she found out how to continue volunteering at Bon Air, and Williams joined her right away. Since early that year, the two have continued to spend time working on art with those at Bon Air, on Sundays once or twice a month.

Each visit, Williams and Scolaro share the teaching of an art lesson, along with a devotional and prayer. They have worked with the inmates on a variety of mediums, including colored pencils, watercolor paints, and pen and ink. They are planning sessions on chalk pastels and pour painting.

The lessons have been conducted in one particular pod within Bon Air, which has allowed Williams and Scolaro to work with a lot of the same boys each time. Six to eight of them, mostly ages 14 to 18, will typically attend each session.

Williams said seeing the kids support one another is perhaps the coolest part. Some poke their head in and may not be particularly confident in art to start. But they get the opportunity to sit down and try it, and the progression follows.

“These kids come from all types of backgrounds,” Williams said. “So it’s pretty cool seeing how they all kind of just communicate with art. And then I think the biggest thing is just the scripture part as well, just seeing how much these kids open up, not just to us, but to each other.”

While Williams was beginning the work at Bon Air, he started at Agili, a financial planning and investment firm, in February 2018. Two more NFL opportunities presented themselves, too. He had a workout with the Tennessee Titans in spring 2018, and signed with the Arizona Cardinals for a stint later that offseason.

At Benedictine, the Cadets won a state title this fall. Williams said perhaps the biggest reward of coaching is seeing the players reap the benefits of their work, through winning and, for some, earning the chance to play in college.

For him, the payoff is “just seeing how the kids just work throughout the year and push each other and just become leaders of themselves in the locker room,” he said.

And though Williams is not actively pursuing more playing opportunities of his own at the moment, he’s continuing to stay in shape in case a call comes.

He and Scolaro, meanwhile, are exploring how they can continue to do good through art. They are currently piecing together the blueprint of the nonprofit they have planned, which will be called Synergies in Art and Faith. The idea sprouted from a trip to Kenya they took recently, for an art conference.

Synergies in Art and Faith may launch sometime during the second half of 2020, supporting further art programming.

The way Williams sees it, there’s so much that can be done with the free time available to him away from work.

He’s making sure to use it to give back and to serve as a positive influence — whether in an art class or on a football field.

“I feel like there’s a lot of room where, especially with kids, that they just need somebody that can be a good role model to them,” Williams said. “There’s so many other things that they can look at, but just having somebody right there they can talk to and that’s had the same experiences as them. I just enjoy it. Just connecting with them.”