A small ‘Taste’ of the benefits

This Saturday (Sept. 8), think what you can do for the children of Rappahannock County.

The annual Taste of Rappahannock gala, held for the benefit of the Headwaters Foundation and the students in Rappahannock County, promises to be the best one ever. Okay, I’ll confess – I ran the foundation for a few years, so I have a vested interest in the Taste’s success. But if you love children, and want to serve the next generation of local students, you should too.

As the late cartoonist and supporter Jeff MacNelly's illustrates, the Headwaters Foundation sponsors its 15th annual Taste of Rappahannock, which makes the best of a difficult task by feeding patrons well and awarding some truly distinctive prizes.
As the late cartoonist and supporter Jeff MacNelly’s illustrates, the Headwaters Foundation sponsors its 15th annual Taste of Rappahannock, which makes the best of a difficult task by feeding patrons well and awarding some truly distinctive prizes.

Under the able guidance of executive director Jane Bowling-Wilson, Headwaters is serving more students in the county than ever before, adding a childhood reading booster and beefing up other programs. In partnership with Shannon Grimsley, instructional coordinator for Rappahannock County Public Schools, and Cathy Jones, principal of the elementary school, Headwaters has started a reading program for students in kindergarten through second grade who are not reading at grade level. Liz Blubaugh, director of the Starfish Mentoring Program, has recruited 15 volunteer tutors who will work with one or two students on a weekly basis. In addition, Grimsley is creating learning centers within the elementary school that will focus on specific reading skills, reinforcing the skills the tutors are teaching one-on-one.

The After-School Program, successfully launched last year with a slim budget and enormous support from the elementary school and dedicated community volunteers, is poised to start up again in October. This fall, “Cool School” will meet twice a week and offer students a variety of options, including math, arts and crafts, science, Lego Simple Machines and basketball. Homework help is part of every session, and new enrichment classes will be offered each term in response to student requests. Last year, the newly formed program served 42 elementary school students; eight high school students volunteered to be teaching aides in each enrichment classroom.

Sixteen students, ages 9 to 14, in the competitive First Lego League (FLL) Robotics “Cool School” class have already started work on this year’s League Challenge and will compete with other schools later this fall.

Headwaters’ established programs are thriving as well. Under the leadership of Jen Rattigan, Farm-to-Table has turned more dirt into a new garden at the Blue Rock Inn, a school neighbor and community partner, to grow more local food for the school lunch table. Jen has carried on the Farm-to-Table tradition of community outreach by building new raised beds at the Rappahannock Senior Center and the Food Pantry. She is also teaching a new agriculture course in the high school as well as teaching Farm-to-Table elective classes at the elementary school, as did her predecessor, Trista Grigsby. Trista has taken on new challenges as the nutrition director for the schools, and is working closely with Jen on Food Tastings to provide as much locally grown, healthy produce for the students as possible. Rumor has it that ABC will be interviewing Trista at the end of the month about her nutrition program and Farm-to-Table. Stay tuned.

In addition to managing and training the tutors for the elementary school Reading Program, Liz Blubaugh, director of Starfish, continues to pair up volunteer adult mentors with young at-risk students, and has also assigned five high school student “life coaches” to help with career planning and life after Rappahannock for those students who are looking at an immediate future other than college.

Next Step, guided by Paula Howland, and in partnership with the Rappahannock County High School guidance program, is now offering free SAT Prep for high school juniors and seniors with funding from Headwaters. The class meets twice a week at the high school for six weeks prior to the SAT. This support is part of Next Step’s mission to help as many graduating seniors attend a four-year college as possible. Previously, SAT prep was only available online or outside of Rappahannock and at great expense.

So you see, the Taste of Rappahannock, Headwaters’ biggest annual fundraiser, isn’t really just another dinner and auction with fabulous food conjured by Terri Lehman, Kurt Streu (culinary arts director at the high school) and other local culinary luminaries, and an auction chock full of wonderful local artwork, entertainment opportunities and more. The Taste is a lifeline for students in the county served by all of Headwaters’ programs.

If you can’t make the event, you can still participate. There’s the first-ever 100×100 raffle. Buy a $100 dollar ticket and win your choice of any one of 10 live auction items, including a week at a house on a Scottish island, dinner for six prepared by Chef Dayn Smith, a class making and consuming aphrodisiacs and six other splendid one-of-a-kind opportunities. You can make your choice online at headwatersfdn.org or call Jane Wilson at Headwaters at 540-987-3322. And you don’t even have to attend the event or bid to win! But, I hope to see you Saturday.