Talk: Emma Blankenbaker & Savitha Sagar

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Emma Blankenbaker [pictured above front], chair of McLean Matters, and Savitha Sagar, Vice President of Programs at the McLean High School PTSA [Parent Teacher Student Association].  McLean High School has approximately 280 students, nearly 12% of the student body, who are at, or below, the poverty level. McLean Matters — a student support program committee that is part of the PTSA (Parent-Teacher-Student Association) — aids those students in need with fundraising efforts to secure supplies and donations from the McLean High School community. 

Q. What are some specific projects McLean Matters does to help the underserved students?

Blankenbaker: At McLean High School, 12% percent of our [student] body is at or below the poverty level, They qualify for free lunches, support activities and computers. In order to support those students, we find out automatically through the counselors what these students need and are lacking. We often provide new backpacks and scientific calculators because those are pretty expensive. You have to have those for geometry and above. Around the holidays, we work with the community to collect gift cards for groceries and winter break needs, whether it’s clothing or other necessities. The counselors put all of those into envelopes and send those home with the student families to enjoy over the winter break. 

Sagar: One of the things we help with is that typically there’s a fee or tickets for major events. The counselors also have a list of students who are in need. It’s kept confidential for the student purposes so we don’t know who those students are. There is coordination that happens between the PTSA and the school to ensure that there’s an iron curtain to protect the students identity but at the same time the help still goes through from PTSA to the school so the items are distributed. So if they come in and say, ‘Two, three kids are planning to go to prom and need tickets, and we’d like to help them out’, then the PTSA help with funding to get what they need.  

Q. When did McLean Matters start?

Sagar: About four or five years ago, we didn’t necessarily have McLean Matters. It was more of if there’s a need, someone would come and ask at PTSA but it was a long process and we didn’t plan for it. It was more of an ad hoc. Both Emma and I came from Longfellow Middle School. Emma was actually leading an effort at [Longfellow] While I was treasurer there, she was the chair of Longfellow Loves, which is a similar program to McLean Matters, but it was catering to Longfellow students and middle school students. When we both came to McLean, because our children were going to high school, we were trying to figure out what programs we wanted to formalize. Emma and I knew that McLean Matters could be something that we can actually make a program, not just an ad hoc. Emma jumped in. She took the lead as a chair for that committee. We started coordinating, developing relationships with the school. Whether it’s the counselors who are in touch with the students, and some of the Student Services staff who also work with students, the psychologists, and the social workers. When we started the program, I was president elect of the McLean PTSA. And then as the president, I helped formalize the program. I’m now helping as the VP of programs and at this point, Emma has been running this single handedly coordinating with the PTSA and parents as chair of McLean Matters.

Q. How has the community helped with the McLean Matters program?

Sagar: We are very lucky to have a community that is very welcoming and actually wants to help. One example is that Emma had found out about a situation with one student who was a sophomore. She was working and supporting her mother, who was also working. This situation happened right here in McLean. We don’t think these things happen here. Emma had talked about this situation, not to tell a story, but to bring awareness to the community so people are aware that we have neighbors who might be living in this same situation as this sophomore. And that brought in such an immense and tremendous amount of support. People were calling and saying, ‘Hey, can we just write a check to this family?’ Because these are the things where you can’t write a check to the school. You can’t write a check to the PTSA. But you can actually help the families in need or the students in need. So I’d say we’re acting more as catalysts. We’re a nonprofit organization. The school has its educational organization. So we can’t necessarily write checks ourselves, but we can actually build awareness and collect information. And we collect gift cards that can be passed on to the school which then goes to the families.

Blankenbaker: All of the proceedings go directly to the families. We don’t collect anything, it’s all given to the families and the people in need.

Above left: Savitha Sager, Vice President of Programs at the McLean High School PTSA and above right Ellen Reilly, McLean High School principal.

Q. What are the challenges McLean Matters faces?

Blankenbaker: I haven’t faced any major challenges other than when we go to an organization and ask for donations for school supplies. Occasionally, they will decline. But there are so many other places we can contact that it doesn’t really inhibit what we’re able to bring in. And then as far as the winter gift card drive, I would say it’s just the opposite. It’s just overwhelming how generous the community is.

Q. Share with us your favorite part of working with McLean Matters?

Blankenbaker: I would have to say it’s the people that I get to work with in the PTSA. The best part for me is working with the administrators at school and I get to work with the counselors as well. I meet all kinds of neat people that are willing to help. It’s just so heartwarming when I put out a message through the PTSA newsletter. People all the time are writing to me directly saying if you need any help collecting clothing or gift cards, let me know. There’s always someone willing to help.

Q. Are there future projects you’d like to see get off the ground with McLean Matters? 

Sagar: Yes actually. As we were looking at the students in need, one of the things we were looking at was scholarships figuring out how we go about doing this. So one thing that we’ve been discussing was how do we make these scholarships be in place, not just for one year, but continue on year over year. So this year, we are moving forward with the scholarship funds for seniors and we wanted to not just do it for seniors, but actually focusing primarily on seniors who actually have the need. So that way the seniors who actually are in accepted and enrolled in a four year accredited college, get the scholarship and it’s something that the school actually designs in terms of the qualification and things of that nature, because they are much more aware of the students, not just the need but also their qualification if they meet the criteria and everything. So that’s something I want to say we’ve been successful in actually establishing it this [past] year. And that way, it moves into the budget next year and so on and so forth. So that’s something that has come out of McLean Matters. I’d say it’s a positive thing.

Q. When you are not busy being the Chair of McLean Matters, what do you do?

Blankenbaker: I have a therapy dog and we do therapy dog visits at McLean High School during the lunch periods. I love hanging out with my family and I love to cook everything.

Q. Do you have a favorite restaurant in McLean?

Blankenbaker: I would have to say Aracosia. I love the appetizers, especially the dumplings, the potato leek dumplings.

Sagar: The potato leeks are my favorite as well from Aracosia.

Dania Reza is the social media content curator for McLean Today. She is a senior at McLean High school and is the design editor-in-chief of her award-winning school news magazine, The Highlander. 

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Talk: Gracie de Luca

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Gracie de Luca, the manager and an instructor at Pure Barre McLean. The 50 minute group class workouts —  offered in the studio and virtually — focus on low-impact, small movements that promise to strengthen and tone your entire body.

Q. What is Pure Barre? 

Pure Barre is a form of exercise that revolves around the bar. We focus on low impact workouts that create high impact results. We now offer 5 class formats — Classic, Empower, Reform, Align  and Define, which came out a couple weeks ago.

Q. How many members do you have? How many staff?

Right now we have 125 members. It took a pretty big hit after Covid so we’re still in the process of rebuilding and getting back our members. We have nine staff members right now. We have six teachers, two desk associates, and including me, it’s nine.

Pure Barre McLean: Shop and shake! In addition to work outs, the studio has a retail area selling fitness inspired clothing and accessories.
Pure Barre’s sell: A total body workout, Pure Barre lifts your seat, tones your thighs, abs, and arms!

Q. Do you need fitness experience to start coming to Pure Barre?

I don’t think so. The barre classes are very easy to follow — even for your first class — because the teachers are telling you what you’re doing and they demo parts of the form. Even if you’ve never been before, you’ll catch on pretty quickly.

Q. What is your fitness background?

 I became interested in fitness after being a manager at Lifetime Fitness in Fairfax. My current workout routine revolves around being a Pure barre instructor. I have to learn new choreography for every single class I teach, I teach evening classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I practice a lot at home so I consider that a great workout. I am [also] currently getting my masters in social work at VCU [Virginia Commonwealth University] online and I will be graduating in 2024.

Q. What is your favorite part of the job?

Definitely working with the staff, I love all my girls that work with me. They’re all super fun to be around and super helpful. It’s nice to be able to make them happy as a manager. That’s honestly the best part of it.

Q. What is the most challenging part of your job?

Probably the marketing and publicity aspect. I run the social media aspect. There are always going to be hard decisions to make as a manager and a lot of the time you have to do what makes the most sense for the studio.

Q. What is your goal as manager?

My personal goal is to get us to the place we were before COVID, or a better place in terms of numbers and class format and time availability. Just so we can make the members we have here happy and also attract new ones with a full class schedule. During COVID, the studio closed down for a period of time and then they were back to doing social distancing classes. Even though [the studio] was back open, people were still scared to come which is understandable. A lot of people canceled their memberships. After that, all of our studios, at least all of our sister studios, really took a hit in terms of membership counts. So we are just trying to rebuild from what happened.

Q. Do you have a favorite restaurant to go to in McLean?

Chesapeake Bagel Bakery. That place is so good for bagels and breakfast sandwiches. They’re bacon, egg and cheese sandwich is so good. I like to get their plain bagels with cream cheese as well. Honestly, everything is really good.

Dania Reza is the social media content curator for McLean Today. She is a junior at McLean High school and is an assistant design editor-in-chief of her award-winning school news magazine, The Highlander. 

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Talk: Lauren Rothman

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Lauren Rothman, principal and founder of fashion consulting firm Styleauteur. For over 20 years, Rothman has been a brand image strategist, thought leader, and  highly sought after expert and speaker on corporate and professional image. Image is a powerful communication tool and Styleauteur empowers individuals to identify their style DNA in order to exude a successful executive presence both in person and online.

Q. Define “Styleauter” for us.

The word Styleauter means author of style. That is essentially, how I would describe what my company is: “image therapy through communication around style.”

Q. How did Styleauteur begin to take shape?

I started out in New York City and I worked for a woman named Faith Popcorn. She had a company called Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve which was a marketing consultancy in New York City. Through working with her, I learned a lot around how to anticipate, predict and forecast cultural trends. I was able to create my own method of how cultural trends worked its way into fashion forecasts. Corporate clients started asking me for help to get dressed. I used to take clients around the country. I started to come up with a conversation around dress codes and what to wear where

Lauren is a highly sought after expert and speaker on corporate and professional image. She has appeared on stage before Fortune 500 companies, Global 1000 companies, top law firms, and major industry conferences.

Q. What led you to become a style guru?

It’s my calling. Style is a form of communication that I feel is very undervalued. I truly believe that style is a superpower. It’s the name of the keynote talk that I do. I speak at a lot of conferences and it’s my most popular topic because I don’t just talk about fashion. I don’t just dress people. My goal is to empower people to understand that you don’t need a cape to be a superhero but you have to have the courage to get dressed as an effective form of communication. I’m trademarking the movement that I have created around the work that I do, which is “Style is a Superpower.” So if you want to use “Style as a Superpower,” you would write a little service mark at the end of it, like when you see a word and it has a TM, instead you would write an SM.

Q. What keeps you motivated twenty years later?

It is my absolute passion. I live and breathe the flow of fashion and for me, it’s about empowering my clients to be the strongest version of themselves. I work with individuals and companies so if you’re an individual who’s running for office, how do [you] use your nonverbal communication cues to get more votes [and] what that looks like and feels like. Functionally, what do you need or how many pockets do you need in your clothes, because you’re going through 12 to 14 hours in that outfit. If you’re a company and you have a dress code for your employees, how do you have an appropriate dress code that’s inclusive and doesn’t say women are allowed to wear this and men are allowed to wear that? Companies hire me to help them create dress codes, educate and enforce dress codes, and to update policy, then to also just empower employees to understand the look of what leadership looks like on an individualized scale.

Q. What are some of the topics of your speaking engagements?

I am often talking about nonverbal communication cues, and how to own the room [when I] talk to companies and organizations, and that could include doing a fashion show at Bloomingdale’s, speaking at a women’s conference, or going into a Fortune 500 company. I talk a lot around competence and empowerment and how fashion is a series of choices that helps your overall presence. But fashion and style are very different. Fashion is what is sold in a store. Style is what happens in your closet. So when you get dressed to go to work [and] when you get dressed to have an interaction with people in the world, how do you step into your power? For some people, it’s hair and makeup for other people it’s skincare. For some, it’s putting on your gym clothes, but whatever it is, clothing is a tool we use when it comes to nonverbal communication. That language that we use, it’s exercised through clothing. I like to empower people to be able to express themselves in a way that makes sense. That’s going [to] get your audience to do whatever you need them to do, whether it’s vote for you or it’s just listening.

Q. You’ve been asked for your opinions in various media over the years —  is there a most memorable moment?

I’ve been on TV a lot. I’ve been on CNN and Entertainment Tonight. One of the most favorite TV spots that I ever did was on Entertainment Tonight during [President] Obama’s inauguration. I was on a rooftop near the White House. And I got to in real time talk about what Michelle Obama was wearing as she marched in the parade and what she was wearing for inauguration. That was certainly one of the highlights.

Q. What is McLean Style?

McLean is about understated luxury and everyday basics. It’s not about showing off your wealth. It’s really very quiet under the radar luxury that we see. It is not about logos. It’s about quality over quantity and it’s about investment pieces. My clients in McLean travel a lot and want a lot of function out of their clothes. McLean style—  if I had to define it —  it would be stealth wealth, which is like you’re wearing a sweater but I bet it’s not from Target. But it could be from Target. I’m not sure since it’s just a cream sweater. Stealth wealth is that it probably costs like $2,000, but because it doesn’t have a logo or telltale sign, I don’t know where it’s from. That’s McLean style. 

Q. What might surprise us about what it takes to being a successful stylist?

It takes lots of hard work and you spend a ton of time on your feet. Most people getting started in the world of styling don’t really realize how much physical labor goes into being a stylist. You’re constantly sorting clothes, walking around stores, transporting clothes, and then your whole appointment all day is on your feet. Definitely need comfortable shoes.

Q. Where do you get your style inspiration from?

I get a lot of it from the stores and from being out and looking. I love to travel [and] I love to see what trends are happening in other cities. Personally, I love to mix high and low and I love being able to combine something that I found in Target with something else. 

Q. What activities do you like to do with your family in McLean?

We love all of McLean parks. Hiking on Scott’s Run [Nature Preserve] is a definite favorite. Tysons is one of our favorite places to hang out. I wish I could pitch a tent at Tysons Corner Center and spend the night. My son loves it too. Shopping is both my job and my relaxation.

Lauren’s book, Style Bible: What to Wear to Work, is the definitive guide for the modern professional on how to dress to impress, and is a useful tool that emphasizes the continued importance of image in the workplace.

Dania Reza is the social media content curator for McLean Today. She is a junior at McLean High school and is an assistant design editor-in-chief of her award-winning school news magazine, The Highlander. 

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Talk: Andrew Carter

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Andrew Carter, manager of the Old Firehouse Center [OFC], the teen center run by McLean Community Center. For over 13 years, Carter has worked at the Old Firehouse —  an award-winning facility that creates fun for kids in a safe atmosphere and a place for McLean, Va teens to participate in personal development programming facilitated by professional and experienced staff members. During school hours, McLean Community Center officials (who operate the facility) make it available to groups such as the Safe Community Coalition, McLean Youth Orchestra, Georgetown Learning Center, Specially Adapted Resource Clubs and the Lewinsville Senior Center.

Q. What is the Old Firehouse Center? 

The Old Firehouse is a part of the McLean Community Center, but we focus more on teens and family programs. So that includes the after school program for kids in fifth grade through ninth grade. We have family events such as bingo and snacking, painting, block parties, and we also do camps. We have summer camps for those fifth and ninth graders as well.

Q. How did you come to be manager of the teen center?

This was part of my journey. I started here in 2010 as a part timer as a facilitator with the kids. Throughout my journey here, I’ve been promoted along the way from just a regular facilitator to the lead facilitator and tshirt coordinator, until I got my first full time job here as the camp director. Then, that led to me becoming the general manager. So I’ve been here at the [Old Firehouse] for 13 years.

Q. 13 years, that’s a long time to be in one job these days. What makes you stay?

There’s a lot of opportunity here. People love recreation in this area and being in this field is something that I enjoy and I enjoy being able to provide that for people who really want [it], it is very fulfilling. But also the kids in this area are great. It’s a joy to be able to have kids come over [to the] after school program in 2012, and then six, seven years later when they come back as grown individuals, to see how they turned out and to get that appreciation from them.

Q. What is the most challenging part of running the Old Firehouse? Favorite part ?

My favorite part of being a manager is that I get to be involved in a little bit of everything. I get to oversee all the programs that we get to do [and] bring in staff that have the same passion. Just being able to come to work every day and even though I don’t get the opportunity to hang out with the kids as much as I would like to do, just being able to provide the activities is very fulfilling. The most challenging thing is probably the lack of time with everything that we already have going on. It’s always hard to plan new activities even though we want to, but we have other activities running as well. There’s so many things that the public [wants] to do that us as a group want to do too but we don’t have all the time that we can to plan it and execute it.

Q.  What is your goal as manager?

The number one goal for me is to make sure that this building is a safe and clean and [an] admirable place for people to come who want to enjoy but in addition to provide as many quality programs for the youth, teens, and families. Also, as a manager, the goal is to get my staff all the opportunities that they can when it comes to programming and executing events. So that can help them find full time work, whether it be here or somewhere else. One of my major goals… is to continue to work on the visibility of the Old Firehouse in the downtown McLean area.

Q. Do you have a favorite activity of the Teen Center that you are involved with?

I enjoy a lot of the activities, my favorite ones are the summer excursion camps and our block parties. Our summer excursion camp is for lodging fifth to ninth graders and we take a trip every day. We try to include some type of physical fitness, whether it be a ropes course or indoor trampoline. We do rafting, or we’ll go to Dave and Busters. And then, once or twice a week, we have longer field trips where we go to the beach or Busch Gardens. So it’s pretty much the kids and our staff interacting on a day to day basis, having a good time. One of our block parties is “Happy Old Firehouse”. [This] happens every September and it’s like a birthday party for the [Old Firehouse]. So, next year will be our 33rd birthday, since the teen center opened in 1990. So we block off the street, we have food, music, and entertainment, and it’s a way for us to showcase our building but also get the community together to just have fun.

The Old Firehouse Teen Center, located at 1440 Chain Bridge Road in McLean, provides a range of activities throughout the year. Events include after-school programs, activities on Friday nights, trips during school breaks, summer camps and an annual block party. The center sometimes also holds dances for fifth- and sixth-graders. The Old Firehouse Teen Center, which retained the former fire station’s hose-drying tower and apparatus-bay doors, opened in October 1990.

Q. Have the kids taught you anything from your time at the Old Firehouse?

The two things that they’ve taught me was just to be yourself. We all enjoy the same things. So when they know you like sports, anime, or video games, [that] gives you a bond to have that connection with them. And then that gives them something to talk about with you and vice versa. The second thing they’ve taught me is just be honest. People go through life hearing things that they don’t want to hear. So the one thing that they appreciate when they come to our buildings is that we’ll be honest with them.

Q. What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I normally just like to play with my dog Cocoa — he’s a 4 year old Husky/Terrier/Rottweiler Mix — and watch sports and movies. Normally, I want to do a lot of the things that we do with the kids. I think that’s why I enjoy the job so much to now find things outside of work that I think ‘this is good for the kids’ and then apply it to work.

Q. What occupies your time outside of work?

I’m really big into sports. Growing up, most boys dream of becoming a professional athlete. That didn’t really happen to me because I broke each ankle five times. I’ve had 10 ankle injuries throughout my teenage years. Most of my ankle injuries occurred by playing basketball, whether in leagues or just for fun.  I obviously never learned my lesson, haha. My favorite teams: Dallas Cowboys (NFL), Washington Wizards (NBA), Washington Capitals (NHL), Baltimore Orioles (MLB), Virginia Tech (College), DC United & Manchester City (Soccer).  I always have something to watch all year.

Q. Any secret talents?

[Some]thing people don’t really know about me is [that] I play trumpet. I was in the marching band in high school and middle school and a little bit in college.

Q. Do you have a go to restaurant in McLean?

Listrani’s is my number one. My favorite dish is the baked ziti with garlic bread. I really like going to them because they’re very nice and supportive. They do some stuff as far as events as well so I’d like to support them at the same time. There’s a lot of other places I like to go to in McLean. That’s the one good thing about working here at the Old Firehouse. We’re kind of right in the middle of everything and we have a lot of options. 

Dania Reza is the social media content curator for McLean Today. She is a junior at McLean High school and is an assistant design editor-in-chief of her award-winning school news magazine, The Highlander. 

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Talk: Al Berg

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Al Berg, the Langley High School golf coach. Since 1996, Berg has coached his team  — which have been Liberty District Champions for 22 years — to victory. Last season, the co-ed Langley golf team set a new scoring record in a 36-hole competition. The longtime golf coach aided his team to win seven straight state championships which is an all time record as well. 

Q. When did you first pick up a golf club?

I started golfing around 13 years old. My dad was a golfer. I used to go out with him and follow him around. It seemed pretty intriguing to me. I really love sports but I wasn’t particularly big in [them]. I was well coordinated so I found that [golf] really suited me well and I was able to do well with it. I’m still learning. It’s the game that you never really master. It’s a game that’s always challenging you and you can play it way past the point you can play most other sports.

Q. When did you start coaching at Langley?

I started coaching the Langley golf team 26 years ago. I was a teacher at Cooper Middle School which feeds into [Langley High School]. Then the position opened up at Langley and I applied for it and have been there for 26 years. I came close to teaching at Langley but I was perfectly happy at Cooper and I got to meet my future golfers a little bit earlier because I saw them in the seventh and eighth grade. I started coaching golf for the first time when I started my position at Langley, roughly around 1996-1997. 

Q. Can you explain the golf team’s victories from the past seasons?

We’ve had a remarkable stretch and many of those victories have been pretty dominating. Last year was probably the closest one we had. In one tournament, we only won by six strokes but yet we won states by as many as 38 shots which is ridiculous. You just don’t win a state tournament by 38 shots, but we did that year. Out of the 26 years I have coached, we have been Liberty District Champions for 22 years.

Q. Since retiring from teaching, you’re commuting all the way from Richmond to coach. Why not just give it up? What’s the allure?

I lived in Reston until I retired about 12 years ago. I’d already been a coach at Langley, we’d already won one state championship, but we had a really good team coming back. I really didn’t want to miss the opportunity to help the team win the state championship so I decided to see how it went with me commuting up here. I don’t commute back and forth every day, I usually come up once a week and go back after a couple of days. This worked for me [as] the first thing we did was win the state championship that year and we’ve had such great teams in the last year. We won seven straight state championships and I just keep getting some really great players who are very dedicated. Going back and forth on I-95 isn’t a whole lot of fun but the team makes it worthwhile.

Coach Berg and his championship Langley High School golf team

Q. What are your secrets to being a “successful coach”?

The key is to try to develop a program that has some success because when you do that it seems to build on itself without me having necessarily anything to do with it. The kids know that they’re coming to a team that has been the best team in the state almost for decades so they’re very motivated and the competition to be one of the six starters is pretty intense. I try to make it clear to them that even though you might not be one of the six starters, the fact that the team is playing really well, [will] push them to start playing better. I really have been very fortunate to have some of the best players that I’ve ever seen come out of the state. This past year, we had three seniors that started on the state team, and they’re all going to play college golf. I stress to the kids that even though they might be involved in some other sports, they should try to really excel in golf. You really have to keep your game up all year round. It can’t just be a summer sport. 

Q. Do you still play golf for recreation?

Absolutely I still play. It’s a game that I will always play. I just played yesterday.

Q. Who’s your favorite all time golfer and why?

I don’t know if I could pick one, but I would say Ben Hogan. Ben Hogan had to overcome so much and [then] to become as good as he was. After his automobile accident, the doctor said he would never walk again. Not only did he walk again but he actually became the number one golfer in the world after that. He had to overcome all of that and he grew up poor with a family who didn’t have much at all. He just worked so hard. No golfer has ever worked harder than Ben Hogan.

Q. What’s the most challenging part about coaching Langley Golf? The best part?

The best part is preparing for tournaments. I must admit I’m a bit of a nervous wreck when they’re actually playing in the tournaments. But I like preparing them, mapping out the course and giving them some advice. The most difficult part is that I always have some really outstanding [players] who don’t make the starting lineup. Unlike other sports, golf starts off with six players and those are your six players for the day. It’s a little frustrating that I can only play six, I would love to play ten.

Q. Do you have any favorite restaurants you like to go to when you are in McLean?

Rocco’s is a good place. In fact, the person who owns and runs Rocco’s was my assistant coach for two years so I always felt a little loyalty to Rocco’s and I enjoy their pizza. 

Q. Do you have any tips to become a great golfer?

You have to learn how to deal with frustration. Even if you’re really good at something, golf can [be] very frustrating. I’m really impressed with the ability of the teams that I’ve had to be able to deal with the frustration involved because most of the things the golfers do in life lend themselves pretty quickly to effort. You put the effort in and you get rewarded. Golf is not always like that. Sometimes you can be trying so hard but you’re just not quite getting it. It is very difficult and I think it is the hardest game to master. So in order to be great, you have to deal with this frustration.

Q. How do you feel going into the next golf season for next year?

My feeling is that we always have a good team coming back. My goal is to get to the state tournament and be competitive. We were great last year. We had a tremendous run and I can’t speak more highly of how players have performed under pressure. It’s a very difficult game, especially when you’ve got a lot of pressure on you. Every time that it looks like we were maybe in a little bit of trouble, we start playing better. I hope that continues. It’s been a fantastic run.

Dania Reza is the social media content curator for McLean Today. She is a junior at McLean High school and is an assistant design editor-in-chief of her school news magazine, The Highlander. 

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Talk: Saehee Perez

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Saehee Perez, a McLean High School senior recently selected as one of Virginia’s delegates in the United States Senate Youth Program. The U.S. Senate Youth Program is a week-long educational program for high school students interested in government related fields. Two delegates are selected from each state, including Washington, D.C .to represent in this event.

Q. Explain to us, what is the U.S. Senate Youth Program?

The United States Senate Youth Program is a scholarship program where each delegate receives $10,000 for college and gets to spend a week in DC fully funded. They’ll get to meet different people from [the] government and top journalists [who] might come in as well. This is supposed to give high schoolers an insight into different government officials. 

Q. Why did you decide to apply for the program?

I am very interested in politics. It’s something that I want to study and pursue once I graduate. This program also has an alumni network of people that have been involved in politics since they were in high school. The opportunity to get to sit down with senators and have a meeting is amazing. Beyond that, being able to meet different people within the government. That’s something that I really wanted to experience because I’ve never been 100% sure about pursuing politics. I think it’s an opportunity for me to learn if this is the right path for me.

Q. Do you have any experience in government as a student?

I ran for class of 2023 president for junior and senior year [and won both offices]. This past year, I also ran for a SGA [Student Government Association] position and the difference between this and class council is that SGA is school wide. So in addition to being senior class president, I’m also an SGA officer.

Q. What are you most looking forward to in the program?

I want to be able to explore different career paths within the government [because] there are so many different options. Things such as national security that require good information on technology and computer science. Just being [able to] hear from people of all fields, who had a big impact on the government, that’s something that I’m looking forward to the most.

Q. What are your plans after high school?

I will be attending the University of Virginia next fall through the Posse Scholars Program. Right now, I’m really torn between the different majors. I’ve narrowed it down to public policy which is under the Batten School [The Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy] which is under the College of Arts and Sciences, and then government or foreign affairs.

Q.  What is a Posse Scholar?

[The Posse Foundation] selects a posse of students for their partner campuses and they offer full tuition scholarships to those students. You have to apply and [then The Posse Foundation] will nominate students and interview them as finalists. I sent in my application and got nominated. It wasn’t really something that I was imagining for myself. It’s easy to get into your head about these things, especially when you see every single person who was interviewing there was great. Genuinely, I think everyone there has the potential to succeed in whatever they do. It gets a little hard to be like, “Yes, I’m going to be the one that ends up with the scholarship.” So that’s why when I found out about it, I was surprised. 

At a Model UN conference

Q. When you’re not studying or being class president, what else are you involved in?

As far as school clubs, I’ve done Model UN since seventh grade. This was really the first club that I ever got involved in. It is also how I got over my fear of public speaking. The community and friends I’ve made there [have] always been really supportive. It feels like a second family. I’m part of the Virginia High School Democrats, which I’ve chaired for the last two years. We focus a lot on getting other high school Democrats involved within Virginia state politics. Every year that I’ve been involved in, we’ve managed to introduce at least one bill in each legislative session in Virginia, which I think is really cool. Not just the fact that it happened, but also that it’s 15 to 17-year-olds that are able to do this. Another thing that takes up a bit of my time is called the Pride Liberation Project, which is a coalition of different queer student advocates in Virginia working for better LGBTQIA+ rights.

Q. What’s a fun fact about you?

I am a plant mom, and I have about six or seven plants at home. I also studied abroad last summer in Taiwan through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLIY) and that had been a goal of mine since eighth grade. I grew up in a Korean, English, Spanish and Japanese household so I was always very inclined towards learning different languages. I am studying Chinese and I’m hoping to get fluent in it. Later on, I also want to learn Japanese, Spanish and Arabic in that order.

In Taiwan last summer, on a study abroad program through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLIY). “That had been a goal of mine since eighth grade,” says Saehee Perez.

Q. What’s the best advice you can give someone interested in getting involved in causes that are important to them?

Literally just show up. People notice when you show up, especially when you’re young because when you get involved in different things in politics, you’ll notice that it’s often people over 50. Just by virtue of being a young person, you will already stick out. Keep coming to different events and keep offering to help. There’s also that tier of young people — but still older than us —  always very willing to be mentors and willing to connect you to different resources. Just come to events since there’s half the battle already. People show up one, two or three times and then never show up again. That’s really the expectation. The bar is very low. So as long as you’re above that threshold, you can make a difference.

Dania Reza is the social media content curator for McLean Today. She is a junior at McLean High school and is an assistant design editor-in-chief of her school news magazine, The Highlander. 

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