Talk: Zeynel Abidin Uzun

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Zeynel Abidin Uzun, owner of Kazan restaurant. Since opening its doors in 1980, Kazan has become a Washington institution and is deeply rooted in the McLean community. Still in its original location in downtown McLean, Kazan underwent a major renovation in 1999. The family atmosphere, emphasis on the freshest and finest ingredients, and friendly service have remained constants since the beginning.

Q. What led you to McLean, Virginia from Turkey to open Kazan?

I came to the United States in 1976 as a chef, a Mediterranean cook, for the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line in Miami. On the ship I worked, I told people, I just want to open my own restaurant. They recommended this area, with the [U.S.] State Department , the British Agency, people who go to Turkey and enjoy the Turkish food live here. I came to Vienna, Virginia. We opened a Turkish restaurant there. It was a hole in the wall, small place. Now Kazan has been almost 44 years here.  I’m thankful, as I said, I asked all those people, they gave me the right address.

Q. Who taught you how to cook? Your mom, your dad, was it in your family?

My father was a chef. My father’s father was a chef. I went to chef school also. During the day I was working in a restaurant in Istanbul, the famous Topkapi Palace Restaurant, from there I took military service. I guess I loved cooking all my life. I still do. I don’t cook much as I used to but now, after the pandemic, because it’s hard to get workers, I do more and it’s still good.

Q. What’s the most challenging thing about owning a restaurant?

Well, the first thing I can say to you, I would only recommend to open a restaurant to my enemy. I can tell you that much. I love the restaurant but it’s the hardest business in the world. The riskiest business. One day you come in, maybe the cook has some problem and the next day you come in, maybe one of the waiters has an emergency, but you have to open the restaurant. I’m very lucky, I have a daughter and a son. And my son [40] has his own business and my daughter [32] works in a law firm but still they are helping me on the weekend. Sometimes when I need them during the week too. They want to help their dad so they’ll come in and help me out. My daughter wants to be more to be involved in the business side of the restaurant. She wants to open her own restaurant. It’s a tough business to be in.

Q. Does your wife come into the restaurant to help as well?

She does sometimes when we get busy, but my wife loves gardening. We have about 3,000 flowers around the house, in the yard. She plants all these flowers around all the gates and everywhere else. She is obsessed with the flowers and gardening. She loves that, all day long.

Q. I bet you have some loyal customers after all these years.

Some of the people I still have from the day that I open the restaurant. Sometimes people come in the restaurant and they tell their grandsons, I used to come here, I was just like you. They were little kids, they used to come in there, father, mother, dad sitting there, now they say We have the grandkids. They still come unless they move. Then Christmas time or any of the other holidays, people call me from all over the country and they say, Are you still there? We had some people from Hawaii and they call me, people from Alaska, from around the country, Jacksonville, Wyoming, they say: Are you still there? We are going to bring our family, our kids. They are coming back for reunion with family, friends in the area. This area is a very cosmopolitan area. People live here from all over the world and they know about the good food. In the almost 45 years, so many restaurants come and go. I know one thing, as long as you give people good food, consistency, good service, care about your business — people come back. Our business is 95% repeat business.

Q. What’s your favorite dish to eat at the restaurant, what do you suggest for someone new to Kazan?

The Doner Kebab . We make it Wednesdays and Fridays for lunch and Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays for dinner. People always mix it up with the gyro. It’s not a gyro. It’s thinly sliced lamb and veal cooked cooked over a vertical flame and served over pita bread and yogurt sauce or with rice pilaf and topped with a tomato sauce. That’s one of the most famous dishes people love. I love it. Fish wise, we make an excellent fresh swordfish. I never cook frozen fish. We make a very nice fresh swordfish kebab on a skewer, along with green peppers, tomato, onions. We’ve also lately been getting white sea bass from Turkey. It comes over on Turkish Airlines a couple times a week, Turkish Cargo and we cook it on the grill. Sometimes people call and say, Do you have white sea bass or Is it coming? Sometimes people say, Call us when you get it. We have it a couple of times a week.

1969 when Zeynel Abidin Uzun started cooking at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. 

Q. When you’re not working, what do you like to do?

I like to go to the beach and whenever I get a chance also to, Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. They have some nice Roman baths, natural water and it’s so relaxing. There’s some restaurants there I go to. I go the horse back riding. It’s a wonderful place, I can rest for a whole weekend.

Q. We keep hearing about the proposed redevelopment/renovation of the Giant shopping center that you are located in. Do you know what is happening, what is your future there?

I asked the man who owns the shopping center and he said they don’t know yet. They cannot answer to me. So we don’t know. Maybe in a year or so we know. Maybe sooner.  Would you believe that a United States Supreme Court judge comes in in the afternoon at the door and says, Zeynel, I read in the newspaper that something is going on in the shopping center, What can we do for you? That makes you feel good. And all these senators and congressmen and many of the agency people that eat here, they say, Zeynel, We want you to stay in McLean. I said, Whatever the future, that’s destiny. What will be, we don’t know. Still the flag of the Kazan will still fly in the future again.

Gayle Jo Carter is the editor of McLean Today.

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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: Debra Brosius

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Debra N. Brosius, a licensed clinical psychologist and co-owner of Integrated Psychology Associates of McLean. A practicing psychologist for more than 20 years, Dr. Brosius specializes in neuropsychological, psychological, and educational assessments. Taking an integrated approach to mental health services, Dr. Brosius provides care for children, teens, and adults. Her services include comprehensive assessment, psychology consultation, and teletherapy.

Q. What led you to open Integrated Psychology Associates? 

In 2017, I joined forces with Dr. Eva-Maria Theodosiadis,  a board certified child and adolescent psychiatrist, and together  we formed Integrated Psychology Associates of McLean. The practice is predominantly a child and adolescent practice, although we do see people across the lifespan. Our goal is to be a resource for families in this community. We joined  forces together to provide more integrated care — where individuals can come for testing, therapy, and/or medication.  Again, we’re trying to be a resource, where busy families can come, for “one stop” mental health services.

Q. How has the practice grown since it began?

Mental health has been on the decline for some time and particularly in the context of the pandemic,  especially with teenagers. Our practice has  changed in that we’ve added more providers. We added another board certified psychiatrist, a nurse practitioner, some excellent LPCs, and we are we’re doing a lot of training for doctoral students in psychology. We added another psychiatrist and a nurse practitioner. It started out with the two of us and now we’re  up to eight clinicians, student doctors and we have  two support staff. We can’t train people and hire people fast enough with what’s going on in  mental health today. Northern Virginia in particular has a higher influx of educated and accomplished individuals, ultimately creating a culture of overachievement, which unfortunately perpetuates anxiety, stress and depression in our younger population. 

Staff at Integrated Psychology Associates of McLean include from left to right : Dr. Brandy Dinklocker, Dr. Debra N. Brosius, Eva Theodosiadis, MD, Julia Liang, LPC-R, and Reyna Rice, LPC, LCPC.

Q. Do you agree with all the talk about social media hurting our kids as well?

Absolutely. Social media is complicated, in that is can be a resource for information and connectivity but it also can be detrimental to mental health, particularly when teenage self-esteem is contingent on “likes” and followers. In fact,  I’ve gone so far as to include in my diagnostic interview, — what is your TikTok diagnosis?  Our kids are sort of trying on these different diagnostic labels and they’re doing a lot of their own research. They have an abundance of access to information yet their brains aren’t developed enough to know what to do with it. So they end up internalizing a lot of the negative information and feedback from peers. It’s just a melting pot for more mental health challenges.

Q. You have two teenagers. How have you handled it in your own house?

We have tried to outsmart them in terms of technology, but the teenagers are savvy. We’ve put in some parental controls and discourage  screen time. Are we 100% successful all the time? No, because they are teenagers and they can jump on the neighbor’s wi-fi and other mechanisms for accessing the internet. You do what you can  by attempting to establish a boundary as a parent and hopefully their moral compass will dictate how much they challenge that boundary.

Q. Where are your clients coming from?

It’s really interesting. While we do have McLean clients, we get a lot of people from the surrounding areas,  Vienna, Falls Church and North Arlington. I think a lot of it has to do with privacy in that  people want to be one step removed from their community when they’re experiencing hardships in the mental health space.

Q. How did your journey into psychology begin?

I studied psychology as an undergraduate in college and then took a couple years off. I grew up on the West Coast so as a young adult, I decided I wanted to move to Seattle and explore the booming tech industry in the 90s, which didn’t work out. I moved back and eventually went to graduate school. So that was my path but I’ve always been interested in psychology, particularly motivation behind behavior. For a while I was interested in criminal activity and forensic psychology,  completing some training with juvenile delinquents and prisoners, although I was trained as a clinical neuropsychologist.

Q. What else are you seeing in the mental health space of your McLean clients?

One of my passions is suicide prevention, particularly in young people. The rates of self harm behavior and suicidal ideation are alarming, even in our own community. During the pandemic, I began volunteering with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. In fact I’m doing a “More Than Sad” talk at the temple Rodef Shalom [2100 Westmoreland Street, Falls Church] Sunday evening, May 7 for anyone that might be interested. I would love to be doing more of those talks, particularly at the middle and high school venues. Unfortunately, I think the stigma associated with suicide has put up some roadblocks in terms of getting the schools to engage in this way but that’s not going to stop me. I’m going to keep trying.

Q. People are afraid that talking about suicide, will put thoughts into their kids’ heads that weren’t there… Is that the concern?

That’s the myth. The myth is that if we start talking about suicide, we’re going to “plant seeds and ideas” in teenagers heads about suicide. Nothing can be further than the truth. At the end of the day, as adults, it’s our responsibility to be starting these conversations with our kids. Whether it’s commenting on their affect or their demeanor or just asking how they’re doing, the goal is to be actively listening and seeking information, to open up those lines of communication. The message is, if we’re not starting conversation, then who is starting the conversation? We have wonderful school counselors as well as pediatricians in our community and they  are doing an excellent job screening for anxiety and depression, especially during the pre-adolescent, adolescent years. Schools typically do an October screening and pediatricians are asking parents to step out of the room during well-checks, asking kids to fill out short questionnaires as a first line defense — which is helpful, but we just need more of this. 

Q. What’s your biggest challenge since starting your own business in McLean? 

Interestingly in graduate school, at least in psychology,  we don’t have training in business so it’s kind of a learning process as you go —  trying to figure out how to manage people, how to manage money, how to set fees, network and market yourself. None of that happens in graduate school for us. That’s been a lot of learning as you go and really just collaborating with other professionals to learn how they’re doing things. That’s been the biggest challenge.

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

We do a lot of hikes. We really enjoy Great Falls, Scotts Run and the surrounding nature preserves and parks.  We like to tap into the natural resources locally, even just  the Pimmit Run creek behind the house, especially with the dogs. I am definitely a Greenberry’s regular. I’m there on a daily basis. The surrounding restaurants, both local and in  the Tysons area for family dinners. We definitely are a fan of the Great American Restaurants, Patsys;  Lebanese Taverna is a favorite. It just depends on the mood. Having lived abroad, we love Asian foods. We often seek out Korean barbecues and Thai foods.

Gayle Jo Carter is the Editor of McLean Today.

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Talk: Lara Stuckey

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Lara Stuckey, owner, Fluffy Thoughts Cakes. In 2010, Stuckey transformed her passion for both art and baking into neighborhood bakery. Since then, Fluffy Thoughts Cakes has become a local institution and an award-winning inventive wedding cake shop. The store, previously in downtown McLean, is in the process of relocating to Old Dominion Drive across from The Chesterbrook Shopping Center. In the meanwhile, you can find all your treats at where the baking doesn’t stop.

Q. Do you remember making your first cake?

I want to say 7th grade. Whenever it was anyone’s birthday, I would make them cakes or brownies. I would bring it in with balloons. I was always the go-to cake person when I was in high school. I would bring the deserts for my friends. Everyone always knew that I had some kind of desert with me. My mom’s an artist and I’m an artist. Growing up, she would make all of our birthday cakes and she would always make them very designed. I got fascinated by that. I would always watch her making them. She was an amazing baker. She taught me how to do a lot of the stuff that I do. [Professionally] she’s a porcelain painter. She teaches porcelain painting. She does art in a different way. She has helped us from time to time in the shop, coming in and painting on cakes. She’s amazing.

Q. Do you have any formal training in baking?

I used to be a therapist in an adolescent home.  I have a master degree in counseling/psychology from Marymount. While I was doing that, I got really into baking at night it for my own therapy. I would bake when I got home from work. I used to do it out of my house. At night, I went to L’Academie de Cuisine [a since closed culinary school in Gaithersburg, Maryland]. They had this night time professional baking school. I did that and got a degree. I always knew all along that I wanted to do cakes. I also take classes with cake decorators around the country that I looked up to.

Q. Then you made the leap from home baker to store owner?

My friends were like “Why are you just giving this stuff away?” Just start selling it. So I started selling it and people started talking. My friends would buy stuff, taking it to parties and people would ask, “Who made this? ” I did it for about three years out of my house then finally it got too big. It snowballed. My father passed away and when he did it was really hard for me to go back and do therapy with people. He always told me: Follow your dreams… Life is too short… Do what you want to do. I just decided to jump into the ocean and just do it. My mom was worried. She didn’t want me to give up on my career. I told her I have a degree and I have something to fall back on so if this doesn’t work, I can go back to it. Here we are fast forward thirteen years.

Q. Why did you choose to open Fluffy Thoughts Cakes in McLean?

I grew up here. I have lived in McLean my whole life. Growing up in McLean, all you’ve ever had was Giant or Safeway. Our main thing when we make our cakes is that everything is made from scratch, We make all of our ganaches, our curds, our jams, our caramels in house. We don’t cut corners. All the ingredients you can pronounce them. It’s just eggs, butter, milk, sugar, vanilla. That’s why moms —  when they order stuff for schools —  they need an ingredient list, they understand what they’re getting. Everything is baked right before you get it. That is important for me becauseI have kids.

Q. How many bakers do you have?

I have one person who bakes everything; we have a pastry chef;  three decorators. As much as I love doing it, when I first started I was doing everything. I was baking, decorating, doing consultations, I was doing it all. Now I’m pretty much on the back end. I still do all the consultations with the brides, the sketches. I’ll help out in the kitchen whenever it’s needed. If we’re swamped, I’ll jump in and do some stuff. My favorite part is doing the cakes but I need to take care of the business part of it.

Q.  How many cakes are you baking a week?

We do six wedding cakes a weekend and on top of that we do about forty more cakes. Some are simple but most are designed. We also do cupcakes a lot and we have a full on desert bar menu so we make cake pops, Rice Krispies Treats, brownies, cookies, blondies, mini pies, you name it. Our baker loves trying out new things. Sometimes, people will bring us their recipes and we’ll do that for them.

Q.  What’s your favorite baked good at the store?

I love our brownies and our blondies. They are so good. Our carrot cake —  we use tons of fresh carrots, raisins, and walnuts in it. It’s delicious. As far as design, we’ve been on TV shows —  The Cooking Channel, The Food Network. We’ve done a bunch of competitions. Right before the pandemic we went up to Canada and did a show where we made this giant Fabergé  egg with a bunch of little Fabergé  eggs on top of it, it was spinning, very heavily decorated. That was one of my favorite things we made. We also did one for another show where it was a 5 foot elephant; on top of the elephant’s back was nine tiers of cake. It was all henna piped and detailed. It was for an Indian wedding. The Library of Congress cake was beautiful; we’ve done cakes for President Obama, Mrs Obama, for a lot of politicians and celebrities.

Q. Are your kids into baking —  following in your footsteps?

My son [Clark] was born into it. I was literally working up until two days before I gave birth to him. I don’t know if you remember it but in 2012 we lost power in all of McLean. I was two days from giving birth and I had to figure out where to put all these wedding cakes. I was running around with cakes to find generators. He loves baking. He’ll come into the kitchen, he’ll grate carrots and weigh stuff for my baker. My daughter [Chloe] is into art, so she’ll do more of the artsy stuff for us. She’ll do a lot of the logos and the labels and the decorating. Clarkie is more into the baking part of it and helping with sales. Since he was about six, when we had the storefront, he would run the register — getting boxes for people and filling them up and running the credit cards.

“We have about 25 different flavors,” says Fluffy Thoughts owner Lara Stuckey. Some of the most popular: Strawberry Shortcake, Lemon Tart, Coffee in the Morning; Red Velvet is made the traditional Southern way; funky unique flavors like Green With Envy. How long does it take to make a wedding cake? A simple cake is five hours, from start to finish. If something is really detailed, sculpted, hand painted it can take up to two days. Martha Stewart posted one of Fluffy Thoughts Cakes they did of The Library of Congress on her Instagram account. “It took three days to make that. Just a post from Martha is enough.”

Q.  What gave you the spark to become an entrepreneur? 

My dad was a businessman, an entrepreneur. My sister owns a bridal store in Georgetown so we kind of work together and she also owns another business now where she rents out tableware for weddings. We’ve always grown up with it. He instilled that in us to work for ourselves and be business owners. I do it because I want my kids —  especially my daughter —  to see women can do this.

Birthday parties, bridal showers, engagement parties, anything that needs a cake is where Fluffy Thoughts Cakes steps in, says owner Lara Stuckey. “It’s fun for me. There are people I have been working with since I was baking in my house. They started with engagement, then their wedding, then their kids’ birthday cakes . We did a 10th birthday and we’ve been doing his cake for 10 years. Thats what I love: Being a part of people’s celebrations. Being a part of their lives. I know a lot of my customers. They have grown up with us.

Q. Do you have a favorite place in McLean to grab a bite to eat?

The kids love to eat at Tachibana and Chesapeake Bagel Bakery.

Q. Where is the new store and will you try out anything any new?

We’re going to be right next to the Badd Pizza [on Old Dominion Drive] across from The Chesterbrook Shopping Center. In the new spot we can sell some cupcakes [and baked goods] day of —   we’ll have a QR code outside the door for scanning and ordering product. We’re going to have a the farmer’s door that opens on top so we can just open the door and hand orders to customers. The space is smaller so we don’t have space for a display case in store but I know people want to pick up cupcakes last minute.  We’re going to try out some new flavors. I  do want to have some seating outside. Our main window is where our decorators are working at the front so we’re having the tables up close so people can watch the bakers work. When it gets warmer,people can watch the decorators work on the cakes. I think people love that. I hope to bring back birthday parties for kids where they come and watch and learn and build cakes.

A groom’s cake for a wedding that Fluffy Thoughts Cakes crafted.

Gayle Jo Carter is the editor of McLean Today.

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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: Omar Masroor

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Omar Masroor, owner, Aracosia McLean, Authentic Afghan Gourmet + Chophouse. From the day Masroor opened his second restaurant Bistro Aracosia in the Palisades, customers from across the Potomac were constantly asking him: “When are you going to open in McLean?” Masroor finally gave them what they wanted when Aracosia opened right in downtown McLean.

Q. Aracosia of McLean is the newest of  the restaurants you own. How does it fit in with the others?

Of the three restaurants that we have right now that are open — we’re working on our fourth in Georgetown — McLean is the flagship as far as being a full service restaurant. The one in Springfield [Afghan Bistro] is a small little bistro, you have maybe 30 seats.  It’s the most casual of our restaurants; our D.C. location [Bistro Aracosia] is also smaller. McLean is a bigger space. The food is pretty much the same. There’s small little things on the menu that you won’t find at Afghan Bistro that you might not find at our D.C. location; wines are going to be different; cocktails are going to be different. We are looking at the neighborhood and creating a  menu around that. We also have a sitar music player [pictured below] in McLean on Friday and Saturday nights.

Sitar musician Issa Sherzad plays on Friday and Saturday nights. “He’s a friend of mine, like family from a long time ago, we grew up together. …. In addition to the food we are bringing, We’re trying to bring a little bit of Afghan hospitality or what the culture was back then, to make it a little bit romantic, a little big elegant,” says owner Omar Masroor.

Q. Before your first restaurant — Afghan Bistro — were you in the food industry?

No. I was in the car business; doing sales and what have you.  I just couldn’t work for people anymore. It was just getting a little too much for me with five kids. When I would wake up in the morning everyone was in school, when I would come home at night, everyone was sleeping. I just couldn’t do that anymore. Everything was fine, financially we were doing fine. Everything was good to go. I decided to take a  little risk. Life is not just about acquiring things. I wanted to spend time with them so I went from not seeing them to seeing them every second.

Q. So it’s a true family business, with your wife and children working as well in the restaurants?

The four older ones — I have a younger one, he’s 11-years-old — but the four older children do. They run the restaurants, actually. They are amazing. I’m telling you not because they are my children. They never worked anywhere before. They never had a job before. Each one of them when they hit 16, they started working at the restaurant with us. Now, my oldest daughter [Taliha ] is running the D.C. location, she’s 24-years -old. My son [Zakriah] is helping her and my other two daughters [Iman and Zainab] with my General Manager, Hassan Boussouf. are helping them.  He has been in the business a long time. So they are learning from one of the best. My wife, Sofia, is an amazing woman. My wife is the main chef of all the restaurants. She’s with the kids, as well, doing what I used to do without all the craziness. She handles the situation better than I do. I’m just so vested in it. We have a saying in Farsi: The person that’s been burnt by hot milk, the next time he sees yogurt, he blows on it.

Sofia and Omar Masroor

Q. Tell me about the origins of the recipes, the food.

95% of our menu is family recipes, from my mother and my grandmother and my great grandmother. One of the reasons we wanted to open up a restaurant is because we just felt that Afghan food was not getting justice.  It was just kabobs and chickpeas, bread and what have you. There was a time in Afghanistan where there was really nice gourmet food.  When Afghanistan had a Kingdom, when there was no war and there was peace and people were enjoying themselves. We refer to our menu as food from the pre-Soviet invasion menu — as food from the Kingdom of Afghanistan. The food has changed now. Some of these young kids who are coming from Afghanistan, they don’t even know some of the dishes. We’re trying to preserve something here as well, too.

Iman Masroor and Zainab Masroor

Q. How did you make your way to Virginia?

We left Afghanistan in 1979. We were refugees in Germany from  ’79 until 1982. Then we got asylum here in the United States. We were sponsored by a church in Kensington [Md.], a Lutheran church if I’m not  mistaken. I was pretty young. I don’t remember that much. For the first couple months we were in Maryland. Then we moved to New York when my father came to America. So I grew up in New York and in New Jersey, went to school there. Then we moved to Virginia in 1994. I met my wife here. My mother wanted to come to Virginia because her sister was here and that is how we ended up here.

Q. Where do you like to eat in McLean when you’re not at your restaurant?

We’ll go to El Tio; that’s a nice little place to go to with the kids. My 11-year-old son plays basketball in McLean, so after that. I like the Thai restaurant called Pasa Thai. Sometimes the kids’ friends will come over and  we’ll go pick up a big platter of spaghetti & meatballs from Pulcinellas. How much coriander and cumin and lamb tenderloin or rice can you have? Sometimes all you want is spaghetti with meatballs or some pizza or Chinese or Thai food. 

Q.  So you’ve created a legacy for your kids, the restaurants are their future?

This is their lives. I was telling them the other day, as a matter of fact that Listen, I think I’ve come to a conclusion where I’ve stepped outside of the restaurants for long enough that I know you guys can do this. I don’t want you serving tables for the rest of your lives or being a maître d’. Now you have to look into being the restaurateurs of the future, to look for expansion, to the future. They are excited about it. I want to see what they can do. They have the energy; they have intelligence. as long as they don’t have that fear of thinking uselessly that I’m not going to be able to do it or it’s going to be too tough or this or that, I know they are going to be successful.

Q.  What stands out for you about the McLean patrons in particular?

McLean is all across the board —  which is the most beautiful thing. You get the most international type of clientele that we have in our restaurants. You are talking about someone coming in based on some sort of  [menu] family package deal that we have and not order anything to drink and at another table, you’ll have someone order a $600 bottle of wine with two people, a check out coming out to $800, $900. It’s across the board. You’ll have the ambassador of  so and so sitting at one table and then you’ll have the man who works across the street at Subway coming in and having lunch. It’s the full spectrum of everything. 

“Literally two months before the pandemic we opened. It was kind of scary but McLean is an amazing neighborhood. Our guests responded well,” says Masroor.

Aracosia: 381 Beverly Rd., McLean. 703-269-3820.

Gayle Jo Carter is the editor of McLean Today.

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Talk: Lauren Schwabish

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Lauren Schwabish, owner, Neuro Speech Services, a mobile speech therapy private practice, that brings person-centered speech, language, and cognitive therapy services to adults with stroke, brain injury, and mild cognitive impairment. Schwabish is passionate about community health education to both increase stroke prevention awareness and empower audiences to boost their brain health. In her consulting services to healthcare workers, the former Rehabilitation Clinical Specialist with the Inova Health System, focuses on helping to improve communication skills for optimal healthcare delivery.

Q. Tell us when and why you decided to strike out on your own open your own practice?

August 2021 —  it started with the pandemic. I loved my job but things really changed. I had been working in an inpatient rehabilitation hospital for sixteen years, I thought I had a dream job. I was part of a team that was guiding therapists to do the very highest level of quality care and working with really complex patients. Unfortunately, the hospital made some decisions where they laid off a large amount of our team. It was a devastating loss for our team at a very challenging time in the world. That really got me thinking I would not stay at this hospital for the rest of my career. It was a time to stop and reflect and say “What do I want to do here?” Around that time — as a speech pathologist you have to take continuing education classes —  I started taking some online courses about person-centered care. That’s what I had been practicing but I wasn’t calling it that. That’s something where you’re not looking exclusively at the person’s deficits, but what matters most, what do they want and need to do as a communicator. It definitely got me thinking: Could I practice what I was doing in a different way? Around that time, as fate has it, social media showed me an ad for “Start your own private practice,” a business consulting company. I looked at some of those courses. I started talking to some friends of mine who were very encouraging and I  just took this leap of faith. It was a lot of hustling at first to make contacts but all of the early seeds I planted have been so fruitful. 

Q. You see patients at their homes and have an office in McLean, right?

I have three different ways that I work. I am mobile where I go to people’s homes; I have virtual sessions working with people all over the commonwealth of Virginia and then yes, I am renting an office one day a week downtown on  Elm Street, 6845 Elm Street, right next to the post office. I am thinking about expanding to two days a week.

Q. Who are your patients?

I treat individuals who have experienced a neurologic disease or injury. I see people ranging from young adults in their 20s to super adults in their mid 90s. My caseload consists of those who have had strokes, traumatic brain injury, including concussions, and acquired brain injury due to a medical condition, such as  an infection that got to the brain. I see a lot of folks who are diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment which is a truly underserved community. Those are people who are starting to experience some cognitive changes where they notice it and other people notice it but it’s not really significantly interfering with their lives yet. They are very motivated because they are worried that this will become something really debilitating like dementia. The standard treatment for those folks had pretty much been: Get evaluated and then come see the doctor in six months and see if you’re worse. I think there is just more opportunity to be had. We focus a lot of education about cognition and strategy training and just general brain health support. That’s been really exciting too.

Q. What does your work look like as a community educator in the field of brain health?

I’ve done a workshop for a neurology practice that focuses on multiple sclerosis. They do a wonderful day-long retreat with education and resource provision. I’m a program consultant for a wellness focused organization called Can Do Multiple Sclerosis, where they provide team-based wellness and health education for those who are living with multiple sclerosis. Through the National Aphasia Organization, I run a parenting with aphasia group — aphasia is a language disorder that comes from a brain injury. Once a month, I have a group of parents across the country — and actually in Canada now — who are young adults who have had some sort of brain injury and also have kids; it is a wonderful communication and peer support group. I love community education. It is something I’m so passionate about, especially with neurological disease as it’s really complicated, and making information accessible and providing hope and optimism and resources is so vital for these communities.

Q. What are some of the challenges in striking out on your own to open a business?

The biggest hurdle I had was learning how Medicare works. Working in the hospital system, there were multiple departments that dealt with billing. That was something I had to learn from scratch. Unfortunately, the government continues to make Medicare cuts to therapy services and so in addition to understanding  how billing works, I need to watch the legislative decisions that impact our reimbursement for care. That was 100% the hardest part.

Q. What’s the biggest reward of having your practice?

Patient care: I have gone from a mentor position at the hospital to absolute A to Z patient care where I’m intimately involved in every part of a client’s experience. Working with my clients and their families is so rewarding, helping people to communicate again, to engage in their community again or to feel more confident about  their memory abilities. That feeling is worth more than a paycheck really. It is so rewarding to restore cognitive communication abilities, especially in adults who have been living with a certain set of skills, until an illness or injury changes things. To help people with that is really the best aspect of this job.

Q.  You and your family also live in McLean. When did you move to McLean and what drove you to live here?

We moved here in 2012. It will be eleven years this year. Like a lot of people who move to this area, we really wanted a good education for our kids. We had come from D.C. where sort of a consistent pathway towards a good education seemed really challenging to visualize so we moved here when my daughter started kindergarten. We also wanted to live in a walkable community. We were fortunate enough to be able to find a house where we can walk into town, we can get coffee, we can walk to school, we can walk to the grocery store because that was something that was really important to us as primarily city people before we moved here. We really feel fortunate that we have both the education and the community access.

Q. What’s your favorite place to walk to into downtown McLean?

I’m a coffee drinker so Greenberry’s is on the rotation: I’ll do business meetings there;  I’ll have coffee with friends; I’ll grab something on the way to the office. It’s probably the place I’ll go most.

Educating health professionals is one of Neuro Speech Services valuable offerings. A former Rehabilitation Clinical Specialist with the Inova Health System and a Speech Language Pathologist
at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, Lauren Schwabish has over twenty years of experience in the Neuro Sciences.

Q. There seem to be a fair amount of health professional services in McLean. Is that a benefit of choosing to locate your office in McLean?

Absolutely. I have been lucky to make some connections with some neurologists and psychologists and neuropsychologists in this area. Those are some of my best referral services and those are people where we work collaboratively. I have clients who are referred from a neuropsychologist but then I’m sending back to that therapist for some mental health counseling because that’s a big part of health care for my clients. That’s been a really nice mutual benefit. One thing about McLean — Northern Virginia in general — people want very high quality care so we are lucky that we have really excellent medical centers all around us. I think McLean probably stands out. People will pursue really good quality care and I think that’s something McLean has to offer.

Schwabish was recently recognized as an ASHAInnovator, a monthly feature designed to recognize and spotlight the challenging and demanding work performed throughout the country by talented and innovative communications sciences and disorders (CSD) practitioners.

Q. All of us, of course, want to know how we can keep our brains at peak power. Can you leave us with some parting advice?

Honestly, it’s like many recommendations for your overall health; if something is good for your heart, like exercise and a good diet, it’s good for your brain. But it’s also about social connection and cognitive stimulation. It’s about really maintaining a role of purpose in your life. I have a client living with dementia and because of his difficulties with communicating, he’s been less and less engaged outside the home. We have started to do some volunteering together at SHARE McLean and what that does is it allows him to have a plan, to have something to do during the day. He interacts with a variety of people and we contribute to their cause. He is contributing to the community. We have re-engaged a sense of purpose. It’s also really important if you’re starting to notice any changes in your thinking abilities, to say something. The earlier the better when it comes to most diseases and certainly if you’re having any cognitive changes, no matter what age you are. It may not be a disease at play but maybe it’s a sleep disorder that’s contributing to decreased attention or new learning. Not being afraid to say something and then seeking out a knowledgeable health care provider who listens to you, who advocates for you, and guides you to helpful treatment options is essential.

A former Rehabilitation Clinical Specialist with the Inova Health System, strikes out on her open with McLean’s Neuro Speech Services,

Gayle Jo Carter is the editor of McLean Today.

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Talk: Sue Christie

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Sue Christie, co-president, the McLean branch of the American Association of University Women [AAUW]. Founded in 1969, the McLean branch has a strong program in support of AAUW’s mission to advance equity for women and girls. In June 2022, the McLean branch achieved the distinction of being named a 5-Star Branch of AAUW. The recognition came in response to the success of their work in five areas: Programs; Advancement: Fundraising and Membership; Communications and External Relations; Public Policy and Research and Governance and Sustainability. Nationally, AAUW began in 1881. Nonpartisan, though not values-neutral, the group fights to remove the barriers and biases that stand in the way of gender equity. 

Q. Why and when did you first become a member of the McLean branch of AAUW?

I joined in June 2013 looking for both kindred souls and to level the playing field for women and girls.  It is easy to forget in a place like McLean that many girls and women in our community are hitting barriers every day and at every turn.

Q. What is your professional background?

 I have a BA from the University of Michigan.  My last position was Deputy Executive Director of the American Public Human Services Association where I ran the management and leadership consulting department.   Other jobs included Secretary of the Utah Department of Social Services and COO of the Colorado Department of Social Services.

Q. What are your goals as co-president of the McLean branch of AAUW?

My goal is the organization’s goal. My fifteen second sentence is that we at national and within the communities are trying to level the playing field for girls and women either in the classroom or the workplace. National has gotten very focused, and we have tried to follow suit, in doing things that speak directly to that mission.

Q. What are some of those “things” your organization is doing to speak to that mission?

We give grants, scholarships to two schools who have a lot of women returning who have had their education disrupted, who face more barriers than probably I or perhaps you faced, letting them start with a little more level playing field as they go back into the workplace. We recognize high school students in four schools. We’ve added two Title 1 schools [Title I is a federal education program that supports low income students throughout the nation.] in Northern Virginia, where those kids and those teachers have lots of resources but not equaling the ones sitting in the middle of McLean. We are looking for young women who are excelling in science and math and in computer sciences that’s offered in the school. We do an  essay contest for middle schoolers who are asked to identify and write about a woman scientist who we might not have heard about. I think we won’t see the end of that for quite a while given the number of women who have done good work that sit on the sidelines. We  try to be both in schools and with women in the workplace. We try and have programs that speak to that vision and we are now going fairly heavy into community involvement that is putting boots on the ground.

Q. Which colleges do you support?

The colleges are Trinity Washington University, Marymount University and Bennett College in North Carolina. We clearly are putting an emphasis not only on leveling the playing field in general but leveling that playing field for girls and women of color. They have an even bumpier road as it were.

Q. What does your membership look like here in McLean?

Our membership is sitting at just about 117. That is the largest in the state of Virginia. We have a a lot of women who care about these issues, very generous people who who care about these issues. As you would in most organizations, we also have a social component because that’s how people build relationships and learn to work together and find common cause. We have mostly retired women but not all. We are going heavy after the next generation because as all organizations know if we don’t pull in that next generation… .We welcome any individual who has earned an associate or academic equivalent, bachelor’s or higher degree from an accredited college or university. Undergraduate students who do not already hold a bachelor’s degree can join as student affiliates.


From left to right: Juanita Cullen, liaison to Trinity Washington University; Anita Booth, branch co-president; Eva Salmeron, Marymount University; Saba Hashemi, Marymount University; Shandale Scott, Trinity Washington University; Katherine Healy, Trinity Washington University; and Sue Christie, branch co-president.

Q. What fields are the McLean AAUW members in?

We have women in journalism, psychology economics, mathematics, nursing, medicine, law, publishing… We have what I would call a pretty powerful set of women here. They care, they bring extraordinary  experience to the table. As we start to reinvest in the community and otherwise, we bring a lot of people who know how to make things happen. That’s basically about the best you can ask from an organization that’s volunteer.

Q. A lot of organizations find themselves changing, evolving — coming out of the pandemic. Did your organization shift in anyway?

One of the things we’ve done coming out  of the pandemic is sort of reorient ourselves, get a more rigorous strategic planning process and put the people in the right spots, branding. If anyone knew anything about AAUW, it was synonymous with book sales as our fundraiser. People know us as having done Stemtastic for high school kids but it spoke to the need for better branding. We’re in the process of upgrading our social media, piece by piece, we’re upgrading our look, making it  more dynamic as the need is clearly there in this area. We’ve tried to spend the last two years probably resetting; recalibrating; reenergizing.

Members of the McLean Area Branch have a long history of giving their time, energy, and voices to advocate for issues at the local, state, and national levels.

Q. What are some of the social events you mentioned earlier?

We have branch meetings; in December and May we do luncheons. We have a  potluck where we bring in the national fellows and grant recipients that we have endowed with national. So every year when they give those, we celebrate those women — who are really pretty heavy duty women coming in with their PhDs in some very esoteric areas —  that we all find very fascinating and they’re all going to take that back into the community generally to the benefit of women wherever they land. Then the various interest groups where small groups of people meet: book clubs; current events groups; things that keep us individually and collectively on top of  the issues; invested in issues; knowledgeable in issues.

Q. Besides, scholarships/grants, how does the local branch support national’s goals?

We do policy advocacy based on national and state of Virginia priorities We will  both inform our members; ask our members to act —  what we call 2 minute activists, like pick up the phone now. We are involved in Richmond’s Lobby Day and we can do that easier than national because we are physically located in the Washington, D.C area. We have been very very active — and again there  may be differences in different localities,  where are the pressure points in this area? Do we have  lot of companies giving maternity leave but nobody doing anything about child care? Do we have equal access to healthcare for women?  Although national doesn’t push on health care,  it clearly is a determinant for economic security. We used to — and are thinking about whether we continue— attend all the Fairfax County School Board meetings. We have in fact —  as National did —  put out a statement when the new educational requirements came out from the state of Virginia relative to teaching history and social studies. 

Gayle Jo Carter is the editor of McLean Today.

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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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