Talk: Sarah Farzayee

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Sarah Farzayee, a member of the McLean Central Playground Team [MCPT]. MCPT is a grass-roots group of local parent volunteers with a common goal of seeing growth in the McLean community. They came together after discovering a need for outdoor play spaces for McLean children to gather and play.  They are working in partnership with Fairfax County Park Authority and Fairfax County Park Foundation to help with the planning and fundraising for a new McLean Central Park playground.

Q. Tell me story of the McLean Central Playground Team.

We’re all mothers, we’re all local mothers.  Cara Schatz, began this  years-long initiative  to raise $400,000 after she moved here from Arlington. Arlington has amazing playgrounds and so that’s what she was used to, that’s what her kids were used to. They moved here and she was really surprised. She ended up driving back to Arlington almost every day to use the playgrounds and she said “We really deserve better. This shouldn’t be the case.” She started the process on seeing how the renovation works —  learning a little bit more about the process with the Fairfax County Park Authority. She learned that playgrounds are up for renovation every 20 years. This specific playground is 19 years old. It’s right around that time where they’re going to renovate it.

Q. What will the $400,000 add to the renovated playground that the Fairfax County Parks Authority’s revamp wouldn’t have included?

Fairfax County Parks Authority came up with a design and said, if you want anything additional, you have to raise the funds for it. If you don’t want the mulch, if you want it to be more inclusive or wheelchair accessible, or if you want a fence, or if you want to combine the two playgrounds together, then you will have to raise the funds for that. [Installed in 1998 and 2002, respectively, the playground and tot lot are on opposite ends of the park.] The original design was really just renovating it.

We combined our ideas to create a completely new, inclusive and safer playground. [A revised concept combines the playgrounds in a roughly 6,300-square-foot area where the tot lot is currently located.]

The playground will become more accessible and inclusive. The new equipment that we’re adding is going to be wheelchair accessible. We’re removing the mulch and we’re replacing it with rubber flooring so that the wheels of a wheelchair could easily access the equipment. We will add sensory toys as well as sensory equipment. It’s really going to be fully inclusive to all children, all capabilities. I think that’s something that is so important. I know we have Clemyjontri and we’ve discussed this. This has been a big, big question: “You already have Clemyjontri. Why do you want another one?” We don’t want another Clemyjontri. We just want a local, small community neighborhood park that all children can access. We shouldn’t have just one playground for children to access. The Clemyjontri Park attracts a lot of families from all over the area. Anytime we’re there, we bump into families who are coming from Maryland or from Fairfax or from all different cities and it’s really hard to connect and stay connected and schedule play dates and get our kids to hang out again because of that distance. With this playground, it’s local, it’s within the community, you’re going to run into kids from your kids’ school, families that live across the street from you. We need that.

Q. Why is it important to combine the two existing playgrounds into one?

My kids are are six years apart. I have a younger one and then I have a much older one. Whenever we visit the playground, my older one would have to be with the younger one and he will get bored after a minute. I’m sure there are so many other families who are in that same position. Combining the two playgrounds into one playground is so much more convenient for families and good for the kids because they get to use equipment that’s age appropriate. Whereas my son would just end up having to babysit my younger one or just sit at a bench. He usually bring his own ball and just kicks the ball around. That is a big benefit to it.

McLean Central Park Team unites at a Barbie screening playground fundraiser at the CMX CinéBistro Tysons Galleria, hosted by McLean Living Magazine. The MCPT [pictured above left to right]:  Lacey Obry, Sarah Farzayee, Jenny Gregory, Jessica Wu, Cara Schutz, Angie Golder — not pictured Rebecca Antzoulatos. 

Q. Where are you now in your fundraising and what is your deadline for raising the additional funds to make the renovated park inclusive?

Our deadline was in March of 2023 of this year. [The Park Authority] gave us a deadline of December 31st. We are at 75% right now which honestly, I don’t know if anyone thought we would have been able to do that because that’s quite an amount. We’re over that 50%. We’re still waiting for a few more larger donations, but with that it’ll help us push us forward. [The new central playground will cost approximately $675,000 — more than the park authority anticipated when it obtained $2.2 million in bond funding for the McLean Central redevelopment, which also calls for an amphitheater, pickleball courts and new walkways. With the county covering 41% of the playground costs, the moms have committed to funding the remaining $395,679, including all the new tot lot surfacing and equipment.]

Q. How did you get personally involved in the project?

I met Lacey [Lacey Obry, who created Instagram and Facebook profiles for the team as well as a website where people can donate directly to the Fairfax County Park Foundation] because our sons were in the same preschool. I read about this playground on Tyson’s Reporter [website]. I saw Lacey’s photo and I said, Oh my goodness, I’m so glad you’re doing something about this because this has been a playground that has bothered me since the day we moved here. My husband likes to joke that I have a personal vendetta against the playground. He’s like, Why does it bother you so much? I’m like, It’s just so poorly designed. I’m the one who’s always there with the kids.

Q. What is the timeline? When will be park be built?

They’re going to begin construction in January and by summer it should be completed.

Q. Has raising funds been challenging? Do you have a background in fundraising?

I just have experience with PTA fundraising. We came on board without any experience and we’re learning as we go. I think I have never been said “no” to this many times in my life. That’s the most challenging thing —  not feeling defeated. With our group, if one person has a personal connection with a business, then they’re the one who reaches out for fundraising efforts. For the most part, we do a little bit of everything. We go door to door, we do emails, we do phone calls, everything. We start with emails and follow up with phone call and if that doesn’t work we stop by.

Q. What have been your most successful fundraisers?

Our most successful event was at Divan restaurant. They were very, very generous. They donated a very large percentage to us of their sales — and it was for three days. That was very rare because we have not had that success with any of our other restaurant [fundraisers]. We had a big turnout for Kosmo Nail Bar. We recently did a fundraiser at ShipGarten that was a great one because we got to attract a new audience. Typically we would have family members or mothers, but over there the audience was so different and so vast. That was successful, not financially, but through that aspect, in a different way. Another successful fundraiser was an event hosted by McLean Living Magazine. It was the Barbie screening and that was that was a great great event where we we got to meet. McLean Living has a very large audience so they really helped get the word out. This was at the CMX Theater in [Tysons] Galleria.

Q. Are you offering up any sponsorship opportunities for donors?

Sponsorship opportunities begin at $5,000. We will have a wall and each leaf, donations of $5,000 small dogwood leaf; medium maple leaf $10,000; large leaf $15,000 —  and those leaves are local leaves in the playground. We incorporated some nature and educational aspect to it. At $20,000, our donors will receive a bench [only two left] — larger donors, $40,000, will receive a table [only four left]. Right now they have the wooded tables, but the new tables will be resin. We’ll be adding new benches, new tables as well.

Q. After this project is complete, will “The Team” continue your McLean advocacy and move onto another project?

We ended up becoming really close friends throughout all of this, that’s why I’m trying to get us to tackle something new. There’s a lot of things in McLean. I actually see this as a turning point for our community because when I moved here just recently, five years ago, I struggled with finding young families, young mothers, and even young children that my kids can connect with and have scheduled play dates with. Within the past five years, I’ve seen such an increase, so many more younger families, younger generations moving in, deciding to raise their kids here just like us. I feel like this is really a turning point for the community where you now have a group of young mothers, young children who say, “There’s some changes that we need to make”; “This is not working” or “This can be better.” This project in itself is really, really special in that sense because it’s a turning point for the community. It’s kind of welcoming, bringing in the newer generation, the change that comes with the new generation.

Gayle Jo Carter is the editor of McLean Today.

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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: Gholam “Tony” Kowkabi

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Gholam “Tony” Kowkabi, owner, Divan restaurant. Divan is the first Persian eatery opened by the restaurateur, a native of Tehran known for D.C. restaurants including Ristorante Piccolo and Catch 15.

Q. Tell us a little bit about your background in the restaurant business prior to opening Divan in McLean.

 I have been in the food hospitality industry for almost forty years. During college, I worked in a restaurant, different positions. I really liked the restaurant environment that you meet people, you make people happy. It was something that I wanted to do —  my passion. After graduation, I started saving money. I opened my first restaurant in 1986 — Ristorante Piccolo in Georgetown and that restaurant still is open. Prior to that, for about five or six years, I was working at different restaurants in D.C., in Maryland. From 1986 to about a year and a half ago, when I opened Divan, I probably opened another ten restaurants. I was busy, very busy.

Q. You are strictly on the business side, you are not cooking?

During this forty years, I started developing an interest for cooking. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen and I got involved. After all these years, I turned out to be a pretty good cook.

Q. Being from Iran, was it always your dream to open a restaurant with Persian cuisine?

Not necessarily. My dream was what I was doing. My passion was mostly for Mediterranean and Italian, which I did. One of my flagship restaurants were Tuscana West, Downtown D.C., where I was one of the first tablecloth restaurants in that area which was on 13th and 14th street. Not too far away from the White House. I was there for 25 years. This restaurant was a huge restaurant —  open kitchen, private rooms. I had a passion but all this time everybody knew that I wasn’t Italian. People kept asking me, “Why don’t you just open up a Persian restaurant?” To be honest with you, because of the political of the world, what’s going on, I never thought that opening up a Persian restaurant would be a very lucrative business. But I have been watching a lot of different types of ethnic food become so popular in the last eight to ten years because I’m a foodie guy and I see it. That has a lot to do with people getting educated about different foods from different parts of the world. That’s why I became more interested. Looking at my background, I’ve always opened up real casual places. If I wanted to do this, I wanted to do it with style. About three years ago, this idea came to my head that, Yeah, why not do the Persian restaurant?

Q. What led you to choose McLean for your first Persian restaurant?

It took me almost two, three years to come up with a plan, the idea, the menu planning, the kind of a design that I want. All my restaurants, 90% in D.C. — I’m a D.C. guy but because there are lots of Iranians or Persians in Virginia and because I live in Vienna, I figured, Tysons Corner is a great destination because it has a Metro. It’s become a very vibrant part of the outside of D.C .area. I picked the Capital One building first. Honestly, it was a good location, but it turned out to be really expensive. I decided not to do it. That’s why my agent took me to McLean.

Q. Is it a family business — 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. Is there a story behind the name, Divan?

 There were a whole bunch of names that came to mind. Why did I choose Divan? Divan in Persian has several different meanings. One of the meaning of it is like “grand, luxury.” Another meaning of it, which I was really enthusiastic about this whole name —  there’s a poet called Hafiz and he’s just a fantastic poet and one of the parts of his book because he has written a lot of books and they’re all being translated into English and one of his book, the part of his collection of his poem is called Divan. Now in that collection of his book he just says so many beautiful things about life and things of that nature which I really relate to that. I love it. I can quote a few of the things that he says in that book. For instance he says “We are people who need to love because love is the source of life. Love is simply creation of greatest joy.” Another thing is just “laugh, because that’s the purest sound.” It just goes on, and it just… I wanted to have a meaningful name, because in the past, whatever name that I’ve chosen for my restaurant, I wanted it to be so trendy. It did have a little bit of meaning, but more that grabbing people’s attention. But this was truly a meaningful for me.

Q. Is the food, the recipes, things you ate with your family growing up in Iran?

We lived in Tehran — I left Iran 1977 — I was 17, I’m 63 now — which was a very cosmopolitan city just like New York. You live in an apartment; every neighborhood has its own restaurants. I always loved the food, but I knew that the food is complicated, especially if you want to present the food in a restaurant, you have to do it with a little style and finesse. Otherwise, what’s the point of going out right? It was a combination of using all my memories and my experience, put it together. I think that’s what makes any restaurant unique because at the end of the day, you want people to come and appreciate it. It has to be a little bit extraordinary, keeping the original taste and all the ingredients. Basically, that’s what I did. Because I haven’t really been cooking Persian food, I started looking for a chef. I started looking in Southern California, L.A., there’s just incredible Persian community where they have more restaurants. I started contacting some of my friends and saying that I’m looking for someone who’s very passionate and at the same time creative. To make the story short, after searching, I came up with one person. He came and we talked. Then I realized that he can’t really move here but he can help me, to start working on it developing a menu, recipes and all that. That’s how we got started.

Q. How did you decide on the dishes you ended up with?

Just like any country, from different parts of Iran, there’s different types of food. This chef that came here, he was from North and interesting is that the way they approach the food and some of the spices. They like sour things. They have a lot of fresh herbs and fresh food. They have a lot of marination. Persian food, not too many people know about it. They only think, “Oh, this is kebab,” which is not true. This is one thing I discovered too because I’ve been here for 44 years and I haven’t really traveled or remembered everything about Iran, but once I started digging in about the cuisine, I found out, Oh my God, there’s just so much to offer.

Q. You’ve also got some speciality drinks on your menu?

We encourage people with a great selection of wine and craft cocktails, but I noticed that a lot of people, they don’t want to drink, and how do you make them happy? So my daughter, who’s sort of a bar manager for now, she came up with this mocktail, which is incredible. It’s like 10 or 12 different things that uses different ingredients, all fresh fruits, they’re all mixed together. It’s just delicious. It’s been really great success. For me personally and for people who love it.

Q. How is the business doing?

It’s just absolutely incredible and luckily, because we are really not a type of foot traffic place. My goal was, I’m familiar with marketing too, because I used to market myself really well in D.C. contacted social media. We wanted to have people coming from the DMV — meaning Maryland, Virginia, D.C. Once we accomplish that, then we can go further. We succeeded. Honestly, usually a successful restaurant that I’ve done in the past, it takes about a year, year and a half, for you to reach your goal and meet some of your numbers. But here we were able to do it in six months. I was just blown away.

Q. Besides good food, what is the secret to a successful restaurant?

We have a strong management on the floor but we would like to know people. That’s one of the things that we teach [our employees]. They talk to the guests, we find out where they’re from and we meet a lot of people from McLean. It just makes me very happy that I am part of the neighborhood and I can provide happiness for them — good food, good time. We are very very grateful and thankful to the McLean residents because honestly they just come.

Q. Have you eaten in any other McLean restaurants?

J Gilberts because I love steak. My wife and I, we go to the bagel place, Chesapeake; CAVA; we’ve been to the Turkish restaurant several times, Kazan; McLean Family Restaurant.  

Q. Sounds like you’re a McLean convert?

We were chosen the top ten in Virginia restaurants. It’s a great feeling. I’m a businessman. As much as I think about money, I don’t really think about money. I focus on doing the right things because when the right things happen, money will come. If we don’t do it right, money will never come. I was really focusing on service because to me there are three elements that makes any restaurant successful: ambience, good service, and good food. You know, ambience, obviously I captured that in this beautiful ambience. But good food and good service, it takes effort. One of the issues that we have —  luckily we don’t have it anymore, was hiring the right people. After COVID, I’m sure you heard this, it was very difficult to hire qualified people. We had to spend a lot of time here. I had to bring some staff from other restaurants. I had to hire my kids. I have three beautiful kids. They helped me. it was a team effort.

Gayle Jo Carter is the editor of McLean Today.

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Talk: Steve Mournighan

Interview by Sam Marks — 

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Steve Mournighan, the newly elected president of Share of McLean. Share of McLean is a volunteer-led,  non-profit organization that runs a series of programs to meet the emergency needs of McLean’s residents and those in nearby areas of Northern Virginia. Our neighbors in need are economically distressed families and individuals, seniors living on limited pensions (often facing medical issues), recent immigrants, victims of spousal abuse, and formerly homeless persons.   If you are looking to volunteer in your community, Mournighan encourages everyone to join in the effort whether by helping in the food room, delivering furniture, or donating to Share of McLean.

Q. Share of McLean began with various faith communities working together — tell us about that and how they integrate with each other?

Share was founded in 1969 by about 10 churches and the Jewish synagogue, Temple Rodef Shalom, who were the original founders. The faith communities work well together to support us and they have been very generous, not only with financial support, but in providing us with volunteers. For instance, the Latter Day Saints church on Great Falls Street provides us with young men and women who speak Spanish. At the food room, that is invaluable. Our food rooms are open on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the McLean Baptist Church, which provides us with a lot of space for our food room and our clothing room. The Board and the volunteers all come together from all these different faith communities and work well together. 

Q. Do you have to be a member of a faith community to volunteer for Share?

You don’t have to be a member of one of those faith communities. Our volunteers come in from all over McLean whether a part of a faith community or not.

Q. Who are the neighbors outside McLean that Share also serves?

There are four zip codes that we focus on. There’s McLean, Great Falls, Pimmit Hills, and the other side of Route 7 around George C. Marshall High School. The county government has divided the county into areas of emphasis. So Share of McLean has been dedicated to those zip codes by the county government. There are organizations in Vienna and Reston much like us that have been designated those areas.

Q. How do you receive support from the McLean community?

Two parts to that. The first is the people of McLean have been very generous over the years with giving individual donations. Some of the local community groups, like the Rotary, the Women’s Club, and the Knights of the Round Table have all been very generous over the years. 

I want to particularly give the McLean community kudos for their support during the pandemic. We were facing a lot of serious issues helping people. The McLean community and our Great Falls neighbors really stepped up and they have continued to step up. 

Second part: We’re always amazed at how we are not known to the McLean community. There are a lot of people in McLean and Great Falls who have never heard of us. We’ve been around this 1969 and we continue to inform our neighbors that Share exists and that we do help our needy neighbors.

Q. Is there a publicity campaign that you all engage in get the organization on people’s radar?

The answer is yes! We have secured two younger volunteers who are proficient at social media and they are starting to really go out and make our name known in the community. We do have a website and we continue to get people coming to that website [interested in] volunteering, so that’s very pleasing to us because we always need volunteers. There are no paid people at Share. Everybody in the organization, including myself, is a volunteer. The website has been successful to some extent but we are taking more positive steps in more areas of social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to try to get our name out there.

Q. How many people volunteer on a regular-basis?

I’d say around 250 people. All are doing various things. They’re in the food room at the McLean Baptist Church helping stock shelves, sorting clothes, delivering donated furniture to people in McLean and Great Falls. We’ve got some high school kids who are refurbishing computers. We have a lot of people working in about five or six different programs. [There are] program chairs who supervise, but it’s a collaboration of people who are working in the various programs under some level of managing volunteers. For instance, the food room and the clothing room is run by Nicki Watts, a retired Air Force Officer, and she does a great job at organizing both rooms like clockwork.

Q. Who are the suppliers that you’re in contact with? Are they also a local to McLean as well?

It varies program by program. In the clothing room, people just donate clothes they don’t use anymore. We get food donations from the local community. People just drop off food. Also, we ask local stores, Giant, Walmart, and Lidl to provide us food. Food drives are run by us, the postal service out of McLean Post Office, and the Boy Scouts, which brings in a tremendous amount of food. We’re also partnering with DC Central Kitchen to help us get food. We’ll stand outside food stores and we’ll hand out a list of things we need in particular. Say we have a shortage of diapers or toothpaste, we’ll stand outside of stores and say to people going in “Hey, if you want to donate, Share needs these items and we’ll be right here with this cart”. You’ll be amazed at how effective it is. People will come out and put items in the truck. I want to emphasize the support we’ve gotten from Giant, from Walmart, and from Lidl. They have really helped out. 

I had a cup of tea at Greenberry’s with Nicki who said the food supply is pretty steady except in the summer when people go on vacation and schools are closed. But we make it and get through with our support from volunteers. 

Now as far as the furniture program is concerned, it’s basically folks from McLean and Great Falls folks donating. If you’re buying a new couch, call us up and we’ll come pick up the old couch Saturday morning. The next Saturday morning, it’s going to be delivered to somebody who needs a couch. The donations are from individuals and organizations. I know the Rotary club provides support.

Q. What is the best example you’ve seen that represents what Share of McLean does?

The furniture program is where you physically see the importance of the work being done. You pick up a couch from a billion dollar house and deliver that furniture to an area with no billion dollar houses. You really get to see the housing needs people have through furniture donations. I can speak from experience. I dropped off a couch once at an apartment with nothing in it. No bed, no chairs, and the lady looks at me and she says “I have nothing”. So I told her to just go to the back of the truck and pick out what she needed. We gave her a bed, tables, and anything else that would help. 

Another one, where we really see the need is the family assistance program where we are paying people’s rent, paying people’s utility bills. They’ve got a notice from Dominion saying Fairfax Water is going to cut off their water supply. We help pay the bill once or twice a year.  It works very well with the Fairfax County government as a good collaboration effort. Those are the programs where you really get to see people’s needs.


Q. How have you personally been involved in the development of the Share of McLean?

I’ve been with Share for 30 years. I started off driving the truck for the furniture program one Saturday a month. I’ve been with Share for a long time. Why do I do it? Because somebody has to help.

When I was starting, my kids were in high school and I wasn’t coaching soccer anymore, so I was looking for something to do. Share was a local organization. It’s focused out of the McLean Baptist Church, so it was very easy to enter and get involved in it. A lot of hauling furniture, but I had a good time. About 18 years ago, I got elected as the Recording Secretary. I took that job as I continued to volunteer with the furniture program. I started volunteering to stock shelves, run food drives. I was having a good time. I was helping people out and that was my motivation.

Q. Do you have any lasting message for the McLean community? 

I’ve lived in McLean for 48 years and it’s a great place to live. A lot of nice people live here. If I were going to deliver a message, I’d ask my neighbors to remember that there is an underside to McLean. There are a lot of people in Great Falls and Pimmit Hill who need help. I’d ask my fellow citizens of McLean and Great Falls to keep that in mind. I also want to say thank you to all of those people, who over the years, have been the volunteers and sent donations to Share.

 Sam Marks is a rising third-year student at the University of Edinburgh. He’s a D.C. resident, passionate about American political history, and has dual citizenship with the United Kingdom. Journalism has been a passion of his for many years and he’s excited to meet the friendly faces of McLean while writing for McLean Today. Outside of his academic pursuits, Sam is a keen swing dancer and DJs on a local radio station in Scotland. 

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Talk: Angela Phelps

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Angela Phelps, owner and founder, Le Village Marché & Boutique, which recently opened in McLean’s Chesterbrook Shopping Center. The  French-inspired home décor and gift store is already known to locals for their original store located in Arlington’s Village at Shirlington since March 2007. Whether you need a gift, something for yourself, or just an escape from the stresses of life outside their doors, Phelps encourages you to come to Le Village Marché & Boutique and feel as if you’re strolling through a Parisian flea market.

Q.  Why did you choose McLean for the new store?

The same developers that redid the Shirlington, property 16, 17 years ago, are redeveloping this Chesterbrook property. When the leasing tenant coordinator reached out to me, he said, “You know, we’ve got this great property in McLean, we’re redoing it. It’s been sort of a quiet spot for a long time and there’s a big need, and we would love a gift shop.” Basically as soon as he said that J. McLaughlin was going in, I thought, Ding, ding, ding, that is my customer. I said, Huh, this wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Q. Walk me back to the original shop opening —  what were you doing before selling these beautiful things?

Before selling beautiful, smelly candles? Well actually, I had been in radio and I did a lot of media and communications. My last job was in publishing. I was having an early midlife crisis trying to think about what I’d like to be doing and what I’d like my life to look like. I had a lot of really good jobs but I just always felt like, they were just not... it was like square peg, round hole. I just always felt like I was really, really good at something, I just didn’t know what it was. I feel like when you start asking the questions, the universe sends you the answers. Or at least sends you in the right direction.

Q. Why a French gift store, what’s the inspiration?

I love the idea of simplifying and not having to commute downtown every day and having a little shop in a little neighborhood. I had gone to Paris with my mom in 2000 and I thought, You know the French, they know how to live. There’s something here that’s magical. We can take a little bit away from that. They were redeveloping Shirlington. I contacted the leasing guy and the rest is history. Sixteen years ago, I opened a small little shop there and then I expanded to another, larger location in Shirlington. Then I had opened a a small, second location at Cathedral Commons up on Wisconsin Avenue in 2015 when they were redeveloping that property. It was a five-year lease and it ended in 2020. I thought, “Yeah [Covid arrived] this is good time. How about I just wrap this up and move and just focus on the Shirlington store.” Thankfully I was able to and we came back busier than we’ve ever been after the pandemic.

Q. What makes it an item that says Le Village Marché & Boutique?

I’m very much inspired by the French markets in Paris, in the South of France. I love that you can stumble upon these lovely little markets and you’re going to obviously find things like the French soaps and the French linens and tea towels and tea knives, glassware. I love the idea of mixing in a little bit of old. So you’ll stumble upon this gorgeous china or old piece of furniture, old typewriter. I’ve always loved to be able to mix that in. I feel like when you come into a new space like we’ve just done , it’s a brand new space — white walls, everything is so new —  adding a little bit of some older elements gives the place a little bit of soul. I moved into the space and once I got the furniture, I thought, You know what, I think I need to go antiquing. So I went antiquing and found some really cool things.

Q. Have you found the McLean customers different than the Shirlington customers?

I was wondering the same thing. I’m still trying to figure it out but actually, I’m finding they’re very similar, which is good, because they are responding to the products and the atmosphere that we’ve created here, just like they have in Shirlington. You come into our store and there’s so many good things to smell between the soaps and the candles and then we’re playing the French music. It’s very much a shopping experience when you come in. Of course we want people — if they need a last minute hostess gift to run in and get something — but it really is a place where you can just come and just sort of get lost and just enjoy the atmosphere. We have a lot of young moms [stopping in] who do the [school] pick up and drop off here at the Chesterbrook. They’ve been popping in over the last week as their kids are winding down the school year. Then we have a lot of older clientele which is exactly what we have in Shirlington, getting together for lunch and going shopping and looking for hostess gifts. I’m also asking What sort of things are you [shoppers] looking for? I’ve heard some great feedback from customers on more French linens, stuff like that.

Q. Have you stepped out and gotten anything to eat in McLean?

Well, Mylo’s is two doors down, and I’ve been visiting them quite a bit. The food is so good and they have some really good Greek wine. That’s been fun. South Block, of course, and Call Your Mother [Bagels].

“My dad was in the army and we lived overseas quite a bit when I was a child. One of the first places I remember living was in Morocco. It was kindergarten, but I remember we took French classes, so it must have stuck with me since then,” says Angela Phelps about the start of her lifelong all things France obsession.

Q. Will you have a grand opening of sorts?

We’re trying to coordinate with J. McLaughlin. We’re trying to time it. We’ll probably end up doing it in maybe either late June or early July. We’ll send out something on our email list and post it on our social media.

Q. What’s your favorite thing that you think is unique in the store?

Well, I did find some vintage glassware —  gorgeous old glasses. I love those kind of things. I love having the old stuff [that] I think is unique. I did bring back a line, a French line of soaps and some little little eau de toilettes of Roger & Gallet. It’s a very old line. They’ve done some repackaging and it has a sort of a fresh new look. I have never carried that in Shirlington and I said, Let me try it. It’s actually beautiful and the store smells so good. It’s a nice line that’s had a little bit of a refresh. It’s done well here and I just reordered it and I just ordered it for Shirlington. I love the scent myself.

Q. What are your staffing needs?

I have hired a couple people. They actually reached out to me before I even knew it, or before we even mentioned it. I have some girlfriends and they are moms, and so they told their mom friends. They had college girls coming home for the summer. I’ll probably be looking to hire a couple more part-time folks, especially when these girls leave to go back to college. I would rather have some permanent sales associates.

Q. What’s the most fun part of having this early midlife crisis and then reinventing yourself, basically?

When I first had thoughts of doing this, I sought some advice from different people when I was trying to formulate the business. At least two different people, from a lawyer to someone else said, “Traditionally, retail has not done very well in Shirlington” and “You’re either the smartest person I know or the dumbest.” I thought, Well, you have to get to the point where you’re willing to risk everything to follow your dream and if it doesn’t work, you have to be able to be okay with what the worst case scenario is… Or, it could be the best decision you ever made. That’s the thing I decided. I said, You know what? If this works, it’s going to be the best decision I ever made. I’m so glad I did because it really has been. It is so personally fulfilling. Not only being able to create something beautiful and be able to be my own boss and be able to make my own decisions about your own destiny of your own life. I love that. But then also to create something so beautiful that makes people so happy when they come in. Our mission is to curate beauty and spread kindness. I love that putting more good out into the world is important. The more we can do that, the better. So not only are we meeting people’s needs, if they come in and get gifts, but also they can come in for a shopping experience, they can pick up something for themselves. Then also just to be a part of the community and be able to donate to good causes. Once the school years resume, we can do some fundraising for the local schools. Anything that we can do to sort of put more good out in the world is a good thing.

 “I want to make sure we try to get as much from France as possible,” says Phelps about the merchandise sold in her new Chesterbrook Shopping Center store, Le Village Marché & Boutique.

Gayle Jo Carter is the editor of McLean Today.

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Talk: Maureen Davis

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Maureen Davis, executive director of Sunrise of McLean Village. Located in the heart of McLean,  the community continues the Sunrise tradition of providing high-quality care and service to seniors and their families across Northern Virginia. The nearly 90,000 square foot property will be home to more than 120 residents, offering assisted living, memory care services, and short-term stays.

Q. First we have to talk about your dog, Holly, with you above. What’s her role at the new Sunrise of McLean Village?

All Sunrise communities have a house dog so she’s our our honorary house dog right now until we get a dog of our own. She’s been coming every day. I don’t know that she’s giving up the gig anytime soon. I go to leave the house in the morning. She sits at the door now like, Okay, we’re going to work. I think she feels like she just won the doggy lottery.

Q. What type of services does Sunrise of McLean Village offer in the new community?

We have assisted living and memory care. Our assisted living is a little bit different in that we offer different levels of services so we have actually a lot of residents here who have joined us for the amenities. The dining and the housekeeping, the laundry and the transportation. We have a full-time driver and she will take residents wherever they’d like to go within about a 30-minute radius. We’ll take residents to get their hair done, get their nails done, go to the bank, go to the doctor, go to their daughter’s house, whatever they’d like to do. We also have a 14 passenger van for larger group outings to shopping centers or museums, things of that nature. We have an underground parking garage for residents who have cars and their family members. Then there are those who definitely need support with daily living. [If more care becomes necessary] we would just increase the services that we provide and offer additional care. We can bring in home health. We can also have hospice support residents on site here. Usually the residents can be with us through the end of their lives.

Q. You’re in the heart of downtown McLean, what does that offer your community ?

Back last summer when we first started giving presentations about McLean Village, we would try to tell people where it was located and we would say, We’re just down the street from McLean High School, about a block from the Giant, across from McLean Racquet Club. People would kind of look at us like, I kind of know where you’re talking about. Then we started to say, Okay, we’re like a block and a half from Total Wine. Then people would say, I know exactly where that is! Apparently, one of the major benefits of the Sunrise of McLean Village is being walking distance to Total Wine. But [we’re also walkable] to the Giant and McLean Racquet Club and Lewinsville Park and the banks and the restaurants in the heart of McLean, Starbucks. Seniors, particularly in this area, want to continue to be a part of the community and many seniors do choose to stop driving. Living at a community where there are still lots of things that are accessible even if you don’t drive has become a priority to lots of seniors.

Q. Have you found a favorite place to go outside when you go out the doors of Sunrise?

My favorite place is actually the Heritage Garden, which is our enclosed outdoors area with walking trails, a gazebo and places to sit. It is spectacularly beautiful just to sit out there for a few minutes. You have the preschool at the Redeemer Lutheran Church right across the lawn. You hear the kids playing and there’s the park. It’s just such a great feeling. That’s probably my favorite spot when I need to get away.

Q. Do you have a gym, offer any fitness classes at the new development?

We have a fitness center and our fitness center has equipment in one area and then we also have a space for group classes. Chair Zumba has been quite popular here over the first few weeks. As well as, believe it or not, salsa dancing. We have a 92-year-old resident who has taken an interest in salsa dancing since she came here.

Q. Is there an age requirement for living at the community?

No, we do not have an age requirement. At this point we have residents joining us as young as their mid-70s and then we have residents in their late 90s. So, there’s quite a span of ages here right now.

Q. Besides the Chair Zumba, what other activities do residents enjoy participating in at Sunrise?

We have nice room where residents can enjoy reading the paper and having coffee in the morning but at 3:30 it becomes the bar and happy hour. We serve beer and wine every day at 3: 30 before dinner and that has probably become our most popular activity. We’ve got residents trying lots of other things but happy hour stays pretty full.

Q. Where are the residents who are moving in coming from and what brings them here?

About half of our residents have lived in McLean a very long time. They maybe bought a mid-century modern house in the mid-50s and they’ve lived there a very long time and have now moved to us. The other half of our residents seem to be coming because their children are here in the area. So we have a lot of adult children who live within walking distance to the community as well. We do have a lot of residents from New York but we also have a resident who grew up in North Dakota and then a resident who is from China originally.

With 90,000 square feet across the whole community, Sunrise McLean offers a lot of shared spaces indoors and out for residents to relax outside of their apartment homes .

Q. Is there a goal or a desire to integrate your residents into the McLean community?

We definitely have that desire and have already begun to form some of those relationships. Dr. Ellen Reilly, the principal of McLean High School, has been extremely supportive of our community. She offered the the band to play at one of our grand opening events. We had some seniors who in lieu of taking final exams, spent two weeks with us as interns. That happened to be the first two weeks that we were open. It was a win-win for everyone. We had some extra sets of hands to get residents a little bit more attention and the kids got to experience what it’s like to open a business and see how that goes —  the customer service that is so important in running any successful business. That was a great experience. We’ve also had the opportunity to connect with Gina Thorson, who’s the director of the preschool at the Redeemer Church. She is very eager to start some joint programming activities for her kids and for our residents. There’s definitely a desire to really integrate within the community.

Q. While you’ve just been with Sunrise eighteen months, you’ve been in the industry for many years. How has it changed?

Our residents are demanding more amenities, which I think is wonderful. Our industry has had to change, which is a good thing. What I tell our team members when we’re training them is, we should never be using the word allow in terms of our residents are allowed or are not allowed. Our residents are adults and they call the shots. And they do what they want, when they want. They’re in charge. I think that’s really been a shift in this industry over, say, the last ten to fifteen years, is that whole resident-directed experience. And that’s really what McLean Village was designed to provide —  individualized experiences in a smaller setting, one hundred to one hundred twenty five residents, and we’re that size so that we really can cater to the individual.

Q. What do you like best about working in these communities?

Definitely the residents —their life stories and their experiences and their wisdom and being that resource for families too, because we as staff often meet families at their worst. Mom or dad has had a crisis and maybe there was some talk of plans, but nothing was solidified. Families come to us, not knowing what to do, and we can really guide them through what can be a very challenging season of life. The most rewarding part is hearing a few weeks to a few months after a resident moved into a community, I wish I’d done this five years ago, and that’s often what I’ve heard over the course of my career. When seniors see what what senior living can add to their lives. There’s that element of the unknown, and then once seniors join a community and begin to experience the life that we can offer, it’s often met with a lot of relief, and that’s nice to see.

Grand opening ribbon cutting at Sunrise of McLean Village on May 10, 2023.

Gayle Jo Carter is the editor of McLean Today.

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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: 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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Talk: Alex Levy

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Alex Levy, artistic director at 1st Stage — 1st Stage has maintained an effort to create opportunities for the next generation of theater artists and professionals since its opening in 2009. Levy has embraced that vision, joining 1st Stage in 2014.

Q. What is the mission of 1st Stage?

1st Stage is a professional, nonprofit theater company. We are the only professional theater in the Tysons area and we were, at the time of our founding, the only professional theater in Fairfax County. Our mission is based around the idea of building community through culture and arts and storytelling. We have been providing resources for world class artists to do their best work. That’s been our focus since 2008.

Q. Was there anything surprising the theater learned when it was first starting out?

The company was started by Mark Krikstan, who was a beloved drama teacher at Marshall High School. Some of his students had become professionals and wanted to do theater in their own community, and so they started a company the way most companies start: a lot of volunteer and sweat, and effort. [They] really had the idea of it being a company for young people to get their beginning, professional resume going. I think the big surprise was that they discovered how much this community was hungry to have the arts in their community and so they grew very, very quickly. Mark recognized it was growing sort of bigger than anything he ever expected to run and left the company very early. [The] ambition of the company really changed its focus from being a company for beginning artists to being a company that really could bring in and support people who are at the top of their field, while still always maintaining an effort to create opportunity for the next generation of theater artists. 

Q. You joined in 2014. Can you talk about how you became an artistic director, and then how you got involved with 1st Stage?

I actually became an artistic director for the first time in a really young age and sort of accidentally. I came to theater a little bit later than some — sort of found my way in college and started working for a company in Chicago, right after college. Five years later, the founder of that company decided it was time to retire. I was asked to take over the company in my late 20s. It was a trial by fire for sure. I learned on the job, as we always do. Then, I stepped aside from that role to go back to school. I went to grad school in Los Angeles. I started just directing around the country, and then came back when the opportunity came to come to 1st Stage. I walked in as an artistic director with a very different mindset, having worked in the field a lot, having done it once before and really having a sense of the kind of artistic director I wanted to be in the kind of company I thought I could help 1st Stage become. It was exciting to get to sort of do it once knowing nothing and do it the second time knowing a little bit more at least.

Q. What does an artistic director do and what does that role include?

I’m in charge of all the programming. I pick the shows we perform; I set the strategic plan and mission; I hire directors; I direct myself; I help develop new works; I lead the charge on our youth engagement work. I’m also the managing director of the company too, so I also oversee all of the financial aspects, the marketing and the fundraising.

Q. What has kept you at 1st Stage for so long?

I love it here. I really do. The people are first and foremost. From the board to the staff to the artists to our audiences — there is a warmth and a community that I love. There’s a feeling of coming together. There’s a value in sharing and stories. There is a real belief in the work. There’s a joy in taking risk, of trying to do things that are hard and leading with a mindset of taking care of people, both on and off stage. That’s a pretty rare culture to find in any company and certainly in any theater company. I’m really proud that that’s who we are and it also makes me want to want to be here.

Q. How are shows chosen at 1st Stage? Do you take cues from Broadway or national trends or is it based off of the community?

It’s no one thing. It’s one of the hardest things we do and it’s a lot of pieces. Part of it is really recognizing who we are and what kind of short stories we tell. When I talk to the team and we’re looking at players, I talk about a number of things. We talk a lot about voice, plays that have a really unique and distinct voice that should be heard. We talk about ethicality, what it means to do a play versus anything else. What are the unique tools of play and how does it play right use them. We talk about the big ideas. I’m a believer that plays are an opportunity to really wrestle with big ideas. Is the play after a big idea? Is it digging in on something really meaningful? And then we talk about what it means to do a play here, at our theater in Tysons, in Virginia, in America and now. What is that conversation that happens with those plays? 

We look at a variety of other things: diversity of season and sort of all senses of that word. One of the things that I say to people often is that a season is a big jigsaw puzzle. You think you have it, but then for one reason or another a show has to be pulled out. It’s rarely just, ‘pull it out and swap in a different show.’ It’s almost always wiping the board clean and putting it back together again. We think about what conversations we have had recently, whose voices haven’t been heard. We look for a variety of genres, style and structure.

 I think about how the rest of the country and commercial theater, like Broadway, influences us. I think I have a relatively unique position at 1st Stage where we have an audience that I think is a very sophisticated audience, but not necessarily a super sophisticated theater-going audience. And by that, I mean they’re not necessarily keeping trends on what’s happening in New York and around the country. The bright side is I have very little pressure to bring in a show just because it was hot somewhere else. The difficult thing is we have a really high bar on telling great stories. We can’t get away with bringing in a show because it did well somewhere else. It really has to be a show that we believe in and believe has the depth that is worthy of our stage. I’m always keeping an eye on what’s happening around the country. Unlike many theaters, I don’t have the pressure to get the hottest, newest thing all the time.

Q.  Who is this community that doesn’t seek the newest or the hottest?

I think we have a super smart audience and so recognizing that they are capable and willing and wanting to learn and dig in deep into complex ideas. We have a community that’s in the midst of a big change. Tysons and Fairfax County are really communities in transition in a lot of ways. They’re growing very, very fast. If you drive around Tysons you see construction everywhere of big developments. They are diversifying and they are getting younger, in many instances. Families are moving in. It’s exciting to be at the center of that and recognize that as a cultural center, we have to help bring those different parts of the community together. The biggest trend that’s happened is the pandemic, right? So, we were closed to a live audience for about eighteen months and audiences are finding their way back slowly and making choices… I don’t think anybody’s date nights are what they used to be. I think our older audiences are more hesitant to come back. There’s a lot of change that’s happening in the field as well. 

Q. What shows are you looking forward to in the New Year?

Our partnership with a company called Arts On Horizon [is going to] bring family shows. It’s something that we’ve been planning to do before the pandemic and then we had to pause it. There are a series of three shows throughout the year that are aimed for kids as young as two and up to eight years old and they’re free. We’ve got underwriting to allow them to be free. And we’re really excited to have families back here, to have that energy in here. 

We launched again, just before the pandemic and then sort of had to pause it, what we call our Yes Pass which is a youth engagement subscription. This is something that we were really excited about and is a place where 1st Stage is leading nationally. We’ve been able to offer free subscriptions to every high school student who goes to school in Fairfax County or lives in Fairfax County. They just have to go up on our website and subscribe for the Yes Pass and make it a free subscription for the whole season. We’re super excited to be creating space for young people that way. 

1st Stage favorite Jaysen Wright returned home to star as Jay “The Sport” Jackson, the African-American heavyweight champion in The Royale. Inspired by the 1910 “Fight of the Century” between the famously fast-talking African American boxer Jack Johnson and the retired heavyweight champion James “The Great White Hope” Jeffries.

Q. Are there ways in which the community has impacted 1st Stage or influenced 1st Stage?

I can’t say too strongly enough what the last few years have told us about the community. If you had told me on March 13 of 2020 that we were closing for even a few weeks, more than a month or two, I said that it was an existential threat to the theater. We wouldn’t make it. If you’d told me it was eighteen months, we’d be done. A lot of theaters did close their doors for good during the pandemic. We saw extraordinary support from our community, in donations, in people buying subscriptions to seasons that may never happen and foundational support. It was our community telling us that they cared that we were there and they wanted to see us open our doors again. I’m fascinated by the depth of experience in our community. 

We do a series of what we call “Community Conversations” where we, after most of our matinee performances, we invite folks in to talk about issues that the show brings up. And our community is so full of experts who are working in government or academia or the nonprofit sector, in the social service sector, who can talk about ways that we let issues that are brought up in the plays and ways in which we can support their work. Being in the Washington area, even knowing that you are always speaking to people who impact our audience. That’s an exciting thing to think about when we’re programming our shows.

L-R Jacob Yeh and Tamieka Chavis in
​​​​​the 1st Stage production of The Rainmaker, which just finished it’s run December 22.
Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Q. Are there ways in which you would encourage the community to become more involved?

First and foremost is showing up right now. It just means so much right now to sort of vote with your feet. I know we all gotten out of the habit of going places, doing things, but it matters and it matters to our audience too. We have a lot of volunteer opportunities, if people are interested. They can always sign up. It’s a great way to build community that way too. We’re always looking for people who want to join our board of directors. We’re always looking for people who want to help out in a number of ways and, quite frankly, I would get in trouble if I didn’t say that we are in the midst of our end of year fundraising campaign, so if folks do have the wherewithal to make a contribution, it goes a long way, especially right now.

Claire Schiopota is the social media content curator for McLean Today. She is majoring in journalism at Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism. Claire has previously written for Ohio University’s The Post and at the University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service. 

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Talk: Doug House

This week in our new TALK series, interviews Doug House, owner, Chain Bridge Cellars. We learn how a University of Virginia philosophy major came to be in the wine business. Plus — just in time for the holidays —  House offers up a selection of great gift ideas. A visit to this neighborhood wine shop, which features a wide array of vintages as well as offering free tastings and classes, should be on everyone’s to-do list.

Q. Tell us the story of how you became the owner of Chain Bridge Cellars. 

I had a consulting firm for about fifteen years here in Northern Virginia. I sold it in 2004. I was ready to move onto new things but I had a two year non compete in that space so I had to find something to do until I could work back in the competitive strategy world again. I was interested in wine and thought it was kind of an interesting business and figured it would be fun to learn about it so I decided to look for a job in the trade.  I was poking around and I emailed the woman who owned this store then, Cecile Giannangeli [Cecile’s Fine Wines].

I offered to take her to lunch and her response was “I have no time for lunch” but if you’re interested in a job, I’m hiring right now. Come talk to me.”

So I went to work for her in fall of  ’06 and in 2008 she decided she was done with owning two stores at the time and after some consideration — This is a lot more fun than the consulting business was — my wife and I decided to buy it. We will never forget the day we bought the store because we came out of the closing, got into the car, turned on the car radio and Lehman Brothers went bankrupt while we were in the closing. It was just a really stupid time to buy anything but “Ok.”  We’ve been doing it ever since.

Q. So this wasn’t some back in the day 25-year-old’s American dream?

Oh no, no. I did not grow up in a family with a wine culture. I got a little bit interested maybe in the mid ’90s. But I got really interested in the late ’90s. The online world opened up at that point and I stumbled into a discussion group online and that turned into a tasting group here in Washington. I was in a tasting group for about five years and that just got me really interested in wine and where it came from. Before that I never thought about it at all.

Q. So it could have been a bread store or something?

It could have been in some ways. The wine business is uniquely  attractive to somebody like me. I set out to be a small business owner. In the  late 80s when I was working at Marriott, I realized that was the space I wanted to be in because of how it lets you interact with employees and make a difference in their lives. The nice thing about the wine business, especially here in Virginia, is it’s a reasonably complex retail business but not wildy complex.

Q. What does that mean?

In Virgina,  we don’t deal with spirits [Virginia is a control state, spirits are only sold in state-run stores] so the entire large volume spirits world isn’t something you have to deal with, meaning it’s  complex  but we only have about 1,000 SKU [pronounced “skew”;  short for stock keeping unit, is used by retailers to identify and track its inventory, or stock. A SKU is a unique code consisting of letters and numbers that identify characteristics about each product, such as manufacturer, brand, style, color, and size]  store so it’s not like you’re running a 6,000 SKU store. 

And bizarrely a great asset for somebody like me is that Virginia Is a C.O.D. state [cash on deposit] for wine purchases. We have to pay for wine when it comes in the door which actually acts as a wonderful moderator on getting super excited and buying too much wine thinking you’ll pay for it by selling it. During the recession and some of the other times that have been kind of weird, that has been an asset. 

The biggest thing is that I don’t want to make something. I don’t really want to bake bread or make food. That’s not my gig but the wine business lets you make wine a little bit in retail because you know when we drink wine, we’re drinking what’s in our glass but also what’s in our head. When somebody comes in to buy, there’s a chance to tell them things about the wine and sort of contextualize it and give them something to attend to so in some ways we’re like the last step of winemaking before someone takes something home and drinks it. That’s been really enjoyable. I really enjoy having a chance to do that

House with his wife Meg, in Paris, in the spring of 2022. “Meg is interested in enjoying wine. She likes to enjoy wine and she travels with me sometimes. She will help out in classes but I would say she is a casual enjoyer of it rather than an information absorber about it.”

Q. Where do you get your “interesting” wine recommendations from?

If you go back to when I started in 2006, there were really three main wine publications that we followed. The Advocate and Spectator and Stephen Tanzer were who we paid attention to.  The critics universe now is so big and there’s so many of them and they cover so many wines, it’s become incredibly difficult to use them as sources. We taste wine every week. I have people who are trying to sell me wine and they bring wines in so we typically get introduced to a new region or a  new thing that way and then based on what we’ve tasted and the little bit we’ve heard  there, we’ll go off and learn more about it and decide if we’re really excited about. 

Q. Some people might find they feel intimidated coming into a wine store, especially not maybe knowing much about wine but liking it none the less. Do you have people who come in and know nothing about wine? 

Oh my gosh, yeah. That’s kind of what a store like this is for. There are serious wine collectors and experts out there in the world who do read all the critics and they know everybody in Burgundy and they know everybody in Bordeaux. To be honest the way the import trade and and access to wines in California work, if you’re that kind of a buyer, we can be an okay place to shop but if you know what kind of wines you want to buy, you can buy them online and frankly get better pricing or even in some stores in D.C.  We refer people who come to buy certain kinds of wines to other stores because  they just do a better job than we do. 

Our core customer is somebody who either  just likes the experience of  wine and wants to engage with it or explore or somebody who doesn’t know anything about wine at all. We meet a lot of people this time of year, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, you’ll get a lot of people who are walking into a wine store for like the only time that maybe they intend to walk into a wine store all year. The rest of the year they buy their wine at the grocery store. That’s the opportunity to connect with those people and maybe build a relationship, maybe get them intrigued about what they find when they drink a bottle of wine and then they come back saying “I was intrigued by that, what comes next?” and maybe you have  a chance to work from there.

Q. What kind of events does the store offer?

We do free tastings every Friday and Saturday which is a great way to explore the wines we are promoting, our featured wines, and also get to know other wines from other places. Before the pandemic, we also had a  pretty active class program that we are restarting. We’re doing champagne classes right now. We do four of those between Thanksgiving and Christmas which are always a blast. 

We just set a class schedule for the first quarter,  to do some classes on Thursday nights and occasional Sundays. We also do some special tastings. we’re having a portfolio tasting with a local importer and taste fifteen of their wines. We try to do things like that. Once a quarter at least, we’ll do festivals in the store. We have a classroom space in the store that sets up real nice.

Q. Will the new businesses that have opened, Lidl, or are opening near you make a difference in your business? Matchbox, Best Buns?

In my little part of McLean, the issue is just having people in the trade area, This is a trade area that  sort of historically rolls up the sidewalks at 6 o’clock. So Lidl being here is just sort of neutral; Matchbox and Big Buns across the street I believe will help our business. I believe it will bring people into the trade area for for lunch and bring them in for dinner and we’re going to monitor that.  Right now we close at 7 p.m. all nights. We might look at staying open another hour if there are enough people in the trade area who want to be here. We think that will be really good for us.  We were super excited to see that development happen. 

Q. How are the Virginia wines?

There are many terrific wines in Virginia and I’m very impressed with what Virginia winemakers do. I will say that Virginia is a very expensive place to grow wine because of the nature of our climate and how hard that hits the grapes and how hard that makes the wine makers, wine growers work. So what we find is that for a given level of quality and style, a Virginia wine is typically more expensive than a similar wine from California or Washington. 

Here in the shop we have a  small selection of virginia wine which are purchased mainly for gifts or for the few people interested in exploring Virginia. What we tell people is it makes more sense for you to get in your car and go meet the people who are growing the grapes and making that wine and to buy the wine directly from them because then when you’re drinking that wine, you’re not just drinking what’s in your glass but the experience of having been there knowing about it and maybe becoming part of their story. There are plenty of great  Virginia wines, at the retail level they’re less important for a retailer than they are to be sold right at the winery.

Q. Is it mostly McLean residents who are your customers?

The core has always been McLean, Great Falls, Vienna and some of North Arlington  but we’ve always had customers, a good number of  customers who drive to the store from D.C. and I have a customer or two from Gaithersburg. The pandemic kind of expanded our reach. We expanded our free delivery zone during the pandemic to go all the way to Arlington and Falls Church. That helped to really expand our connection to those people and now that the pandemic is over, we see a lot of those people in the  shop too. 

Q. Are you still doing expanded delivery?

It’s been interesting — that’s ’s the big change post pandemic. Before the  pandemic we would get orders through our website but it was typically people buying wines that were on promotion or particular wine or two. During the pandemic, people got used to actually shopping online, browsing and putting together a set of wines. Before the pandemic, maybe  twice a month, we’d see an order with five or six different wines on it, now we’ll see ten or fifteen of those a week — a lot of those people are still using delivery service, they’re working from home. So we take the order on line and call them up and schedule a time and get them over to them.

Q. I noticed you studied history and philosophy at U VA, somehow this makes sense for a wine store owner. Let’s discuss this. 

[Big laugh] I will say that the wine business is retail first, that’s actually what we forget is that the wine is second, retail is first and retail is about how you treat your customers; how you interact with them; figuring out  how your going to price; figuring out how your going to promote ;that’s all the retail stuff. The wine stuff, again especially for my customers: we need to know things about wine but the reason that my long time customers are my long term customers is less about how much we know about wine and more about how much we know about them. That’s really the essence of the business. 

If you get retail right, the wine stuff is learnable and it’s obvious because you’re being presented with it all the time. Nobody out there is really talking to you about how do you greet customers; how do you ask the a question that causes them to break their to-do list mentally; to open up and give you some ideas about what they really want to buy and how do you move past selling them just what they want to do buy. A retailer who is just filling orders is ripe to just be beaten online. For our store what we try to do is we try to help customers take home everything in the shop that they’re really really happy to have especially those things they had no idea they wanted because if we only sold them what they know that want, then it’s just an online business and we’re not adding enough value in the experience, to justify our margin.

Q. You can say that about almost any brick and mortar store, right? 

I believe that the fundamental problem with retail in this country is that the the model of retail developed in the ’50s,  ’60s and  ’70s where being in the right place and having the right stuff in your shop was what it took to be successful —  and then maybe having good enough service so that people felt nice when they came in that they prefer you to somebody else. Today you have to create value. You have to create value in the assortment but you especially have to add value in the experience so the customer when they come into the store you can’t just let them just buy what they came to buy, what they thought they wanted, you have to help them discover stuff.  Ultimately, to get people to happily pay you the margin you need them to pay you, you have to be delivering something beyond the product, there has to be something more or you get killed online. 

Q. That’s pretty profound. So maybe that is philosophy.

More interesting than the English Analytic Philosophy I did my first year in college [laugh out loud].

Just in time for the holidays —  House offers up a selection of great gift ideas:

Gayle Jo Carter, the former entertainment editor at USA WEEKEND magazine, has interviewed newsmakers for AARP, USA WEEKEND, USA TODAY, Parade, Aspire, SurvivorNet and Washington Jewish Week.

Do you know someone in McLean who would make an interesting interview for TALK? Tap us at

even dishwasher safe!

Talk: Lori Carbonneau

This week in our new TALK series, interviews Lori Carbonneau, executive director, McLean Project for the Arts [MPA]. The MPA  is a leading contemporary visual arts 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Their mission is to exhibit the work of emerging and established artists from the mid-Atlantic region; to promote public awareness and understanding of the concepts of contemporary art; and to offer instruction and education in the visual arts.

Q. So, are you an artist?

Depends on who you ask. I would say no but my colleagues, the creative vision at the MPA, would say every one of us is an artist. I’ll never forget the first board meeting that I led. With my business and corporate consulting background, I had put a lot of thought into the message that I was getting across. Afterwards, my colleague who leads our outreach program —MPA ArtReach — said to me “You chose such a beautiful color palette for your powerpoint.” I realized then that’s there’s a whole different way to look at work, a whole different way to look at business. Combining my analytic background with something quite so evocative as art has been a wonderful learning experience for me.  

Over the pandemic, I did take time to pick up watercolors and do some work, though it still only hangs on my parents’ walls.  My inspiration in this was my grandmother — who was busy with a full career and raising her children. When she retired to Sun City, Arizona, she picked up a paintbrush and became an accomplished oil painter as part of a senior center. Which is exactly a lot of the outreach we do. So, it’s quite lovely to me that MPA comes full circle in that way. 

Q. Tell us about that MPA art outreach? 

MPA ArtReach was founded 30 years ago. It brings to life one of the most distinctive elements of MPA’s work. Let me stop for a moment and put MPA’s work on the spectrum of art institutions, with museums downtown at one point on the continuum with their collections and the curated story that they tell about a particular history or a particular people, and on the other end of the continuum would be a commercial gallery representing current artists in whom they have a commercial interest. Instead, we are a teaching institution in the middle of that continuum where we are able to show work from very exciting, established and emerging artists from throughout the mid-Atlantic, presentingwork which represents the next chapter in the canon of art history. We raise money and are grant-supported as well, so we are not dependent on the sales of our work nor are we beholden to a collection. We’re able to push the conversation through art and each exhibition brings to light a contemporary story.  

Our wonderful director of outreach, Sharon Fishel, with our artistic director and touchdown, curator, Nancy Sausser, writes a curriculum around each gallery installation, so every exhibition has a deliberate teaching element to it. During different times of the year our MPA ArtReach audiences vary.  Our signature program is with Fairfax County Public Schools for which Sharon writes curriculum that ties to the Virginia Standards of Learning. We raise money to pay for the buses to allow field trips for students from throughout the region, including Fairfax County Schools, Title I schools, and many others, to come into the gallery. 

Q.  I’m not sure everyone realizes the MPA is a teaching place, right?

Yes, though it’s not a “Come, let’s give you a drawing lesson” teaching institution. While that’s important too, it’s “Come, let’s sit in front of this art and understand what the relationship between art and geometry is or art and literature.”  Art helps give language where language is challenging and it helps kids look at something on the wall and be inspired by a professional artist and say ‘Huh, okay, I can see how they formed that or I can see the layers in that” then they create their own piece that is inspired by the work of those artists on the wall.  

Q. What does your outreach to seniors encompass?

We work with several programs in the area who are serving senior populations. We work with Fairfax County senior centers as well as the private senior communities. We also work with those with intellectual and physical disabilities. 

What was amazing during the pandemic is how our outreach programs grew.  MPA ArtReach just thrived.  And for people who were really quite homebound, it was quite a gift to have Sharon come into their lives. We worked with many of our partners to reach people however we could, including preparing programming and delivering it through Meals on Wheels, or delivering art supplies to their homes. 

From left: MPA Board member, Pamela Danner; state senator Barbara Favola; MPA Executive Director Lori Carbonneau; Fairfax County Board Supervisor John Foust; Roberta Longworth of Fairfax County Park Authority Foundation; and Fairfax County Park Authority Executive Director Jai Cole. 

Q. How many employees does the MPA have?

We’re about a dozen on staff including a fantastic curator, artistic director, Nancy Sausser, who has a profound reputation in the region for developing that vein of work that I described in showing the best of contemporary art that’s moving the conversation forward. We were just written up in The Washington Post again. It’s quite distinctive that nearly everyone of Nancy’s exhibition is reviewed in the Post. In addition to Nancy and our gallery manager is our is our outreach and education staff, along with our teaching faculty, our development and our admin team.  

Q. How did you find yourself Executive Director of the MPA? Were you searching or did it find you? 

I was a religion major undergrad and then got my MBA, so the idea of: “How is it that you can do well while doing good?” has always been a theme in my career.  It was time for me, with my third child settled in school, to put my periscope up. I considered going back to the corporate or consulting world, but MPA was a lovely opportunity to be entrepreneurial and contribute to our community in such a meaningful way. I was at a New Dominion Women’s Club event when my dinner partner, Senator Barbara Favola, introduced me to my then predecessor. I was interested in what she did and her description of a project I thought I could help her on. So, becoming Executive Director was a natural evolution starting with my help on that project.  

Q. What’s the most challenging thing about your job?

Going back to “Am I an artist?” —  my colleagues joke that I bring the art of a spreadsheet. It’s challenging but fun to think about the sustainability and growth of a non-profit with my business background. One of the tenets that we comport ourselves and our community with is: This is a community arts organization therefore by definition it should be a source of joy and not of stress.  So, my challenge as Executive Director, in partnership with our board, is to keep that spirit of joy even those there’s all sorts of buffing winds around us is a deliberate choice. That can be hard work! Holy cow, those first three weeks of the pandemic shut down could have been cripplingly stressful but for that sense of joy. 

One of things that is hard to get used to as a businessperson is having a finite amount of cash in the bank and not having an inherently sustaining business model. People vote with their feet; they vote with their support. So, finding ways to be relevant and engaging is strategically important.  Also finding community partners, such as The Mather, who find value in our mission, is essential to MPA’s success. 

Another challenging part of the role stems from the fact that despite having a small staff, we are a huge organization.As has been the case throughout my career, my interest in building teams is the most satisfying part of what I do. We are a dozen people on staff, but our 44-person board and 40-person advisory board and the concentric circles of the artists, volunteers and leaders in the community whom we touch is vital to who we are. It takes a whole lot of communication and coordination. So, my biggest challenge right now is to move us onto Microsoft Teams so we can stop drowning in email! 

Celebrating at the MPA’s 60th Gala Anniversary

Q. Can you share with us your long term vision for the MPA?

For a number of years, MPA has been in conversation with the Fairfax County Park Authority to build an arts and education center to complement our gallery and studio at the McLean community center.  Our studio there, the Duval Studio, is a marvelous multi-purpose space for painting and drawing, mixed media and live drawing classes and camps. But you can’t do heavy equipment-based arts, like pottery and print making and paper making in a multi-purpose studio. So, we are excited about the idea of building an arts and education center where the galleries are core to the teaching environment and house studios which also allow us to teach four or five different medium space studio spaces for artists of all ages and levels of accomplishment. 

We’ve worked through the public approval processes to get the concept of such an arts center approved at Clemyjontri Park where Mrs. Leibowitz’s home would be our offices. With further approvals, we would enter into along-term lease and construct an art center around the home. These are long processes so being patient is part of the effort. 

Q. In your quest to combine your work experience with your desire to do something good, what expresses that working here at MPA?

One such example is the electric connection of witnessing a hugely accomplished professional artist describe their work to a young audience who is inspired by it.  You wonder whose career you just watched blossom.  

Another example is experiencing how art builds community. Our current show is called Continuum: Artist Teaching Artists, recognizing artists not only for the body of work they’ve built but how they’ve done it by teaching others.  The eighteen artists in the show are all university professors who significant bodies of work and have nurtured the works of hundreds of artists behind them as well. There is a community built among working artists. Making art is fairly insular: it’s you and your work. So, MPA aims to be a place where artists and artists of all ages and all levels of accomplishment feel welcome.  Our goal is to then help the rest of us realize that even if we’re not making art, there’ s community to be found in it.  

MPAartfest is a great example of a day that brings to life MPA’s goal of building community through art. Having grown up in Vienna where there is a vibrant town hall, I feel personally compelled to do what we can do to foster community among McLean’s two unincorporated zip codes.

Q. For those who have yet to experience the MPA, what would you say to encourage them to come over?

We’d want to share that MPA is an open, welcoming environment where teaching is taken very seriously.  Sometimes people have concerns when they think of a gallery, as I sometimes feel too, wondering “what do I need to know before I walk in?”. MPA deliberately suspends that concern: All you need to know is that we are part of your community, andwe welcome you.  I’ll also love to remind the community that we are a local 501C 3 and we very much need your support, particularly as we look to grow. 

As I learned when researching for my comments at our MPA’s 60th Anniversary Gala, MPA was founded in the window between the construction of the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis. All of us look back on those and recognize them as highly stressful world events. We are proud and grateful to realize in sixty years, we have continued to knit together a community that can remind us, even in times of other challenging world events, to stick together and it’s going to be OK!! 

MPA’s highly regarded ArtReach program takes art lessons into Fairfax County Public Schools and senior centers.

Gayle Jo Carter, the former entertainment editor at USA WEEKEND magazine, has interviewed newsmakers for AARP, USA WEEKEND, USA TODAY, Parade, Aspire, SurvivorNet and Washington Jewish Week.

Do you know someone in McLean who would make an interesting interview for TALK? Tap us at

Talk: Louise Waxler

This week in our new TALK series, interviews Louise Waxler, executive director  of McLean Youth Soccer [MYS]  —  MYS offers year-round programming for children aged 3-19 years old from the recreational level through the elite level in the form of teams, leagues, camps, clinics and more.  Waxler, above, surrounded by MYS boys:  Senior Day at Lewinsville Park.

Q. Were you a sporty kid?

I was a sport kid in my younger days. I grew up in Western Pennsylvania — Pittsburgh.  My brother Tony and I both played multiple sports. Tony played basketball, baseball, football and went on to be very successful in Major League Baseball. He retired six years ago as the director of scouting for the Atlanta Braves. Through high school, I played basketball, softball, field hockey, and volleyball.  

Q. I bet there wasn’t a girls soccer program for you to join back then?

No, you’re absolutely right.  There was no soccer program offered for female athletes during my era of growing up.

Q. You shared your brother’s incredible sports journey. Tell us yours.

In college, back in the ’60s, I pursued physical education/health at Slippery Rock [University in Slippery Rock, Pa.] but we came from a blue collar family — my dad was a steel worker — and it was difficult to pay for college for my brother and I. My brother had a baseball scholarship so he was taken care of but when it came to me it was a struggle to pay for college tuition. During my junior year of school my mom became ill and passed away. It was a financial burden for me to continue my degree.  It was a difficult time.  I had a year left and I just couldn’t complete it.

You know what?  Her passing didn’t stop me from pursuing what I loved at a later time in life — and that was sports. After I married and had kids, I became involved with sports once again, specifically soccer. I was recruited — as a volunteer — to assist with managing the Columbia Invitational Soccer Tournament in Maryland. I took over that in 1986 and stayed with that for 20 years. Along the pathway that led me to my career in the sport, I was approached by John Hendricks, who was the founder of the Discovery Channel. We were at a tournament in 1999 —  his daughter’s team was a finalist in the tournament playing —  and although I had never formally met him, I found him to be one of the most caring and passionate individuals who had a love for the women’s game.  I recall this man wearing a Discovery bomber jacket approaching me to introduce himself. He told me that he was going to start a women’s professional soccer league right after the Women’s World Cup and asked if I would be interested in joining the league, which left me speechless. Next thing I knew I was on the 24th floor in Bethesda at Discovery headquarters [which since moved to Silver Spring] and I was offered a position with the soon to be Women’s United Soccer Association and the Washington Freedom.

So it was John Hendricks who launched my professional career in soccer in October of 2000. I started with  the Washington Freedom as Director of Operations in grassroots outreach. My connection to the youth game was very strong.  I had also run the WAGS Soccer Tournament for three years so I had developed a reputation within management and operations, particularly in the women’s game. I worked for the Washington Freedom until that league suspended operations.  During the time period between the launch of the secone league in 2009, the WPS (Women’s Professional Soccer), current MYS Technical Director, Clyde Watson, former Washington Freedom coach, Jim Gabarra and I created the Washington Freedom soccer club. I stayed with the WPS and went on to be the general manager of the Philadelphia Independence. Unfortunately, sustaining a women’s professional soccer league in the USA struggled and so the WPS suspended operations at the conclusion of the 2011 season.

After 11 years in pro sports, I decided to return to the grass roots game. McLean Youth Soccer had decided to hire an executive director for the club and had advertised for the position. A few people called me from McLean and said, “Hey Wax, you should apply for this.” So I did and I was offered the position in April 2012 and have been rooted in the program since.

Q. What’s changed most with MYS in your ten years as executive director?

We’ve gone from a volunteer organization to a professionally managed operation. Prior to my position, the volunteer board of directors managed the operations of the club.  We transitioned from that to staff. That was a slow process. It took probably two, three years. For me it was important to learn the culture of the community, the membership and the coaching staff. To come in and learn about the people that you’re working with: who your members are:  what they prefer;  listening to people versus coming in and deciding everything is broken and we’re going to make change.  It was a gradual process for me to hire management staff. We professionalized it. We built from the bottom up.

The ribbon cutting opening ceremony on October 30, 2021, of the McLean Youth Soccer Holladay Field, located at 1311 Spring Hill Road. The project converted an existing grass field to synthetic turf. In addition to creating a full soccer field that can also be used for football, lacrosse, and field hockey, the project brought two underground stormwater management facilities, a bleacher pad, an access trail, and landscape improvements. Picture above includes Waxler; donors and notables:  Jai Cole, FCPA Director, John Foust, Dranesville Supervisor, Roger Krone, CEO of Leidos, UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba 

Q.  What’s your staffing size now? How many players?

Full time staff — you’ll probably be shocked at this —  is seven who work remotely. We’re still small.  We work from home. The overhead —  for us it’s like why spend the players money when we can put it back into the program. With technology such as Zoom and Google Meet, we can conduct weekly staff calls or “meet” on an as needed basis.     MYS membership is currently comprised of 1700 recreation players and 1150 travel players. The recreation number fluctuates as we offer fall and spring sessions.

Q.  What would surprise us to learn about MYS?

There’s so much that we do in the community that people are not even aware of —  we’ve partnered with FCPS to build eight synthetic turf fields. All those fields that the kids play on —  McLean Youth Soccer paid for most of them. The newest, the Holladay Field that opened in the fall of 2021 was funded partly by Leidos and the Ambassador from the United Arab Emirates. Leidos CEO Roger Krone and United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al Otaiba, wanted to contribute as soccer fans but more importantly to contribute to the youth of the community. Then I went to Fairfax County and said I had this money and we would like to convert that field to turf because we need another surface. The County contributed the remainder and the field opened last October. [Collectively, the private funding amounted to $725,000. The project also used public money from the county’s 2016 park bond.]

It’s not just about youth soccer. It’s about kids at all levels and all sports.    We believe that we can enhance recreational sports for both youth and adults by investing back into the community.   You can go to Lewinsville Park on any given afternoon and see football and McLean High School field hockey and McLean High School soccer. We are about to embark on a capital campaign to raise funds to build permanent restrooms at Lewinsville Park and hope the community will support our efforts.  The cost of the project is approximately $650,000 with a projected completion date of early 2025. In addition to the restrooms, a shelter and equipment storage facility for the club will be incorporated into the design. 

Q. What are McLean families looking for when they come to MYS?

A professionally managed organization that can offer their children a positive soccer experience. The procedures and policies that we have in place align with best business practices for non-profit organizations.  

Managing Stress seminar: Dr. Lauren Gregg (in blue jacket), former assistant coach of the U.S. Women’s National team; WWC champion and Olympic gold medalist with MYS coaches at McLean High School

Q. What’s the most challenging thing about being the executive director of MYS?

That’s a loaded question. The most challenging aspect is to continue to be innovative with new programming while providing customer satisfaction for our membership. I ask myself —  it’s not the how it’s the why.  Why are we creating new programming? What are the goals and the end results for the players? What are their aspirations?  There are 70 travel level teams that offer different pathways for players: players at the elite level; those players that are looking for us to help them with a college pathway; and those who simply love to play. It’s about providing opportunities for everyone.

Q. What’s the most fun part of the job for you?

Being able to watch our players on the field.  I love the camaraderie that is established on teams as well as players being proud to wear the McLean badge on their uniform. When I come to McLean, I try to go to all the fields, starting with the rec kids in the morning —  I’ll go to Springhill and then I ultimately wind up at Lewinsville because we have two fields and I can see a number of games and see and talk to some of the parents, coaches and players. Aside from watching these players, the support the players have from their families is quite special. The parents are proud of their kids and it’s enjoyable to go out and see them.

Q. Given your profession, is soccer a family — your husband and two daughters — affair for you?

I don’t think my family has had much of a choice. People used to tease my husband — we bought him  a t-shirt when I was running the Columbia Tournament. On the back it said simply “Louise’s husband.” He enjoys the game. He loves watching the Premier League.  My oldest daughter was not a soccer player, she pursued non-athletic interests. My younger daughter started  her “soccer career” when she was four and she continued through the college game as a member of the University of Arkansas women’s team. Playing was definitely her passion.  

Q. What are your goals still for McLean Youth Soccer?

To be the best soccer organization in the DMV area; continuing to be innovative by offering the best soccer experience for all ages — from ages 3 to 23 and beyond. I’m proud of the diversity and quality of our coaching staff —  many of whom have played at the highest levels representing their respective countries.  Obviously a field complex would be superb; an indoor facility for winter training would be wonderful and I just want us to remain a viable entity to provide a sport for those kids that choose to play. We’ve created a wonderful culture in McLean.

Ribbon cutting and MYS festival at the Holladay Field: Jessica Long, Paralympic gold medalist in swimming; Cindi Harkes, former pro player and Age Group Director for MYS; Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, Olympic gold medalist in 100 meter hurdles ; Andi Sullivan, U.S. Women’s National team member and former MYS player 

Gayle Jo Carter, the former entertainment editor at USA WEEKEND magazine, has interviewed newsmakers for AARP, USA WEEKEND, USA TODAY, Parade, Aspire, SurvivorNet and Washington Jewish Week.

Do you know someone in McLean who would make an interesting interview for TALK? Tap us at

Q & A: Giri Sastry

In the latest interview for McLean Today’s Talk series, we chat with Giri Sastry, the owner of The Union Restaurant — As the owner and chef, Sastry is committed to the goal of quality food at a good cost.


Q. For those who haven’t yet been in to grab a bite to eat and chat with you, what would you tell them about The Union?

It’s a very interesting story, you know what I mean? I opened in February of 2020, a month before you know who was here. I want anybody and everybody that walks through these doors to relate and find something to eat. My menu is “world cuisine: ” I have a little bit of Asian, Indian, Mexican — everything. I want to be the best restaurant in town. I don’t want to be the biggest. I don’t want to be the most profitable. Good food does not need too much: Good food and good price. Very casual atmosphere.

 Q. Covid-19 is the “you know who” you are referring to.  What was that like starting a business at that time?

We had a good first month of February, and then towards the end of March I shut it down for two and a half months… I’m the owner. I’m the chef, so that’s how I kind of made it. I would take the order, go back [to the kitchen], cook the meal, and bring it out. I had a bartender make the drinks and that’s kind of how I survived.

Q. When did you find out you wanted to become a chef?

Well, you’re taking me back 20 years… It was an interesting journey. I don’t know how many people tell you, [but] this is the calling, right? I was on track to become a microbiologist. One day I woke up and I’m like, okay, this is what I want to do. So, that’s how I started.”

Q. What was your path through the culinary industry?

I went through culinary school back in India… and then it kind of led me here into the U.S. When I got to the U.S. in 2002, [I] started my career with The Ritz-Carlton and worked my way up. I did a bunch of freestyling after that. Before I decided to open my own place, I was executive chef and food & beverage  Director for ten years at The Mayflower Hotel.

Q. What are your biggest influences?

I grew up in the DMV area and it always inspired me how culturally diverse this place is and how culinarily diverse this place is. You name it. You have all the places available to you at your fingertips, whether it’s Indian, Korean, Japanese, sushi, Korean barbecue, tacos – everything is right here. It’s [such a] culturally rich location – that’s what inspires me.

Q. I read that you learn to cook from your mom. Does family mean a lot to you as a chef?

That’s where it all started way back – ’93, ’94 – that’s where I come from. It caught my attention like, ‘Oh, how is this done?’ My roots back there, it’s all hardcore Indian, right? I’m from South India, so it’s all about something I would cook at home. I started spending a lot of time with my mom in the kitchen and that kind of grew… I would say [I get] a lot of conceptual, inspirational guidance from my wife. She’s been a source all along, since we got married. She’s been a source all along, since we got married and we both grew from scratch. I was a chef. She was a finance manager at the same hotel. That’s how we met. That’s how we got married. Same inspiration, same vision and we grew together.  Today, if I want to do something and I have a vision conceptual-wise, I would definitely talk to her before I implement anything.

Q. Was opening your own your own restaurant something you knew you always wanted to do or did that idea come later?

It’s an ambitious dream … I’m just starting out with it. I’m not a one and done kind of guy. I need to leave a footprint in society. That’s my plan.

The Union boasts of it’s world influences

Q. Could you talk about your favorite dish and why is that your favorite dish?

That’s a tough one. It’s like asking me about my babies. It’s gonna be a hard one to pick. [The menu is] meticulously put together. I keep them seasonal. I keep Brussel sprouts and apple cider for winter. I do fattouch, which has pomegranate seeds, then all these fresh ingredients.

Q. Why did you decide to open your restaurant in McLean?

McLean is a very cute fun neighborhood. It’s a good mix of residential and commercial, more residential. The kind of food I do and the place I put together, I don’t think anybody does it here with the quality and price point I put up. When I wanted to go into my own business and open my own restaurant, I tried – I am trying – to break this barrier of “good food does not need too much commitment.” You don’t need to make a reservation. You don’t need to valet your car and break your bank while having a good meal. That’s where I come from. My menu is not too big. I try to keep it very limited, so I can prep it fresh everyday and give you quality. If you ask my clientele and look at my reviews, that’s exactly what you’re gonna get. It’s so fresh, it’s so good.

Q. How has the community responded? 

I had a few customers come through Covid, when I just opened, but then they became our regulars. Now, two and a half years later, I got a good base that knows me.  I touch every single one of my tables. I touch everything. Every time you’re here – rest assured – I will come by and say, “Hey, how’s everything?” 99.9% of the time the response is the same as last time. That consistency is the key. Being able to put a quality product out there and to maintain that quality every single time we execute a dish.

Q. What plans do you have for the future of The Union restaurant? You mentioned having a second location that recently opened.

I just opened up one in Arlington. Like I said, I’m not one and done kind of a guy. I am planning to grow this brand. For me, it’s more a brand representation kind of thing, where if you are in McLean, you know “The Union.” If you happen to be in Arlington and you see “The Union,” you know exactly what to expect. I am planning to open a few more.

Sastry hard at work at The Union

Claire Schiopota is the social media content curator for McLean Today. She is majoring in journalism at Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism. Claire has previously written for Ohio University’s The Post and at the University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service. 

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Q & A: Sarah Schallern Treff

In the latest interview for McLean Today’s Talk series, we chat with Sarah Schallern Treff, The Alden Theatre’s Performing Arts Director — pictured above second from front right with her Alden colleagues.

Q & A: Tim Reed

This week in our new TALK series, interviews Tim Reed, the founder and Chairman of We Rock Cancer —   a McLean based non-profit working to provide free early detection skin cancer screenings and to increase skin cancer awareness. The charitable organization’s fourth annual fundraising Concert to Rock Cancer,  featuring Bruce In The USA and local D.C. artist Laura Tsaggaris — — rocked Capital One Hall last week.

Q. Take us back to the beginning of We Rock Cancer.

I was diagnosed with skin cancer. I caught it early. I’m an Air Force vet so I had surgery at Walter Reed [National Military Medical Center] and they were fantastic. Everything was great but it opened my eyes to the importance of early detection. So I started looking in my network at ways I could combine my love of music and my radio background and the performing artists that I knew to try and come up with a way to make early detection screenings more available. [Reed lost his father to kidney cancer at a young age, making him even more aware of the difference that early detection and treatment can make.]

Luckily, we are blessed to live in an area with plenty of dermatologists but I think [screening] is sometimes a B or C priority to people. How can we get it moved up on the importance level? How can we make it accessible and right here? Something you don’t have to make an appointment for; something you don’t have to go the doctor for. It takes five minutes. The blaring point for me is that it’s the most common form of cancer in America and it’s the easiest to treat as long as you find it early. That seems like an easy thing for us all to get behind and make this not the number one form of cancer. If we just find it and treat it, we’re on our way.

Q.  Why choose McLean to set up your nonprofit?

I’ve lived in McLean since 2008. I know the area. I have a consulting business, I still do.  We Rock Cancer [started in 2019] is certainly a place I focus my passion for music and trying to increase cancer awareness. Since I was here, the infrastructure is here, it was a convenient place to start it. Fairfax County has been a fantastic supporter in multiple ways: the grant support; Arts Fairfax for their support to be the first organization that recognizes that we’re a hybrid. We’re not a ballet company or a symphony but they recognize the power that music can have in bringing these things together and they support us as well. 

Q. It must have been serendipity then that Capital One Hall opened here?

Arts Fairfax is a presenting partner with Capital One Hall so they were supportive in helping us get performance times there for our annual event as well. It’s perfect and right here in McLean, easier than hosting somewhere else and it’s world class. All the artists that have seen it are over the moon about playing there.

Q. What’s behind this thing you call “rock-and-roll entrepreneurship?”

That’s leftover from my doctoral dissertation. [Reed’s doctoral studies led him to create a symposium and graduate course on “Rock-and-Roll Entrepreneurship”  which serves as the foundation for bringing key music stakeholders together to do good.] Looking back you can see I was always trying to cram two things that weren’t necessarily thought of together,  together. I went to the University of Colorado and studied Strategy and Entrepreneurship.  One of the first things I wanted to do was approach entrepreneurship through a rock and roll perspective.

Q.  Do you play any instruments or better yet, play in a rock band?

I wish. I played clarinet growing up  and I play a little bit of piano. I’m still learning. We have to have goals. I was never in a band. I think it came from my early days in radio. I was always around music. I was a radio personality in Florida and in Syracuse, New York and things were going great. I loved that job but again, a part of my entrepreneurial strategic outlook kind of informed off me wisely that that’s something you want to do for a while but it’s not something you do for a long time, only a handful [can] if you want to have a satisfying financially productive career.  

Q. How has the transition been into working full time for We Rock Cancer?

It’s been eye opening. I was always the guy who would go out on stage and say “Will you please welcome Sammy Hagar” or do the interviews or do the radio bits. I was always involved with that part of the business. I was never involved with the promoting parts or the signing contracts with bands to perform, arranging for venue space or working through tech advance. That part of business is a whole other part of business that has been eye opening. I’m not sure that’s where my talents lie but you learn a lot.

Q. What do your events look like for We Rock Cancer?

We have at least two or three  different models for our awareness/screening events. One is we do a ride along where our artist partners are performing at an area venue. They might invite us down to screenings for the fans before their show. We have done that at City Winery and some other venues. We call that  “a ride along” where they do all the production and then we do “a self-produce,” such as September 16,  where all we have is the empty canvas of Capital One Hall and we have to fill it with our artists/partners and we have the risk of selling tickets. That’s a complete We Rock Cancer production.

Tim Reed —  Rock-and-Roll entrepreneur

Q. Tell me about the mobile screening vehicle that you use for screenings?

Early on at our first screening events we had pop up tents/privacy areas. We could only go to venues that could support that space so that was limiting in terms of what we could do outdoors. We wanted to go to construction sites and other sun intense occupations’ work locations. We quickly determined we needed a mobile screening vehicle to do that. It’s once one of the best decisions we ever made. It’s turn key. Now we can go anywhere there is a road and be ready in fifteen minutes.

Q. How many events will you have?

Our goal is to work up to one a month post Covid. Covid really slowed us down. We have outreach going on in underserved communities, especially to try and screen agricultural workers and day laborers. We’re going to screen construction workers at the Capital One Hall [on September 16]. There’s a lot of construction going on there. So we’re going to coordinate with those folks to come get screened. We’ll do bilingual screenings as well for everyone who needs that service. Our other outreach, in addition to the underserved community, is the outdoor running community. They’re very aware and of course they’re out in the sun all the time. They have been very supportive so we’ve done a couple events with them every year. And then of course, the music.

The staff of We Rock Cancer

Q. Did you turn to anyone for advice in starting a nonprofit?

A lot of self learning. We did talk to a couple of other organizations that do mobile skin cancer screening: the Sun Bus in Colorado; Polka Dot Mamma [Melanoma Foundation] were organizations that were really, really helpful to us. We found that the skin cancer community is very supportive too. One organization Helms Hope in Texas we talked early on to for ideas. They started an education program for barbers and hairdressers [who unlike ourselves can actually see anything suspicious on the tops of our heads]. They introduced us to a legal firm that helped us with the Trademark process.

Q. So you need one big donor to come along?

Every single event we have, we have met someone we didn’t expect to be there either as a fan or a runner at one of our race events. We’re still young. We have to make some decisions. Do we remain a local McLean organization and do our best? We would love to have more dermatologists be a part of the team too. The ones we have are awesome but it is difficult for someone to come out after they’ve worked a full week and do screenings for another couple hours. That’s certainly a need that is as important, honestly, as funding because I can do a lot of things —  I can dig ditches and set up tents and hand out information but what I can’t do is skin cancer screenings. If you are a dermatologist or PA that would like to help out with our screening mission, I’d love to talk to you!

Q. Is your primary goal to stay local with We Rock Cancer or do you want to expand?

I’ve answered this question [before] by saying “I don’t see why there is not one of these in every town in America.” There certainly should be a We Rock Cancer branch or at least a chapter in Nashville, in  Austin, in Los Angeles. Pick a place where live music is important to the people who live there. It’s just a function of money and support and people who recognize the importance and value of this. 

Reed with We Rock Cancer supporting musicians Jarod Clemons [center] and drummer Vini Lopez [right]. Jarod Clemons and The Late Nights are a classic rock/blues band, based out of the Jersey Shore.  Clemons is the youngest son of the late great saxophonist, well known in his own regard and for being part of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Lopez is a drummer who backed Springsteen in several bands, including Steel Mill and the E Street Band. He also played on Springsteen’s first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle

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Apply now for a New Mini-Grant

Celebrate National Digital Inclusion Week in Fairfax County with this new pilot program! Celebrate Fairfax will provide up to $500 for events or programs in support of digital inclusion. Apply now for the first Celebrate Fairfax Community Grant!
The purpose of these events should be to promote digital literacy, access to technology, and equitable participation in the digital age among the residents of Fairfax County. You are eligible for this grant if you are a registered nonprofit organization, community-based organization, or Fairfax County Government agency affiliate.
The application process is a Google Form with basic information about your organization and a 1-2 page response to 8 basic questions about the event or program you will host.
The deadline to apply is Monday, September 18th at 5pm. Please share with your community groups and look for more information on how we’re celebrating Digital Inclusion week.

Fairfax Fiesta: Volunteers needed

Calling all Volunteers! Fairfax Fiesta is shaping up to be a vibrant event, where The PARC at Tysons will be filled with performances, activities, booths, and more. To support this event, we’re looking for a big volunteer team! Sign up to be an event volunteer —  youth 15 years and older are welcome to participate! Volunteer opportunities include set-up team, welcoming attendees, managing games and activities, interpreting and language assistance, and clean-up.  Celebrate Fairfax is a 501c3 nonprofit organization, so if you are looking for a fun opportunity to connect with your neighbors, meet new friends and support your community this is the opportunity for you. You can even  fill school or work community service hours!


McLean Central Park: Seeks Donations

McLean Central Park is a 28 acre public park, just minutes from Tyson’s Center, in the heart of downtown McLean, Virginia. McLean Central Playground Team is raising money for the Toddler Playground, to bring increased accessibility, sensory and adaptive play, and new equipment for people of all ages and abilities. We are asking the community to raise $400,000 by December 2023, for 2024 construction. Please visit our donate page for more information, or click HERE for an online donation to Fairfax County Park Foundation, McLean Central Park Playground.

Support Students with Food Insecurity

Educate Fairfax Fundraiser

From June 16 through July 27, 2023, everyone who shops at Giant Food will be invited to round their grocery purchase to the nearest dollar. Those funds will be donated to Educate Fairfax to support students with food insecurity. Educate Fairfax is a 501 (c)3 non profit that works to make a positive difference in the lives of FCPS students. In the 2022-2023 school year, they raised over $26,000 through this program, which was used to clear delinquent lunch accounts around the district.

For more information about Educate Fairfax or questions about this fundraiser, visit the Educate Fairfax website.The nomination period for the Tree Commission’s annual Friends of Trees opens on Friday, June 23, 2023 and continues through Monday, July 31. A Friends of Trees award recognizes efforts made for exceptional, outstanding, and innovative conservation-based tree actions in Fairfax County that do one or more of the following criteria: Protect and preserve existing trees and associated habitats. Increase Fairfax County’s tree canopy and its related habitats. Educate and inspire people to plant more trees and properly maintain them, and convey an understanding of both the value and benefits of trees.Developers who go ‘above and beyond’ Fairfax County requirements to preserve and protect trees and associated habitats. Nominee Categories: A. Individual Volunteer: an individual who has provided extraordinary unpaid leadership in conceiving and implementing a tree-related project. B. Non-profit Group or Business: Examples include Scouts or other youth groups or clubs, “Friends of” groups, faith community properties, HOAs and Citizens Associations, county agencies and/or facilities.C. For-profit Company: Examples include large corporations or other businesses, HOA management companies, commercial nurseries, landscaping contractors, office park and property managers. D. Development Community: Must have demonstrated, during planning and implementation, a strong commitment to conservation-based actions to both preserve and plant trees above and beyond Fairfax County requirements. Winners will be announced in the fall, 2023. For more information, and nomination forms, visit the Friends of Trees Awards website.

Fairfax County Parks Foundation Seeking Vehicle for Wonder Wagon Mobile Nature Center

The Fairfax County Park Foundation is seeking a vehicle and accepting donations to support the future FCPA Wonder Wagon Mobile Nature Center!

The Wonder Wagon Mobile Nature Center will bring environmental education to our neighbors particularly those in underserved and underrepresented communities. 

Children attending community outreach events, Rec-PAC summer camps, SACC programs at Title 1 schools in Fairfax County, and other popular gatherings will have fun with hands-on learning about our local environment.and increase connectedness to nature where they live.

Learn more about the Wonder Wagon and Donate Today to enrich the environment through education and equity outreach!

The Fairfax County Park Foundation is delighted to have been selected as the recipient of a 2023 grant through The Environment Fund for this impactful project!

Read this Environment Fund impact story, ‘Fairfax County Park Foundation goes Mobile’, by Alex Carey, Manager of Communications and Events, The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia.

Fairfax County Park Foundation is grateful and honored to be a ’23 grantee of The Community for Northern Virginia!

The Fairfax Food Council is seeking two youth representatives to serve on the Fairfax Food Council Steering Committee. The Steering Committee is charged with overseeing the work of the Council, setting priorities, and raising resources, among other duties. As a member of the Steering Committee, the youth representative will:Attend the Steering Committee and work group meetings or review meeting minutes, as school schedule allows. Meet monthly with the Fairfax Food Council Project Manager and other designated members of the Steering Committee. Assist the Steering Committee in overseeing the work of the Council, and in setting the Council’s priorities. Represent the interests of youth who live and go to school in Fairfax County, Fairfax City, and Falls Church. The youth representative position is considered a volunteer position. However, youth representatives will be granted monthly stipends in the amount of $25 per hour of service. The time commitment is approximately 6 hours of service each month. Applicants should both live and attend school in Fairfax County, Fairfax City, or Falls Church, and be a rising high school junior for the 2023-2024 school year. Representatives will serve a one-year term, with the ability to extend to a two-year term.Applications are due by September 15, 2023.For more information, visit the Fairfax Food Council website or contact