2018: The year of inspiration

By Page H. Gifford, Correspondent

Many will look back at 2018 as a year of turmoil and uncertainty while gazing ahead at 2019 in the hopes of a better year. Looking back at the year that is passing tells us so much about where we’ve been and where we are going. Hindsight teaches us about our successes and our failures and what to look for as we step forward into new year.

Memories are always a part of looking back and remembering those who left behind a rich legacy to inspire us to move forward. Fluvanna seems to be a tiny thread in the weave of America, but in its own way, it represents what America is all about. We see it every day in the people who give, inspire us and help their neighbors. It was the year of inspiration.

Helping homeless and abandoned animals, and advocating for their welfare, radio commentator and author Alden Bigelow braved the frigid waters of Nantucket, Mass., on Thanksgiving, along with his family, to raise money for Caring for Creatures, an animal sanctuary.

Nantucket Island is memorable for Bigelow, who spent summers there with his family. He is currently writing a novel which takes place on the island. A once thriving and rugged whaling community, Nantucket is not known for its gentle, warm waters, so making the commitment to do the Nantucket Polar Plunge was something Bigelow, his son Coleman, and his grandchildren did not take lightly.

“My wife Marjorie and I rented a house and Coleman came with his wife and children, but it was on the condition that I would join him on Thanksgiving morning for the Nantucket Polar Plunge,” Bigelow said. He then thought about turning this teeth-chattering experience into an opportunity to raise money for Caring for Creatures (CFC). “This is my favorite charity: the area’s first no-kill sanctuary, housing 200 animals, cats and dogs.” Bigelow reported that so far he has raised $2,500, and with a matching grant, it was a wonderful holiday gift for CFC.

Mary Birkholz, CFC president, has kept the sanctuary afloat for 30 years, even during times of uncertainty. She said she couldn’t have done it without dedicated volunteers. Diana Pickral is one of them, who singlehandedly puts together hundreds of dog and cat gift bags for the holiday season. A 17-year veteran volunteer, she began the creative process over 10 years ago, then turned over the reins to other volunteers. She took it over again last year and continued to work tirelessly with two part-time volunteers but mostly doing the work herself, making things and stuffing bags. For these volunteers and many others, there are not enough thank yous for all the work and sacrifices they have made.

Birkholz set the tone for animal welfare in Fluvanna with her creative ideas for fundraising and community outreach. Her model inspired others in the area to join her in animal advocacy and welfare and for the last 30 years, the FSPCA has changed its policies, becoming more humane and proactive in its approach to finding homes and rehabilitation for those who come through their doors. Peaceful Passings takes in senior dogs that are often overlooked at adoptions, and Green Dogs Unleashed trains dogs and gives them a purpose.

While many were inspired in creative fundraising, others simply inspired. This past year, art teachers at all levels of the Fluvanna County Public School system spoke about their students and learning about the arts. Elementary art teacher Fran Walker teaches her students not to be afraid to create. Middle school art teacher Margie Kritzer helps her students nail the basics with fun and creative tactics, but makes sure they reach the next level. And after her first year filling the shoes of former high school art teacher Diane Greenwood, Michelle Coleman has proven that she can get the best from her students by encouraging out-of-the-box thinking.

Horace Scruggs reminded audiences at Carysbrook Performing Arts Center that music transcends all cultural barriers as they witnessed an evolution of African American music. The program recalled the haunting and beautiful songs sung by slaves, the jazz and blues of the early- to mid-20th century, and soul, rhythm and blues. It reminded us of the innovation and beauty of African American music, and its enormous contribution to the American musical landscape.

Fluvanna Art Association said goodbye to watercolor artist and long-time member Peter Almonte, who will always be remembered for his flawless and detailed work. It also lost Alice Clifford, one of the original founding members, who believed that inspiration was not a luxury for a few but rather comes from seeing the essence of the world around us.

Art is what inspired Linda Staiger, a surgeon turned painter, to petition the Board of Supervisors to change its policies regarding area artists, allowing them to create without the burden of fees. Now Staiger is moving forward in the new year to spearhead the long-awaited artisan’s trail.

After celebrating 10 years, the Fluvanna Writer’s Group continues to inspire and mentor other writers while members diligently wrestle with their own work. They hope to be around for another 10 years doing more of the same.

The Fluvanna County Arts Council was inspired by Sharon Harris, whose promotional prowess has brought audiences back to Carysbrook Performing Arts Center in the last year. Jessica Harris deserves credit for getting youth involved in theater while growing the Empowered Players. Children who would otherwise never have an opportunity to learn about theater now have a place to go and to experience the magic.

Of all those inspired to help in their community, rescue squad volunteers and firefighters see the best and worst of life itself.

On-call drivers can never hesitate when there is a snow or rainstorm and may have to drive many miles to help someone in need. Congratulations to Dr. Saami Shaibani for being one of those drivers and recognized for his accomplishments as driver of the year for Lake Monticello. He was inspired by children and the elderly to be there when they needed him most.

This is just a fraction of all the people who have inspired or been inspired by someone to do great things. The prediction is that it can only get better in 2019.

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