Tag Archives: Falls Church

Relay for Life: A Community Event for the Whole Family

Wednesday, I helped out counting money that had been raised for the Falls Church Relay for Life, to be held on Saturday, June 4at George Mason High School.  For the last 12 years I have been involved with Relay for Life, a


Nora at a Camp Fantastic Fundraiser

fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.  As most of you reading this know, as a toddler, I was a bone marrow donor for my older sister, Nora, who was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia at 6 months old.  Nora survived, and grew into a successful adult and a great sister.  She volunteers each summer with Camp Fantastic (for kids with cancer), my mom volunteers each week with the Ronald McDonald House (she and Nora lived in one while she was having her bone marrow transplant), and I raise money for the American Cancer Society through Relay for Life.

What is Relay?

It is NOT a race … or even a sporting event.  No one wears running shorts or heart rate monitors.

It is an all night celebration of life and remembrance for those we have lost in the struggle against cancer.  Because of this, it is a great event to attend or to volunteer at, even if you are not a participating team member.

relay for life 2009

Relay is a fun event for kids of all ages

Here are some of the highlights if you want to just come for the day of:

The Survivor Reception & First Lap:  If you are a cancer survivor (or currently battling cancer), this is your opportunity to gather with others in a special reception before the event.  After the reception, all of the survivors walk out to the event grounds together (wearing complimentary survivor t-shirts) and lead the Relay teams in the first lap around the track to kick off the event.  It’s a really heart warming and triumphant moment.

relay for life cancer survivors

Cancer survivors kicking off Relay for Life in Falls Church 2009

The Caregiver Lap:  Have you ever been a caregiver for someone with cancer?  The caregivers are invited to join the survivors for the 2nd lap around the track to kick off the event.

mr. relay

One of my earliest and favorite Relay memories -- my friend wearing my dress for the Mr. Relay competition 12 years ago

Day time events and on site fundraisers:  During the event, each team sets up a booth or team area on the inside of the track (usually a high school or college track and field).  Many teams will be selling food or handmade items to benefit ACS.  There are also games and activities that you can participate (some of which have a fee that also goes towards ACS).  In the past I have participated in cake walks and Twister and have bought delicious cookies and handmade greeting cards.   It’s like a combination County Fair and bazaar.

Luminaria Sales and Ceremony:

luminariaIf you are ready to be moved to tears, then come back at around 9 pm for the lighting of the luminarias in honor or in memory of cancer survivors.  You can purchase a luminaria in someone’s name and decorate it.  Every year I get one in honor of my sister and then I can light the luminaria during the ceremony and remember how thankful I am to have her.  Most Relays also collect pictures ahead of time and then show a slideshow during the ceremony.

Last week!!  Please remember to VOTE for us everyday in the Travel for Good contest.

These 2 hours of volunteering were sponsored by Greg Castano, Coordinator of Volunteer Arlington.  Thank you for the support!


Service Driven Has Begun!

Tuesday at 6 pm, after a week of long days of cleaning and packing, we crammed every last bag in the car, kissed my parents good bye and pulled out of the driveway.

Pulling out of the driveway of our old house

I was glad we only needed to go two blocks before our first stop: the gas station.  With the car fully loaded, we have no view out of the rear view mirror and it took a little adjustment to get used to driving that way.

Fueling up right away

Last week was exhausting.  You never realize how much stuff you have accumulated until you have to sort through it piece by piece.  Since we are not planning to move back to Virginia, we were downsizing as much as possible.  We took about four car loads to the thrift store, sold furniture on craigslist, stored several car loads worth of belongings at my parent’s house, gave more away to family and friends, and still ended up with several bags of trash.

I was originally convinced we would only have two trash cans worth..

After getting lost in Richmond, we finally made it to Zoe’s house around 9 pm.  Just in time for an early bed time so that we could wake up at 5:50 am for volunteering at the elementary school.

More on that in the next post…

You Could Live Here (in our house that is…)

our house

Our house, which could be your new home!

Jay and I currently live in a funky little house nicknamed “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” in Falls Church, VA, just off Route 29.  We have loved living in this quirky 3 bedroom upside-down house with a great location and great landlords.  Now that we are moving, it could be yours!  The house would be best for a couple like us or perhaps a couple with one or two small children.  Just comment on the post or send us an email (servicedrivenus (at) gmail.com) for more details or to take a tour.

House Features

  • 1 Master Bedroom with 2 closets and 2 small bedrooms (all on the first floor)
  • 1 full bath downstairs and a small “toilet room” upstairs
  • a large living room/dining room space and adjoining office or study
  • a shed with room for multiple bikes or tools
  • a screened in back porch as well as a deck
  • nice front loading washer and dryer
  • an open kitchen with fridge and counter tops hidden from view
  • a large side yard and small backyard with room to grow vegetables or do composting


  • inside the Beltway
  • right near the City of Falls Church but technically in Fairfax County
  • can access Rt 29 and Rt 50 from neighborhood streets (which is very helpful if there is any kind of traffic back up).
  • on the edge of a nice family neighborhood and local shops and restaurants including Pizzeria Orso, Elevation Burger, Super Chicken (best local Peruvian Chicken!), and Lebanese Butcher
    • We were able to keep well fed during the blizzard by walking to local stores and restaurants.


  • Free parking (including 2 spots in the driveway)
  • Less than a block from a WMATA bus stop with buses to the East Falls Church metro, Ballston, Tysons, and Annandale every 20 minutes
  • about 1 mile to the East Falls Church and West Falls Church metros

Here’s how it is described by our landlord in the ad:

3 bedroom house with small, shady yard. 1.33 bathrooms. Suitable for a single, couple or two roommates. Sunny, high-ceiling living/kitchen area, with extra rooms for dining, office, exercise, etc.  Contemporary and unique architect-designed style with skylights, central air, off-street parking, wood-burning fireplace, screened porch and balcony. Near metro bus stop, about 1.5 miles from East FallsChurch metro (30-40 minutes on foot). Walk to City of Falls Church restaurants, parks, library. Willing to consider a cat or small dog. $1850 per month (utilities not included), one-year lease minimum,available early February.

Christmas Spirit: Being Grateful and Giving To Others

Tewksbury/Blooms at Ronald McDonald House

Mom, sister (Nora), and Sharon at Ronald McDonald House

This Christmas I was reminded at how blessed Jay and I are and how grateful we are to be so blessed.  We are finishing up on a great year of accomplishments and good fortune.  Yesterday, Christmas Eve, my mom invited my sister Nora and I to join her at the Ronald McDonald House.  She volunteers there every Friday.  Nora and I met my mom there, working our way through the daily chores list unloading the dishwasher, cleaning, and straightening.  We also had time to chat over coffee since the house was pretty empty for the holiday weekend.

Ronald McDonald Houses are located near hospitals all over the world and provide a place for families to stay when they have a child undergoing treatment for a serious illness.  My sister, who was diagnosed with cancer at her 6 month check up, stayed in the Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore as a toddler when she was getting a bone marrow transplant (from me) at Johns Hopkins.  Our family was very grateful for this home away from home at such a stressful time.

The Ronald McDonald House in Falls Church  is connected with Fairfax Hospital which has a well renowned NICU and therefore a lot of the families who stay at the house are there because they have newborns who were born prematurely or who have life-threatening illnesses.  Today, in the wee hours of the morning, my cousin gave birth to a beautiful healthy baby boy.  We are so grateful.  So blessed.

Merry Christmas.  Happy Holidays.


Holiday Volunteering: Gift Wrapping for the Literacy Council

sharon and melinda at gift wrapping

Melinda (Sharon's Mom) and Sharon at the Gift Wrap

Yesterday, to get in the holiday spirit and give back, my mom and I volunteered to wrap gifts at the Barnes and Noble in 7 Corners.  We wrapped presents for free, but there was a donation box out to benefit the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia.  I know the Volunteer Coordinator, Bella Peñaranda, and when I saw the volunteer opportunity come in to Volunteer Arlington’s Online Volunteer Connection, I thought it might be a fun opportunity that my mom and I could do together.

I was starting to regret signing up when I woke up coughing and sneezing.  Jay cracked a joke comparing me wrapping gifts with the early settlers giving blankets contaminated by small pox to Native Americans.  I took a bunch of cold meds, grabbed a big mug of tea and shuffled out the door for my shift.  My mom had gotten the days mixed up and was rushing to get to the store so I wouldn’t be there alone.

As soon as I arrived and found the gift wrap station, the Barnes and Noble staff happily greeted me, relieved to turn over the gift wrapping responsibilities.  I guess that there hadn’t been any volunteers for the first shift and the staff were filling in.  I jumped right into wrapping before getting a chance to read the guide or sign in.  Luckily my customer service skills and experience in arts and crafts allowed me to stumble through my first few customers just fine.  When I finally got a break in the line I read the very helpful handbook from the Literacy Council which offered clear instructions on checking for receipts (oops!), what to say about the Literacy Council, and how to handle removing prices from items.  Soon after I got situated, my mom arrived and we settled in for a 3 hour shift.

One of our first customers was a coworker of mine, Alicia Beach, who supervises volunteers for the Arlington County Senior Travel Office.  She gave mom some information about their trips and it was great to connect with someone that I knew.  That sort of networking is actually a common feature of volunteering, as well connected active community members tend to volunteer and connect with other active community members.

Also early in our shift, we had a very amusing customer.  Anyone who knows my mom, knows she is famous for telling you the right way to do something.  In fact she got the store manager to set up an additional table for us and then rearranged the supplies for maximum efficiency.  I usually just go with her suggestions because she is almost always right about the right way to do things.  Well, we had a customer who outdid her.  She was buying a gift for her daughter (who was standing right next to her and had picked out the gift).  She then proceeded to give mom very detailed instructions on the right way to wrap the gift.  Classic.  Mom had to hand it to her… she was right about the right way to wrap a gift, and taught us some techniques that we used for the rest of our shift.

Sharon at Gift Wrapping

The rest of the shift went smoothly, with a pretty constant stream of customers and pretty consistent donations.  My mom had volunteered as a tutor with the Literacy Council several years ago, so she was able to tell a personal story about the work that they do.  This type of storytelling is essential and I was so glad my mom was willing to share.

In just a 3 hour shift I was starting to get a feel for the place, noticing who the regular customers were, seeing how the staff interact with one another.  The staff from both Barnes and Noble and the attached Starbucks were very kind and helpful and helped to make it a pleasant experience.  With all volunteer opportunities, the work environment and culture play a huge role in retention.  I would have gladly come back to that store to work again.

When the next volunteer showed up to relieve us, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the shift had gone by.  She was in an end-of-the-year volunteering marathon, having a certain number of hours to complete as part of a professional development program.  She said that she had volunteered gift wrapping at Borders the day before for 8 hours.  She tallied up the donations for the end of the day and they only tallied up to about $150.  This struck both of us as a very low sum of money for the amount of volunteer labor that had been spent.  However, when I think about our own experience, talking to people throughout the shift about the Literacy Council and just spreading some holiday cheer, I realize that there is an additional intangible value that we were able to contribute.  Not to mention the value we gained, from spending quality time with one another and chatting with interesting people.

Learn more about the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia on their website: http://www.lcnv.org/

Donate here:  https://www.lcnv.org/donate_secure.html

Volunteer here: https://www.lcnv.org/volunteers/index.cfm