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Winchester Area Newcomers Club


Winchester Area Newcomers Club

General Meeting

Guest Speakers



Our General Meeting with a speaker is held every month from September through May.






Anna Lehman

Program Coordinator for the Godfrey Miller Center

28 South Loudoun St.

Winchester, VA


Highlights from the Presentation


The mission of the the Godfrey Miller center is to serve adults of the community by providing benevolent services, fellowship programs and community events in the historic home and the Woltz pavilion.


To fulfill this mission the center has a rich smorgasbord of activities! Some examples:

Games: canasta, bridge, pinochle, ,mahjong 

Classes: art, strength & conditioning exercise, bible study, computer workshops, technology help sessions

Fun: weekly luncheons, tea parties, craft workshops

…and so much more. Anna spoke enthusiastically about programs the center currently offers and that she is always happy to receive new program ideas!

The Godfrey Miller House has a fascinating history stretching back to 1785. For a full history of how Godfrey Miller's private home was given to Grace Lutheran Church as a home for elderly ladies, and then became a fellowship center for older adults,  and a complete list of activities check out their website at


Kristen Laise, Executive Director, Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown, Virginia,

Highlights from the Presentation

Kristen presented us with a powerpoint presentation that included a brief history of Belle Grove Plantation but it mainly focused on the results of the Slave Dwelling Project and the research tools used in the effort to identify all the individual slaves owned by the Hite family.

When Jost Hite married Nellie Madison, the sister of James Madison,  in 1783, the couple received almost 500 acres of land in Frederick County. Their manor house still stands and Belle Grove Plantation is now a National Historical Landmark, a Virginia Historic Landmark, and a historic property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 


It is estimated that between 1783 and 1851 the Hite family owned 276 slaves, and one of the Belle Grove projects is to identify each individual slave and construct their family trees using the Hite family papers, wills, court documents, and census records, just to name a few.


Kristen spoke about the archeological dig in the area where the old slave quarters stood that has yielded over 60,000 artifacts. New technology helps researchers interpret such finds, the most fascinating one that Kristen mentioned was seeds. At some point in time on the site, there was a fire that inadvertently led to the preservation of seeds. These seeds can now be analyzed on a level that reveals what kind of seeds they were and thus giving historians specific  information about what crops were grown at the time. 


Of particular interest to members in the audience this morning was Kristen’s description of the Stitch-A-Name Quilt Project sponsored by Belle Grove and the Winchester Embroidery Guild. Each quilt block will have the embroidered name of a slave, including family relationships if possible. Over 270 slave men, women and children will be remembered on this quilt! 


Kristen pointed out the many ways to volunteer at Belle Grove Plantation, including gardening, docent work and volunteering in the museum shop. She also listed a plethora of events and activities open to the public.


The Belle Grove Plantation website ( is incredibly rich with information. To read in detail about the powerful,  fascinating and textured stories that can now be told about individual slaves and their families and life on the plantation, check out in particular:


For a Virtual Tour :


Sharen E. Gromling

President of the Shenandoah Apple Festival

Highlights from the Presentation

Sharen has been a volunteer for the Shenandoah Apple Festival for 43 years, and is now in her second year as President.


After all these years of service, Sharen is still enthusiastic about volunteering because she believes that the Winchester community spirit is very special! The Shenandoah Apple Festival has been a tradition since 1924 and for which we, the community, open our doors and welcome everyone to come and celebrate. Sharen loves the fact that for 10 days Winchester transforms itself into a land of pink and green, a brief moment in which time is suspended for young and old to enjoy fun, pageantry, and parades.


This year there will be over 50 events! The full event calendar can be viewed at


Sharen spoke about the rich history of the festival attendees. The list of celebrities that have served in various capacities is impressive. The list includes Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Lucille Ball, just to name a few! Check out the whole list here:


Past Queens have included 2 President’s daughters; Lyndon Johnson’s daughter Lucy in 1964, and Gerald Ford’s daughter Susan in 1975.


The Queen for this year is Isabella Astin, daughter of actor Sean Astin (Samwise Gangee of “The Lord of the Rings”). Isabella is his youngest daughter, the older two were Queen in 2014 and 2018. The whole Astin family is coming in from California for the event.


The Apple Blossom Festival has added some new events this year. To name a few, an Esport Tournament, Pickleball Tournament, Wheelchair Race added to the 10K, Teen Dance and a Fiesta Latina which will be free to the public. 


It takes 2000 volunteers to organize and run the Apple Blossom Festival. The Festival is expensive to fund. It costs about $2 million with $100,000 used to cover celebrities. A great deal of the revenue comes from 2 events, the 10 day Carnival in Ward Plaza and the 2 day Wine Festival. Rain is always a factor, and over the years many events have been moved to indoor venues.


Many events require tickets. In the past, tickets were sold in several locations in Winchester,  but  are now only available on-line. The events that usually sell out quickly are the Friday luncheons and this year, probably the Contemporary Christian Concert that closes out the Festival.


Sharen highlighted a new partnership with Sherando High School. The art class has published an Apple Blossom Festival children’s coloring book. All the proceeds will go back to the art department.


The Apple Blossom Festival is truly a community event and it  has something for everyone!. 



Dr. John Toliver

Retired USDA Forest Service Research Scientist & Associate Professor of Forestry at Louisiana State University, U.S. Army Vietnam era Veteran, Avid Naturalist, Conservationist.


Highlights from the Presentation


Dr. Toliver  moved to Lake Frederick in 2018. The development around the lake is private property, but Dr. Toliver and other members of the Lake Frederick community built a 7.4 mile trail around the Lake. This trail is open to the public because it was built on a 100 foot buffer zone owned by the Virginia State Department of Wildlife Resources.


Dr. Toliver mentioned a Washington Post story about the history of Lake Frederick. He did not focus on the historical development of Lake Frederick so  it is well worth reading the Post article so you can appreciate how much we owe the volunteers that created the hiking trail and the right to public access to the Lake.


Dr. Toliver spoke enthusiastically about what the 117 acres of Lake Frederick offers us now. The hiking trail itself was completed in 2020 and is now a major feature, with a Bait Shop, dam, fishing pier, boat and kayak rentals, and fishing, all to be enjoyed by the public. The Lake supports numerous fish, including bass, crappie, and sunfish. Dr. Toliver  is always willing to organize a tour along the trail to “read” the landscape, a fascinating way of interpreting the land and understanding its past uses, especially since it includes part of the Wheatland Plantation which reaches back into the 1700’s. In fact, the Wheatland manor house is still standing.


Dr. Toliver is also president of the  “Friends of Lake Frederick”  organization, a  501 (c)(3) whose mission is to keep the Lake waters clean and healthy, keep the buffer zones clean and natural and maintain the nature trail. 


The Trail itself is 7.4  miles long and it begins and ends at the boat ramp. The trail has mile markers  which are very useful if you need emergency help. It is important to know that there is no place to get off the trail. All the access points you will see lead to private property.  The trail itself is marked with blue markers and you will have stepped onto private property when you see  yellow markers. The trail  progresses from an easy hike, to a more medium hike, to difficult. If you start down the trail you should think about your return trip unless you are ready for the entire 7.4 miles!


You  are required to pay $7/per person to use the trail or the Lake, and you will find a sign at the boat ramp with a QR code for your convenience. You can pay using your cell!  This money goes to the State of Virginia.


However, Dr. Toliver pointed out that if you are 65 or older, and buy a life-time fishing license for $25, you are good to go with paying the other fee! This money goes to the Department of Wildlife Resources and comes directly back to Lake Frederick.


Dolly Vachon, Board member and 1st Vice President, Winchester Little Theatre

Highlights from the Presentation

Dolly and her husband Donald moved to Winchester 28 years ago from New York’s Hudson River Valley. 


Since then, Dolly has become a volunteer with Winchester Medical Center’s Hurst House, the Arts Chorale of Winchester Shenandoah Arts, & the Winchester Little Theater. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Arts Chorale and is 1st Vice President of the Winchester Little Theatre’s Board of Directors. 

Dolly gave us a wonderfully spirited  presentation about her volunteer work with the Winchester Little Theatre (WLT). Years ago, she overheard a conversation about the WLT between 2 WLT box-office ladies in a locker room. She was so impressed that she immediately volunteered to help! Her enthusiasm has not waned and her love of the WLT is inspiring!

Dolly recalled how, as a new intern, she was jaw droppingly awed by the unbelievable talent and level of detail she witnessed in the sets, props and costumes,  and the excellence of the acting. All this work was done by volunteers.

Dolly loved her volunteer job so much that when asked she joined the WLT  Board of Directors, and in 2014 became the Director of Development. This was just about the time that the theater building itself was declared unsafe. WLT had bought the old Pennsylvania Railroad Freight Station back in the 1970’s and even then the building had suffered from years of neglect. However, after  a 2-year renovation WLT  was able to open their theater doors in 1975. By 2014, however, no amount of foundation repair or steel cables could fix the ongoing structural problems. The engineer told Dolly at the time that the building would not survive another ice storm!

The WLT was, and still is, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and except for one part-time manager, everything they do is done by volunteers.  So, it took the wider Winchester community at large to pitch in and help save the WLT building. It is a historic landmark and the remarkable outpouring of the community allowed the WTL to restore the building and turn it into what you see today!

The WLT website below is very easy to navigate and you can read about all the upcoming performances  and explore ticket options.

Dolly specifically pointed out  the affordability of WLT tickets and the great flexibility built into the season subscription package,  which is a bargain at  only $95!  She also advised buying tickets early because some shows are sold out long before the performances.

If you are interested in a little Winchester history, and the WLT venue back in the early days at the old Bark Mill Theater, check out the link below:



Andrea Cosans
Executive Director
Congregational Community Action Plan (CCAP) 112 South Kent St.
Winchester, VA 22601 

Highlights from the Presentation


Andrea has over 16 years’ experience in day-to-day operations of CCAP. She has run a homeless shelter for women & children and a transitional housing program for homeless individuals & families. In addition, she presided as the Director of Volunteers/Program Development for a youth services agency and most recently was Director of a Probationary Agency that monitored people who were arrested for DUI/minor drug charges for the court system. She has also served as case manager for the chronic mentally ill, helping them get back on their feet and become stable residential members of society.


CCAP is a non-profit agency that serves Winchester and Frederickk County and is dedicated to the prevention of homelessness. 


Among the services CCAP offers are:

A food pantry, which served over 3200 households last year.

A needs-based financial aid program which served over 1600 people last year. 

CCAP also has a clothing house, set up like a boutique that includes professional attire and  job site specific items like steel-toed boots.  A  firewood program allows CCAP clients  3 free loads of wood per season, and an option to purchase more. CCAP also has a bicycle program and tries to  help with car repairs so clients can get to work. 


One of the more interesting programs Andrea spoke about was FREEDGE. This is a neighborhood community refrigerator that is open 24/7. You take what you need and/ or leave what you can. Andrea said anyone can donate to the FREEDGE, and food  can be homemade items as well. This is an especially valuable resource for people who do not have regular access to fruits and vegetables.


CCAP partners with many other organizations in the area, such as Catholic Charities, Highland Food Pantry, and Valley Assistance Network, in an coordinated effort to build an effective network for those in need. CCAP relies upon donations, Grants, and fundraisers,  such as their annual bike event,  to keep up with their operating costs.


Andrea welcomes all who are interested to stop in and  get a tour of CCAP on Kent St. She is proud to show it off! Volunteers are needed! CCAP only has 2 full-time employees and works with 160 volunteers. There is always work to be done. A typical  volunteer works about 3 hours once a week, and the  range of tasks goes from desk jobs to driving. 


The CCAP website is very informative about all their programs and has lovely pictures of the facility. You can also download a volunteer form. Check it out at



Robyn Miller

Executive Director

Winchester Area Temporary Transitional Shelter (WATTS)

Highlights from the Presentation

WATTS is a local non-profit program that provides a low-barrier shelter for homeless people from November through March. Its  mission is to give their “guests” a safe and welcoming place to sleep during the winter months.   Robyn explained that a low-barrier meant that the shelter is open to anyone over the age of 18 and where identification and sobriety are not a condition for receiving a bed or assistance.


The WATTS  program was founded by several  faith-based groups in 2009 in response to the fact that a homeless man froze to death on the streets of Winchester.  The original idea was to use empty church spaces for overnight shelters, and since then 21 churches have banded together to open their doors from November through March on a rotating basis. The WATTS bus picks up guests downtown Winchester in the evening and brings them back downtown in the morning, and the host church provides dinner and breakfast.


More recently, WATTS has expanded its program to include  a Winter Day program and an 8-week summer Day Cooling Center. To help their guests break the cycle of homelessness WATTS also offers a “Transition Out of Homelessness Program.”


Robyn informed us that not only is our local homeless population growing, but, surprisingly, 85% of their guests are natives of Winchester, Frederick and Clarke Counties. Many  graduated from our local high schools. Many of the guests have jobs, but cannot afford the cost of living in the area. To illustrate that point,  Robyn spoke about a meeting she attended with a local employer who paid their employees $21/hour but some of those same employees were living in their cars. Winchester just does not have enough affordable housing!


It takes over 3000 volunteers to make the WATTS program work! To illustrate the scope and varied nature of working/volunteering in the WATTS program, Robyn mentioned a few of her cases. The first was a lady with a physical handicap and a mental disability who simply could not manage the obstacles to get from homelessness to home. WATTS worked with her for 6 months to get her settled. In another case, a homeless man had a local job offer but was homeless for 4 months because the State of Pennsylvania required 11 different forms from him just to get a copy of his birth certificate. In many cases, their guests have diagnosed mental illnesses that prevent them from navigating the system to get help.  It was these kinds of cases that led WATTS to hire dedicated staff in 2021 just to help guests with these kinds of problems. 


The WATTS website at has a list of ways you can serve WATTS if you decide to volunteer. At the top of their  list is a need for nurses, even those with expired licenses, to help guests sort out their prescribed medications and give advice. Robyn invites anyone interested to contact her so she can help you find your volunteer  niche in the WATTS program.


The “Coldest Night of the Year” /fundraiser/awareness walk  is scheduled for February 24, 2024. Several WANC members have taken part in this, and it was ironically noted that sometimes it is not that cold here! Last year over 400 people participated. 


Robyn’s inspiring talk generated a lot of questions from the members at the meeting.


High on the list was how and what to donate. The WATTS donation page, ,  includes an Amazon wishlist that is dovetailed to the needs of the WATTS guests. If you choose this route  your donation goes straight to WATTS to fill a need. Robyn reminded us that the homeless have to carry all their possessions with them at all times. For clothing she sends them to CCAP. 


Another organization  Robyn mentioned  was the Valley Assistance Network, (, 

which help those who qualify for  the ALICE program (asset limited, income constrained and employed).  Apparently, 40 percent of the families in the Valley fall into this category! 


February 2024


Sarah Young


Sarah Young is the RecManager at County of Frederick Parks and Recreation. In this role, she manages 14  full-time employees and over 70 part-time employees. Her department is located in 8 different sites  serving over 400 participants. Her department is committed to promoting and providing quality parks  and recreational facilities, programs, and leisure opportunities for our community. She works closely  with Tanner Lippold who has recently been working with Paulette Jennis (Chair, Travel Club) on  coordinating our upcoming trip on the Cherry Blossom Odyssey Cruise in March. Paulette has been  working diligently with Tanner to create a partnership with their department so we can offer additional  trips for our members.  

Sarah works with active adults which includes two social clubs (the Gad Abouts in Stephens City and a  club in Gainsboro). Active Adult Social Clubs They are always looking to add new members to these  clubs. The monthly Mystery Trips are a focus of these two groups. A Mystery Trip leaves at about 9:00  AM and returns about 5:00 PM. Participants are instructed to dress comfortably, bring money for lunch  and enjoy! Mystery Trips have included a Llama farm, the Green Valley Bookfair, and a Lavender Farm.  Last month’s Mystery Trip was a visit to the Camera Museum in Staunton followed by lunch at the Wood  Grill, a visit to an antiques mall and to Sammy Lou’s Bakery in Strasburg. A Mystery Trip always includes  sweets and/or shopping on the way home. (Parks & Rec has a 20-person van, a 15-person van and a 12- person van.) 

The focus of their programming for active adults is to help people stay active and healthy. Facilities  include walking trails at Clearbrook Park (1/2mile which will be expanded to a full mile) and Sherando  Park (which has a lot of trails) as well as pickleball courts at Frederick Heights Park, at Clearbrook and a  planned opening of pickleball courts at Sherando Park in April 2024.  

WANC has partnered with Frederick County Parks & Recreation for the Cherry Blossom cruise in March. The trip is full. Sarah said how helpful it is to get input from WANC about ways that Parks & Rec can help  people stay active and healthy. Sarah brought printed copies of the Spring Parks & Rec catalog which is  also available on their website. P&R Spring 2024 Catalog Note that the Mystery Trips are in the Active  Adult section of the Catalog. The Department is looking into offering overnight trips. They are  considering a trip to Williamsburg or Richmond.





Guest Speakers



Tonia Sweeney

Director of Volunteers for Blue Ridge Hospice


Mike Robinson

Local author of “Winchester Tales.”


Elizabeth Albert

Managing Director

Shenandoah Theater Summer Music Program


Sabra Veach

President of the Winchester Lions Club



Karen Rice

Director of Continuing Education & Lifelong Learning

Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, WV


Stacy McFarland & Jill Johnson

American Red Cross

Dr. Donna Michel

Winchester Medical Center “Walk with a Doc Program”