Henrico County Government offices will be closed on July 3 in observance of Independence Day.
“Henrico has set a priority for outreach and engagement to focus on how we communicate with our diverse, widespread citizens throughout the county.” Monica Smith-Callahan, Deputy County Manager of Community Affairs, recently shared those sentiments to describe the County’s strategic emphasis on community outreach. A newly restructured position for the county, the Deputy County Manager for Community Affairs fosters County relationships with governmental and nongovernmental organizations and collaborates across the community to assess and proactively respond to their needs.
When hired in February, Monica’s initial focus was on building connections with Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) to address student gaps and services beyond the classroom. With the County continuing to grow and become more diverse, the goal of the partnership was to provide all-encompassing support and services to Henrico students and families seeking resources from the County. However, her priorities soon shifted to support the County’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
In March, the Community Affairs office partnered with Henrico County Government employees, HCPS and the County’s Advocate for the Aging to establish four outreach call centers to assist residents with COVID-19 questions and concerns. Employees from across the organization stepped in to lead and provide outstanding customer service and support to Henrico citizens often problem-solving and finding creative solutions to meet their critical needs.
The outreach call centers are still active, and many Henrico residents have benefitted from those services, including the County’s older residents. In April, the County’s Advocate for the Aging partnered with the Community Affairs office to launch an “EngAGing Conversations” telephone reassurance program, which offers friendly telephone contact for older adults who feel lonely or socially isolated. Telephone reassurance volunteers contact older adults on a regular basis and share resources. The program has garnered positive support from the public, and it is one of the many ways that Monica and her team have collaborated across the organization to reach out to the community.
The Community Affairs office partnered with the Police Division and the Division of Fire in May to distribute COVID care kits to over 20,000 homes in Henrico County using GIS mapping and data to identify communities in need. With the support of public safety employees, 600 volunteers canvassed neighborhoods over the course of three weekends to distribute care kits across the County. The Division of Fire supported similar efforts by distributing face coverings and care kits to residents in apartment complexes, nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Monica is proud of how the County has responded to the pandemic, and she believes that the COVID-19 community engagement efforts have fostered a spirit of innovation in our organization. “We now know how we can innovate and create on the fly. This crisis has showed us that we can literally do anything if we all band together… and we did.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unique opportunities for the County to respond to the growing needs of Henrico residents. In recent months, Monica’s office has established public-private partnerships with numerous community organizations to mobilize food services, care kits and provide transportation to citizens which she believes is “nothing short of amazing.” Henrico County Public Schools, non-profits, and various community organizations have also supported the community to include donating building space to store food donations and providing financial support where needed. The COVID-19 pandemic has forged new connections between the Community Affairs office and HCPS. Monica’s office recently collaborated with HCPS to mobilize food support to Henrico families and older residents during the pandemic. She hopes to continue partnering with HCPS to “talk through what the new normal will be” and assess the future needs of HCPS students.
The global pandemic has given Monica fresh insight and opportunities to reflect on her current role. Moving forward, she hopes to focus on cross-functional collaboration between departments, creating new partnerships, and working with the County’s Community Engagement Coordinator, Raina Vann, to get critical services out to the community. “The way I think about my role has changed since COVID. We have folks throughout the County who need our services and support. Now is an opportunity for us to provide services in such a way that our citizens know our county is here as a resource for them…[to help them sustain and thrive].” Monica believes that Henrico is a great place to live, work and play because she’s lived in the County all her life. Her goal is to continue making Henrico a great place by providing “pockets of excellence” throughout the entire county to meet the needs of our ever-changing diverse community.
Henrico County is home to 40 parks and recreational facilities. They play an important role in community wellness and tourism. However, a lesser known feature of the parks is the role they play in animal conservation; specifically, at Three Lakes Park and Meadow Farm. The staff at these facilities includes two supervisors and four animal specialists that split their time between the two. They work all day, every day, even during closures, to make sure the animals are well tended; including regulating their environments, feeding, grooming, health checks, breeding and nursing care.
While the Three Lakes Park Nature Center is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, the 6,500 square foot facility features a variety of exhibits and is home to over 200 animals. The primary goal of the center is the educate visitors on the native wildlife they may see on the trails. There are exhibits showcasing local insects and birds. The 50,000-gallon aquarium gives an underwater view of the fish that can be found in the local lakes. The 29 display tanks showcase turtles and snakes from around Virginia-some of which are endangered or threatened species. Behind the scenes is a plethora of more reptiles and amphibians including venomous snakes, a variety of species of freshwater and brackish turtles, baby turtles and geriatric turtles that are too old to be used in displays. Many of these animals are trained to be held so that they can be used for hands-on teaching. While some of the animal’s personalities may earn them a nickname, none of the animals actually have names as they are all there for purely scientific and educational purposes.
In contrast, every animal at Meadow Farm has a name. It is a historical farm that began in the 1800’s and is still an active farm, now home to 43 animals- most of which are heritage animals. “Heritage is an umbrella term that embraces pure breeds of livestock and poultry with deep histories in the United States.” 1 On Meadow Farm there are two bronze turkeys, five guinea fowls, and five jungle fowls- all considered Heritage Breeds. The Farm is also home to some endangered species including: two Ossabaw Island pigs and twenty Gulf Coast Native sheep. Among the sheep are three new lambs that were born this Spring. They are hoping to add more Heritage Fowls and goats in the coming months.
Both sites participate in in-state breeding programs. They will breed some of their endangered animals and then trade or sell the offspring to other museums, parks, or nature centers, within Virginia, to help cultivate the species and educate the public. If you have not done so yet, I would encourage you to join the thousands of visitors that experience these two sites each year. Meadow Farm and Three Lakes Park are currently open to visitor and the Three Lakes Nature Center is hoping to open this month. Be on the lookout for special programing at both locations; especially Three Lakes’ Shark Week announcement!
Exciting as it is, the idea of embarking on a new healthy way of living can be overwhelming. We know how much physical and emotional effort lasting change requires. If you have attempted change and stumbled in the past – and who has not – even just the act of aspiring to change and risking failure can feel exhausting. After all, most people assume that to achieve their feel-great weight, they will have to practice herculean feats of willpower that make healthy eating and exercise so very challenging.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could just flip a switch in our brain that would force us to eat the healthiest foods in the healthiest amounts and get the most effective workouts? That may not be possible, but creating habits is the next best thing.
Once you become aware of the emotional and environmental triggers between you and your goals and get some perspective on your own desires and temperaments, you can use that information to create habits that set you up for success. By setting up a series of carefully crafted habits, you can put your healthiest eating and most effective training practices on autopilot.
The term habit has an austere connotation; it implies servitude and obligation. It sounds downright unpleasant, but habits can liberate us from fretting about what to eat, when to exercise and how to reach and maintain our feel-great weight. Habits are freeing and energizing. They save us from the draining and difficult work of making decisions and exercising our self-control. What is more, each time you practice a healthy habit, it gets stronger and more automatic, so you do not have to muster up as much willpower to do it.
Here are some keys to effective habit creation that can help you make your own eating and exercising life more successful than before.
- Respect yourself: You are who you are. You can be yourself. Change is possible, but personality transplants are unlikely. So, as you are setting up habits, do so with honest understanding of your own nature. If you are a night owl, do not vow to start daily 5 a.m. workouts. Focus on changing the situation to suit your desires and inclinations.
- Show a little compassion: Do not say anything to yourself that you would not tell a good friend.
- Convenience matters: It is important to make anything you do not want to do inconvenient, and anything you do want to do as easy as possible. If you do not want to indulge in cookies, do not buy them.
- No man is an island: We are influenced by other people’s habits. If you want to form a habit, think carefully about what people around you are doing. If they are engaging in healthy living, that is helpful. If they are not, or they are actively sabotaging your goals, plan how you are going to contend with them.
Need motivation to begin your healthier habits? Participate in the July 21-Day Intermittent Movement Challenge to move more and decrease sedentary behavior with minimal interruption – a manageable way to get fit without designating an hour per day for exercise.
Visit the Health Trip page on the Power Henrico website for additional information.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic created new projects on top of your normal work duties? With a larger to-do list on your plate, please consider hiring a student for academic credit.
Interns may be able to assist you with documenting changes within your department, creating manuals, making updates and marketing materials, and more. We can advertise your opportunities to new candidates, or you can select from a great pool of current summer intern applicants from a variety of college programs. Many students are eager for summer opportunities to satisfy academic requirements, grow their skills and build their professional network. It is a win-win!
If you do not have a need for a summer intern, there are opportunities in the Fall semester as well. Requests for Fall interns are due by June 30.
To collaborate on ways you can use and/or hire an intern to join your team, contact Debbie Lumpkin, Internship Program Coordinator at 501-7206 or email@example.com.
“Like our nation and the world, we face a public health threat that requires immediate, drastic action. As we move forward, please take care of your coworkers, your families and yourself. We will get through this.”
These were the last lines of County Manager John Vithoulkas’ announcement to reduce operations as of Tuesday, March 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He challenged us to come together (virtually) and uphold our commitment to the Henrico Way. Two and a half months later, our community is starting to see the easing of restrictions, but many of us are still working from home or in a more flexible capacity. Some employees have found the transition seamless while others have had to work much harder to adjust. With thousands of employees, in numerous departments that hold a variety of positions, it is impossible for this situation to look the same for everyone, but together we are One Henrico. Here is a look at how some employees have spent their last few months:
- How has your job or role changed since the “Stay at Home Order” began?
“It has not changed a lot. With the use of today’s technology, I am capable of doing my job offsite with little or no issues. Our Department uses Microsoft Teams and Webex to hold meetings with internal and external customers. Our customers have appreciated our responsiveness and business as usual during this time.” -Danielle Bazemore, Senior Controller, Department of Public Works
“There’s probably been more management and guidance of the current situation, and virtual reassurance than before.” -Bentley Chan, Acting Director, Department of Public Utilities
“My role has changed drastically… A couple years ago, I started supporting Cisco Webex. I had a few people inquire about it, the usage and meeting minutes were both low. Then COVID-19 and the “Stay at Home Order’ happened, and Cisco Webex usage has skyrocketed. Within the first 2 weeks, the County saw a 3755% increase in usage and 3309% increase in participants. The meeting minutes have increased from a few thousand to over 308,306 per month. My team has worked with so many departments and committees to create meetings, events and training, including the County Manager’s Office, Finance, Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission, CRWP Board Meetings, community meetings, Fitness and Wellness, and Fire Training, each with their own unique requirements. My team even worked with the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and the Virginia Supreme Court to start holding preliminary hearings and bond hearings via Webex in the Henrico County General District Court.” -Kenny Mitchell, Senior System Developer, Department of Information Technology (IT)
“I have honestly been busier at home than when I am in the office. The outbreak of COVID has honestly not slowed down the development community much at all. It has created more questions on processes needing answers quickly. I have found myself working with our house IT person to come up with ways for our groups to communicate and stay in touch with each other such as Microsoft Teams. We have had some internal issues with routing of plans or phone calls at times which are bigger when everyone is working remotely so jumping on those and spending time to get them resolved.” -Michael McMillion, Business Manager, Department of Building Inspections
“Since my role is technology and support, the job itself has not changed, but some of the tasks have, as well as the urgency at times. I was able to get our department up and running remotely within the first two weeks and I was able to configure applications and equipment so I could offer seamless support remotely. This was a huge change in workflow. Remote support of remote operations can be a bit tricky and I have had to think outside of the box to resolve issues.” -Laura Siewert, Department of Public Relations Media Services
- How have you adapted to the changes?
“Physically, I’ve pretty much moved my office cubicle to my dining room table. I have a nice setup using my large monitor and port replicator from work along with a 19” monitor, wireless keyboard, and wireless mouse I had at home. The only thing missing is my nice office chair. Mentally, I feel like I have been so busy I hardly have time to take a break. Many days I find my calendar full of Webex appointments. When the reminder pops up, instead of walking or driving to a meeting, I see everyone involved in a ‘Brady Bunch’ grid view working from their dining room, kitchen, bedroom, etc.” -Kenny Mitchell
“I brought home extra computer equipment to create a home office in a corner of my dining room. I have been using WebEx and my cell phone to communicate as opposed to walking down the hallway. I do not go anywhere without my work cell as it is more difficult to anticipate needs when I am not in the office with a general idea of what people are working on.” -Laura Siewert
“Change for me is a constant so you really have to just go with the flow and adapt, improvise and overcome. It is challenging in that my wife also works for the County, so we have had to create separate workstations for each other to make sure we are not interfering in the other’s job. The outbreak is showing we have to be able to work wherever we are so the days of desktop computers may need to be replaced with laptops for associates. I have enjoyed the challenge of trying to figure out how to make something work or how to create a new way to do a process we have.” -Michael McMillion
“By being more flexible and understanding of the nature of the situation and environment that we’re in. I’ve found that the community and reliance on each other during these times have helped immensely in keeping everything and each other going.” -Bentley Chan
- What has been the biggest challenge for you, your team, and/or your department?
“My biggest challenge has been taking the time to get up and stretch. I find myself sitting down to work at 8:00am. The next thing I know, the entire day has blown by. I quickly realized I was sitting way too much. I got a little better when Fitness and Wellness started hosting M/W/F workouts using Webex. From an IT perspective, the biggest challenge was going from a few people using the VPN connection to well over 1,000 connections. Some upgrades and licenses had to be purchased for the County to continue working. IT was also involved in distributing loaner laptops to users across the enterprise to support telework, bringing up multiple call centers, and creating new sites and apps in a very short period of time.” -Kenny Mitchell
“For me, the biggest challenge has definitely been keeping my two kids on task with schoolwork, cooking meals and still providing the immediate support some issues require. As a department it seemed our biggest challenge came in those first two weeks while everyone was working through frustrations of the remote process. I updated and repurposed laptops and other computer equipment for coworkers to take home so there was a learning curve with that as well. Fortunately, we were able to create a reliable and comfortable new normal and not get behind on work. I am very appreciative for my department’s willingness to utilize the remote process, new equipment and new applications!” -Laura Siewert
“By far the biggest challenge was when the outbreak started. The office workers in my department are not set up to work from home. We had to work with our in-house IT person and figure out how we can do our daily jobs as our customers need our assistance daily. Since then we are adapting to the ever-changing environment.” -Michael McMillion
“For us, it has been about keeping personal connections and relationships going without seeing each other in person. Before, it was very easy to walk down the hallway to talk with someone, and now you have to be very deliberate about seeing people virtually on Teams or Webex; to keep those interpersonal connections strong.” -Bentley Chan
- What have you found positive about the experience or hope to continue in the future?
“While I have missed the daily in person interaction with coworkers, I have enjoyed not having to physically commute for almost an hour to the office.” -Danielle Bazemore
“I may never come back to work …just kidding! I miss the human aspect of being in the office. I really enjoy seeing people use the tools IT provides. We have had a significant increase in our collaboration tools specifically. To me, it is very rewarding when I teach someone how these tools work and they think of ways to expand the use in their department. They have really enjoyed their time and greatly appreciate the patience I have shown them. Collaboration has been essential during this time and I think everyone, even those in IT, have realized how important it is.” -Kenny Mitchell
“I have loved having extra time at home with my kids! It is a bit overwhelming at times, but the comic relief is always right on time. It is refreshing to participate in video or phone calls from my patio on pleasant days. The change in location is nice for a brain and creativity boost. Our infrastructure is now set up to allow easier remote support of systems not previously set up for that. And the technology skills and random things we all learned through this process will stick with us even after we are back in the office.” -Laura Siewert
“While I would not want to do it every day, the ability to work from home has been nice. I think whenever we begin our new normal it would be beneficial to be able to work from home once a week especially since my office is showing we can still meet our goals and customer demands. I think the addition of a Microsoft Teams group for my staff will be something we will continue. It allows everyone to be connected all day.” -Michael McMillion
“Beyond the much, much shorter commute and relaxed dress code, it’s been enjoyable and positive to see others in their non-work environments and to be able to take the time to ask others about things in the background during video calls. We have found even more humor in jokes, virtual backgrounds, families, and pets. I think it has deepened all of our relationships past that of just work. We will continue to replace conference calls with video calls.” -Bentley Chan
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
“I am pleased with the way Henrico County handled the COVID-19 outbreak and the ‘Stay at Home Order’. As an employee I feel confident in my job stability and as a resident I feel well informed.” -Laura Siewert
“We talk a lot about resiliency and the ability to continue and bounce back from uncertain and difficult situations. It’s important for all of us to rely on each other and be able to rest, relax, and recharge to make our way through this.” -Bentley Chan
As you can see, some roles changed significantly while others mostly noticed a shorter commute. Some have had to juggle children or additional family members while trying to maintain a healthy work life balance. Regardless of the specifics, these past few months have certainly been a change for everyone, but together we are making it successful. As the County Manager said in a more recent email, “Our success is a reflection of your tireless work, professionalism and commitment to The Henrico Way of public service.…By working together, we have strengthened our capacities in these areas over the past two months and have built a strong foundation for the future.”
A study by Penn State University showed significant correlations between reduced stress, lowered blood pressure, and perceived physical health to the length of visits at parks. They provide places for health and well-being that are accessible by persons of all ages and abilities, especially to those with disabilities. During this stressful health crisis, parks, trails, and open spaces have been vital. While it is common to see families picnicking, kicking the soccer ball, fishing, and flying kites throughout the park system when the weather allows, during the current “Stay at Home Order” more of the public seems to be taking advantage of outdoor amenities. Parks are essential places for communities to recreate, refresh, and reconnect with one another.
Parks can also provide a sense of public pride and cohesion to every community. Before the pandemic, parks were filled with a variety of planned community events and large gatherings. Recreation and Parks has transitioned some of these happenings to virtual experiences since they cannot be held in the traditional sense.
For example, Memorial Day was celebrated very differently this year, but we were committed to making sure it was no less impactful. We invited the community to join us, virtually, in honoring our fallen service members and their families’ sacrifice. The Wear Blue: Run to Remember campaign allows for remembrance through active, purposeful steps of a run or walk anywhere you feel comfortable: a local park, trail, or neighborhood just outside your door. For more information visit wear blue: run to remember.
Other events were more easily adapted and able to remain fresh air experiences to enjoy. One of these experiences is the Dorey Park Farmers Market. Founded in 2018, as a partnership between The Dorey Farmers Market, Inc. and Henrico County Recreation & Parks, it is located adjacent to the recreation center at Dorey Park. The market aims to provide Henrico citizens with easy access to fresh and nutritious local produce, and other high-quality products produced by local farms and small businesses. The farmer’s market is typically open in-person every Saturday, June-October. However, recognizing the need to revamp the conventional open-air market style, the organizers of the market opened early and began offering online ordering and a drive through pick up for people to receive their fresh, local produce.
During this time, Henrico Recreation and Parks has also coordinated and scheduled food truck stops at Henrico parks. Select time slots are offered over the weekend for Henrico-based trucks to serve visitors at Dorey Park and Deep Run Park. Patrons can take advantage of an accessible meal while also encouraging our local restaurant industry.
These services and the infrastructure managed by recreation and parks are necessary for maintaining the health and well-being of the public, especially in such times as this.
As the weather warms, people grow antsy from being indoors, and more research supports a lower risk of transmission outdoors, parks and open spaces will continue to soar in popularity and use, perhaps more so than ever before.
Do Not Ignore Your Diet
One of the most common mistakes I have seen people make when they start exercising is increasing the amount of food they are eating. In fact, a study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that when overweight women and men started exercising, many in the study compensated for their workouts by taking in as many as 270 extra calories a day – negating more than half of the calories they burned. A typical moderate 45-minute bout of exercise burns about 250-300 calories. Enjoying a glass of wine and a few crackers with cheese is more than enough to wipe out the calorie deficit from the workout.
One of the best ways to avoid this type of weight loss sabotage is to pay attention to what you are eating when you begin an exercise program. Sticking to a quality meal plan will keep your appetite and calories under control but allow you to be properly fueled for your workouts – and lose more weight. A good place to look for reputable, calorie conscious meal plans include the American Heart Association (https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/losing-weight) and Eating Well (http://www.eatingwell.com/category/4237/how-to-lose-weight/).
Even if you decide to not follow a specific meal/diet plan, if there is any chance that your eating habits may be an issue for you, experts recommend that you start tracking your food intake. It is easier to say NO to second helpings, big portions, and high calorie treats if you know you must write them down. It is not uncommon for those who regularly record what they eat and when they exercise to lose nearly twice as much weight as those who do not keep track.
If you are looking for help in starting a healthier eating plan, join the Fitness and Wellness ‘Unlock your Potential’ Challenge. Participating with your co-workers who will support your efforts and cheer you on can give you the boost you need to keep believing in yourself when the going gets tough. For more information, visit the Power Henrico Health Trip page.