Bethesda-Chevy Chase Restaurant Week to support Yellow Ribbon Fund

by Katie Pohlman
Special to The Gazette

While getting a taste of Bethesda, diners will also help support wounded military members and their families during this summer’s Bethesda-Chevy Chase Restaurant Week.

The restaurant week, to be held July 29 to Aug. 4, will benefit the Yellow Ribbon Fund, a Bethesda nonprofit. It’s the first time the annual promotion is supporting a charity, said Laura Kimmel, director of membership and marketing for the Restaurant Association of Maryland. The decision was made by a committee of representatives of local restaurants, including Jaleo, Grapeseed American Bistro and Lebanese Taverna.

“The committee thought it would be a good idea,” Kimmel said. “It’s another way to tie in the local Bethesda feel.”

Mark Robbins, executive director of the Yellow Ribbon Fund, said the support is welcomed.

“We said yes immediately,” he said.

The Yellow Ribbon Fund works with families of injured service members who are recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda and Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia. The fund offers free rental cars and taxi rides, free hotel rooms and free apartments to families. The fund partners with local businesses to provide the services, Robbins said.

The fund’s mission is to make the healing process, which can last two years, as easy as possible for military families. That includes helping them visit service members and finding places for them to stay if the families are not from the Washington, D.C., area, he said.

“Our primary function is to keep families together during difficult times,” Robbins said.

The Yellow Ribbon Fund works with the Soldier and Family Assistance Center at Walter Reed. Robbins said the center provides a list of activities and services offered by different support organizations for families to choose from.

Amy Oppelt, coordinator of the Family Caregiver Program, first used the fund’s services when her husband was staying at Walter Reed. Oppelt had a newborn and a 6-year-old child at the time and said the free housing helped her adjust to living in the area. She also utilized the free taxi rides when extended family came into town to visit her husband.

She said the fund’s staff will jump through any hoop to help families.

“They’ve been so accessible,” she said. “If they don’t provide a certain service, they will find a way to get you what you need.”

Oppelt also benefited from the Family Caregiver dinners hosted by the fund to give wives and mothers time to themselves.

“At the beginning, you’re so overwhelmed with appointments that you don’t have time for yourself,” she said.

The dinners provided a support system for Oppelt, she said, by introducing her to other wives who are going through, or have gone through, the same process she is.

“It helped me feel like, ‘Yeah, I can do this’,” she said.

Oppelt’s husband is now in the outpatient stage of recovery, but still has appointments every day at the hospital.

Jessica Allen, director of the Family Caregiver Program, also found out about the fund when her husband was injured. After being helped by the fund herself, Allen decided to give back to the program.

She said the fund takes care of every family member, not just the service member. The organization provides events for “warriors only,” “warrior and caregiver only” and for the children, whom she called the “littlest warriors.”

Kimmel said about 30 restaurants are expected to participate this summer. Restaurants can decide whether to offer a two-course lunch for either $12 or $16, a three-course dinner for $33 or both during the week.

Participating restaurants will donate 10 percent of their sales throughout the week to the Yellow Ribbon Fund.

Spurs memorabilia stolen from Potomac home

by Katie Pohlman
Special to The Gazette

A San Antonio Spurs fan is missing some prized memorabilia after a burglar snuck into his Potomac home and took it.

A basketball signed by the 2005 San Antonio Spurs championship team, a basketball signed by the 2007 San Antonio Spurs championship team and two No. 21 San Antonio Spurs jerseys autographed by Tim Duncan were stolen from the house on the 8900 block of Holly Leaf Lane June 22. Police say the homeowners went for a walk about 1:30 p.m. that day and returned to find the items missing.

Police are now hoping someone with their eye on sports memorabilia might have seen the stolen goods.

“Due to the unique nature of the stolen items, investigators are asking for tips from the public,” Officer Janelle Smith said.

Police are asking anyone who may have information about this crime or the stolen memorabilia to call 301-657-0112 or the department’s anonymous tip line at 866-411-8477. Crime solvers are offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information that leads to an arrest or indictment of the crime.

Montgomery County’s tax bills overdue

by Katie Pohlman
Special to The Gazette

Montgomery County residents who logged on to view their annual tax bill July 1 were surprised to find them unavailable.

Taxpayer bills should be posted online the first day of July every year, according to the county’s Department of Finance’s website. But this year, the county missed their deadline.

Bonnie Ayers, county spokeswoman, said in an email that the bills should be posted online and sent out to taxpayers July 9.

The reason that 2013 property tax bills are not available yet is that the State Department of Assessments and Taxation does not send the assessment information to all jurisdictions at the same time, and Montgomery County did not get the assessment information until the end of June, the last of all jurisdictions to receive the necessary information, Mike Coveyou, county chief of the Division of the Treasury for the county’ Department of Finance, said in an email. After getting that information, it takes seven to 10 days to analyze the data, correct any errors and finalize the data for publishing on the Internet and as printed, mailed bills, Coveyou explained.

Before the county finance department receives the annual bill information from the state, the State Department of Assessments and Taxation spends three days preparing them. Robert Young, the department’s director, said it takes a little longer than normal to assess bills for Montgomery County because there are more tax credits for residents to apply for, such as the Homestead Tax credit from the state, a supplementary Homestead Tax credit from the county and a senior tax credit. The department must review all applications and award them to appropriate taxpayers. After the process is completed, the state sends the bills on to the county, Young said.

The state started reviewing county tax bills June 24 and sent them on to the county finance department June 27. These dates change every year as all of Maryland’s 24 tax subdivisions – all 23 counties and Baltimore city – apply for tax review. The process is first-come, first-serve, according to Young.

“You get your turn in line,” he said.

This year, he said, Montgomery County just contacted the state later than usual.

Once the state is done reviewing tax bills, the county then has additional local taxes to add, including bills for municipalities, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and the Maryland branch of National Capital Park and Planning Commission. There are also charges for the Water Quality Protection Fund and Solid Waste Services. All of these taxes are added together on the residents’ bills, Ayers said.

“Then the bills are sent to the print shop where the information is applied to the forms, then printed,” she said. “Bottom line, it will be several more days before the bills will be in the mail.”

Dee Hodges, president of the Maryland Taxpayers Association, is concerned about the not-yet-posted tax bills. She said the delay in receiving bills will cause a delay in paying them.

“People pay their bills when they get them,” she said.

Hodges believes the payment deadline should be pushed back to account for the eight missed days that are usually available for residents to review their bill, plan their payment method and make the payment itself. Banks and mortgage companies will not be affected by this change, but homeowners will, she said.

Ayers said the county cannot push the payment deadline back because it is set in state law. She doesn’t believe residents should have a problem in getting in the first payment before the September 30 deadline.

Once tax bills are posted online, residents can view theirs by going to the finance department’s website at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/finance.

Burtonsville woman heading into Africa this week

by Katie Pohlman
Special to The Gazette

Awrad Saleh leaves Burtonsville on Wednesday for Tanzania, to begin her two-year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer.

There, she will join 167 other volunteers, according to a Peace Corps news release, and teach English to secondary school children.

Saleh, 22, said her love of traveling and helping others drove her to apply to be a Peace Corps volunteer.

“I want to be able to see a change in other peoples’ lives,” she said.

Saleh has traveled around the Middle East and speaks fluent Arabic, but hasn’t visited a country whose background differs from hers. She said she is excited to live in the East African country and be exposed to a new culture.

For the first three months, Saleh will live with a host family to become aquainted with the culture. She admitted she is a little nervous because she doesn’t know anything about her host family and doesn’t know anyone else going to Tanzania.

“I’m going in completely blind,” Saleh said.

She began the application process in June 2012 after she graduated from Penn State with a degree in international relations. Saleh was told by the Peace Corps in August that she needed more volunteer experience before it could fully review her application. She decided to teach English for about a month at the English School for the Nations, which hosts English as a second language night classes at Greenridge Baptist Church in Frederick. After she finished volunteering, she notified the Peace Corps and it continued to review her application.

She didn’t hear anything until she was interviewed in November, when she was asked where she wanted to be sent. Her top choice was the Middle East or North Africa.

Saleh said the application process was frustrating at times.

“You wouldn’t hear anything for a month,” she said. “So many people would look over your application that the person you see at the beginning of the process is not the same as the one at the end.”

During the times of no communication, Saleh said, she also had to gather medical forms and get vaccinations.

Saleh finally found out in February that the agency wanted to send her to Sierra Leone, but she wasn’t happy with that placement and decided to appeal for another post. She was told she might not get another chance to be a volunteer, but that didn’t scare her.

“It’s two years of my life,” Saleh said. “I wasn’t going to just go anywhere.”

Tanzania was in her second-choice area, so when she received the invitation, she accepted immediately.

After her time in Tanzania, she plans to attend graduate school.

Montgomery County joining national ‘100,000 Homes’ campaign to help homeless

by Katie Pohlman
Special to The Gazette

Three hundred volunteers will take to the streets this year to examine the need for permanent housing for Montgomery County’s homeless. The event marks the county’s initial steps to participate in the national “100,000 Homes” campaign.

A coalition of county government officials, nonprofit organizations and volunteers will join forces to place homeless people in permanent housing. The Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless will be the driving force, Executive Director Susie Sinclair-Smith said.

The county’s involvement with the national campaign will begin Nov. 4, when volunteers are expected to walk the streets and assess the needs of homeless people willing to talk to them.

Volunteers are scheduled to be trained Nov. 3 to conduct Vulnerability Index Surveys that will produce scores based on a person’s mental and physical health, age and drug use. The higher the score, the more the person needs. People with the highest scores will be placed in housing first.

Volunteers are expected to conduct the surveys Nov. 4 through 6, between 4 and 7 a.m. A housing development plan will be ready by Nov. 7, Sinclair-Smith said.

“We will be going out to the woods, bus stations, Metro stations to identify the people who need help,” County Councilmember George Leventhal (D-at large) of Takoma Park said at a press conference Wednesday.

On average, 1,000 people are homeless every night in the county, Leventhal said in his speech. About 400 of them are chronically homeless, meaning they have been homeless for a year.

He said the 100,000 Homes campaign will help slowly lower those numbers over the coming years.

“We may not end homelessness all together, but for those individuals we place in homes,” Leventhal said, “we will end it for them.”

Leventhal has been a driving force in getting the county involved with the national campaign. The county will join more than 200 communities working together to provide permanent housing to 100,000 chronic and medically vulnerable homeless individuals by July 2014.

The campaign has passed its halfway mark and has housed 55,684 homeless individuals, according to its website.

But the county’s coalition plans to continuously provide housing to people even after the national campaign has met its goal, Sinclair-Smith said.

The county’s coalition for the homeless also will provide medical care and therapy to those who need it, something it already does for current clients.

Lack of health care is a leading cause of homelessness, said Michael Stoops, community organizer for the National Coalition for the Homeless. Accessibility to both health care and a house should be the first steps to getting people off the streets.

“We all need more than just a roof over our heads,” he said.

Stoops added that the National Coalition for the Homeless sees heath care and housing as human rights.

Chuck Hanson, a Bethesda Cares volunteer and future volunteer for the November surveys, said the homeless are no different than everyone else.

“People on the streets are just that,” Hanson said. “They’re people.”

Anyone interested in volunteering for the November surveys should visit the coalition’s website at www.mcch.net.

Montgomery County looks to reform bag tax

by Kate S. Alexander

Staff writer

As Montgomery County politicians rethink portions of its tax on carryout bags, whether the fee should stay, or at least in part, go depends on whom you ask.

In January 2012, Montgomery County began charging a 5-cent tax on most carryout bags, exempting only a select few totes, including paper bags at restaurants.

But just 18 months after the excise tax was implemented, a group of lawmakers is looking to exempt even more from the charge. Their proposed bill would effectively limit the tax to only retailers who gross more than 2 percent of their sales from food.

“It’s troubling to me that the council is reconsidering a program that is having the desired effect,” Julie Lawson, director of the Trash Free Maryland Alliance said during a June 18 hearing on the issue.

Montgomery began charging the tax January 2012 with a goal to change residents’ attitudes from blase to environmentally conscious and to reduce the number of bags in waterways.

Councilman Roger Berliner stood behind the original tax, even though he is now lined up behind the proposal to scale it back. Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda said he feared the bill overreached and has bred resentment of the government.

Jane Redicker president of The Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce testified that her members have encountered incredulous shoppers who refuse to give even one cent more to the county.

Bethesda retailers have told the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce of angry customers, while others have commented that the tax is yet another barrier to doing business in the county, president Ginanne Italiano said.

Yet some retailers say shoppers are adapting.

Customers at Strosniders Hardware Store on Arlington Road in Bethesda have made an easy transition to bringing their own bags, store manager Jim Beckett said.

“They’re pretty much going with the flow,” he said.

The transition to taxing bags was also easy for Strosniders’ employees. Adding the code to the registers was easy, he said.

While some council members fear the tax has created safety concerns as shoppers carry bags around stores, Beckett and his employees have also taken extra precaution by creating an area in the store for people to place their bags while shopping. Beckett said they haven’t had any major increase in theft, but can see how it is easier to steal when customers bring their own bag.

Strosniders also placed a sign in the front of the store that says employees will watch customers’ bags as they shop.

The tax has also reduced overhead for retailers. Tracy Bloom Schwartz, owner of Creative Parties Inc. on St. Elmo Avenue in Bethesda, now gives out a fraction of the bags she did before the tax.

Before the bag tax she would give out 300 to 400 bags a month, but she now only gives out 20 to 30 a month. Bag usage at her event planning, design, stationery and supply store dropped because customers started saying “no” to a bag at check-out.

The tax is severe, but effective, she said.

“Less people ask for bags than ever before,” she said.

Retailers keep one cent of the 5-cent tax and are only required to return collected tax dollars to the county when they have gathered $100 of bag tax revenue, about 2,500 bags worth. Schwartz said she hasn’t met the 2,500-bag threshold, so she hasn’t had to send in any of her revenue to the county.

Schwartz also admitted that she and her employees occasionally forget to add the tax to the purchase if the customer does ask for a bag.

“I know the county is making profits somewhere,” she said. “They’re just not making it off of small retailers like me.”

Montgomery County collected about $2.2 million from the tax in its first 12 months, double what was expected, and if the tax remains as is, the county expects to collect $2.5 million from taxes on about 60 million bags in fiscal 2013, which ends June 30. The money collected pays for stormwater management projects through the Water Quality Protection Fund.

But Bob Hoyt, director of the county Department of Environmental Protection testified that the proposal to scale back the tax would exempt as many as 85 percent of stores from paying.

County estimates show that would cost it about $700,000 in revenue.

Restaurants want tax ‘to go’

Restaurants would also be exempt under the proposal and area eateries are open to loosening restrictions. Currently, restaurants must charge the tax for plastic carryout bags, but not paper.

Restaurant Association of Maryland spokesman Melvin Thompson said both business and health problems are presented when restaurants are restricted in the way they wish to serve their food.

“We don’t really want customers bringing reusable bags into restaurants that are not properly sanitized,” he said. “Even though a lot of our members ended up switching over to paper, that’s not the best option. When you’re looking at foods that have sauce or wetness, you want to avoid leaks and paper gets soggy. Plastic provides more of a leak-proof barrier.”

Hollywood East Café in Wheaton typically uses paper bags inside plastic bags to serve their carryout and to-go orders. The paper provides a sturdy structure to hold food containers, while plastic helps prevent spills and makes the items easier to carry.

Manager Corey Yu says the adjustment to charging for the plastic bags went over smoothly.

However, he said Hollywood East only charges the customer for one plastic bag per order, even when customers have orders that require more than one plastic bag. If an order takes more than one plastic bag, the cafe covers the rest of the tax itself for convenience purposes.

“If the goal was to eliminate plastic bags,” Yu said, “it wasn’t really effective in restaurants.”

At Tom and Ray’s Restaurant in Damascus, General Manager Mason Dwyer says the restaurant switched over to paper bags to avoid charging customers for plastic.

“A lot of our customers are retired and on a budget and they’re sitting there counting pennies,” Dwyer said. “And to say, ‘I need 5 more cents for a plastic bag’ is crazy.”

Around 15 to 20 percent of Tom and Ray’s business is carryout, Dwyer says, though much of it is in bulk. Patrons will often order hundreds of pieces of fried chicken or gallons of potato salad and coleslaw for neighborhood cookouts. Any way, he said, to help the restaurant work more cost-effectively to fill those orders, is a plus.

“I could get behind [the exemption],” he said. “Anything that makes it more cost effective for us. I hate to inconvenience our customers for the sake of the county.”

Still, many in Montgomery feel the effort to rethink the tax goes too far too soon.

“Getting rid of this bag tax is nonsense,” 12-year-old Coburn Maane of Bethesda testified at the hearing. “I want my environment protected, as I will be the generation that will inherit the trash that is left behind. It is your duty as our elders to protect our environment.”

Bag tax holds water

Behavior change takes time but environmental groups tasked with cleaning area waterways are already seeing results.

Laura Chamberlain, program manager of the Alice Ferguson Foundation said volunteers have recorded a decrease in excess of 50 percent in the number of bags collected from Montgomery County sites along the Potomac River since the bag tax passed.

The Rock Creek Conservancy pulled 3,722 bags from Rock Creek in 2013, a drop of 29 percent from pre-tax 2011 when it pulled 5,274 bags from the creek, Katherine Schinasi testified.

Whether a bag comes from department stores, grocery stores or restaurants makes no difference, Sarah Morse, co-president of the Little Falls Watershed Alliance testified.

“We believe that all bags are created equal,” she said. “The creek doesn’t know where the bags come from; the Bay doesn’t care if it’s from a department store, a grocery store or a deli. A bag in the creek is an environmental problem no matter where it comes from.”

Katie Pohlman and Jacob Bogage contributed to this article.

Two local young pianists perform in Invitational

by Katie Pohlman
Special to The Gazette

With his nerves racing, Samuel Howard Huie, made his way across the stage to a grand piano with which he would soon perform his piece “The Cat and the Mouse” by Aaron Copland and hear the music echo off the walls of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

At 10 years old, Huie joined 23 other pianists, between the ages of 6 and 29, at the inaugural World Pianist Invitational on June 15. The World Pianist Invitational Foundation, the event host, received 2,500 video applications for the contest. A panel of five international music judges scored each applicant based on their performance, interpretation of the music, musicanship, note and rhythmic accuracy and playing technique. The top 24 scorers were invited to play at the Terrace Theater in the Kennedy Center for the final round where they were scored again for their live performances. Samuel, of Rockville, went on to win his age group and receive a $1,000 scholarship.

Sharon Huie, Samuel’s mother, said they submitted his application at the last minute.

“We waited until the very last day at the very last hour,” Huie said.

At first Samuel wasn’t sure that he wanted to apply, Huie said. But when he decided he was interested, she thought they might as well give the contest a chance.

The contest was split into five age groups: Young Musicians, ages 5 to 9; Junior Musicians, ages 10 to 13; Intermediate Musicians, ages 14 to 17; Advanced Musicians, ages 18 to 21; and Graduate Musicians, ages 22 to 29.

Samuel said he didn’t expect to win, but was pleasantly surprised when he did.

“It felt nice,” he said. “I was just surprised and happy.”

Samuel started playing the piano at 5 when his mother started teaching him at home. But once she had taught him everything she knew, she started to look for a piano teacher. A friend recommended the Sea Sharp Music Studio, located on Hungerford Drive in Rockville, run by Vivian Kwok. Samuel has been practicing there for two and a half years.

Kwok was the one who suggested Samuel should apply for the invitational.

“He had won other competitions, so I encouraged him to apply for this one,” she said.

Another of Kwok’s students, Evan Xue, also applied. Evan, a 7-year-old from Damascus was also invited to perform his piece, “Flood Time” by Eric Thiman, at the Kennedy Center and placed in the top five of his age group, Young Musicians, to receive a $200 scholarship.

Teresa Xue, Evan’s mother, said he started playing the piano when he was 5, just like Samuel. Evan has been practicing under Kwok for two years. He was on a waiting list at the music studio for six months waiting for a slot to open and the chance to learn from Kwok.

Both of the boys practiced for hours everyday leading up to the competition. Xue said she would help Evan practice for one to two hours in addition to his lessons with Kwok.

Kwok was thrilled and excited to have two students in the competition.

“It was very fun to watch them,” she said.

Both mothers, on the other hand, shared their sons’ nervousness as they sat out in the audience. Xue said Evan had a good reason to be nervous. His principal, music teacher and grandparents were all at the center to watch him.

Huie said she was nervous for the beginning of Samuel’s performance, but calmed down as he continued through the piece.

“After the first two pages (of the piece), I knew he would do well,” Huie said, adding that helped her relax and enjoy her son’s performance.

Maryland Department of Agriculture reports decrease in pesticide use

by Katie Pohlman
Special to The Gazette

A new statewide report shows pesticide use among farmers, public agencies and commercially licensed businesses is down in Maryland, but some pesticide opponents are wary of the findings.

The voluntary survey completed by the Maryland Department of Agriculture released May 28, states the amount of herbicides, insecticides and fungicides used in 2011 was about 4.7 million pounds, about 50 percent less than the 10.5 million pounds used in 2004. The survey focused on commercial pesticide use and did not include residential users.

The department received 3,434 responses to the survey. Certified public applicators accounted for 49.6 percent of responses, farm operators 24.9 percent, and licenses commercial applicators and public agencies accounted for 19.4 and 6.1 percent, respectively. According to the report however, just 856 farmer operators out of the 12,800 in the state replied to the survey, meaning the report showed results for 7 percent of all farms in the state.

Ruth Berlin, director of the Maryland Pesticide Network questioned how many pounds of pesticides are being used by the farmers who didn’t respond.

In response to these concerns, Berlin said the Maryland Pesticide Network supported a bill that originally would have required all major pesticide applicators in the state to submit their annual use in a database. State licensed pesticide applicators are already required to keep records of pesticide use at their place of business, but the state doesn’t collect them. This database could then be used to help scientists find links between pesticide use and its effects on the Chesapeake Bay as well as cancer and autism clusters found in certain communities, Berlin said.

“This (current) voluntary, once-every-five-year survey only provides a small sampling of applicators – only about 20 percent of farmers – and does not provide needed information on what pesticides have been used, when and where needed to help public health experts and scientists looking at possible links between pesticides used to disease clusters or problems in the Bay,” Berlin said.

The original bill was met with much opposition from the farm community, but an amended version, the Pesticide Reporting and Information Act SB 675 and HB 775, was passed in the 2013 state legislative session. The amended version requires a group of state lawmakers to meet after July 1 to decide on whether a statewide database will be implemented or not. A decision about the format in which data should be collected in, recommendation on how data should be collected and whether or not legislation will be needed to implement the data collection system must be reached by December 31, Berlin said.

Josh Tulkin, president of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, said any survey showing pesticide use has decreased is good, but citizens want information that is closer to home.

“A statewide average is not very compelling,” he said. “People are concerned with the pesticide use in their community.”

More farmers are using an integrated pest management system to decrease the amount of pesticides they use on their crops, Howard said. Integrated pest management uses organic, natural methods to prevent pest damage on crops and encourages using pesticides only as a last resort.

“There’s very little need to use pesticides on land,” Berlin said. “Focusing on feeding the soil, overseeding and aerating creates healthy turf and minimizes weeds.”

She said integrated pest management is a great way to reduce pesticide use, but believes more needs to be done to monitor the amount of pesticides used annually. She argues the recent survey doesn’t show any substantial findings.

All non-homeowner pesticide applicators would have to submit those records to the database, if lawmakers decide to develop one, Berlin said.

Tulkin hopes that data about fertilizer use, which was not tracked by this survey, appears in the near future as well.

“Fertilizer impacts the Bay greatly, causing dead zones and bacteria rich environments,” he said.

— Also published by Southern Maryland News

Horses, riders team up for 10th annual Ride for Life in Upper Marlboro

by Katie Pohlman
Special to The Gazette

Teams of horses and riders in matching costumes move around a ring, performing steps and motions perfectly choreographed to music that they have practiced for months, even years. Some riders even dare to perform gymnastics on top of the moving horse during their routines in the Dancing Horse Challenge, the star event of the 10th annual Ride for Life scheduled for this weekend at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro.

“The horses actually dance,” event publicist Caryn Sagal said. “It’s a really unique event.”

The Dancing Horse Challenge was modeled after an event in Florida called Challenge of Americas. Participants can choose which riding style to perform, ranging from freestyle to tricking, and are judged by the audience in a “people’s choice” style. Only one team is allowed in the ring at a time, but teams can include multiple horse and rider pairs. The biggest team in the competition this year consists of 13 pairs, Sagal said.

The Challenge is part of the first day of a weekend of events to raise money for breast cancer research and support for patients that include a silent auction, dressage show, arts and crafts activities and a black-tie-optional gala. The Ride for Life event is hosted by the Potomac Valley Dressage Association.

Columbia resident Patricia Artimovich, a breast cancer survivor, originally started the event as a single-day dressage show to raise money for the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center. But over the years, it began to attract more people, some of whom had never been near a horse before, Sagal said. The event coordinators decided to add other activities to the schedule to accommodate the growing crowd. Ride for Life now draws around 6,000 attendees and has raised almost $500,000 for breast cancer support.

“(The event) attracts the equestrian community as well as people who don’t know anything about horses and just want to see good entertainment,” Sagal said. Most of the riders participating in the show have many years under their riding helmets, like Barbara Strawson of Clarksburg who has been riding horses since she was five years old. Strawson first rode in the Ride for Life in 2005, when it was solely a dressage competition, after being invited to the event by Artimovich. Many of the riders either volunteer to ride or are asked to participate by event coordinators, Strawson said.

In 2007 Strawson helped organize and participated in the first Dancing Horse Challenge with a few other riders. Strawson said she wanted to ride in the show to honor her mentor, Jill Hassler Scoop, who had recently passed away. She and her mentor had shared a similar passion for horses and the Dancing Horse Challenge was a way to show their beauty to the public.

This year’s Dancing Horse Challenge will be Strawson’s first since its inaugural year.

“We were looking for a way to bring in the whole public, spread awareness, and show people how beautiful horses are and how helpful they can be in the healing process,” she said,

Therapeutic horseback riding is a growing field in therapy. The personal relationship formed between the horse and rider helps with emotional healing and for those with physical disabilities, the horse allows them to move freely, according to the American Entertainment & Equestrian Alliance’s website. This form of therapy is used for many illnesses, including cancer.

Most of the participating riders in the Ride for Life events have either been affected by breast cancer themselves or know someone who has been. They ride because they want to show their support for those suffering right now and how they have survived the disease themselves, Betty Thorpe, a rider from Silver Spring, said.

Thorpe is a breast cancer survivor, but said she was lucky enough to only have a “little brush” with the disease. She said she rides for those who have had harder times with cancer.

Even though the event is a competition, she said the atmosphere between riders is supportive and caring and that spreads to the audience as they watch them ride.

“It’s something I can’t describe, it’s some kind of magic,” she said.

The weekend begins 8 a.m. on Saturday with a dressage show. A silent auction will run throughout the day and arts and crafts activities will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Dancing Horse Challenge is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. The black-tie-optional gala will formally begin after the Challenge at 9 p.m., cocktails will be served at 5 p.m. The dressage show will continue on Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. All events will be held at the Equestrian Center.

Tickets for the Dancing Horse Challenge are a suggested donation of $25 per person. All money collected through ticket sales and the silent auction will go to the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center.

National Weather Service confirms Montgomery tornado

by Elizabeth Waibel Staff writer

This story was updated at 11 a.m. June 17, 2013.

This story was corrected at 9:25 a.m. June 17, 2013. An explanation follows the story.

It was a tornado that raced through Montgomery County Thursday afternoon, damaging at least 14 homes and uprooting trees, the National Weather Service has confirmed.

The tornado had 75 mph winds and a width of 150 yards, according to a statement released by NWS Friday night. The storm began at 3:41 p.m. June 13 and lasted for 18 minutes, moving at an average pace of 60 mph. No injuries or fatalities were reported, the statement said.

Driving down Goldsborough Drive in Rockville Friday morning, there was evidence of a tornado on every corner. The street was scattered with downed tree limbs and power lines, blocking side streets and crowding front yards. Residents were out cleaning up the aftermath of the Thursday’s storm, but some had more work to do than others.

Two houses near Goldsborough Drive have already been condemned due to the storm, which moved through around 4 p.m.

One house on Stevens Court was struck by a tree from the front. Neighbor Karin Mollard said the resident was outside of the house when the tree fell right next to him.

“Luckily he wasn’t standing inside the house when the tree fell,” she said.

Mollard said she went over to the house once the storm had passed to help remove valuable items and important papers. But when rescue crews arrived 10 minutes later, they said the house was unsafe and urged no one to enter. Mollard said the American Red Cross helped the home owner find a hotel to stay in last night.

Mollard, who was home during the storm, said it reminded her of a hurricane.

“Outside the window all you could see was rain and a green blur,” she said.

Craig McBurney, owner of the second condemned house on Goldsborough Drive, was also outside when the brunt of the storm hit. He said he heard the tornado warning and immediately went to pick his son up from school. They were in their carport when a strong wind blew through the neighborhood.

“You could hear all the trees crack in a circle around our house,” McBurney said.

He said that is when he and his son ran into the basement. Seven trees from the McBurney’s backyard and neighboring ones were uprooted and came crashing through the roof of his son’s room, causing the roof over half of the house to cave in. He said that part of the house will have to be completely redone.

McBurney was already remodeling the bathroom of the house and had planned to install the shower the day of the storm.

“It looks like I’ll have a lot more remodeling to do,” he said, looking around at the damage.

McBurney said his home insurance will cover the cost of a crane to come on Tuesday to remove the fallen trees. For now, he and his family debating staying with friends or at a hotel.

Just off of Norbeck Road near the Rockville-Olney border and tucked behind Manor Country Club, Lorin Burden said her woodsy neighborhood had 17 homes with downed trees.

Two hundred-year-old tulip poplar trees crashed into her house on Bretton Road during the second round of storms when she, her daughter and her husband were home. No one was hurt.

“It just got really black and little branches started hitting the house,” she said. “You couldn’t see out the windows and it was 4 o’clock in the afternoon. So that’s when we started heading to the basement. I think [the trees] came down at the same time.

“The whole neighborhood is a mess.”

Burden said her family will stay with neighbors her family housed last year after they were temporarily displaced by the derecho due to home damage. This year, she speculated, her family will be out of their home for months.

“I don’t know I can fully comprehend how much damage there is,” she said. “The way that they fell, they have to get a crane to lift the trees off the see how much damage there is.”

During the worst of the storm, county spokeswoman Lucille Baur said, there were 36,000 reported power outages in the county. By comparison, last year’s famed derecho had 240,000 outages.

Among those without power Friday were two Montgomery County Schools — Sligo Middle School in Silver Spring and Blair Ewing Center in Rockville. Other schools were scheduled to have a half day.

No major storm-related injuries had been reported as of Friday morning, according to a news release from the county, but 16 roadways were reported to have trees with wires down.

In the City of Rockville, spokeswoman Marylou Berg said the city had brought in some contracted crews on Friday to help employees clean up debris.

“There are lots of power lines down,” she said at the time. “The crews are reporting that they’re seeing a lot of trees on houses.”

Berg said a swath of the city center between the Woodley Gardens neighborhood and Maryvale Elementary School seemed to be the hardest hit.

Harry Bond, public information officer for the Prince George’s County Police Department, said the only significant emergency they were called to respond to concerning the storm was a tree falling on a home at the 5900 block of Parkway Drive just outside Laurel city limits.

The tree caused flooding to the basement of the home, said Pete Piringer, public information officer with the police department.

Bond said officers were still on the scene watching the home to keep it secure from any intruders. He said there were no injuries related to the incident, but otherwise did not know the status of the inhabitants of the home.

He did not know if the tree had been removed from the home as of early Friday afternoon.

On the roads, collisions were no more frequent than other afternoons with heavy rain, Baur said, noting that Fire and Rescue did not conduct any swift water rescues to save stranded motorists.

Staff writer Timothy Sandoval and interns Katie Pohlman and Jacob Bogage contributed to this report.

Correction: This story was updated to correct the spelling of Lorin Burden’s name.