It started after Sept. 11.
Jim Pebley, president of the Arlington Civic Federation, wanted to do something for Arlington’s police and firefighters, using $500 of Federation funds earmarked for the purpose.
Seven months later, that $500 has grown to $100,000 in the Civic Federation 911 Scholarship fund, for the children of Arlington’s police officers and firefighters.
Much of the credit, Pebley said, goes to John Shooshan, an Arlington-based developer, who cut a $90,000 check to fund the scholarship.
"The reason I wanted to be behind it, it’s for the people who served, who may be disabled or who died in those capacities," Shooshan said. "Those people, Jim Pebley, Tim Reese, they deserve credit. We were just happy to contribute."
Pebley, meanwhile, was already looking ahead. "John’s going to try to drum up more donations," he said. "Just because he came forward, I don’t want people to say, ‘Oh, they met their goal, it’s over.’"
<b>HEADS OF ARLINGTON’S</b> police and fire departments were just as happy about Shooshan’s donation as Pebley was.
"It’s a marvelous gesture," said Police Chief Edward Flynn. "It’s very gratifying to have public support manifested in such a public way."
Edward Plaugher, Arlington’s fire chief, was similarly effusive. "It’s pretty spectacular, isn’t it?" he said. "Myself, and members of the department – we’re pleased they so quickly achieved what was thought to be a long-term goal. No matter what I say, it doesn’t seem adequate."
But the biggest beneficiaries will also appreciate the gesture, he said. "Because it’s for our children, it’s so meaningful," he said. Many fire fighters are at an age where they are starting families, he said, and older officers have children heading off to college. "In my office, one captain has two children. That’s pretty typical," the fire chief said. "So there are simply hundreds this will help over the course of time."
The students who benefit from the scholarship will really appreciate it, he said, both because somebody recognizes the sacrifices their parents made, and their own hard work in school.
When Plaugher’s daughter was heading for college, she received an Army scholarship based solely on grades. "She told me she felt like she was appreciated. She said, ‘I study hard and made good grades, and somebody appreciates me,’" Plaugher said.
<b>INITIALLY, $10,000</b> was the fund-raising goal, Pebley said. When the Federation met that, the $100,000 goal was set by Federation member Tim Reese, president of the Arlington East Falls Church Civic Association.
Pebley had only raised another $1,000 when Shooshan contacted him, interested in giving something back to the community.
"Nobody lives through the memory of Sept. 11 without it affecting their lives," Shooshan said. His offices are in Ballston, and he drove past the Pentagon almost everyday on his way to and from work. "I couldn’t drive by without seeing the smoke, and reliving the memory of that event," he said.
There was a national desire to do something for public safety personnel after the terrorist attacks. Shooshan sees his donation as just another part of that same desire. "Some people do things that are less visible, that will have long-term consequences, subtle consequences," he said. Others look at what they can do on the local level. Shooshan said he wanted to help the police officers, the firefighters and the EMTs he saw in the county everyday.
"The reason I wanted to do what we did, it’s going to have a more direct impact, rather than a broad national approach," he said. "I’ve gotten to know a number of police and firefighters directly."
Shooshan carried that sentiment into his meeting with Pebley and Reese. "We gave him the pitch, and he said, ‘Why don’t I just help you make that goal,’" Pebley said. "When I realized what he was offering, I drew a breath."
Pebley could breathe easily on April 9, when Shooshan’s $89,000 check to the fund was delivered. Applications are still being accepted for the scholarship, which will be run by the Arlington Community Foundation, and by June, the foundation will have awarded five $1,000 scholarships.
<b>PEBLEY ISN’T READY</b> to leave the fund alone, though. "You’ve got to let your reach exceed your grasp," he said. "We would like to reach a quarter million on this."
The next step will involve a different type of fundraising. The Federation will be selling baseball caps, funded by Arlington’s dog advocacy groups, featuring the Arlington police logo and a canine cop.
With two batches of 144 caps, the Federation should be able to raise another $2,000, Pebley said. As the fund increases, he said, the Civic Federation hopes to expand scholarships, to offer renewable scholarships, as well as two $4,500 full-tuition scholarships to Virginia universities.
In addition to baseball cap sales, a benefit to be held next weekend in Falls Church will raise more money for the scholarship.
<b>QUINN’S AUCTION GALLERIES’</b> home in Falls Church was destroyed in a fire last July, but the warehouse that housed the art auction house has been rebuilt. As they celebrate the reopening of the business, the Quinn Family will also hold a raffle, a live auction and a silent auction, with some of the proceeds going to the Civic Federation fund.
"The money we raise, we’re going to give back to the Fire Department and the scholarship fund. I don’t know if we’ll raise $500 or $5,000," said Paul Quinn, owner of the auction gallery. "We’re just hoping it goes well enough that we can do this every year."
That desire was kindled last summer, as Quinn watched the home of his business destroyed. "When you watch a fire of [that] magnitude, and you watch people risk their lives trying to put it out, it really makes you aware what a resource our public service people are," he said. "I want to make the community more aware, too."