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On the Bunny Trail: The Gables at Mount Vernon

The Easter Bunny came early to The Gables at Mount Vernon this past Thursday. But the gifts he brought were both priceless and timeless — happiness and youthful enthusiasm.

Arriving by both van and fire truck, the youth group from Sacramento Center, known as "Girl Power," joined with Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department firefighters from the Woodlawn and Mount Vernon stations to distribute colorful baskets and stuffed animals to residents of the assisted-living community on Route 1.

Most of the items were made by the children, according to Master Technician Willie Bailey, Woodlawn Station 24, who initiated the program three years ago. Each Christmas, under Bailey's leadership, firefighters from the stations along Route 1 collect and distribute gifts to needy families and children.

"It's a way for the kids to give back to the community and say thank-you for what they receive from the Christmas program," said L.T. Carson, director, Sacramento Neighborhood Center. Sacramento's Girl Power program is just one of 35 spread throughout Fairfax County, according to Carson.

"Girl Power is a drug- and alcohol-prevention program geared to teenage and younger girls," Carson said. "Bringing Easter cheer to The Gables has become an annual event for us."

USUALLY THE firefighters raise money for the youth to purchase gift items. "This year the kids raised their own funds," Bailey said. The Safeway at Sacramento Center also donates many items both at Christmas and for the Easter baskets, according to Bailey.

In addition to Girl Power, there is also a prevention program for boys known as "Strike," headed by Earl Edwards, substance-abuse-prevention counselor, Community Services Board, Fairfax County. "There are five Strike efforts throughout the county that operate as after-school programs," Edwards emphasized.

Sacramento Center youth program is managed by the United Community Ministries under a contract with Fairfax County, Carson explained. "It's a total community effort," she said.

"This is unbelievable. It's one of the greatest things that I have ever experienced," said 86-year-old Irene Snyder, as she stood holding her basket and stuffed animal. "I can't believe it's happening."