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Neighborhood College Comes to West Springfield

First for West Springfield, class aims to encourage citizen participation in local government.

A popular government education class is coming to West Springfield for a seven-part series that explains local government to citizens with the hopes of increasing resident participation and understanding.

"This is probably the 10th or 11th neighborhood college in Fairfax County," said Juanita Wilder, human services manager with the Fairfax County Community Services Board, which is co-sponsoring the event with Pohick Regional Library, the Fairfax County Health Department and the Fairfax County Department of Systems Management for Human Services. "They've had it all over in all parts of the county, but never in West Springfield," she said.

The class will offer a series of seven sessions over six weeks, meeting on Thursday evenings from 6:30-9 p.m., with one Saturday class at the end of the session. Speakers from various offices in the county will present information about specific offices, the services they provide and how the community can get involved.

"The topics will cover things like how to live and communicate in a multicultural community, how to facilitate meetings, getting to know your local government officials, getting to know public safety skills," Wilder said.

"The idea is that folks will become aware of the government and then hopefully become active. There are a lot of organizations that have been around for years, and they're trying to get some new folks to come in and assist them."

Wilder added that many people come away from the class "utterly amazed" with what they learn in the class.

"What they think and what they see are totally different things. Folks' eyes pop out, oh my goodness," she said with a laugh.

MANY GOVERNMENTAL offices will be in attendance, if not speaking at the classes, including an aide from Supervisor Elaine McConnell's (R-Springfield) office.

"I'm interested to see what's going on," said Marlae Schnare, from McConnell's office. "There's a lot of support from the community [for this program]. I'd like to see that there's support for people going to see how the county works."

Schnare hopes that those who attend the classes will become inspired to expand on what they learn and become active in their community.

"A more informed constituency is a good thing," she said. "It'll be interesting to see how many people attend. There are topics I don't know about that I'd like to learn."

Michael Congleton has participated in several neighborhood colleges in his 16 years as a member of Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning. "They've been a wonderful experience," he said.

Congleton plans to give a presentation on what the Planning and Zoning Department does and how it operates. He hopes that those who attend will come away with a better sense of what goes on there.

"People can become more aware of the land-use applications in an area and then become involved by coming to public hearings," he said.

Congleton hopes that, by coming to the college, residents will learn which types of permits will be needed for home renovations, like adding a deck to a back yard. "These colleges are a great thing to have," he said.