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Send announcements to The Loudoun Connection, 7913 Westpark Drive, McLean, VA 22102, e-mail to loudoun@connectionnewspapers.com or fax to 703-917-0991. Deadline is Friday, two weeks before the event. Photos/artwork encouraged. For more information, call Jennifer Lesinski at 703-917-6454.

This free listing is reserved for activities and events that are open to the public at no or minimal cost.

The gift wrap center, open noon-8 p.m. daily, on the upper level of the Nordstrom wing of Dulles Town Center will contribute 100 percent of the proceeds to the Loudoun County chapters of ECHO and LARC. ECHO, Every Citizen Has Opportunities, is a private nonprofit agency, which provides training, employment and transportation services for citizens with disabilities. LARC is the countyÕs only nonprofit advocacy organization for people with developmental disabilities and their families.

Loudoun County Animal Care Control is joining the Community Holiday Coalition this year for the Christmas season by assisting Loudoun County families in need with pet food and supplies. Pet food donations are welcome and will be accepted at the Animal Shelter on Route 9 at the intersection of Route 704 in Waterford through Dec. 8. Visit http://www.loudoun.gov/animals.

The Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) will be offering the annual winter SoberRide program, which will operate between 8 p.m.-4 a.m., Dec. 9-Jan. 1. Residents 21 and older, celebrating with alcohol can call the tool free number, 1-800-200-TAXI, and be afforded a no-cost Ñ up to $50 fare Ñ safe way home. Cingualr customers can dial #-TAXI for the same service.

The program is offered in Washington, D.C.; Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland; and the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, eastern Loudoun and Prince William in Virginia. Visit www.soberride.com.

Young writers in Loudoun County are being encouraged to use their imaginations, put pen to paper and create a story for the Community Voice Media LLC's Young Voices of Loudoun County short-story contest.

All students from grades kindergarten-12th grade, including Loudoun County Public Schools, private schools or home-schooled children are eligible to enter the contest. There will be cash prizes awarded for first, second and third place in the categories of elementary-, middle- and high-school levels. All participating students will receive a publisherÕs award in recognition of their achievement.

Contest submissions must be postmarked no later than Dec. 10. Entries can be mailed to Community Voice Media LLC, P.O. Box 564, Round Hill, VA 20142-0564. Submission guidelines are available on the Community Voice Media Web site www.communityvoicemedia.com or by sending a postage paid envelope along with the request to the address above.

Help make wishes come true this holiday season by sending holiday cards to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Mid-Atlantic, a nonprofit organization that fulfills the wishes of area children fighting life-threatening medical conditions. A portion of the card purchase is tax deductible and there is no minimum order requirement. These special cards can also be printed with a name or logo if desired. Orders must be received prior to Dec. 14. Call 301-962-9474. To view a sample card, visit www.midatlantic.wish.org.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Mid-Atlantic Inc. is a nonprofit organization that fulfills the wishes of area children fighting life-threatening medical conditions. Founded in 1983, the foundation has fulfilled the wishes of more than 4,800 children from Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., Maryland and Delaware.

Groups interested in applying for the Loudoun County Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program are encouraged to begin the process as soon as possible in order to meet the mid-December application deadline.

The CDBG competitive application is available online at

www.loudoun.gov/housing or by contacting Jan Boothby, CDBG program manager, at 703-777-0389 (V/TTY) or jboothby@loudoun.gov. Applications will be accepted until 4 p.m., Dec. 16.

Through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the CDBG program provides funding on an annual basis for local projects that address a variety of housing and community development needs. The preapplication workshop will review the competitive application process for the funds.

Eligible applicants for CDBG funds include local government entities in Loudoun County, nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Proposed projects should meet the goals of the CDBG program, which include providing affordable housing opportunities, revitalizing neighborhoods, renovating substandard housing and expanding economic development

opportunities, especially for persons of low and moderate income.

The Loudoun County Fire-Rescue system and the Loudoun County Firefighters' Association announce its participation in the 58th Annual Toys for Tots Campaign, which is sponsored by the U.S. Marines. Through Dec. 16, fire-rescue stations throughout the county will be collecting new, unwrapped toys; they will not accept any toys that resemble weapons or could be used as a weapon such as toy guns, knives, etc. The toys collected will be distributed to local children of all ages.

LINK churches is looking for volunteers for its annual Christmas basket event Saturday, Dec. 17, between 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Christ the Redeemer Church in Sterling and Trinity Presbyterian Church in Herndon will distribute groceries. Herndon United Methodist Church will distribute toys at Christmas on the nights of Dec. 19 and 20, between 4-9 p.m.

LINK is asking students to volunteer for one-two hours. Students can register to volunteer by calling the LINK Hotline at 703-437-1776.

Volunteers are also needed to supervise the filling of a shopping cart for each family through the aisles and assist them in selecting their five-day allotment of food items and ensuring that they receive a perishable food gift certificate, coat or toy voucher. Volunteers are also needed to restock shelves, distribute coats and load food into family vehicles. LINK especially needs people who can give an hour or two to volunteer as foreign language interpreters Ñ Spanish, French and Farsi, etc.

A donor has pledged to match every dollar Ñ up to $10,000 Ñ raised by the Loudoun Literacy Council Inc. on or before 6 p.m., Dec. 31. The donor wishes to remain anonymous but would like to encourage other donors to give during December. Donations can be sent to Loudoun Literacy Council Inc., P.O. Box 1932, Leesburg, VA 20177 or call 703-777-2205.

During the month of December, anyone who adopts a cat or kitten from the Loudoun County Animal Shelter will receive a certificate good for a free cat or kitten adoption.

The certificate can be used to adopt a second companion cat or can be given as a gift to a friend or loved one.

The certificate covers the entire adoption fee, including spay/neuter surgery if necessary and is good through Dec. 31, 2006.

Cat adopters will also receive a special holiday gift for their new feline friend.

This program is designed to encourage cat adoptions, as well as to remind people that cats living in a household with a feline companion generally lead healthier, happier lives than their solo counterparts.

Call the Animal Shelter at 703-777-0406 or e-mail animals@loudoun.gov.

The Ashburn Volunteer Fire Rescue Department and the ladies Auxiliary of the Military Order of the Purple Heart are sponsoring "Operation Welcome Home," to provide items to the servicemen and women recovering at Walter Reed Hospital over the holidays. Recommended items include gift cards from any local department store or local restaurants.

All of the servicemen and women have been seriously wounded, are amputees or are undergoing extensive rehabilitation therapy. Several have been living there a year or more. Many have small children, ranging from infants to 12 years. Call 703 729-0006.

NXL, better known as Next Level 4 Teens, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating positive experiences for LoudounÕs youth will be welcoming county teens to its new after-school program as early as January 2006. The first of its kind in Loudoun, NXLÕs Educational Teen Center will feature a multi-purpose room for tutoring, workshops, and seminars, a computer lab, a game room, a lounge area, and a cafe. Students in grades sixth-12th will be able to go to one place to do a variety of things, from studying and getting help with homework to playing video games and eating pizza with friends.

This holiday season, NXL will also be featuring its first publication geared toward youth and families. During the month of December, a complimentary issue will be distributed to more than 5,000 homes in the Ashburn area. The magazine will provide readers with plenty of information on youth and family issues, advice from counselors, nutritionists and educators, articles written for teens by teens, parent pages and more.

Visit the official NXL Web site at www.NextLevel4Teens.org; e-mail, office@NextLevel4Teens.org or call 571-214-1747.

First Night Leesburg is a family-focused celebration of the arts held in downtown historic Leesburg on New Year's Eve, which will be Saturday, Dec. 31 this year. The event is once again sponsored by the Bluemont Concert Series in cooperation with the Town of Leesburg, the County of Loudoun and a host of Loudoun businesses and civic organizations.

This is a call to artists and performers and performing groups who would like to be considered to be part of First Night Leesburg. The entertainment committee is interested in hearing from artists and performers from Loudoun County and particularly from local schools.

Artists and performers interested in performing at the 2005 First Night Leesburg Celebration should contact: Entertainment Committee, First Night Leesburg, P.O. Box 203, Leesburg VA 20178; call 703-777-6306 or e-mail info@bluemont.org.

Christmas in the Loudoun Valleys, a guide to local farms offering choose-and-cut Christmas trees and other holiday floral products grown in Loudoun County, is available. The brochure includes farmers who provide assistance in tree selection, bow saws for cutting, and help with loading the tree. Many farms provide hot chocolate, marshmallow roasts and fun activities for children. The brochure also features holiday floral products such as wreaths, roping and poinsettias grown and produced on Loudoun farms.

The brochure, with map and directions to all farms, is available at the Loudoun Convention and Visitors

Association in Leesburg, county libraries and community centers. To have a brochure mailed, ask for one by e-mail, ahiggins@loudoun.gov, or call the Department of Economic Development at 703-777-0426. For further information, visit the Web site at www.LoudounFarms.org.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team In Training (TNT) program (TNT) hosts events year round, including full- and half-marathons Ñ run or walk, cycling or triathlons. TNT's National Capital Area Chapter is recruiting participants for the upcoming spring season of events which includes the St. Anthony's and Gulf Coast triathlons Ñ swim, bike, and run Half Ironman Ñ in Florida; the Country Music marathon and half marathon in Tennessee; and the Adidas Vancouver International marathon in Canada.

The team will consist of people of all age ranges, fitness and experience levels Ñ the TNT training program provides the coaching and support needed to make sure everyone crosses the finish line.

In exchange, participants work to raise funds for blood cancer research. These four events alone should raise somewhere in the neighborhood of $700,000. The local TNT chapter will raise more than $3 million this year. And, 75 percent of every dollar spent goes towards cancer research and other programs to advance the Society's mission of curing leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease, and myeloma. An information meeting will be held at Herndon Fortnightly Library, 768 Center St., Saturday, Jan. 21, at 10:30 a.m. For additional TNT information, call the National Capital Area

Chapter at 703-960-1100 or visit www.teamintraining.org/ncameetings.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation is now accepting applications for public transportation, commuter services and human service transportation grants.

The annual applications period is open through Feb. 1. Approximately $134 million in state funding is available through Transportation Trust Fund and Transportation Efficiency Improvement Fund allocations.

Fiscal year 2007 funding availability is based on official revenue estimates of the commonwealth, which will be finalized in May 2006.

Complete details on eligibility and application procedures are available online. To apply, or to learn more information about public transportation funding in Virginia, visit www.drpt.virginia.gov and click on the OLGA (On-Line Grants Administration) spotlight box.

Loudoun Volunteer Services seeks nominations for Student Volunteer of the Month. Loudoun students will be recognized for their volunteer efforts during the 2004-2005 school year. Nominate students, or groups of students, elementary-12th grade, who volunteer their time in a variety of ways in their schools, churches, and towns. A one-page narrative may be sent to the Loudoun Volunteer Services Board at pivs@loudoun.gov or to 1 Harrison St., S.E., P.O. Box 7000, Leesburg, VA 20177.

The one-page narrative should include the student's name, address, telephone number, school and a description, including length of service of the exemplary volunteer efforts of the student. Contact information for the person nominating the student should also be included.

Volunteers will be featured in the Loudoun Volunteer Services Newsletter and on the Loudoun County Government Web site. Contact Lisa Rose, volunteer coordinator, at

703-777-0113.

Loudoun MADD is selling the red MADD CHOOSE COURAGE community awareness wristbands for $1, which can be mailed for an additional $.50 each. The wristbands can be purchased by sending a check to Loudoun MADD at P.O. Box 4252, Leesburg, VA 20177, with the number of wristbands for purchase. Visit the Loudoun MADD Web site at www.maddloudounva.org to see a picture of the wristbands. For questions send an e-mail to maddloudoun@aol.com.

Residents and businesses using the Loudoun County Recycling Drop-off Centers are reminded that the recycling centers accept only mixed bottles, cans, and paper. Specifically, items that are accepted at the recycling centers include clear- and colored-glass bottles and jars; aluminum and steel cans; plastic bottles and jugs Ñ beverage, detergent and squeeze bottles and jugs only; newspapers; magazines; phone books; catalogs; junk mail; office paper; cardboard; and paperboard such as cereal boxes.

Items that are not accepted at the centers include plastic bags; plastic flower pots; Styrofoam; or any other type of plastic that is not specifically a bottle or jug; window glass; plate-glass; porcelain; wood; yard waste; furniture; needles; nails; construction materials; electronics; hazardous chemicals or chemical containers; and motor oil containers.

If an item is not listed on the sign as acceptable for recycling, do not deposit it in the recycling bin, and instead call the Loudoun County Office of Solid Waste Management at 703-777-0187. For more information visit www.loudoun.gov/oswm.