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Albemarle County on Wednesday unveiled a mobile Community Engagement Field Office designed to better meet county residents where they are.
The office is a Ford Transit covered in a “Let’s Talk Albemarle” vinyl wrap. The van will be used as a pop-up in a variety of locations to share information, distribute materials and host project-based community conversations and workshops.
During a ribbon-cutting Wednesday at Darden Towe Park, county staff and members of the Board of Supervisors said the need for the van was realized this summer when county staff went to various places across Albemarle to hand out masks and hand sanitizer.
“A lot of time went into packing and moving and unpacking materials, and staff spent the events mostly out in the elements for several hours,” said board Chairman Ned Gallaway. “This van provides a central location to store things and move materials, but also provides a highly visible presence that Albemarle County is here and seeking to serve.”
The county’s first Community Read book — “The Monacan Indians: Our Story” — was placed in Darden Towe’s Little Free Library during the ribbon-cutting, and books will be added throughout the other county parks’ free libraries.
The county’s Office of Equity and Inclusion partnered with the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library system for the Community Read program, which will highlight books that focus on inclusive storytelling. Books that uplift the stories of groups within the area that often get left out of the main narrative will be selected throughout the year to read and discuss, the county said.
The books will be available to borrow through the county’s Little Free Libraries, located in county parks, as well as through the JMRL branches.
Diane Shields, co-author of “The Monacan Indians: Our Story,” said that for many generations, the Monacan people were overlooked.
“Starting in 1994, Karenne Wood and I began documenting our community because we knew we had to seek federal recognition to be able to fund our community to keep it growing and keep it prospering,” she said.
Wood, the book’s other co-author, died in 2019, and Shields said she was a great poet and writer.
“I hope everyone will take a few minutes and read this,” Shields said. “It’s an easy read. It’s all documented … When we started this, we didn’t have Google back then, so we did a lot of running around and finding paperwork and researching.”
At 3 p.m. May 14, the county will host a virtual panel discussion of the book with Shields; Kenneth Branham, chief of the Monacan Nation; Monacan citizens Teresa Pollak and Sue Elliott; and retired archaeology professor Jeff Hantman.
Emily Kilroy, the county’s director of communications and public engagement, said the van lets the county be flexible for a variety of engagement efforts. It has tables and chairs, a generator, a wireless hotspot, coolers and other items.
“Sometimes it’s just handing out information, we’ve been at the pop-up vaccine clinics and sometimes events like this,” she said. “We could use it for area master planning and small area planning — projects out in the community, rather than having to come to the county.”
The van is wrapped in a design with empty quote bubbles that are mini wet-erase board material for community members to use to write feedback or comments during events.
“It gives you a little bit more of a presence than a folding chair in a parking lot can provide,” Kilroy said.
The project cost $91,083 and came from a reserve that was created when the county used federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020 Coronavirus Relief Fund money to reimburse county public safety pay.
More information on the van’s location can be found at albemarle.org/lets-talk.