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People Inc. lauds planning agency, executive director

By Alex Bridges

People Inc. of Virginia tipped a hat to the regional planning agency that helped turn the Toms Brook School into homes for low-income residents.

The nonprofit group based in Abingdon recently gave its 2013 Garland Thayer Award to Martha Shickle, executive director of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission. People Inc. gives the award, named after its first director, to recognize the contributions of community leaders who embody the not-for-profit corporation's work to help economically disadvantaged people.

Shickle said Wednesday she was excited to receive the award and the director noted the commission's ongoing partnership with People Inc. on projects throughout the valley.

People Inc. and the commission recently worked together on the renovation of the old Toms Brook School. The project turned the vacant, dilapidated building into more than a dozen apartments for low-income residents and families. People began moving into the building earlier this year after the project's completion.

The Toms Brook School project marked a first for the commission, Shickle noted.

"That was an exciting project for us to be involved with because it meant so much to the town of Toms Brook and the residents there -- to take such a significant building in their community and create a space where people from the community could benefit," Shickle said. "Certainly the condition of the property before the revitalization was taken on was less than desirable and it's really an exciting time to be a part of the Toms Brook story."

The commission worked with Shenandoah County and Toms Brook and managed grants awarded by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. The commission also contributed funding for the projected through the Home Investment Partnership Program, through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Tyler Klein, community development planner for the commission, served as project manager and worked with the local governments and People Inc. during the construction.

The commission began working with People Inc. in 2009 on projects aimed to provide housing for low-income residents.

People Inc. and the commission worked together on the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. The partners bought 14 vacant, foreclosed houses, which they rehabilitated and sold to first-time homebuyers, organization President and Chief Executive Officer Robert Goldsmith said. The commission and People Inc. are currently working together on the development of the Woodstock Garden Apartments and the renovation of the Alms House in Shenandoah County, as well as rehabilitation of owner-occupied housing in Page County.

As Shickle explained about the work the commission and People Inc. does, residents see a benefit in the fact they can live in the homes built or renovated through the projects. Also, the neighborhoods benefit through the additional investment, increased property values and the improved aesthetic appearance.

Many projects take a group effort.

"Over the years we've really be able to be a part of a lot of partnerships," Shickle said. "More and more of our agencies are working together on projects. Very seldom are we working on a project that's got one partner.

"Most of the time it could be two or three agencies in the region that have come together to meet a certain need, so that's been really exciting to see the different partnerships develop and for the commission to be a part of that," Shickle said.

The regional commission, established by the state as one of 21 district agencies, serves the counties of Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren, their incorporated towns and the city of Winchester.

People Inc. serves communities in the Shenandoah Valley including those in the commission's district.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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