To be sure and receive Talk, add info@talkloudoun.com to your address book Vol 2: Issue 39, November 10, 2010

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Thank you, veterans

In recognition of Veterans Day on November 11, Talk Loudoun thanks the miliary veterans who have honored our country and its people with their service. It is because of their valor, commitment and dedication that we remain free and able to pursue our ambitions. We salute them on Veterans Day, and always.

Behind the Jeep

By Betsy Allen

Jeep_tag-1.jpgAs the old Jeep slogan goes, "There's only one." The quintessentially American vehicle has a unique and honored history with its beginnings in World War II as a versatile military transport used by troops and officers alike. But in the years since its inception, the Jeep's rough and ready nature has inspired fierce love in folks far beyond the theaters of war.

Notably, when you ask about the number of Jeep authorized Jeep dealerships in all of Loudoun County, the answer is the same: "There's only one." Dulles Motorcars has done business in the heart of Leesburg for 20 years, led by co-owners Kevin and Hamid "Senior" Saghafi. It's a business built out of a passion for cars and a strong desire to make customers completely happy. But just as important, Dulles Motorcars has a rock-solid foundation of dedicated professionals who work closely together and feel a special bond -- one that most closely resembles an extended family.

That bond proved to be vital during a difficult 2009 for Dulles Motorcars. Detroit automakers were an early casualty of our country's economic downturn, and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy. While still in business, the company sought to cut back on the number of dealerships nationwide. The Saghafis got the bad news that their Jeep franchise was going away.

"I didn't expect that to happen," Kevin explains. "We are the only Jeep dealer in the richest county in the United States and one of the fastest growing. I remember thinking, in a down economy, our sales went up by 40 percent. What did I do wrong?"

Once the hard economic reality set in, the Saghafis were faced with a choice: they would either have to lay off 30 percent of their workforce or require everyone to take a 10 percent pay cut. They decided to take the question to their employees, and they were deeply moved by the response.

"Nobody wanted anyone to get laid off," Kevin remembers with pride. "They unanimously took the 10 percent pay cut. Everybody was so gracious. They were willing to make the sacrifice and work together as a team."*

One of the Saghafis' longtime employees, technician Brad Nelson, observes that everyone would rather not have been faced with the choice, but as a team, there was really only one option. "Times were hard," he says, "and it was a necessary evil. It was a tough decision, but at the same time, it wasn't a tough decision. It was kind of like, 'Everybody hold hands.' We've always been a big, happy family. I think it says a lot (about us)."

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United as a dealership, the good folks at Dulles Motorcars then had to address the customer aspect. "Jeep was bread and butter for us," Senior adds. "It was a heartbreaking thing when it went away. We were serving 5,000 customers. We tried to service as much as we could, and we fought to get our franchise back."

Because Dulles Motorcars no longer had Jeep, it was not authorized to do car service under warranty. But the Saghafis were determined to do what they could to help their clients. "We experienced a tremendous amount of support from our customers," Kevin says. "People didn't want to deal with a different dealership and a different service department. We started sending some fliers out. We got calls from customers, and we (told) them, we will service your cars."

"I was shocked and disappointed when I heard they lost the franchise," says Nick Balagurchik of Purcellville. "Out of all the dealerships in the area, they should be the last to lose it -- that's how good they are. They told me they were working diligently to get it back, but they couldn't do warranty work. I said I didn't care. I didn't stop taking my car there."

The dealership's service department was right on board and committed to helping those Jeep customers not to feel, as Kevin put it, "orphaned." It goes back to those old-school values: working hard and satisfying the customer.

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Jeep_tag-3.jpg"I grew up in Leesburg," says Mark Kirk, service manager at Dulles Motorcars for the last 17 years. "That's how I was raised. I want the dealership to be big, but I want it to be small in how we handle each customer. It's all about people. They're going to tell their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, neighbors and coworkers how they got treated."

One of those people is Gaylor Robinson, who lives outside of Herndon. He's been bringing his Jeeps to the Leesburg dealership nearly since it opened, bypassing closer Fairfax-based options. He admitted to a bit of trepidation when news of the lost Jeep franchise was released. "The service department assured me they'd be fine, and it turned out that way," he says. "Over the years, we've developed a relationship. They've taken good care of me. In fact, three or four times a year, Robinson brings the service folks breakfast burritos. "That's one of my favorite things to do. It's just my way of saying thanks."

Kevin tells the story of another man whose Jeep was covered under warranty. He took the car to another dealership's service department where warranty work was authorized, but was treated so poorly, he came back to Dulles Motorcars and paid $1,200 for them to service the car. The service staff did the work, and are now assisting the man in obtaining reimbursement for the money spent since it was not done satisfactorily under warranty at
the first dealership.

This year, as Chrysler righted its foundering financial ship, the Saghafis regained the Jeep franchise, and added Jeep_tag-4.jpgDodge, Chrysler, and Ram trucks (the company also sells the Kia brand). "We lost one and got four back," Kevin laughs. "God has never closed a door for me that he hasn't opened two more."

For the Saghafis, originally from Iran, there has always been a love of cars. "I have a passion for cars," Kevin says. "I can connect with them. I can touch a car and tell whether or not it is a good car." So it was a natural fit for the brothers to open a used car business in Maryland in the early '80s. But it was somewhat of a leap of faith to make the move to Loudoun in 1990 to open a new car dealership, further afield from the hustle and bustle of more populated areas. "There's something about Loudoun," Kevin observes. "I was always interested in the quality of life here, and the beauty. Everything I have is because of Loudoun County. (It has) made my American dream come true."

It's a dream that continues for the hard-working Saghafi brothers and their whole team, standing with pride and commitment, together as one, behind the Jeep.

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Hearing voices:

Bobbi Carducci seeks words from young writers
By Betsy Allen

bobbi_tag1-2.jpgBobbi Carducci likes to share a favorite quote from fellow author Meg Chittenden, who observed that "Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing."

For Bobbi, these words speak volumes. All writers hear voices, whether it's those of real people or created characters, and they have their own say through their work. Through her work as founder and co-director of the Young Voices Foundation, Bobbi wants to make those things easier for the next generation of writers. Young Voices presents opportunities for young people to write through contests and other writing projects. It's the mission of someone who has been passionate about writing since she was very young herself.

"I think it's something I was born with," Bobbi said, seated in her cheerful yellow family room with big windows that oversee the rolling landscape of Round Hill. "I started writing when I was 8 years old, since the words started coming together on the page."

Bobbi grew up in Birmingham, N.Y. She married young and spent the better part of the '70s and '80s raising four children in the Pittsburgh area. During these busy years, she spent more time reading than writing, but gradually she began to commit her thoughts to paper. "I wrote very bad poems," Bobbi laughed. "Then I did character studies of people I knew and lived with. I sent them off to confessional magazines, but was never published."

Bobbi's first marriage ended in the early '80s, and she remarried, to Michael Carducci, in 1987. They moved to Round Hill seven years ago. Bobbi's children were grown, but she found that her role as a nurturer and a caregiver continued. Michael's father, who suffered with dementia, moved in with them and she quit her job to stay home and take care of him. He passed away last year.

That kind of devotion to home and family is evident in the sunny room, dotted with framed photos of Bobbi's children and other relatives, and it has exerted a powerful influence on her writing. "It absolutely informed the subject matter," she stressed. "A lot of what I write about deals with my kids as they were growing and emotional issues. There are such strong emotions tied to those things."

After relocating to Virginia, the passion to write still burned brightly within her, so Bobbi formulated a plan. "I'm going to give myself a year," she told herself. "I'll submit once a month." Then in 2003, paydirt. She sold her first piece to True Story magazine, and in two months, she scored a second sale. "OK," she decided, "I can do this." She followed those successes with stories published in books in the "Cup of Comfort" and "Chicken Soup" series. She has also written for a variety of other newspapers, magazines and online publications.

As she started to write on a regular basis, Bobbi was faced with the situation of the scribe in her favorite quote - closed up in a room, staring at the walls. "Writing is a lonely thing," she said. "Writers can be introverts, but we need to get out and support one another." To that end, she formed the Round Hill Writers Group six years ago, starting with monthly meetings in her home. Eventually the members gathered at other venues to critique each other's writing, share successes, and commiserate about the writer's life. It was around 2006 that the issue of young writers came up.

"Some of the adults met for coffee one day," Bobbi recalled. "We were talking about what it was like when we were kids. There was no place we could go for encouragement, no place to go to learn about getting published. I mentioned to the group that we should start something." Meeting with some interest but not a lot of action, Bobbi took the idea to her husband, who characteristically cut right to the heart of the matter. "Well then," he said, "Let's do it."

"Within two weeks, we had been to the accountants and the attorneys and set up the Young Voices Foundation," Bobbi said. The idea was to offer writing competitions with set deadlines, awards for winners, and recognition for all participants. Bobbi and Michael acted as co-directors for the foundation. "We set up the first contest, asking for short pieces from children of kindergarten age to high school seniors. We didn't know what we'd get."

The first go-round in 2006 yielded about 100 entries, 64 of which were published in the first Young Voices volume, "Young Voices of Loudoun County." The book was placed in all of the county's libraries and in school libraries. A second contest the next year yielded more entries and another volume, "Young Voices - the Stories Begin," which featured the faces of some of the young authors on its cover.

One of the authors pictured was Kelsey Baker. "I met Bobbi and Michael at Final Draft Books in Purcellville," said Kelsey's mom, Nancy Baker. "I told them, my daughter loves to write. Bobbi gave me a (Young Voices) flier and said, 'Tell your daughter to enter our first contest.'" Nancy took the flier home to her daughter and 30 minutes later, Kelsey handed her a piece of paper. "Read this," she told her mother. "She had the submission ready," Nancy said. "Bobbi loved it so much, she said she knew they were on the right track."

"Kelsey's was the first story we received for the first book," Bobbi said. The young author won in her middle school category that year, and went on with Bobbi's assistance to found and oversee the Young Writers of Western Loudoun -- kind of a junior version of the Round Hill Writers Group.

"Bobbi was all over that," Nancy said. "She was very hands-on, there at every meeting. Kids would call and talk to her about writing. She would read, and give them feedback. Bobbi was very patient and loving."

After her Young Voices experience, Kelsey wrote a personal narrative that was published in Elan magazine. "(Bobbi) helped me get a lot of confidence in my writing," Kelsey said. "She told me that regardless of the age you are, there will always be a market for your writing - if you keep trying and don't give up."

"Kelsey ended up doing something so positive with her life because of Bobbi," Nancy said. "We owe a debt."

In 2008, Young Voices became a non-profit organization and started the annual Young Voices Foundation Awards to honor books that inspire, mentor and/or educate young people and their families. The contest garnered submissions from publishing industry heavy hitters like Scholastic and Dell to independent "one-book wonders." Entries were judged and awards given to the top three books in each of 32 categories, as well as a seal of approval for fourth-place entries.

Young Voices is taking off, with a snazzy website and a growing number of entries for each of its competitions. But Bobbi has lots more plans for the future. "One of my main goals is to publish a literary magazine for young writers. And we'd love to see Young Writers groups all over, to see the community support young writers as they do athletics."

Bobbi noted that sometimes parents might not encourage their children to write if they do not already excel at it. But, she said, it is important for kids to write regardless of their skill level. "You take your kid off to soccer practice, and you know he or she probably won't be a professional. It's the same with writers."

She advised parents to "be as supportive as possible," and to listen to the voices. "Sometimes writers see things other people miss. Pay attention to what they're saying."

More about Bobbi Carducci's organizations

Further information on the Young Voices Foundation can be found online at www.youngvoicesfoundation.org. More information on the Young Writers of Western Loudoun can be found at www.communityvoicemedia.com/ywwl.html. The Round Hill Writers Group meets on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, from 7-9 p.m. at the Purcellville Library, 220 East Main Street.

Calling all young writers!

The Young Voices Foundation is currently sponsoring Write-A-Palooza, a series of creative writing workshops for young people, ages 13-16. It's not too late to participate! Remaining workshops are scheduled for Mondays designated as LCPS school holidays (January 17, February 21, April 4 and 18, 2011) at the Shamrock Music Shoppe in Purcellville. For more information, contact Bobbi Carducci at (540)338-5064.
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