One Woman’s Efforts Lead to Recreational Opportunities for Hispanic Youth

More than 26 years ago, a Fairfax County social services employee named Carmen Fernandez got frustrated. She saw needs. She saw neglected children. She felt the agony of abused children.  She met good people who needed help learning how to be a parent. She saw the painful results of people making mistakes because they just had not been taught about other ways to do things. And to those families she visited as part of her work, she kept repeating the same message:  “I have your name on a list, but there are just not enough support services available.”

Carmen Fernandez

Carmen Fernandez

Amid this dire need for parenting classes Fernandez developed an evening program to strengthen families. She based the new series of classes in Bailey’s Crossroads, and when she retired from her social services position she did not retire from her efforts. She continued to write grants and create new opportunities for low income, diverse populations, and she expanded those efforts further by developing a program called HACAN, Hispanics Against Child Abuse and Neglect.

Because of HACAN, people are learning the practical things they need to know as they enter the wonderful world of someone calling them Mom or Dad.

Because of the HACAN program called Students Training in Advocacy and Responsibility, an immigrant high school student who wants to go to college has someplace to get the guidance she needs to earn a college degree that will turn her life around.

Because of the HACAN program known as Morningstar, a fifth grader about to enter the sea of middle school doesn’t have to enter those waters in isolation. He’ll instead learn how to make positive connections to his community and learn that there are role models who will make his life better. Within Morningstar he’ll find a core group of friends, adult contacts and opportunities that support his aims and goals. He’ll learn there are options, and that he can make better choices regarding academics and social behavior.

Now, Morningstar has come to the parks thanks to some of those role models and adults who are opening the way to those better choices. Grants from the Rotary Club of Bailey’s Crossroads and the Park Foundation are funding a 12-month program that started last September, which provides students with a chance to be part of recreation and exercise at county parks.

The fourth, fifth and sixth-grade Morningstar students usually meet on Saturday mornings at Woodrow Wilson Community Library. Through the new program, some of those meetings take place in parks. The hope was that park field trips would boost Morningstar’s weekly attendance from 15 to 25, and with the support of Bailey’s Elementary School, that goal was met and has been maintained.

That fifth-grade girl about to enter the larger word of middle school now has more opportunities and more choices of value. So far she’s tagged and released Monarch butterflies. She’s played games that Eastern Woodland American Indians played in the 1600s. She’s created pottery, and with four dozen other students she learned air-dry clay bead making. She’s been to Hidden Oaks Nature Center to get close to reptiles and amphibians, and she’s challenged herself in a Zumbatomic class at Providence RECenter. That sixth-grade boy about to choose the friends he’ll bond with through high school will soon be swimming at Cub Run RECenter, playing miniature golf at Jefferson District Park, visiting Burke Lake’s flying disc golf course and train ride, and stomping through Frying Pan Farm Park to milk a cow, meet baby animals and bounce on a hayride.


Suzanne Holland teaches children about reptiles and amphibians at Hidden Oaks Nature Center.

Suzanne Holland teaches children about reptiles and amphibians at Hidden Oaks Nature Center.


Through HACAN, families are getting stronger, and youngsters are seeing how much their community and their world has to offer them. And Carmen Fernandez feels rewarded instead of frustrated.

Written by Suzanne Holland, assistant manager, Hidden Oaks Nature Center

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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