Just off the traffic-jammed commercial strip of Leesburg Pike that's known as Baileys Crossroads, behind a Mattress Discounters store and a strip of ethnic restaurants, sits the Glen Forest neighborhood.
As neighbors tell it, this Fairfax County enclave, which is largely tree-lined cul-de-sacs with 1950s ramblers on one-third-acre lots, has two hearts.
One is the active, culturally diverse Glen Forest Elementary school located within its borders. The other is the swimming pool and 6.8-acre park running nearly the length of the neighborhood, which is owned by the Glen Forest Community Association and serves Glen Forest and some adjoining neighborhoods.
Kathleen Perez-Lopez, newly elected president of the community association, got involved in the group to help save the pool, located a stone's throw from her back yard. During summer 2000, Perez-Lopez hosted twin girls from a Siberian orphanage, who enjoyed swimming at the association's pool.
"In Russia, the kids went to summer camps a lot, and they would swim," Perez-Lopez said. "But the girls really loved our pool, and would run down there a couple times a day. They said the water was not so green [as in Russia] and there were no frogs."
After Perez-Lopez and her husband, Jorge, decided to adopt the girls, they learned the pool was in danger of going under because of financial problems.
"But I wanted that pool to be open when the girls came back here to live," Perez-Lopez said. Although she was a busy computer specialist with three other children, she made the time to help the association turn the pool around. The group was successful, and while fundraising continues for improvements, the pool now runs in the black. Perez-Lopez's new daughters, Anya and Tonya, 12, are still able to enjoy frog-free swimming.
The neighborhood association runs a Web site and produces a neighborhood telephone directory, welcome packets and a community cookbook. It sponsors non-pool events such as a rummage sale, a Santa's workshop and bake sale, and a cleanup of the creek that runs through its park. But it is the pool that serves as the community gathering place. Highlights include an opening-day picnic, adult party nights, a Labor Day picnic with a moonbounce, and the annual Independence Day picnic with fireworks.
Until recently Irene Shuman, 85, Glen Forest's first resident, was in charge of food for all the picnics. She would stock up on chickens when they were on sale, keeping them in her freezer until the event, then organizing neighbors to barbeque. Shuman would then make the potato salad, 20 pounds of it for each picnic.
A few years ago, Shuman relinquished her role as food coordinator, but she continues to lead neighborhood children in the annual parade around the pool at the Independence Day party.
"I bring a big flag and buy little flags for the kids to carry," Shuman said. "At dusk, we all march around singing patriotic songs. Then we stand on the diving board and everyone salutes the flag and says the Pledge of Allegiance. Then I say, 'Let the fireworks begin!' " The neighborhood association recently honored Shuman by having a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in her name on her birthday. That flag will be presented to Shuman at the pool's opening-day picnic.
Many residents also participate in the frequent extracurricular activities offered by Glen Forest Elementary School, in the neighborhood's southeast corner, on property once used as the winter home of Bailey's Circus. The year-round school, which serves students from 58 countries, recently received a Gold Award for Project Excel Schools from Fairfax County.
Phillip Zekan, a second-generation Glen Forest resident, bypassed the elementary school when his daughter was young, choosing to send her to the nearby Fairfax Brewster private school instead. "But the elementary school has improved a lot since then," Zekan said. "All the schools are good now." Zekan's daughter now attends J.E.B. Stuart High School, and his son attends Glen Forest Elementary, where Zekan's wife, Cathy, is the PTA president.
Ruth Hope, who moved from England to Glen Forest four years ago with her Nepalese husband, Raj Oli, and their son, is particularly impressed with the ethnic diversity of the Glen Forest community, and the way people from other lands are welcomed. "To succeed in Britain, you must assimilate," Hope said. "It's so wonderful here because we embrace diversity."
Hope became editor of the association's bimonthly newsletter after noticing a newsletter announcement that brought residents together for a cost-saving bulk purchase of roofing services. The newsletter, which includes a column written by neighborhood teenagers, as well as community news, "is very important to this community," Hope said.
The neighborhood's informal telephone tree works well, too, said nine-year residents Karen and Charlie Haworth. Four years ago, when Karen Haworth was pregnant with their son Carson, she was put on bed rest.
"Every night, about a half-hour after I got home from work, someone would bring a lasagna, some salad," said Charlie Haworth, a small-business owner. "And that continued for a good six weeks."
"At times of crisis, everyone here pulls together," Karen Haworth added. "Like I told Charlie when we moved in: I'm dying in this neighborhood."
Original resident Jean Aylor has fond memories of her children growing up in her four-bedroom Glen Forest rambler. Although her children are now adults, she continues to enjoy neighborhood events, such as the school's multicultural festival. "There were native costumes, native songs, native dances, and then we ate native food. It was wonderful," Aylor said.
After Aylor's husband died two years ago, she experienced a long period of sadness. But when she decided to take her grandchildren to the neighborhood Independence Day celebration last year, some of that weight was lifted.
"When Irene [Shuman] and the kids started to march around the pool to 'America the Beautiful,' it reminded me of when my kids were little," Aylor said of the neighborhood tradition. "It was wonderful, and my spirits were just raised."