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Henrico newspapers are being sold … Freedom House finds a familiar new home … Troubled dogs get trained — in prison … Holocaust Museum prepares for its future.

Street Talk

Henrico Papers Changing HandsTroubled Dogs Get Jail TreatmentFreedom House Finds New Home Holocaust Museum Seeks Volunteers

Henrico Papers Changing Hands

The founder of two local newspapers that target suburban readers has reached an agreement to sell her 9-year-old publishing company.

Carol Cooper Morter, publisher of the Far West End Press and the Henrico County Leader, expects to close on the sale June 1, then move to Austin, Texas.

"Don't worry about me leaving," Morter says she's been telling readers. "I only see the paper getting better."

Morter, who declines to reveal the terms of the sale agreement, plans to hand over the presses to David McElroy, a political consultant in Birmingham, Ala., and a former newspaper owner and publisher.

After nine years in the political world, McElroy says he's ready to get back into the news business. "I had been looking since late last summer or early fall for exactly the right kind of situation," he says. "This is the only one that happened to feel right."

Morter says McElroy is a good fit. "I think he will be able to offer the combination of community news and good business sense," she says.

Still, she says, leaving isn't easy.

Before she started her company, Morter taught English and history at John F. Kennedy High School. About 12 years ago, she started Kennedy's school newspaper, printing only what she calls "good news."

She decided to apply that to a community newspaper and founded the Far West End Press in 1992 from her Wellesley home. Today, the free tabloid has a circulation of 24,000 and is distributed almost entirely by mail.

Full of stories about elementary schools, neighborhood swim teams and local scouting troops, the paper's mission is to tell "uplifting" news that makes readers feel better about life, Morter says.

Of course, that left little room for such issues as zoning, local development and county government. So three years ago, Morter started the Henrico County Leader. The free weekly has a circulation of 15,000.

"I really feel that we have fulfilled a gap," says Morter, who is proud of rebuffing an offer from Media General to buy her paper — and its subsequent efforts to copy her, she says, through its now-defunct Tab and its recent Your sections.

Once her company is sold, Morter says, she and her son will join her husband in Austin, where he has been living and working in a new job for the past six months. Morter plans to volunteer to teach English as a second language to adults in the area — and to read her former newspapers through subscriptions. "I'm just looking forward to more of a laid-back existence," she says.

Jason Roop

Troubled Dogs Get Jail Treatment

Nearly two months ago, Save Our Shelters, an all-volunteer animal advocacy and rescue organization, sentenced three unruly dogs to six weeks in jail.

On May 24, they will be set free and, with any luck, have a new place waiting for them to call home.

The pet sentencing was part of a pilot program called "Pen Pals" that pairs disobedient dogs with inmates at the James River Correctional Facility in Goochland County. Crime novelist Patricia Cornwell sponsored the class. It costs nearly $250 to prepare each dog for the program. Each one is spayed or neutered and undergoes a complete evaluation from a veterinarian.

The program aims to teach inmates responsibility and respect for life, and make unruly rescued pound animals more likely to be adopted. And over time, it could help reduce euthanasia rates for unwanted animals.

Inmates chosen to help train the dogs were given crates, dog brushes, water, food and bowls. The dogs were introduced to the prisoners March 28.

"These animals have had a hard life and if we can help train them to do right and get a better life, I'm happy to do so," says an inmate, James, who is participating in the project.

"I am a little worried about becoming attached to the dogs," he says, "but as long as I know I will get another dog to help, I'm happy."

"I had initially matched inmates up with the dogs, but before I could tell them, a bond between them had already been established," says Gail Mihalcoe, a professional dog trainer and SOS volunteer who heads up Pen Pals. "I figured I should just leave well enough alone."

Mihalcoe, who also helped with a similar dog-training initiative at some correctional facilities in Ohio, spent three hours a day five days a week teaching inmates at the Goochland facility how to train their temporary pets. When the dogs graduate next Thursday, it's expected they will be housebroken and know basic commands like "sit," "stay" and "heel."

Jeanne Bridgforth, president of SOS, says she'd like to see Pen Pals expand to other prisons.

"This is the first program of its kind in Virginia," says Bridgforth. "It is still in the pilot stage, but if things go well as we think they will, I hope to see more of them across the state."

Brandon Walters

Freedom House Finds New Home

Freedom House may finally be leaving its longtime home at 302 W. Canal St.

Freedom House, a nonecclesiastical ministry providing transitional housing and food to Richmond's homeless, has served meals at the Canal Street location since 1987. But within 40 days, the service provider for the homeless plans to file for a special-use permit with the city of Richmond to operate meal programs at 17th and Balding streets, next to the Oliver Hill Courts Building.

On April 10, Freedom House signed a 40-year lease on the parcel and, in the next 18 months, plans to build a 7,000-square-foot building, says Executive Director Melba Harris.

Its new home has a contentious history. The open lot on 17th and Balding streets was among those considered by the Daily Planet as it sought a new home in 1996. This site, across the street from the Richmond City Jail on 17th Street, was criticized by some homeless advocates as being inaccessible to people with special needs. Its closeness to the jail also sent the wrong message, the critics said. After some accused city leaders of racism and political pressure, Central Virginia Legal Aid called for an investigation by the Justice Department.

The Daily Planet's board voted against moving there, and in February 2000, it moved to 517 W. Grace St. — a site that didn't need a special-use permit.

Freedom House's move may bring a similar dispute. In a letter written to the city officials in May last year, Henry McLaughlin, director of Central Virginia Legal Aid, asked the city to provide him with all communications between Freedom House and the city concerning the proposed move.

McLaughlin declines to comment on Freedom House's plans to move its operations to 17th Street.

"The new location on 17th Street is not ideal," concedes Freedom House's Harris. "But after seven years of trying to find a more-centralized location without any success, we are left with no alternative."

Freedom House plans to provide a shuttle bus in mornings and evenings with a pickup and drop off point at Belvidere and Broad streets, Harris adds.

The new site will be able to serve up to 250 at one time, compared with the current site's capacity of about 125 to 200.

The new Freedom House will serve a dual role, Harris says. Besides serving the homeless, it will open its doors for community-based programs between the morning and evening meals.

Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin, whose district encompasses the 17th and Balding Street area, has not met with Harris and did not respond to Style's request for comment.

Including the construction of a commercial-style kitchen, the projected cost of the building is $800,000. Freedom House has accumulated $350,000 in contributions and pledges, Harris says, and plans to begin a capital campaign for the balance, beginning in August or September.

— Kevin Finucane

Holocaust Museum Seeks Volunteers

The Virginia Holocaust Museum has begun the first round of renovations to what will become its new home, a former tobacco warehouse built in 1899.

To mark the occasion, Holocaust survivor Edna Ipson swung a hammer against an interior warehouse wall in a ceremony on Mother's Day. Ipson, 89, is the mother of Jay Ipson, the museum's founder and executive director.

It's been nearly a year since the museum struck a deal with the state to lease — and eventually own — the three-story, block-long warehouse at 2000 E. Cary St. in the Tobacco Row area. The 71,000-square-foot brick building will give the museum about 10 times the space of its current quarters at 213 Roseneath Road.

But before it can move, there's some serious work to be done.

During the next year, Ipson says, workers will try to restore the warehouse to its original state. "It will keep its historical appearance," he says. "Nothing will be changed to the building because it looks like a concentration camp."

On the to-do list this week is a massive cleaning project. "We need to wash [the warehouse] on the inside and get a century of dust out of it," Jay Ipson says.

To help with the scrub-down, Ipson needs volunteers. He has the tools: soap, brushes and compressors, he says. "All we need is human hands."

Ipson, 65, is eager for the museum's scheduled opening in May 2002. To devote more time to the project, he and his wife, Elly, have been liquidating their 49-year-old business, American Parts Co., at 1729 W. Cary St.

After all, Ipson says, he knows what matters more.

"Auto parts places come and go," Ipson says. "I'm going to be gone and forgotten, but the museum is going to go on and continue teaching its lesson."


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