There’s something about Graydon Manor, or perhaps any large tract of land with a 100-year-old manor home, that compels the imagination. The place engaged the vision of developer David Gregory a half dozen years ago when he bought the 131-acre estate and sought to divide it into a kind of co-housing village with multiple, single-family dwellings, a winery that would feature a farm-to-table restaurant, a library, a greenhouse and a convenience store.
The county nixed that plan, though it's still in litigation and probably won't be resolved until next year. In the meantime, David, who has a sincere heart for serving the community’s needy found the opportunity to use the Graydon estate and the work of INMED Partnership for Children for the county’s Hispanic population to tie together a number of philanthropic projects into a new entity called the Synergy Community Foundation.
Interestingly, each piece of the plan empowers an entirely different community, but all aim to eliminate poverty and provide economic opportunity to the disenfranchised in creative ways.
As developers set their sights on the Leesburg Mobile Home Park, David, the principal of the Zeeland NV property company now headquartered on the Graydon estate, worried about what would happen to the more than 130 lower income families that would be displaced by the area’s redevelopment. So, David first proposed moving the 77 trailers to the Graydon estate, then when other’s plans to purchase it fell through, he simply bought it himself.
“It looked like the town had a plan to accommodate the developer and these people were simply going to be discarded,” David said. “We couldn’t let that happen.” But simply purchasing the park wasn’t enough. David also purchased the adjacent salvage yard and is now working with INMED’s Sterling Opportunity Center to use the 12-acre facility to build a community aquaponics garden to provide fresh, all-natural produce and protein to the residents year-round, right in their backyard, said INMED U.S. Programs Director Jennifer Lassiter Smith. The renovated onsite office building will be used to offer nutrition education, wellness workshops, fitness classes and other resources the families need to narrow health equity and food security gaps, she added.
When the $11 million purchase went through this spring, INMED hosted a celebration for trailer park residents, many of whom represent families that have lived there for more than a decade. “That day David met with the leadership committee that was negotiating with the earlier developer and from the very first day he gave all of them his cell phone number and he regularly meets with them. They were initially fearful because they thought they would all be displaced but now they’re talking about how they envision their future and their kids’ futures,” Jennifer told us.
It will still take something like $3 million to build the aquaponics facility, even using reusable Connex boxes and shipping containers, and to provide the training and other resources necessary to make it a going concern, but David is clearly engaged for the long haul. In a lengthy interview, he made clear that he approaches the problem of poverty in a community of plenty as more of an economist than a philanthropist.
“Economists look for patterns of shortage and abundance and Loudoun County is a place to observe both. We look at it in terms of business opportunities and investments that can have long-term impact. How someone runs a philanthropy is bewildering to me and makes almost no sense, but together Jennifer and I have coalesced around ideas and around voids that needed to be filled for the past three years,” he explained. One such void involves food security. “It’s almost criminal that in one of the wealthiest counties in the country children go to bed hungry,” David said. His work in donating a facility to the Dulles South Soup Kitchen (see p. x), is designed to address that need.
But there are many others. Many lower income workers are forced to bring their children to job sites after school and overuse emergency rooms rather than employing preventative medicine that would improve their overall health and wellness. All these issues put burdens on the business community that could be lessened by offering opportunity rather than remediation, David explained.
At the heart of the problem, “no one wants to see poverty where they live and work,” David said, resulting in inconsistent zoning and development policies. “The county is a little schizophrenic on their desire to have affordable housing. No one wants affordable houses near them,” he added.
Conversation about zoning issues and growth in Western Loudoun inevitably lead back to the Graydon property, and one inspired use about which bureaucrats can have virtually no say. This Halloween, the estate became home to a new haunt in town – a scary outdoor experience masterminded by the former haunt-master of Shocktober, Matthew Smith.
As we reported when we first profiled Shocktober (https://bit.ly/GhoulSchool), Matt’s love of choreographing a good scare engages its own community he calls “haunters.” So, it was a snap to bring the band back together, so to speak, and turn the Graydon estate, surrounding the property’s 11,000-square-foot, century-old manor home, into a dystopian, post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Folks like Hazard (“just the one name, like Madonna,” quips Jennifer) pictured here, live for the haunt and are likely to find steady work with Matt’s new company Screamworks LLC, beginning with ScreamLoco.com’s 2022 installation. “To escape the horrors of a world ravaged by a toxic post-apocalyptic wasteland, humanity sought safety underground.... Do you dare venture into their world to uncover the mystery of what happened?” goes the set-up. Visitors begin their trip with a simulated elevator plunge down 30 stories sending them into a claustrophobic nightmare.
If that sounds tame, remember that Matt is a master of psychological deception and that many Shocktoberians have gone on to work in Hollywood, Universal Studios and King’s Dominion, turning their mastery of make-up, special effects and make-believe into careers. We regret that the fun may largely be passed for the show’s 2022 October run, but we’re assured they’ll make it an annual affair.
Shocktober during its 12-year stint raised around $3 million for charity, so it’s no surprise that ScreamLoco’s profits will benefit the Synergy Community Foundation and its vocational training programs. Says Matt, “Shocktober's Carlheim Mansion was also a tad limiting. Here we have a blank slate. We can do hay rides, we can do Zombie runs.” A Christmas show featuring the Grinch, to Krampus to Santa Claus isn’t out of the question. “We’d have a wholesome Santa Claus with almost no blood spatter at all,” quipped Matt.
For her part, Jennifer says, “It’s all my world together in a bow, and I love that.” And for David, it’s all about building new coalitions with practical solutions to poverty. Or, put another way, it’s about “building things, not just talking about them,” he says.