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A new arts program is being introduced in Southern Maryland.

The Southern Maryland Youth Orchestra has announced its inaugural season this spring. The symphony orchestra is designed for young musicians, primarily those in sixth through 12th grade, who have completed at least one year of study on their instrument.

Julia Nichols of Leonardtown is president of the orchestra. Growing up in Vermont, Nichols played the violin in a youth orchestra and remembers the value of that experience. She has three children who all play the violin also, and she’s hoping to provide that same experience for them, as well as for other young musicians in the region.

“I think the [band and orchestra] programs in the school system are very good,” Nichols said Monday. “But I think for kids, the more opportunities for music there are the better ... [The students] can also get a little bit different experience playing outside of school.”

AnnMarie Karnbach, the orchestra director at Chopticon High School, is the director of the new group, which will include strings as well as brass, woodwind and percussion instruments.

Once auditions for the inaugural orchestra are completed in January, the group will meet weekly for rehearsals starting in February. The group’s first concert will be held in May. While the orchestra is primarily designed for students in middle and high school, those younger than sixth-graders may audition, and at the discretion of the director, may be accepted.

Nichols encouraged prospective musicians and their families to attend one of two information sessions to learn more. The first will be Thursday, Jan. 10, at 5:30 p.m. at the Lexington Park library, Room A, and the second will be Saturday, Jan. 12, at 10 a.m. at the Charlotte Hall library.

For more information, visit www.smyorchestra.org or email smyorchestra@gmail.com.

Volunteers needed for Sandy recovery

Volunteer teams are being formed to represent St. Mary’s County in the Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts in New York and New Jersey. Organizers are asking for anyone able to help with disaster cleanup and light construction repair to go for a week in January to help those able to salvage their homes. If interested, contact C. Aloysius Bowman at 240-431-2112.

Relief donations sought

Burch Oil is coordinating a Hurricane Sandy relief effort for residents of Crisfield in time for the holidays. A truck is scheduled to head to the Eastern Shore on Wednesday, Dec. 19. After taking a hit during the late October superstorm, the community finds itself in serious disrepair and in need of help.

According to Crisfield Mayor Jay Purnell, the most needed items for distribution to the Crisfield community are nonperishable foods, diapers, wipes and new toys. The public may drop off contributions to the Burch Oil office in Hollywood during regular business hours (Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.) prior to Wednesday, Dec. 19.

Many homes and businesses were destroyed due to severe water damage. Purnell requested that monetary contributions to cover the costs of building materials be mailed directly to City of Crisfield, 319 West Main St., Crisfield, MD 21817. In the check memo line, indicate “for relief effort.”

Winter farm guide offers fresh ideas for the holidays

Celebrate the season with farm-fresh ideas from the “Farms for the Holidays,” the 2012/2013 Southern Maryland Winter Farm Guide. The free guide showcases more than 60 family farms and agriculture-related businesses in Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s counties, offering farm products for the holiday season and through the winter months.

The guide’s extensive listings include where to find locally grown Christmas trees and holiday decor, farm-made gifts and crafts, produce, meats, fresh local seafood, award-winning wines and yarns and apparel made from local wool and alpaca fiber. Many agritourism farms are also hosting events for the holidays, including Nativity scenes, petting zoos, candlelit caroling walks, visits with Santa, hayrides and more.

Published by the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission, the “Farms for the Holidays” guide is available in print at participating sites, regional public libraries and welcome centers. To view or download the guide and for a list of pick-up sites, visit www.smadc.com.

Online credit card payments now available for library users

Public library users in Southern Maryland may now pay their library bills online using a new service provided by the Southern Maryland Regional Library Association. Library bills can be paid using any major credit card through PayPal.

Public libraries in Charles and St. Mary’s counties are already accepting credit card payments in their branches. To pay a library bill online, users go to the “Fines” tab under “My Account” through their library website. Fines must be paid in full — no partial payments will be accepted. There is a $5 minimum payment to use the system. For more information about online credit card payments, contact your library or visit www.stmalib.org.

County libraries now equipped with defibrillators

All three St. Mary’s County Library branches are now equipped with an Automated External Defibrillator unit. Last summer, the county library system teamed up with the St. Mary’s County Department of Emergency Services and Technology to purchase and install the equipment at the library’s three locations in Charlotte Hall, Leonardtown and Lexington Park. The county’s human resources department also supported the project by providing the training. Twenty-three library staff members volunteered to take the required five-hour American Red Cross CPR and AED training and certification course.

Get creative during Christmas break

The artLAB at Annmarie Garden will be open during the school break, Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, from 1 to 4 p.m. daily. The artLAB is free with general admission. For more information, visit www.annmariegarden.org or call 410-326-4640.

Annual soup cook-off set for Jan. 14

The Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center is hosting its annual soup cook-off on Monday, Jan. 14, in the school’s kitchen.

The contest has two age groups a junior division for students and a senior division for adults. Cooking begins at 3 p.m.; doors open to the public at 5:30 p.m., with tasting and judging of the junior division starting at 6 p.m., which will be followed by the senior division.

The contest is open to the public. The public is invited to sample the soups and be part of the event. Soups will be grouped in six categories and will be judged by expert chefs, local celebrities and community leaders. A people’s choice award will also be chosen by the public.

House soups will be provided by the Forrest center’s culinary arts program, so visitors can make a meal of the event. The public can purchase tickets for the contest and house soup sampling. Costs for the tickets are $6 for adults, $3 for students and children younger than 4 will be admitted for free.

The contest is open to the first 20 individuals or teams of up to three that register. Contestants will have use of the facility and will have access to equipment but will need to provide their own ingredients.

The Forrest center’s graphic communications program may produce a Forrest Center Soup Cook-off Cookbook. If contestants want to be included in the cookbook, they must provide a copy of their recipe prior to the event. Inclusion is optional.

Sponsorship is available to businesses and organizations. Sponsors will be given free passes to the event and will be recognized during the event.

All proceeds from the event will benefit the Forrest center’s programs and SkillsUSA student organization. For more information on registration or sponsorship, contact chef Amanda Granados at 301-475-0242 or aegranados@smcps.org.

Nominations sought for women’s awards

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2013 Woman of the Year and 2013 Woman of Tomorrow awards from the St. Mary’s County Commission for Women. The winners will be announced and all nominees will be recognized at the commission’s annual Women’s History Month Banquet on Thursday, March 14, at the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center in Leonardtown.

The Woman of the Year award is for exemplary community service and the Woman of Tomorrow award recognizes a high school-aged, young woman for exemplary community service. You may submit a nominee for either award or both.

To download the nomination forms, visit the commission’s webpage at www.co.saint-marys.md.us/voluntr/women.asp. To request the nomination forms, send an email to commissionforwomen@stmarysmd.com or call 301-475-4200, ext. 1689. All nomination forms must be submitted by Jan. 16.

scraton@somdnews.com