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The United States is having an early flu season, with most of the country now experiencing high levels of influenza-like-illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And St. Mary’s County is not immune to this trend, according to Melanie Gardiner, communicable disease supervisor at the St. Mary’s County Health Department.

“Nationally, flu is widespread and, of course, we’re seeing it widespread in the county,” Gardiner said Friday.

Flu season can start in October and then run all the way through April, Gardiner said. That means there are still months left to wonder if that scratchy throat or slight headache might be the early signs of something much worse.

The good news is that there is still time to take measures to protect yourself.

“It’s not too late,” Gardiner said of getting a flu vaccination. “Now is the time to do so. The No. 1 defense is flu vaccinations. The second is hand-washing ... diligent hand-washing.”

While it varies from person to person, the flu vaccination can take up to 10 days to fully take effect. So, sooner is better than later. The news about the impact of the flu this season has inspired many get their vaccination recently, Gardiner said.

“More people are coming in to get vaccinated, which is a good thing” Gardiner said. “We strongly recommend vaccinations.”

In addition to doctor’s offices and drug stores, the St. Mary’s County Health Department is offering flu vaccines. The health department vaccinations are by appointment only and cost $20. To make an appointment or for more information, call the health department at 301-475-4324.

Immunizations are recommended for everyone older than 6 months, especially those at high risk for complications, including children 6 months to 18, adults older than 50, pregnant women, those with chronic medical conditions and those with weakened immune systems.

While she urged people to get vaccinated, Gardiner suggested that this flu season should not cause unusual concern. “We’re not seeing severity. We’re seeing incidence,” she said. “We will continue our surveillance. If something changes, we’ll inform the county.”

Trish Wince, supervisor of health services for St. Mary’s County public schools, said that the flu has not caused an unusual amount of absenteeism in the public schools yet. “We have seen cases. We’re monitoring it,” Wince said Monday afternoon.

She noted that there are a variety of illnesses going around in addition to the flu. “There’s strep [throat]. There’s a gastrointestinal virus going around as well.”

Wince credited the flu clinics held at elementary and middle schools earlier in the year with the relatively low incidence of flu in county students compared to elsewhere. She said her office watches absenteeism and starts more serious investigation when absenteeism reaches a certain level; for instance, 10 percent in an elementary school. “That’s when we say, OK ... what’s going on,” she said. If her office determined that a communicable disease like the flu was the chief cause of that absenteeism, the school system would work with the health department to take measures to improve the situation.

But, so far, the highest absenteeism at an elementary school was only 7 percent and only for one day, Wince said.

“We’re just keeping an eye on it,” she said.

College to host King prayer breakfast

The ninth annual Southern Maryland Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast will be held Monday, Jan. 21, in the J. Frank Raley Great Room of St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s Campus Center. A full breakfast ($8.75 at door) will be served, starting at 6 a.m., and the program begins at 8 a.m.

Early arrival is recommended as space is limited; advance registration is not required. For more information, contact Arminta Stanfield at 240-895-3073 or ajstanfield@smcm.edu. Details about the event are also available at www.smcm.edu/calendar.

The keynote speaker will be Roberto N. Ifill, St. Mary’s College dean of students, who has worked extensively with students for more than 20 years. Throughout his career, he has devised plans to promote multiculturalism, led conflict resolution efforts, coordinated diversity efforts in faculty hiring and led strategic planning initiatives. He holds a doctorate and master of arts degree from Yale University and a bachelor of arts degree from Dartmouth College.

This year’s program will also feature performances by the Greenview Knolls Elementary School choir and the Spring Ridge Middle School Rhythm Club. The invocation will be offered by the Rev. Roderick McClanahan of First Missionary Baptist Church.

After the program, starting at 10 a.m., attendees may view a live stream of the presidential inauguration at the college’s Cole Cinema, Campus Center.

Paganelli selected as St. Baldrick’s Foundation ambassador

Jordan Paganelli, 17, was a typical teenager. He enjoyed sports, video games and hanging out with his friends. He was also an accomplished cross-country and track runner. On Jan. 11, 2008, at the age of 16, that typical teenager life was changed forever when Paganelli was diagnosed with Stage IV alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a highly malignant soft-tissue cancer in the muscle cells. Despite aggressive treatments, Paganelli, a student at Leonardtown High School, died five days shy of his 18th birthday.

Recently, he was honored by the St. Baldrick’s Foundation as one of its five 2013 ambassadors. The St. Baldrick’s Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising money to fund the most promising research to find cures for childhood cancers and give survivors long and healthy lives. The ambassadors serve as the faces and voices of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation throughout the year and support its mission to conquer childhood cancers; they represent the more than 175,000 children worldwide who are affected by childhood cancer each year. Paganelli’s story is a reminder that each year one in five kids diagnosed in the United State will not survive.

His mother, Laurie Paganelli, now a resident of Hawaii, shaved her head at a St. Baldrick’s event in July 2012 as part of the 46 Mommas team, comprised of mothers across the United States and Canada who have been touched by childhood cancer.

Poetry competition announced

A Poetry Out Loud St. Mary’s County competition will be held Jan. 16 from 4 to 6 p.m. at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

The competition, presented in partnership with the Maryland State Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, is part of a national program that encourages high school students to learn about great poetry through memorization, performance and competition. The St. Mary’s County competition will be held in the college’s Cole Cinema auditorium and is open to the public.

Beginning at the classroom level, winners advance to a schoolwide competition, then to county, then regional then state competition and ultimately to the national finals in Washington, D.C. More than 365,000 students from 2,255 high schools took part in the 2010–2011 Poetry Out Loud programs.

Contestants will recite works they selected from an anthology of more than 680 classic and contemporary poems.

The winner of the Poetry Out Loud Maryland finals will receive $200, and the winner’s school will receive a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books. The first runner-up will receive $100, with $200 for his or her school library. The Maryland champion of the Poetry Out Loud will also receive an all-expenses-paid trip (with a chaperone) to compete in the national finals. The Poetry Out Loud National Finals will bestow a total of $50,000 in awards and school stipends, with a $20,000 award for the Poetry Out Loud national champion.

Scholarships available

Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s) is seeking applicants for Maryland Delegate Scholarship awards for the 2013-2014 school year. Successful applicants must be pursuing an academic program beyond high school and either attend or plan to enter a Maryland college or university in the fall. Full- or part-time students may qualify for the awards. Applicants must be a resident of District 29B. If unsure of your district, check mdelect.net or contact the board of elections at 301-475-7844, ext.1610.

Prior to submitting the scholarship application, the Federal Form for Financial Aid must be completed. Apply for FAFSA online at www.fafsa.ed.gov.

To apply, submit a completed application; a short letter stating why you should receive a scholarship, career goals and any special circumstances; and a copy of the completed FAFSA application. Scholarship application deadline is April 30.

To request an application, contact Bohanan’s district office at john.bohanan.district@house.state.md.us or call 301-866-4000.

Cedar Lane to celebrate multiple birthdays

On Jan. 25 and 26, Cedar Lane will commemorate the birthdays of 36 Cedar Lane residents who have reached the age of 90 or older. The celebrants range in age from 90 to 101, and combined they have lived a total of more than 3,224 years.

They have varied histories, filled with stories of war, the Great Depression and growing up in St. Mary’s County. Many come from large families; many have their own large families, including great-great-grandchildren.

Two parties will be held in their honor. On Friday, Jan. 25, all Cedar Lane residents will be invited to join in a celebration to recognize their neighbors in this milestone event. On Saturday, Jan. 26, families of the nonagenarians being honored are invited to attend a private reception.

Cedar Lane Apartments is a senior living community that serves the elderly and disabled and is located at 22680 Cedar Lane Court in Leonardtown. For more information, call 301-475-8966 or see www.cedarlaneapts.com.

Little Flower announces Feb. 23 benefit auction

A Little Flower School annual benefit auction, Saturday Night Fever!, will be held Saturday, Feb. 23.

The event will include a buffet-style dinner catered by Rita B. Dan Raley will be the event’s auctioneer. Music will be provided by Bobby Rowand of FI Sound Productions.

There will be live and silent auctions, games and raffles. A drawing for a two-carat oval tanzanite ring set in 14K white and yellow gold (retail value $8,000) will be held the night of the auction. Tickets may be purchased at Rick’s Jewelers.

Cost is $30 per person or $55 per couple before Feb. 1. Reserve now for parties of eight by calling 301-994-0404 or email lfs7@littleflowercatholic.org. Stay updated on the event by visiting www.lfsauction.webs.com.

Auditions set for Sounds of Tomorrow

The Sanford Concert Series in conjunction with the St. Mary’s County Arts Council will sponsor Sounds of Tomorrow on June 10. This concert is designed to showcase young area musicians in a professional setting.

Auditions for this concert will be held March 3 at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in California. The auditions are open to all musicians 18 years or younger, who have not yet graduated from high school.

Each person should be prepared to perform from memory a selection five to 10 minutes in length demonstrating his or her musical capability. An accompanist will be provided if needed. The selection should be commensurate with level 4 - 6 of the Maryland State Music Educators guide for vocalists and instrumentals and a level 6 or higher for pianists.

Applications along with a nonrefundable $10 application fee must be received no later than Feb. 25.

For an application and/or information, visit www.sanfordconcertseries.com or contact Lyn Schramm at 301-862-9541, which is the Southern Maryland Music Studio.

MetCom employees raise $2,084 for soup kitchen

Every Christmas the employees of MetCom get together and vote on a charity to support for that year’s Christmas season. Then they get to work to raise money by hosting dessert auctions, soup cook-offs and making wreaths and various homemade items to auction off at their MetCom’s Christmas party. The money is then given to the chosen charity.

This year’s winner was the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen run by First Saints Community Church at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Leonardtown, which received $2, 084.

MetCom employees also collected four boxes of nonperishable goods, which were donated to the Mary Loretta Gough Food Pantry run by Our Lady of the Wayside Catholic Church in Chaptico.

Heritage Area announces opening of grant round

The Southern Maryland Heritage Area Consortium has announced that the first step in submitting grant applications for fiscal year 2014 has begun and all eligible applicants are encouraged to apply.

These funds are made available to nonprofits and government organizations inside the Southern Maryland Heritage Area that seek to promote heritage tourism and economic development. Heritage tourism is defined as traveling to experience the places that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present — including historic, cultural and natural resources.

The Southern Maryland Heritage Area funds both capital and non-capital projects for sites that support cultural heritage activities across Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties.

The two levels of grants available are for capital projects funds of up to $100,000 with a one-to-one match provided by applicant and for non-capital projects, education projects and/or archaeological project funds of up to $50,000 with a one-to-one match provided by applicant.

Anyone interested in applying must submit an Intent to Apply form to the heritage area office before the end of the day on Jan. 25. Submissions via email are strongly encouraged. To receive the form, send an email with the words “Intent request” in the subject line to SoMdHeritage@tccsmd.org.

All those who wish to learn more about membership or future grant offerings should contact the consortium at 301-274-4083.

scraton@somdnews.com