By Audrey Harman, Contributing Writer
Cindy Brookshire, a City of Manassas resident since 1981, ﬁnally got the aﬃrmation she needed to feel like a part of the community where she has lived the past three decades. Born in North Dakota, Brookshire moved all over the U.S. while growing up. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and works as a freelance writer. She is a lifetime member of Leadership Prince William and a founding member of the Prince William Chamber of Commerce, just to name a few things she takes involvement in.
“Anyone can ﬁnd my resume online,” Brookshire told me during our interview.
She turned the tables while I skimmed my prepared questions and asked me if what I really wanted to know is who she believes she is as a person. Just from the ﬁrst 30 minutes of our meeting I could tell that she is an active member of the community and a caring person, because she knew and acknowledged practically everyone who walked through the door of Simply Sweet on Main in Old Town Manassas—even the mayor. Brookshire attributes her being honored in 2010 as one of six Outstanding Volunteers and as Woman of the Year in the City of Manassas as the result of her spiritual journey and exploring what connects her to her community.
Brookshire described herself as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, in that all she needed to look for was right in her own backyard.
That statement alone gave me a new understanding that I never got in my Intro to Children’s Lit class in college: To make a journey, one does not have to go that far at all.
Brookshire originally moved to the City of Manassas with her ﬁrst husband, Martin Cross, who was a local attorney. She described herself as an outsider at the time, having been in love with North Carolina when she left, and being unsure about Manassas. In 1998, she was widowed when Martin passed away suddenly after a long battle with cancer. She said that her whole life changed in that one hour in the hospital after ﬁnding out her husband had not been able to ﬁght oﬀ the disease. Faced with the challenge of telling her two children and her in-laws what had transpired so suddenly, she questioned, “How do I do this?”
Brookshire now has the answer: “You just do it, but you don’t have to do it alone.” She found support in the school community, her church, and her neighbors. Brookshire said that after an experience like that, you develop a “spine of steel,” and nothing is ever as bad as what she had previously gone through.
Brookshire nixed the idea of returning to North Carolina after she met Curtis Brookshire at her church. They married in 2000, and the never-before-married railroad oﬃcial found a ready-made family with Cindy and her children. Staying in the area provided Brookshire the impetus to become more involved in the community and get to the level she has reached today.
After the economic crises in 2007 and 2008, “People were suddenly moving out of their houses,” Brookshire said. “There was trash in the yards and houses sat empty.” While walking her dog through her own neighborhood, she decided she wanted to help make a positive change. She helped start and now directs the networking group Prince William Study Circles, which brings people of diverse backgrounds from several diﬀerent neighborhoods together to discuss their communities and oﬀer solutions. The organization was named Virginia Neighborhood Association of the Year in 2009.
Brookshire felt that this work helped in “training yourself and the people of the community how to be neighbors again.” Rather than feel disconnected, now she can name 20 people within the community she can call if she ever needs anything, and even more people throughout the state that she met at other neighborhood conferences. She believes that by looking beyond just one’s own property, it helps reveal the bigger picture and even prevents deeper problems such as crime.
Some of the volunteer projects she has participated in won the City of Manassas eight state and national awards. Rather than stopping at community cleanup, she also helped start a pilot program called Back Pack Snack Attack and a networking group for local writers called “Write by the Rails.”
The Back Pack Snack Attack oﬀers supplemental healthy meal options for select students on the weekends when they can’t rely on school lunches for their nutrition and energy. The program, initiated in November, provides 40 packs per weekend, including six meals and two snacks per student. It will run for 24 weeks. Brookshire spoke about how this idea came to her when her family in upstate New York decided to donate money to charities instead of exchanging gifts. Brookshire’s charity happened to be a very similar program, and she decided to bring the same idea to her own community through the school networking group
C.A.S.E. and the help of several other groups providing volunteers and donations. Such a program not only aids in students’ future health and lifestyle, she said, but they can now be more focused on Monday mornings and do better on weekend homework and studying.
Brookshire’s Write by the Rails group provides support and resources for local writers and encourages them to succeed at what they do. Brookshire believes it is just as important to support literary arts as it is to support all other arts, such as dance, music, or photography. By creating a networking group within the community, local writers, editors, publishers, and others can share ideas and tips, stimulating a successful and well-informed literary community. The group, which can be found on Facebook, hosts readings, book sales, and networking events. (To request to join this group, contact Brookshire on Facebook).
“I don’t feel too crazy going in three diﬀerent directions,” Brookshire said. “I feel like all of my common interests are connected through writing.”
Though her title of Woman of the Year ended in November, the experience of riding in a blue convertible in the Manassas Christmas Parade was the one that brought her the aﬃrmation she needed. As she rode through the streets and watched the expressions on spectators’ faces upon seeing her with her dozen red roses, she felt like she had ﬁnally planted roots in the place she had lived for three decades.
Author Audrey Harman graduated this past spring from Hollins University with a B.A. in English and Spanish. She resides with her family in Woodbridge.