Hampton Roads residents talk hopes, challenges for 2017

Daily Press staff

Resolutions are easy.

You devise them shortly after the last piece of pumpkin pie, implement them while lying on the couch on New Year's Day, keep them until Super Bowl Sunday, then get back to real life. It's all pretty much wrapped up by Presidents Day.

But fears, challenges and hopes? Those are the things that stick with you. So at the end of a year in which the unexpected became the routine and the horrific common, we asked dozens of people on and around the Peninsula — from elected officials to retirees — what challenges they were bracing for in 2017, and what their greatest hope is for the coming year.

For many, the answer to both questions seemed to grow directly out of the conflict that dominated 2016, from violence on the streets to the bitter divisiveness in politics.

"I don't think there's really a question that the greatest challenge for 2017 is the community violence that's going on right now," said Newport News City Manager Jim Bourey, whose city saw a near-record number of homicides in 2016. "My greatest hope would not be just for Newport News but for the country, you could even say the world, that we have renewed understanding of the value of human life."

Alan Diamonstein, a Newport News attorney who spent years in the House of Delegates, hopes for a bit more civility in the coming year.

"People with different concepts, different beliefs just have to get together and understand each other," Diamonstein said. "You have to try to get together, and that's what my wish is for the community."

Air Force Tech Sgt. Dustin Sheldon took the questions to heart and offered us a reminder of what's really important. Sheldon arrived at Langley Air Force Base a little more than a month ago on a temporary training assignment, and he's looking forward to getting back to Offutt Air Force Base outside of Omaha, Neb.

"My biggest challenge," he said, "is being separated from my wife and two kids. ... Then I hope I can retrain so I can go back to Offutt. ... I'm just hoping to go back home."

State Del.-elect Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, unwittingly offered Sheldon something he might be looking forward to: "With three little boys in the house," Mullin said, "my greatest hope is that we can get everybody to sleep through the night."

Here are highlights from our collection of questions and answers. You'll find many more and can offer your own at dailypress.com.

Bria Kelly

Graphic design student, blues singer, Smithfield

"My biggest challenge for 2017 will probably be to look and search for and land an internship or a job doing graphic design. It is a little bit of unknown territory for me because I have been doing music for so, so long. But I'm excited to branch out and try to find my own way in this different area of expertise that I have."

"My biggest wish for 2017 would be to possibly have 'Christina's Law' be implemented wherever it can be. (Kelly's "The Voice" co-star Christina Grimmie was shot to death by a crazed fan after a concert in June.) After this past year, with Christina, my best friend, passing away, I hope that concert venues will increase security measures to protect their performers. To ensure that no matter how famous the person is who walks through their door, to ensure the safety of their life. 'Christina's Law' would make sure that adequate security measures would be taken to ensure the safety of performers at every concert venue. I'd really hope that somehow that happens."

Jim Bourey

City manager, Newport News

"I don't think there's really a question that the greatest challenge for 2017 is the community violence that's going on right now. The guns that people have, the illegal guns that people have, or the way that they solve any dispute by taking a gun and shooting somebody, and that's really our biggest challenge."

"My greatest hope would not be just for Newport News but for the country, you could even say the world, that we have renewed understanding of the value of human life and that we really do value human life much greater than we seem to today in our society."

Mike Mullin

State delegate-elect, D-Newport News

Biggest challenge? "I think we as a community need to do better about working across the aisle to bridge gaps between Republicans, Democrats and the whole political spectrum."

Greatest hope? "With three little boys in the house, my greatest hope is that we can get everybody to sleep through the night."

Brandon Maynard

Newport News master police officer

"As 2017 is rapidly approaching … being an officer with the department, I think our biggest challenge is getting the community to come forward more and solving these crimes. The community is the biggest help when it comes to solving the violent crimes that we have."

"Our biggest hope is to continue to foster the relationship we have within our community. We have a great community, great leaders, and we want to continue to foster that relationship and improve. There's always room for improvement."

Randy Keaton

County administrator, Isle of Wight

"My biggest challenge for the upcoming year is how the state and federal changes will impact counties like Isle of Wight, especially in our budgets, whether it's cuts in funding or new mandates for services that the county governments will have to pay for."

"My biggest hope for the upcoming year is continuing to learn about Isle of Wight County, especially how everything works here, learning more about the county government, the two towns, and continuing to try to do our best to serve the residents of Isle of Wight County."

Alan Diamonstein

Attorney, former member of the House of Delegates, Newport News

Biggest challenge? "I think that an understanding of the needs of others and a willingness to bring the together — people with different concepts, different beliefs just have to get together and understand each other. You have to try to get together, and that's what my wish is for the community."

Greatest hope? "That people understand each other, appreciate each other, work with each other."

Sam Eure

History and geography teacher, president York County Education Association

"I'm looking at 2017 as a great opportunity for us to ensure we provide a safe learning environment, a positive learning environment for every student in every school in the state of Virginia. To do that, we need to properly prioritize testing and make sure we have other methods of ensuring a student's success. If we do those things, we can produce the citizens and graduates we want to contribute to our society.

"Challenges would be ensuring that we have the funding necessary to provide the quality of education we want to provide to our students. That comes from a variety of sources — from the federal government, the state government and the local government — and each one of them needs to step up to ensure we're providing the funding needed to provide great teachers, highly qualified teachers, retain those teachers, as well as provide the quality of education with the equipment and technology we need to produce great graduates."

Carol Bauer

Teacher, Grafton Bethel Elementary School, Grafton

"My hope for 2017 is to create excitement and have lifelong learners in my fourth-grade classroom, to give them the excitement to learn about new things and to pursue their own ideas about what they would like to learn."

"Challenges for 2017 include making sure that we have the proper funds and the resources we need to meet the challenges and needs of all our students."

Averell Carter

Comedian, Hampton

"I want to stop procrastinating ... . Like everybody, I want to get in better shape, but I don't want to be one of those 'resolutioners' going to the gym. The only reason I waited is that there's a gym I want to join, but that was money I didn't want to spend during the holidays so I'll wait until the beginning of the year. I don't know whether this is a personal goal or a challenge, but I want to spend more time with my wife doing nothing. That's what I want to do . ... That's my challenge for 2017."

"Biggest wish for 2017? I want to spend more time with my kids — especially seeing my daughter, because she's a senior in high school and getting ready to go off to college. I want to grow my little business I've got going on. I try to book some shows, but I only do two a year, and if they're successful, I want to try to get up to three or four a year. We'll see where we can go from there. Just the usual stuff — try to be a better person. I know that sounds trite, but … if you ask me this again next year, I want to be able to say I accomplished all of that."

Florence Kingston

Director of development, Newport News

"The biggest challenge of the year, I would say, is with the continuing crime that Newport News experiences that sometimes overshadows all the great things that we have happening."

Biggest hope? "Lots of jobs."

Bill Townsley

Retired Air Force colonel, Yorktown

"In this turbulent time of politics, I actually think that both answers involve (President-elect Donald) Trump. My concern is that Donald Trump will take us to war. A lot of my friends on the anti-Trump side, if you will, are worried terribly."

"My greatest hope is that, in fact, Trump will end up being someone we actually appreciate and that he has done a good job."

Tech Sgt. Dustin Sheldon

Langley Air Force Base

"I just (transferred) from Offutt Air Force Base about a month ago. My biggest challenge is being separated from my wife and two kids that I'm hoping to be able to go home and see very shortly."

"Then I hope I can retrain so I can go back to Offutt. I'm an intel specialist. I do imagery for the Air Force, have for the last 10 years. I'm just hoping to go back home."

Sherman Watkins

Air Force veteran and artist, Hampton

"I have a series of paintings on the life and death of Dr. (Martin Luther) King. My biggest challenge is I want to get that out to the public, to let them see it, because I feel it's something that should be shown."

Biggest hope? "I think we're on the right track. Things are going to work out. We have no control over things anyway. I'm hoping for a good year in 2017."

Earl Johnson

Retired Air Force major, Hampton

"My biggest concern is that we have an individual who is president (elect) of the United States that might get us involved in a conflict, which would result in us having to go to war. I've got grandchildren in the service right now, and I'm concerned about them having to go war because somebody made a mistake."

"My biggest hope is that our VA hospitals get a little bit better."

Eddie Van Es Jr.

Hampton firefighter/medic

"The greatest challenge this year is gonna be implementing our WFI program. It's a wellness, fitness initiative that covers everything from behavioral health, fitness — on- and off-duty — and wellness in a general sense."

"Our greatest hope is that after instilling this program that not only do our firefighters have a better life inside the station and outside the station, but the citizens benefit from having a more healthy, diverse firefighter medic showing up to their front door in order to respond and help them in time of need."

Jonathan Zarling

Graduate student, Indiana University, Bloomington, working in Jefferson Lab's new experimental Hall D

"One of the biggest challenges that I face personally is just trying to stitch everything together. Trying to be a busy person. Trying to work on a thesis. Just trying to make everything work."

"One of the biggest hopes that I have for this year is that we're a very new experiment in our hall here, and one of the biggest hopes is just that we see some little thing in the data that nobody expected, nobody thought would happen, but doesn't go away. Because that's where a lot of the great science comes from is just those little, little things that you don't understand but don't go away."

Michael McCaughan

CEBAF accelerator crew chief, Jefferson Lab, Newport News

"I think the greatest challenge that we're facing this upcoming year is the achievement of key performance parameters in Hall B and Hall C, commissioning the detectors with the new 12 GeV beam."

"Greatest opportunity, I think, would be (and) the thing that we hope for would be to continue physics in the new year."

Adrian Whitcomb

President of Citizens for Riverview Farm Park, a volunteer group opposed to proposed development on the old City Farm site

"I would say the greatest challenge, of course, is to continue working toward a unified Riverview Farm Park. I believe it can happen."

"And that's my greatest hope, that it will happen. I'm very much encouraged in that hope because there's been such a great turnout this year in the last few meetings, including the City Council meeting, and especially this time of year when there's so many other activities going on. So I am really full of hope, and I can see a lot of good things happening. We just need to get the message out to the people, and it will happen."

David Yancey

State delegate, R-Newport News

"The biggest challenge that I anticipate this year is recognizing some of the challenges Virginia has with its economic development, the most recent VEDP study and things like that. I think we want to craft legislation that's forward thinking, takes the long view on how we are going to be competitive with those states like Alabama and South Carolina that have been outcompeting us."

"My greatest hope for 2017 is that the rugby kids that I coach win another state crown."

Mike Bryant

Deputy fire chief, Poquoson Fire Department

Biggest hope? "I'm hoping that the city of Poquoson is prosperous in the new year. I'm hoping economically the city is in good shape. I'm hoping everyone has a safe year."

Biggest challenge? For a firefighter, "challenges are really hard to predict."

Mark Baker

President of Christian Trades, a Hampton nonprofit that provides life skills and resources to children

Biggest challenge? "To make the kids (involved in Christian Trades) productive society members, and not a negative statistic."

Biggest hope? "My hopes and dreams is to pull gems out of the gutter, out of the rough, and make them doctors, lawyers, senators, presidents, whatever God wants them to be in life."

Dustin McCollum

Firefighter/medic, Newport News Fire Department

Biggest challenge of 2017: "I changed careers because I was a teacher for 10 years, and so learning the job, learning new skills and stuff like that. I'm finally getting to the point where I can step back and catch my breath and spend time with my family and stuff like that, so that's kind of where I've shifted for next year."

Biggest hope: "Just to learn my job better. I've finished all the rookie stuff and everything ... learn the job and just do the best I can with what I'm assigned before I take on new tasks."

Sherry Spring

Gloucester economic development director

The county's biggest challenge for 2017, Spring said, will be finding the space to attract new businesses and begin to achieve the county's economic development goals.

Gloucester County has a "lack of what I call product," Spring said. "We have one business park. ... We've only got six parcels of land that total 16 acres, which is very small. Most businesses are looking for larger parcels of land, and so we need an inventory of available land so we can attract prospects to come in and consider Gloucester."

"My greatest hope is that we will have some property owners that are in Gloucester County that will come forward and be interested in selling us land for future development and economic growth. It would grow our job base tremendously because 80 percent of our workforce goes out of Gloucester daily for jobs. We want to be able to keep those people here, keep our residents here and get them good jobs."

Judy Rowe

Retired teacher from Mathews County

"One of the biggest challenges for the entire county is the access to the internet. It's so important for our adults to be able to access their financial business, to handle the shopping, look for information. It's for our students. They need homework help. They need to do research themselves. They need to complete assignments. … And then it's also important, I think, for the potential for business, for entrepreneur business, in the county, which would be a business that would not impact our fragile environment that we have here."

"The second challenge I find is very much important to Mathews County is protecting our shorelines. Whether it's the bridges or the roads that border them, our shorelines are definitely in peril. Whether it's storms or just general erosion, we have a need to protect this area. … We are a very fragile, very unique property."

"My personal greatest hope is for the state department of education in Virginia to loosen the mandates they have made on our school systems regarding the Standards of Learning testing. We've created a test-taking culture that has just taken over our curriculum. We have good teachers. We have very capable students. And I would like our teachers to be able to teach and our students be able to learn something more than taking a test."

Ron Smith

Hampton attorney and co-owner of County Grill restaurants

Biggest challenge: "We gotta stop the violence. That's one, and that's probably the most important thing. But secondly, we gotta have a better perception of our school system. Whether our public schools are good or not, they are perceived as terrible, so we gotta change that."

Biggest hope: "That we all stay divided. All I've heard for the last year is that we all have to come together. We have to stay divided, and this is why: We have always been divided. Tories/Patriots, North/South, the Communist fighters/the Vietnam protestors. ... The only time in my lifetime that we were together is after 9/11. So, if we don't come together — if the only thing that brings us together is something so bad — it will be a good year."

Anton Bell

Commonwealth's attorney, Hampton

Biggest challenge and hope: "My biggest challenge and hope for 2017 are actually one and the same, and that is finding workable solutions to help our youth to end this gun violence that we've been seeing. … Over the last few years, we've seen an increase in gun violence involving our youth. … One of the things I would like to do is go into the community and go into the neighborhoods and help parents to find workable solutions to give their kids the best opportunity for success. ... Maybe if they are given an alternative, they will find that youth violence is not something that they want to engage in."

Rob Coleman

Major, Newport News sheriff's office

Biggest challenge: "Budget restraints. As you probably have seen over the last couple months, the governor has announced that we have a $1.5 billion shortfall, and it's really affecting local and state law enforcement agencies. So getting over those fiscal obstacles is going to be a major challenge."

Biggest hope: "Overcome those challenges and attract the best and the brightest back into law enforcement to serve our communities. … Over the past year or so, we've really fractured as a country and pretty much in our community here locally, and bringing people back together to do the good work that we need to have done in our community."

David Hughes

Major, Newport News Sheriff's Office

Biggest challenge: "Attracting some of the best and brightest into the profession. Right now, just because of prevailing attitudes in the country, law enforcement is not always the most popular choice for individuals coming out of college and ... educational institutions."

Biggest hope: "We do all we can to try to attract the best and brightest to Newport News. My hope for the new year is that we are successful in doing that and that we go forward in being a world class organization."

Ashton Wray

Hampton attorney

Biggest challenge: "Trying to help young people understand that there are consequences to acts. As we're seeing, violence is just becoming rampant. It's like every time a young person has something go through their head — whether it's responding to something someone said or something they did — immediately they go to a violent episode and the choice of guns or knives. … There have got to be parents who sit down and talk with their children, spend time, help them learn to read, so they can progress up the ladder of success."

Biggest hope: "We now have a president that has made commitments, and it's going to be our responsibility to make sure that those commitments are adhered to. Close the borders, lower taxes, the kind of things that will inspire people to go out and create small businesses, create jobs and create prosperity in this country. ... That's where I hope to God we're going to arrive at."

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