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New Hope Housing volunteers rappel next to Crystal City Hilton

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Two by two, clipped into bright blue harnesses, the volunteers performed the same overhead choreography: Turning their backs against the ledge of the hotel roof, they stepped back onto the ledge – then, jumped.

From below it looked like something out of a heist movie. Two bodies slid one foot at a time, suspended in the air by a rope, as their legs supported them against the 14-story concrete wall.

It was an unusual sight for this part of Northern Virginia. Square beige buildings in Arlington’s Crystal City neighborhood are best known for their office defense contractors than for SWAT style stunts performed outdoors.

Maybe that was the goal.

On Thursday and Friday, about 80 people, including two local elected officials, a Washington Post reporter and a member of the DC Divas women’s soccer team, dressed in full leggings and uniforms, abseiled down the side of the Crystal City Hilton to raise funds. and awareness of New Hope Housing.

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The Fairfax County-based organization operates homeless shelters and supportive housing in northern Virginia. For months he had been planning the event as a way to fund services that have become even more critical during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Affordable housing, homelessness, homeless people is not something that gets the attention they need,” said Jeff McKay (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, who escalated the hotel wall in moccasins and a county brand polo shirt. “If I myself could take the risk of raising awareness about something that most people don’t think about, I have a great responsibility to do so.”

Most volunteer rappellers needed to raise at least $1,000 to participate, and they did it in style: there was a group of family friends in colorful tutus. A man who wore his harness over a white blazer that he asked other volunteers to sign. A petite woman in pink, flanked by her Bible study group, said she was ready to take the plunge after God gave her the okay.

Greg Garcia, a TV producer from Northern Virginia, has raised $30,000 after posting on Twitter that his wife Kim was going to “push me out of a building.”

“Greg is not a big fan of heights but Kim is a big fan of seeing Greg scared,” the couple wrote on their fundraising page. “So here we are.”

The experience is facilitated by a Nova Scotia-based organization called Over the Edge, which organizes rappel fundraisers across North America for nonprofits. At a hotel ballroom, they had the volunteers undergo safety training and fitted them with harnesses.

“I’m feeling a little nervous, but that’s really the cause that made me feel, ‘I gotta do this,'” Arlington County Board Member Matt De Ferranti (D) said. a few minutes before getting on. “I’m thrilled to do it, and I’ll be thrilled when it’s done as well.”

The views from the top of the Hilton are awe-inspiring: looking east, the brutalist concrete-and-glass architecture of Crystal City, punctuated by the occasional plane taking off from Reagan National Airport. To the west was a wider view of Arlington – the Air Force Memorial, the apartment towers in Ballston, the green canopy of trees which covers the rest of the department. Down below, cars zoom by on the freeway.

160 feet in the air, it was hard to hear the small crowd on the ground cheering and exploding – what else? – “Drop it like it’s hot” by Snoop Dogg. (It’s admittedly hard to follow the song’s instructions, said one encore, hanging by a rope in the rain.)

But two by two, they still missed it. Among those who took up the challenge was Carrie Sue Geiger, 53, who works as a case manager at Mondloch House in New Hope.

“I’m not an adventurer by nature,” she said, a purple streak in her hair hidden behind a blue climbing helmet. “I had no intention of abseiling, but here we are. We raised enough money for me to do it.

She was interviewing a client of Mondloch House, a supportive housing initiative in the Groveton area that includes an eight-bed shelter and 20 apartments, when she showed him a promotional photo from another Over the Edge event. Immediately, the man pointed to someone in the crowd wearing a tutu.

“You have to do the same,” he told Geiger. So she showed up on Friday with her daughter and a small group of friends, all decked out in see-through tutus they had bought for the occasion.

At the top of the Hilton, she didn’t look down. She did a test with her harness. She felt good.

Then it was his turn to take a step back on the ledge. Her foot slipped, and as the climbing guides picked her up, she began to shake. But Geiger thought of his chronically homeless clients — who struggle with substance use disorders, developmental disabilities, physical disabilities, or sometimes all three.

“If they can handle everything they have to handle,” she thought, “I can get on the side of a building.”

Never again, she added.