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Here are the 13News Now team's favorite stories of 2022

We wanted to look back (as a team) and reflect on our favorite work of the year. To list the stories that make this job "worth it." This is that list.
Credit: WVEC

NORFOLK, Va. — Every year, our team churns out thousands of stories about eastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.

There are days our work is heartbreaking, and days we're so proud to present uplifting features. Through it all, the stories we tell are those of our neighbors, our friends, our relatives, our schools and our home.

The 13News Now team brings passion to the table every day to bring you this local coverage.

While we know each and every story we report was chosen because it was important, as December approached, we wanted to look back (as a team) and reflect on our favorite pieces of the year. To list the stories that make this job "worth it."

This is that list.

Anchor David Alan

Rivers Casino Portsmouth: Betting Big

Rivers Casino Portsmouth is a transformational economic development project for the city. With a price tag of $300 million and a workforce of 1,300, the casino represents a new day for Portsmouth, a city more readily known for crime and a dysfunctional city council.  

For months we had been hearing about plans for the casino and its potential for success. As we witnessed the groundbreaking and the building slowly taking shape, I got to go to Pittsburgh to see the finished product, the model for what is being built on Victory Boulevard. 

To hear the slots and to feel the energy in the casino was a very exciting way to tell a "construction" story.  

Reporter Angelique Arintok

Meet Capt. Alvie 'Cool' Culanding, the first Filipino American captain at Virginia Beach Sheriff's Office 

As a Filipino-American journalist, I couldn’t pass through October without doing a piece to celebrate my cultural heritage. I knew I wanted to bring a story that could uplift people in the Fil-Am and larger community. Then, I stumbled upon the most-fitting subject through a City of Virginia Beach Facebook post. In that, I found out that Captain Alvie “Cool” Culanding is the first Fil-Am to serve as captain at Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office.

In our conversation, Culanding opened up about his parents’ journey to Hampton Roads, life growing up here, what drove him to enter law enforcement and how he hopes to draw others to join the force. He was incredibly kind, welcoming and frankly inspiring.

Following our interview, Capt. “Cool” sent me an email saying that he heard from folks in the Hampton Roads Fil-Am community, particularly elders, who had resonated with the story. Reading that reminded me why I became a journalist in the first place; to make people feel – whether to be heard, seen, represented or to simply smile.

Digital Special Products Producer Chris Collette

Second Look: Invasion of '75 (1975 special report)

Earlier this year we launched 13News Now+, a free digital streaming service that offers our latest newscasts and specially-made programming from us and our sister stations at Tegna. 

As I’ve spent time curating this unique content around our newscasts, my thoughts turned toward looking back at our station’s history, as well as that of Hampton Roads. Our reporters, anchors, and photojournalists have created countless special news presentations and documentaries about the area we call home. Many of these programs aired once, maybe twice, before their master tapes were filed away in a storage bin. I began digging out these old reports and thought that from a historical perspective, they should be digitized and made available for anyone who wants to see them again.  

Some of these shows go back decades with the earliest that I’ve found (so far) going back almost 50 years! In the 1970s, reporter John Miller hosted a program called “Second Look,” and in 1975, he produced a half-hour episode about tourism in Williamsburg/Jamestown/Yorktown. Featured prominently in this show: Busch Gardens in its inaugural year.

Long before Griffon, Apollo’s Chariot, and even The Loch Ness Monster, this episode features a rare, up-close look at the early days of the theme park. It’s a fascinating time capsule of what would become a successful tourist staple for Virginia’s Historic Triangle.

You can watch “The Invasion of ‘75” below and keep an eye out for it and other programming – both new and old – on 13News Now+.

Military Reporter Mike Gooding

Honors bestowed upon two members of 13News Now family

My favorite story of the year hits really close to home. It involves me, my dad and my friend Joe Flanagan.

In October, the Association of Naval Aviation Monument in Virginia Beach unveiled a plaque for my late Navy pilot father, Niles Gooding. He was a legendary aviator during the Vietnam War, and very deserving of all accolades.

Where the story took an unexpected turn is, members of the Association of Naval Aviation decided to surprise me, and, former WVEC reporter Joe Flanagan, with plaques honoring us for our TV work.

It was most unexpected. And to think that now, I will be forever immortalized next to my father is truly a great honor. I’m so flattered. And so is Joe, who was honored for all of his years of doing “Joe’s Jobs” and, hosting the “Navy Christmas” show.

This story really made me smile.

PACT Act signed into law, offers new hope to millions of U.S. veterans

My most important story of the year was my ongoing coverage of the “PACT” Act.

The legislation will help 3.5 million veterans who suffered from toxic exposure to burn pits in the United States’ Middle East wars dating back to Operation Desert Storm in 1991, through the 21st century’s Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The victory wasn’t without legislative hiccups. At the 11th hour, the bill was almost entirely derailed in the Senate. That is, until comedian Jon Stewart came to Capitol Hill and, essentially, shamed lawmakers into doing the right thing and passing the Act.

On the day it was signed in August by President Biden, we found an Army veteran in Virginia Beach who, to this day, still suffers from respiratory illness related to his service. Needless to say, he is well pleased the VA will now have to give him his long overdue medical care.

This bill is a big win for our nation’s military heroes.

Photojournalist Adrian Guerra

Music and Memory: The whitewashing and redemption of jazz singer Claudia Thompson

I’d have to say that my favorite story of 2022 didn’t involve a cute animal, flashy lights, or loud, colorful noises - all things photographers love - but involved a vinyl record and a picture. 

It's the story of Claudia Thompson, an African American singer in the 1950s whose identity was replaced by a white woman to sell records. In one of those records, there were undeveloped negatives from a camera that apparently had the singer's photos from the original album photoshoot. There was also a letter written by Claudia Thompson herself, which was discovered nearly 60 years later by a Virginia woman at a thrift shop. 

It is wild to me that for 60 years people assumed the woman on that album was the “real” Claudia and that the missing puzzle piece could’ve left this a mystery, as well as Claudia Thompson. It gives me hope.

“For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.” - Luke 8:17

Reporter Sarah Hammond

'I needed to be me again' | Virginia Beach artist is changing lives through tattoos

This story really touched my heart because I got to meet three incredible women through this. 

The story came about so organically — sort of a right place, right time situation. Cindy Schott has dedicated her time to helping others in a way that many people might not understand or even know about. I also had the opportunity to hear Debbie Holl and Jill Teetor’s story of how they came out on the other side of breast cancer. 

All three are phenomenal women and I am so grateful they trusted me to tell their story.

Marketing Producer Storm Calder also created this “Behind the Story” segment about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYV8jLPKvt8

Sports Reporter Julia Haskins

Sports reporter Julia Haskins' brother honors slain UVA teammates in Rose Bowl 

Some of my best family memories growing up were at my brother's football games. When he began playing at UVA, it was incredible to watch him compete at such a high level and watch analysts talk about his games on ESPN. He is a major reason why I got into sports reporting!

In the USC vs. UCLA game highlighted in this piece, he didn't start the game, but went in the second quarter and played lights-out, winning the starting spot back. 

I'm just really proud of him and his accomplishments and despite the terrible circumstances, felt appreciative of the platform I have as a reporter to share the emotional night he had, leaving it all on the field for his former teammates.

Digital Content Producer Savannah Haugdahl

Did you know you can go apple picking right in Virginia Beach?

This is my first year transitioning from print reporting to video reporting, so while I always enjoy writing "positive news," each story I got to film stands out in my mind as exciting.

I did bring my camera out to this apple-picking story, which married a few of my favorite things to highlight in the news: A family business, longtime locals, gardening and a hidden gem.

My hope is that because I worked on this story, more Hampton Roads folks can add apple picking to their list of fall traditions.

Digital Content Producer Brenna McIntosh

The Grace Project | Suffolk veteran shares her battle with breast cancer through photography exhibit

My favorite story of 2022 is a feature story about a Suffolk veteran who opened up about her battle with breast cancer through a photography exhibit.

Two years after her diagnosis, Tamekiah Aguirre showed off her scars as part of a photography project called "The Grace Project."

In late September, Tamekiah's photo (along with 50 other military women affected by breast cancer) was displayed at the Women's Center at Arlington National Cemetery. Tamekiah's vulnerability was beyond inspiring and that's why it's my favorite story of 2022.

Photojournalist Mike Marrero:

Kecoughtan High's marching band readies for a new school year

Marching band was a huge part of my life growing up. The teamwork, dedication, and drive the kids in these ensembles have is inspiring. I struggled finding purpose in high school and being a part of something greater than myself was a huge part of my development. 

It was a blast seeing these kids be their best selves and working together.

Anchor Dan Kennedy

Dominion's EnergyShare program can help those with expensive power bills 

A Hampton man contacted us with questions about back-to-back months of unusually high heating bills. We reached out to Dominion Energy to try and get some answers.

The company responded by spending thousands of dollars to make the gentleman’s home more energy efficient.

As the temps drop this winter, he and his family can heat their home without worrying about breaking the bank.

Digital Content Producer Jenna Pierson

EPA seeks public input on cleanup plan for toxic waste site in Portsmouth

I was born and raised in an area of the country that is known for industrial impacts on the environment, so when the opportunity arose for me to do the groundwork on a story that addresses that same topic right here in Hampton Road, I was excited to give it the voice it deserves. 

Fortunately, I was joined by one of my favorite reporters here at 13News Now, Anne Sparaco. She really helped bring the story to life by talking with residents in Portsmouth who have concerns about the site. 

My hope from stories like these is that readers and viewers will become more cognizant of what is quite literally happening in their backyards. Knowledge is power.

Anchor Janet Roach

Hampton residents, descended from first enslaved Africans in English North America, visit ancestor's birthplace

In January, I did a story with the Tucker family of Hampton to speak with them about their recent trip to Angola. 

Angola is where the first Africans came from in 1619, and it’s believed one of their ancestors was on the first ship to arrive in Hampton on The White Lion. 

They were invited to Angola by the president. The story of 1619 is important to be told particularly while the date, politically, is under attack.

The Fentanyl Crisis: Stories of Heartbreak and Hope 

This aired online as a 30-minute special. It featured the pains of the crisis that is claiming so many lives. 

While the stories were so sad, they needed to be told in order for others to understand the severity of the problem and to hopefully prevent more deaths.

Photojournalist Kyle Selby

Norfolk Animal Care & Adoption Center at capacity, asks for help

In this shoot, I got to show off the skills I have gained since joining the station, like sequencing and the quality of my shots. 

I enjoyed shedding light on their story and letting the public know how they could help.

Digital Content Producer Samuel Schaffer

Hundreds of thousands of dollars stolen by Virginia Beach real estate broker, homeowners claim

This story exemplified what journalism is all about, in my opinion. It was one of my first, if not the first, professional byline in my career. 

We got an email tip from someone saying their property management company hadn't paid them the wages they were owed for renting out a property. In order to find sources, I dug around Facebook and ultimately found a post with other people having the same issue with the same company. 

I reached out and got some interviews, but the story was extremely accusatory, and without some sort of official documents to back it up, it would never run. One night when I was about to leave work, someone sent me a document detailing official complaints against the main realtor. I was able to corroborate those documents online through public records, and the story was published that night.

Anchor Ashley Smith

GIVE LOCAL 757: Mom shares daughter's journey with Edmarc Hospice for Children

This story touched me because of the strength and resilience of the people that are a part of Edmarc Hospice for Children. 

As a new mom, I can only imagine the emotional journey these children and their families have had together. Having to say goodbye to a child is devastating. But I was able to see firsthand the power of love in action as Edmarc families work with staff and volunteers to support each other and ensure their beloved children are not forgotten. 

It's an honor to share their story and let others know of the great work happening within this organization.

Reporter Anne Sparaco

Historic WWII all-Black women's Army unit with Hampton Roads ties closer to receiving Congressional gold medal

In journalism, you often witness history happen before your eyes. This story, however, really stuck with me. 

Hundreds of women who served in the WWII All-Black Women’s Army Corps Unit are finally receiving recognition with the U.S. Congressional gold medal. I connected with one of the women’s daughters who lives in Portsmouth. Anita Fletcher became a voice for her mother who passed away. Her and her mother’s story inspired me and so many other people in Hampton Roads to persevere for the greater good. 

It was truly a pleasure to report their story and give a voice to women who fought for our country.

Digital Content Producer Preston Steger

You can camp by the ocean at this Virginia state park. But it's not for the faint of heart.

Before I moved to Norfolk from Tennessee in August 2021, Hampton Roads just wasn’t on my radar, as someone who loves the outdoors. But I’ve come to truly embrace the adventures this place has to offer and the story about my camping/hiking trip at Virginia Beach’s False Cape State Park is indicative of that. One of my goals as a journalist is to show the world the natural beauty and cool places that Coastal Virginia and North Carolina have to offer. There’s plenty to explore in our own backyard and I hope this story inspired some people.

I’m grateful that I landed in Hampton Roads. Lots of hidden gems here.

Anchor Philip Townsend

Chesapeake couple gets married on 'The View' in spontaneous fashion

Call me a romantic, but one of my favorite things to cover is a love story. I’ve been lucky enough to share many of them over the years, but Amy and Kenny’s is definitely one that stands out. 

When I first met the couple at their home in Chesapeake, their connection was undeniable. I was there to do an interview about their spontaneous wedding in the Bahamas (featuring a surprise cameo from a celebrity talk show host). But what I walked away with was so much more - a powerful story about strength, devotion, and true love that still moves me to this day.

Reporter Angelo Vargas

Defying the odds: The strength and independence of Adaptive Athletes

I met incredible and inspirational human beings by getting to know Adaptive Athletes in Virginia Beach. Their stories show strength, perseverance and pure will to survive. But the story also shows how they gained their independence from surviving hardships through a disability. 

Their journey in the gym is not only a physical transformation, but also a mental elevation of confidence. I’m truly honored to show their work and grit to continue.

Assistant News Director Ali Weatherton

Family has already raised more than $85,000 building birdhouses for charity

My favorite story was about a local family who has raised more than $85,000 dollars building birdhouses for charity. 

I was able to meet the Todd family as they worked to create unique birdhouses. Their business is still going strong and it is a passion for Stephen Todd who has Down Syndrome. It warms my heart knowing there are good people in our community, willing to help bring a smile to others.  

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