Stafford Gains National Recognition for Innovative Programs

The National Association of Counties (NACo) recognized Stafford County with the 2023 Achievement Awards for two of the County's newest programs: Ask Blu and the Utilities Department student internship. Ask Blu started as a chat mascot but became an umbrella for branding and multiple service options. The Utilities internship evolved into a full-time employment opportunity for the student upon graduation. The purpose of the Achievement Awards is to recognize innovative county government programs.

"We are gratified to be recognized by NACo for both these programs. The Ask Blu concept has greatly enhanced our ability to be more informative and transparent with our residents," said Randal Vosburg, Stafford County Government County Administrator. "The Utilities internship has created a pipeline to employment for our excellent students which is a win for the County, the Schools and our students."

Stafford County, Virginia, created a chat mascot, Blu the Great Blue Heron, that quickly morphed into an umbrella for branding and multiple service options. Before Blu, residents submit questions by calling 311 from a landline, dialing Stafford's main information line, or tracking down the email for the correct staff person. Stafford decided to add a chat option to its website hosted by Blu the heron, a bird found among the many bodies of water in and around the county. Staff realized that Blu's persona was more than a mascot. It was an umbrella concept for other efforts at making information more quickly available to residents: a monthly newsletter, Blu's News; Blu's Academy, an online citizen class for learning about government; an online request system; an app; coloring pages for kids; and even a texting feature.

Stafford Utilities recognized the need for educating local high school juniors and seniors, Stafford's future workforce, about Water Treatment Facility career opportunities that are fulfilling and vital to the community. By law, each Water Treatment Facility must staff an Operator holding a Class 1 license. Becoming eligible to take the Virginia Class 1 license exam takes approximately five to six years. This program poses the need for new employees to be hired to rise through the ranks so that there will always be at least one Operator who holds a Class 1 license. The Utilities Department partnered with Stafford County High Schools to recruit and mentor students enrolled in Stafford County Public Schools' year-long Work Based Learning Program. This program is a paid internship experience that helps prepare students for the different careers within Stafford County's two water treatment facilities, Lake Mooney and Smith Lake.