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Pursuing College 101

Note: A shorter version of this interview appears in Blue Ridge Life Magazine’s July 2019 issue, page 37, and in the magazine’s online version. We thank BRL’s publishers, Yvette and Tommy Stafford, for helping NCCF publicize our success stories.

photo of Adrieanna Vest-Turner

If you had asked 18-year-old Nelson County native Adrieanna Vest-Turner back in middle school what career she wanted to pursue in college, she might have sighed and said college was not in her future. However, thanks to encouragement from her family, plus mentoring and financial support from a nonprofit-supported college preparatory program, Vest-Turner just completed her freshman year at Mary Baldwin University. She credits her success, in part, to Project Discovery, a scholarship program for Nelson County High School (NCHS) students offered by the Monticello Area Community Action Agency (MACAA). Project Discovery receives grant funding from the non-profit Nelson County Community Fund (NCCF). As she sat down to chat about her college quest with BRL, it was clear, too, that her strong personal drive is a factor in achieving her dreams.

BRL: What drew you to Project Discovery, and how did the program help you?
V-T: My older sister (Aja) was in the program, and she kept on me to get involved and take advantage of all it offered. I started with the GRASP program in 10th grade (which donated $500 per year towards a student’s college education). That program led to Project Discovery in my senior year. My mom, too, encouraged me, saying that if I wanted to go to college I needed to find ways to do it. She’s a single parent and couldn’t take the time off to help me look at schools. Through Project Discovery, I was able to explore college options, and go on tours. I also got help prepping for the SATs and ACTS, and filling out college applications and financial aid forms. Plus, I received a $3,000 scholarship through MACAA.

BRL: How did you land on physical therapy as a major?
V-T: I come from a pretty athletic family, and I played volleyball and ran track at NCHS. I started out wanting to be an athletic trainer. The mentors I met (Jane Francis, NCHS GRASP coordinator, and Katelyn Hebel, NCHS college advisor) talked me into physical therapy because you can do more with it as a career. With a physical therapy degree, I could be an exercise physiologist, or a personal trainer, as well as a therapist.

BRL: How did you decide on Mary Baldwin?
V-T: Katelyn (college advisor) helped me a lot—she urged me to apply everywhere! I applied to 13 schools with the waivers I was able to get through Project Discovery. We compared all the aid packages, and I went where I could get the most financial help so I wasn’t saddled long-term with loans. Mary Baldwin also wanted me for volleyball which helped me find academic scholarships.

BRL: What was your first year like at college?
V-T: I had a hard time adjusting at first; I didn’t feel like I fit in. But then being on the volleyball team has help a lot. Also, I joined the Ida B. Wells Society, an African-American leadership program named for the Black abolitionist and investigative journalist who used her platform to reach out to Black women in her community. All that has helped me find a niche and I feel I belong a there (at Mary Baldwin) now.

BRL: Are you continuing with school this summer?
V-T: Actually, I’m off for the summer—to make money for school! I’m working again at the ACAC’s “Adventure Central” preschool and summer camp, where I started last summer as a counselor.

BRL: You have a lot of energy! What would you say to others like you who are good students and might consider pursuing a college education—but are not sure they can swing it?
V-T: You have to work at it. Some who started Project Discovery with me dropped out. I’d say if you want something bad enough, go for it. Don’t think that it matters where you came from, or how well-off your family is—because it doesn’t. I grew up not thinking that I would go to college, but God made a way—and I followed it.
Contributed by Sue Klett, a member of board of the nonprofit Nelson County Community Fund, Inc. NCCF makes grants to local nonprofits meeting the educational and humanitarian needs of Nelson County residents.

Click this link to read other interviews with other beneficiaries of the NCCF.


Joe Steele—A Cornerstone of the NCCF

Photo of Joe Steel
NCCF board member Donna McCurdy recently met to interview long-time Nelson County Community Fund member Joe Steele. Joe is a founding member of the Community Fund and has actively supported the organization for almost 20 years.

Joe’s business career as a sales executive includes more than 40 years with Western Union and 5 years with AT & T in New Jersey. Since moving to Virginia, Joe has been involved in working with several additional non-profit organizations including Wintergreen Music as a board member. Joe also worked with Wintergreen Fire and Rescue Squad, first as a driver and board member. He continues to assist with its mail solicitations to the community.

Joe is also very proud of his work refurbishing computers out of his home to supply Nelson students and their families who otherwise would not have the means to purchase equipment. This computer donation program is operated in Lovingston through MACAA, Monticello Area Community Action Agency. Joe has just delivered his 170th computer system. If you have computer hardware you no longer use, contact Joe at 434-361-1597 to support this ongoing worthwhile project!
What attracted you to Nelson County?

Why did you and your wife decide to relocate here from New Jersey?
After a long career in business, Ilse and I were looking for a community in which to retire. We had made several trips to Virginia to visit our close friends, John and Ila Porter, and fell in love with the beauty of the mountains and countryside in Nelson County. We bought property in Stoney Creek and then built and moved into our current home.

How did you become involved with the Nelson County Community Fund?
In 1999, members of the Board of the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge, which was formerly known as the SAW Foundation, met with a few residents in Nelson County, including me, to begin talking about creating a community fund specifically dedicated to tackling the many challenges confronting the people of Nelson County and the agencies providing services to them. And due to the generosity of a few key donors, including Gordon Smythe, myself, and several others, seed money was provided to initiate the fund. Other major participants in the early years, including Dr. Ed Stemmler, Dr. Andrew Hodson and his wife, Patricia, as well as Barbara and Hank Gibb, to name just a few, embraced the idea of keeping local money local to help with the many needs right here in our county. And the Nelson County Community Fund was off and running.

What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing Nelson County residents now and in the future?
Poverty is clearly a continuing issue within our county, as is substance abuse. Programs to help our neighbors who need it most is an important function of the Community Fund, whether it be to help with health care availability through Blue Ridge Medical, or to supply emergency funds to pay the electric or heating bill through MACAA. Georgia’s Healing House is an important newer organization, designed to assist those Nelson residents recovering from substance abuse. The importance of continuing to support education is also of utmost importance, including college scholarships to Nelson County High School seniors, often to those who are the first in their families to attend college.

What are you most proud of in terms of the support the Nelson County Community Fund has been able to provide organizations that help Nelson residents?
I am proud of the message we have been able to spread to the residents of Nelson and the funds we have been able to raise from the generosity of so many in Nelson. The fund has operated with very low overhead, thanks to the work of its all-volunteer leadership, so that more than 98% of the funds raised are distributed to the many charitable organizations NCCF has been able to support over the years.

What would you say to encourage others to volunteer as you have done for so long in Nelson County?
It’s so important to think about your neighbors and what you can do personally to improve the quality of life for the residents of Nelson County.

Dollars Well Spent:  How Grants Fulfill Teachers’ Wish Lists

Allen Dolleris with a “Kill-O-Watt” voltage meter Kathie Driscoll (left), Education Director for The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen, presents Rockfish Elementary School science teacher Allen Dolleris with a “Kill-O-Watt” voltage meter for his students to learn about energy usage. NCCF gave the nature foundation a grant to help fund teaching materials.

Ask teachers what they love about teaching and they likely will say it is “watching a light bulb go off” in a student’s expression, which means the child has made a connection between a classroom exercise and real life. That is what drives 4th grade science teacher Allen Dolleris to get creative with classroom projects that both turn on his students, and ensure that the skills they learn will stick with them. Grants for purchase of classroom materials that Dolleris and other Nelson County Public Schools science teachers receive through The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen are a huge help. The Nature Foundation, in turn, receives a portion of its funding for teacher “wish lists” through grants from the Nelson County Community Fund (NCCF).  Nelson County Advisory Committee member, Sue Klett, chatted recently with Dolleris about how he uses his “wish list” contributions to further students’ understanding of the role of science in their lives.

NCCF:  How did you end up teaching at Rockfish Elementary for 18 years?

Dolleris:  I majored in engineering at Bucknell University. Then I spent a lot of time teaching math and English in international schools overseas in places like Japan, Ecuador, and Morocco. I was teaching in Japan when a position opened up for a 5th grade science teacher at Rockfish Elementary. It was sort of a calling for me—I was socially miserable as a 4th and 5th grade student and I wanted to help kids at this age.

NCCF:  What challenges have you seen as a teacher in Nelson County?

Dolleris:  I bring engineering into teaching big time. I’m not so much an educator as an engineer. I build stuff. For instance, I build a connection between what we [the students] are doing with electrical currents and what happens under the hood of a car.

NCCF:  So you “make it real” for students.

Dolleris: I try.  My dad taught me how to fix things, how to make things last past their normal service life. He said, “Make it work and make it work well.” Still, he wasn’t a “green” [i.e., ecology-minded] guy like I am.

NCCF:  What is an example of an item you’ve received with your wish list grants, and how have you used it in the classroom?

Dolleris:  One big purchase was for 10 “Snap Circuits Jr.” kits that cost around $35 each. The circuit board kits are a huge time saver in teaching about electrical currents. Plus, the skills kids learn can be directly related to how electricity runs in a house, or an electric car, or even an integrated circuit, like a cell phone.

NCCF:  Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) requirements are said to loom large in teachers’ lesson plans these days. What’s an example of how you are addressing SOLs with your wish list projects?

Dolleris:  Last year, I requested 10 anemometers to teach students how to measure wind speed. One of the SOL strands relates to weather and selecting tools for measuring. I used the anemometers to teach students two scales, metric (meters per second) and customary (feet per second). They had a blast figuring out how fast the air comes out of the huge fan in the gym,  which was developed into a major project using the scientific method.

NCCF:  What will you do with the “Kill-A-Watt” voltage meter that you received as this year’s wish list item?

Dolleris:  The “Kill-A-Watt” measures total electricity use over time in kilowatt-hours. You plug it into the wall socket, then plug an appliance into it to see how much energy it [the appliance] draws over time. My class project will be to have students see what appliances around the school are costing to operate. They’ll find that operating a vending machine is off the charts. But other items are amazingly efficient. The beauty of a Chromebook [student-issued laptop] is that it only pulls 11 watts of energy and it shuts off when you close it.

NCCF: All things being equal, what else would you put on your school wish list if you could?

Dolleris:  More time to teach, and a classroom aide to help with labs. Science class is a 40-minute block with no extra time for labs. I have 60 students to teach. Kids get going [in a lab] and you can’t get them out the door. The boys love it—and girls, too. I’m determined to give girls the same amount of attention to teach them how to fix things.

NCCF: So what are you plans for Spring Break?

Dolleris:  Build things! I also have a long fix-it list

Allen Dolleris with a donated circuitry kit Rockfish Elementary School science teacher Allen Dolleris says the donation of a circuitry kit (right) instead of a tub of wiring supplies saves him much needed time in class labs to teach students about electric currents.

A Fireside Chat with Dr. Andrew Hodson

For a decade, Andrew and Patricia Hodson annually sponsored the biggest party in Nelson County at their charming winery at the foot of Afton Mountain. Hosting the Nelson County Community Fund’s Opportunity Ball fundraiser “was a way to give back to the community,” said the retired pediatric neurologist and founder of Veritas Vineyard and Winery ( In fact, it was Hodson who coined the mission statement, “an opportunity to care and share” that appears below NCCF’s logo.

Dr. Hodson sat down recently in the Veritas tasting room with Nelson County Advisory Committee member Sue Klett to answer questions about NCCF’s early days, and the challenge of continuing to address the humanitarian needs of Nelson County residents.

NCCF: You served on the Nelson County Advisory Committee for 15 years. What drew you to the committee and NCCF’s mission?

Hodson: Ed Stemmler (Dr. Stemmler, Nelson County resident and former Dean of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania) invited me to join the committee. Back then it was called the Nelson County Advocacy Committee, a name no one could remember. The NCAC used to be part of a 501(c)(3) called the Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro Foundation (now the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge). At the time, the NCAC had an annual budget of $20,000. Yet Wintergreen had held a ball and raised $60,000 to help care for animals. I was appalled that NCAC had such a small amount to work with in helping those in need in the community. That’s when the idea for the (NCCF) Opportunity Ball came in. Patricia and I had moved from Jacksonville, FL, and bought Saddleback Farm, which at the time was a cow farm. Patricia and I set up the vineyard and a winery from scratch. We thought we could use a formal ball as a way to give back to the community. So we started hosting the Opportunity Ball. People loved the chance to get all dressed up and dance for good cause. We continued the tradition of the ball when the NCAC moved under the auspices of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation.

NCCF: What do you see as some of the greatest challenges facing Nelson County residents now and in the future?

Hodson: Lack of jobs, economic status, family structure. The opioid crisis has been a problem. I also serve on the board of the Blue Ridge Medical Center and we have worked with our physicians to cut back opioid prescriptions by 50 percent. Ohio has cut its addiction problem in half. How did they do it? By expanding Medicaid. Virginia is getting ready to do the same thing (expand Medicaid), and the BRMC is ready to address the addiction problem more broadly.

NCCF: Conversely, what are some of the challenges with fundraising, and especially, finding new donors?

Hodson: Donor fatigue is an issue. Also, grant-giving becomes mechanical and we become uninvolved—maybe too removed—from the community in need. I was inspired by the way Jennifer McCrae (Senior Research Fellow at the Hauser Institute for Civil Society at Harvard University) approaches fundraising. She never asks people for money. Instead, she talks about the work that is being done, and the people and the causes that are being helped by this work. It’s about getting donors to expand their philanthropy beyond the checks they write.

NCCF: What could NCCF do more of or do differently to better serve the community? 

Hodson: Get more involved in the community it serves. You mentioned holding a fund-raiser to serve soup in the community*—I think that’s a good idea. Just giving out money without effecting real change is futile.

NCCF: Thank you for the 15 years you spent on the NCAC, and the tremendous support you and Patricia gave toward filling the NCCF’s grant-making coffers.

Hodson: I worked with some wonderful people on the NCAC. It was my way to give back.

*Watch the NCCF website for more information about our new “Empty Bowls, Full Stomachs” fund-raising event coming in the spring of 2019.

Healing from within at Georgia’s Healing House

A middle-aged grandmother, a dynamic social worker, a physician—what do they all have in common? Each is battling addiction. Each has found safety, support, and most of all—hope—inside the doors of Georgia’s Healing House.

Started in 2015, Georgia’s Healing House (GHH)* is a residential haven for women in early recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. The stately Victorian house in Charlottesville accommodates up to 12 women at a time as they journey through treatment and therapy. The women are referred from the Region 10 catchment area, which includes Nelson County. The Nelson County Community Fund has awarded grants in support of GHH since its inception.

GHH Executive Director Sue Hess, and two of its residents, Heather Kellams, who handles marketing and fundraising/grant writing, and Deborah (Debbie) Arrington, sat down recently with Nelson County Advisory Committee member Sue Klett to describe life at the all-women’s residence.

Q: Debbie, you mentioned that you grew up in Nelson County. What was the path that led you down the road to an addiction to alcohol?

Nelson County native Debbie Arrington credits GHH with helping her restore her life, her job, and most importantly, her relationships with family.

Debbie: My great-grandma’s house was where Afton Vineyards now stands, and my grandparents’ house is nearby. I grew up in a family with a huge history of alcoholism and tragedy. But I never drank much growing up. Then in 2002, I had gastric bypass surgery. The doctor warned me not to drink because if I did I could become an alcoholic [more easily]. That’s exactly what happened.

Q: You said you were in and out of addiction treatment programs for many years and in four different states. How did you come to live now at GHH? What were you looking for when you moved in here a year ago? 

Debbie: I lost my house, my car, my job. It [addiction]cost me my marriage and my self-respect. Because of all that’s gone on in my life, my relationship with my daughter has been hard. She had even paid for me to go to treatment in Pennsylvania. But my grandsons are my life. One just turned 13 the other is 15 months old. I moved back [to Virginia] so I could be close by to see them. My daughter didn’t want me around them because of my drinking. Moving into GHH has kept me accountable. If I wasn’t living here, I’d probably be drinking and without a job, and maybe even dead. I have a roof over my head and peace at night, so I don’t need to drink. Even if I did move out, I would not want to be alone. I want a safety net.

Sue H.: Our motto is “recover, grow, flourish.” Debbie’s now in the grow and flourish phase. Besides attending treatment and therapy sessions, she drives a bus for Charlottesville city schools and attends PVCC (Piedmont Valley Community College) classes for information technology and business management.

Q: Aside from a sisterhood of women battling addiction, what sort of supports does GHH offer?

Sue H.: I’m a psychiatric nurse. It was a cocaine addict who inspired me to get involved with GHH. She said she needed a place to “just be,” a place where she could heal. When women first come to us they are in the “recovery (healing) stage,” the first one or two months. We don’t pressure them to have a job or worry about finances—just that they go to public/private therapy and support classes [offered throughout the community]. But there is structure so they can learn how to manage their lives again. Everyone has to be up by 8 a.m. (9.a.m. on weekends), then out at a job, or community service, or classes or something meaningful. There are group meals on Sundays and Thursdays when we check in on each other’s highs and lows of the week, discuss getting chores done, and so on. We also have random room checks and drug testing. Holidays are hard to get through, so we try to offer extra support over the holidays.

Q.: You say the average stay for a resident is 6 to 18 months. Heather, you are going on two years at GHH and are now on staff. What has the program done for you? As a former social worker, how are you giving back?

Heather: My favorite motto is “hope heals.” Instead of being defined by our addiction, here we teach women day-to-day how to live with their addiction. To see yourself not as an alcoholic but as someone who is able to manage yourself and your life. I started “Women for Sobriety” meetings in which our residents convene every Sunday night to rethink our habits and behavior to work toward positive outcomes. Research shows that women addicts need a separate healing program from men because women have so much more shame. Women for Sobriety is a recovery model that helps women focus on their strengths and is hope-oriented. You don’t look at the damaged life behind, you look out the front door to where you are going.

Sue H.: As long as women are setting appropriate goals and moving forward, they can stay here.

Q.: The media is full of stories about the opioid crisis, especially in rural areas. Has GHH seen an uptick in residents with opioid-related addictions?

Heather: Yes, we started with mostly alcohol-addicted residents. Now half of our residents are battling drug addictions, including opioids.

Q.: Do you think there is anything about living in a largely rural environment, in particular, that contributes to the growing addiction problem?

Debbie: It’s the isolation. Young people are bored; they’ve got nothing to do. What I’d say to a rural addict is not to isolate yourself, get yourself out [of your situation]. Get out and help other people.

Q.: What can you advise young women about not falling into the trap of becoming addicted?

Debbie: I’d like to see young women stay in school. I’d tell them just because your friends are doing something, if you are not comfortable doing it, don’t do it.

Sue H.: It’s also a trend with rural addicts that they want to come in and get treatment and heal, but they can’t because so many are caregivers in their family and they are needed at home. We also need to get people into treatment—not jail. Many addicts suffer from a cycle of mental health problems, trauma, and addiction. Jail does not help break that cycle.

Q.: What’s at the top of your wish list for GHH?

Sue: A step-down house where people like Debbie can go that offers more freedom and responsibility, but where you do not have to live alone. We need affordable rental property where women can pay more of their expenses as they become able.

Q: Thank you, and keep up your wonderful work.

*The non-profit Georgia’s Healing House is named for Georgia Barbour, a professional photographer and former Peace Corps volunteer who died from alcoholism, in part because she had no place to heal. For more information Georgia’s Healing House and to find out about its tea party fundraisers, visit

Barbara Gibb: A “Professional Volunteer” Devoted to Nelson County

Photo of Barbara Gibb

A former public affairs professional, Barbara Gibb has been a go-getter all her life. She channeled her talents and energy in retirement to help the NCCF get on its feet and broaden its impact on Nelson County residents in need.

Another longtime member of the Nelson County Community Fund (NCCF), and former co-chair of the Nelson County Advisory Committee (NCAC), Barbara Gibb first had an active career in public affairs. This included jobs with both the First Federal Savings and Loan in Chicago and the New York Stock Exchange.  After moving with her family to Northern Virginia, she worked in public affairs for Youth for Understanding, a foreign exchange student non-profit organization, and at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC.  Barbara spoke recently with NCAC member and former co-chair, Jane Francis, about her experiences as a dedicated volunteer in Nelson County.

What attracted you to Nelson County?  Why did you decide to live here?

Like many D.C. area residents, we discovered Wintergreen as skiers, and we later built a house on the mountain as a family getaway on weekends.  My husband, Hank, and I retired and moved to Wintergreen fulltime in 1995. Hank started a property management company, and I embraced a new career as a full-time volunteer. My first experience as a volunteer was as a docent for Oak Ridge Estate, the historic home of Thomas Fortune Ryan in Arrington.  That’s where I was introduced to Nelson County history and met people from around the county. Nelson County is the happiest place I have ever lived.

In 1989, I stumbled upon the Coleman House in Stoney Creek.  A home of an old Nelson County family, the house was originally built in 1850.  It burned in 1900 and was rebuilt.  We met a member of the Coleman family and got more involved in Nelson County history.  Then Hank and I moved into the Coleman House in 2001.

How did you become involved with the Nelson County Advisory Committee?

I’m not exactly sure.  The Nelson County Advisory Committee got started in 1999. Ed Stemmler, a retired physician and a resident of Wintergreen, was one of the founders of the committee, along with Joe Steele (who still serves on the NCAC). Ed knew Andrew Hodson (founder of Veritas Vineyard and Winery) from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School.  I remember that Ed asked Andrew and me to co-chair the advisory committee in about 2002.

I served with Andrew as a co-chair of NCAC until stepping down in 2014.  Over this period, NCCF grew tremendously, eventually awarding $100,000 annually in grants to numerous organizations serving Nelson County.

How did the Nelson County Advocacy Committee and NCCF function in the early days?

The NCAC would raise about $20,000 a year from annual appeals. The committee soon found that amount was inadequate to meet the humanitarian needs of the county. Andrew decided that we needed an event to raise more money for residents in Nelson County.  Thus, the Opportunity Ball began in 2004 and was hosted by and held at Veritas Winery for ten events.

What were some of the challenges you faced on the NCAC?

The greatest challenge was never having enough money to meet all the needs.  The revenue raised at the Opportunity Balls helped a great deal to extend the ability of the NCAC to award grants to more organizations for more money.  The downside of the Opportunity Balls was that it created incredible burn-out.  After someone had chaired the event, she was pretty much done!  The event demanded so much time and effort, even though the results really were amazing.

What are some of the successes?

The committee worked hard to improve the grants process.  We started doing site visits as part of the process of awarding grants.  Committee members either individually or in pairs would select organizations which had applied for funding and schedule a time to go and meet with staff, discuss the grant application, and tour the facility or office.  This was so valuable! Our enthusiasm would grow as we were exposed to the needs of the many worthy nonprofit organizations in Nelson County. Seeing what these needs were first hand really made us motivated to help in any way we could.

Margaret Morton, who also served on the committee, was very influential.  Margaret worked for many years as the outreach coordinator for Monticello Area Community Action Agency and was very familiar with the needs of families in Nelson County. George Krieger, another member of the committee who is the executive director of the Nelson County Community Development Foundation, was very helpful.  Through George, we were able to visit homes in dire conditions.  Funds from the grants were used to install indoor plumbing and handicapped ramps so that the elderly and disabled residents could remain in their homes.

I also am proud of helping to start the county’s first dental clinic.  The needs of young and old in the county for dental care were extreme and being unmet. Barbara and other NCAC members, including Joe Steele, identified a dentist, who had retired to Wintergreen, to help in the planning.  With NCCF grants, they established a mobile unit on the grounds of RVCC to house the dental clinic.  The dental clinic fell on hard times when the practicing dentist developed back problems and could no longer work, and no other dentists could be found to take on the clinic. Obtaining insurance also was a major hindrance.  Eventually, a dental clinic was established at Blue Ridge Medical Center, which operates it currently.

What would you say to encourage others to volunteer as you have done for so long in the Nelson community?

I love Nelson County and the Nelson County Community Fund.  It was a joy for me to work with people to do good for Nelson County.  I want NCCF to succeed!  I am so glad the NCAC has new and valuable members, as well as important sustaining ones. It is a very good organization. I love all that is happening and will happen in the future.

Contact Us

Please get in touch with us if you are interested in learning more about the Nelson County Community Fund. We also welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions.

Nelson County Community Fund, Inc.
P.O. Box 253
Nellysford, VA 22958

(434) 260-1843

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