The Issue: Dreading the Needle?

Clean needles can help stop the spread of deadly diseases among IV drug users and others. But should the state pay?


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Layers of swollen flesh surround Deborah LeCates' knuckles. At night her bloated fingers burn with pins and needles. Both are souvenirs from her heroin habit.

Pain and swelling aren't all addiction has given her. LeCates has Hepatitis C. There's no way of knowing when she got it, but she's sure of how—a dirty needle.

She didn't share often, not by a drug user's standards—30, maybe 40, times. When you have a twice-a-day habit for a quarter century, 40 times isn't much at all.

But eventually, when she didn't have the cash for another hit or a clean needle, heroin withdrawal would set in. It started with a tickle in her throat, then turned into chills that iced her to the bone. Soon exhaustion took over, leaving her body and mind limp.

"I would have to lie down," she says. "I couldn't do anything. But I had to get the next fix. You don't have the energy, but you have to make yourself do it."

She did anything she could to get the drugs she craved—theft, prostitution, even using second-hand syringes. It wasn't long until one of those needles gave her Hepatitis C and changed her life forever.

Though the disease is still in its early stages, her liver is starting to swell. Over the years the whites of her eyes will yellow like an old photograph. Stomach pains, nausea and fatigue will haunt her. Long-term liver infection or disease is likely, and if she doesn't watch for cirrhosis, she could die.

Yet she's one of the lucky ones.

"I thank God that I didn't contract HIV," she says.

Other drug users aren't so fortunate.

"Delaware has the remarkable characteristic that 53 percent of HIV-AIDS cases are caused directly or indirectly from [intravenous] drug use," says Jennifer Wooleyhand, community relations officer for the Division of Public Health. "Most other states are closer to 20 percent."

That fact has played a part in Delaware's unusually high rate of HIV infection. According to the Division of Public Health, Delaware has the seventh highest per capita rate of new HIV infections for all of the United States. That is bad news for not only those who shoot up, but for any resident who is sexually active.

The situation has led legislators to look at new means of controlling the disease. Most recently that includes a controversial program that 48 other states already have: a state-funded needle exchange program.

Starting last month and continuing for the next five years, a van parks in designated places around Wilmington offering a temporary site where drug addicts can exchange dirty needles for clean ones.

The van's staff also offers AIDS testing, drug counseling and information about sexually transmitted diseases. The idea is that giving addicts a supply of clean needles will prevent them from sharing with someone who is infected, which will in turn slow the spread of blood-borne diseases.

A similar program in Baltimore, Maryland, has had some success. When the program began in 1994, intravenous drug use was the leading cause of new HIV cases—accounting for 60 percent of new infections. Ten years later, that number dropped to 40 percent.

"We've definitely seen an impact," says Monique Rucker, bureau chief of Harm Reduction in Baltimore. "We can't credit the program for the entire decrease, but it has played a huge roll." Other measures may have led to the change in statistics, such as a drug counseling or a sexually transmitted disease outreach program.

Yet Baltimore's success has been limited. The city's rate of infection from needles is still twice as high as many other states. That leaves the unanswered question of whether Wilmington's program will be enough to make a difference.

Opponents not only doubt the program's potential, but also believe that providing free needles turns a blind eye to drug abuse. Not so, says Basha Closic, program director at Brandywine Counseling, the group that runs Delaware's program.

"If it was just a bucket over there and [program participants] never got to talk to me, then, yes, it just gives them easier access to their unhealthy and dangerous lifestyle," Closic says. "But because they have to talk to me, they have to do something difficult, and I have the opportunity to say, 'Are you ready to be clean?' I am not putting out a vending machine."

State Representative John Atkins of Millsboro drove the opposition while the bill was pending in the House. "I oppose it on moral reasons," he says. "We are telling our kids that drugs are bad and to just say no. And then, in the next breath, we say that if you choose to use heroin, we are going to supply a free needle. I just think it sends the wrong message."

Cost is an issue, too. This year the program will cost the state $300,000, which will be spent exclusively in Wilmington. That does not sit well with Atkins, who represents voters from Millsboro. "I don't understand why their Sussex County taxpayer dollars are being sent to Wilmington for such a controversial thing," he says.

The $300,000 price tag will hire a staff of counselors and outfit a van to distribute the needles. Costs for the next four years have not been estimated. Atkins points out that if the program continues spending as much as it will this year, it could cost the state $1.5 million by the time it reaches its end in 2011.

Yet much of this year's bill covers one-time expenses, meaning that future years could cost less. Supporters see the money as an investment that could save or prevent future medical costs, which often comes out of taxpayers' pockets. "The treatment of an AIDS patient generally falls on the public, at least for many of the patients," says Gus Rivera, director of the Division of Public Health. In 2006 that meant the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services spent $8.3 million on AIDS services, while Medicaid covered bills that totaled $12.1 million.

"We're going to save a lot of money," says State Senator Margaret Rose Henry of Wilmington, who wrote the legislation that created the program. "You can save some lives, and you will save a tremendous amount of dollars."

Henry crusaded for a needle exchange program for a decade, since about the time AIDS claimed the life of her cousin Joseph Lipton. Henry watched as Lipton died a painful death, one that was made excruciating not just from the shutting down of his body, but also his rejection from society.

"[His death] made it very real for me," she says. "People discriminated against you if you had AIDS. These were basic human rights issues, as far as I was concerned." Even now, she looks around her district and sees people suffering the same burden her cousin carried. "If we can do something to help them and stop the spread of AIDS, we should do it," she says.

It's taken Henry a decade of shouting to get the program launched. Some allies have popped up along the way, like State Representative Helene Keeley of North Wilmington, who cosponsored the bill. The pair worked for years spreading the idea and fighting for approval.

Their hard work was rewarded when Governor Ruth Ann Minner signed the bill into law on July 17, a day that couldn't have come soon enough for Henry.

"It's just unfortunate that it's taken us so long to recognize the benefit," she says. "We've had more people who have contracted AIDS and more deaths while we were waiting and trying to get this passed."

Now that the law is in place, residents are watching what happens next. One concern is how the Wilmington police will handle enforcement. The legislation mandates that a state needle found on a program participant with a registration ID cannot be used in a drug paraphernalia charge.

"It's going to lead to officer apathy," Atkins says. "It's just common sense." He poses a question: If an officer finds two people on a corner shooting heroin, will he arrest both of them, even if one has a state-sponsored needle? Wilmington Police Chief Michael Szczerba says officers are being trained to handle such situations and will follow the letter of the law.

Though Szczerba says he will do what it takes to enforce the new law, he still has concerns about its value. "I don't agree with the principles," he says. "But it's about the law. It doesn't mean that I agree with the program, but it's law and I'm sworn to uphold the law."

He questions how providing clean needles will help addicts quit such a powerful drug. Over the years he has seen drug users overdose, then return to heroin again and again. "I've seen them come back from the brink once and continue in that dangerous lifestyle to where they need help again," Szczerba says.

LeCates knows that lifestyle firsthand. She's lived for years in the tight space between a desire to be clean and a need to get high. She's quit before. But each time until now she's gone back to the drug that's become the most reliable part of her life. "It's always there," she says. "It's like your best friend."

LeCates is hoping to end the relationship for good this time with the help of the needle exchange program. These days she keeps herself busy—and away from temptation—by volunteering at Brandywine Counseling. After all, every minute she's busy is a minute she isn't using. LeCates fills her hours by helping maintain Brandywine Counseling's Rolodex and keeping the place orderly. But she aspires to bigger things.

"I want to interview to help with the van," she says. "You never know who might need me."

D

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February 2018

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

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This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Website »

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The Philly Home + Garden Show will return to the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks February 16-18. The show will feature highly-interactive exhibits including a full scale model smart home,...

Cost: 10

Where:
Greater Philadelphia Expo Center
100 Station Ave
Oaks, PA  19456
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Sponsor: MarketPlace Events
Contact Name:

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By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society in partnership with The Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice are proud to present the inaugural Rehoboth Beach African-American Film Festival. The mission...

Cost: $10

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

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"Choir Boy" presents a complex look at race and sexuality. Shows are at 8pm on February 16 and 17; there is a 2pm matinee on Sunday February 18. Buy tickets online at www.WilmingtonDramaLeague.org.

Cost: $10-$15

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 302-764-1172
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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

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A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

Tickets are $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students. Tickets are available at the door. Cash or check only.

Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Nanticoke Memorial Hospital will host a four-session diabetes educational program, The Diabetes Connection, on February 6, 13, 20 and 27 from 9:30 am to 11:30 am. Pre-registration is required. As...

Cost: Call for cost.

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
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Telephone: 302-629-6611 x2288
Contact Name: Nanticoke's Diabetes Education Department
Website »

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By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

FREE COMMUNITY EVENT: MID-WEEK WORD REFRESHER Come join us at the Mid-Week Word Refresher every Wednesday at Faith Victory Christian Center from 11:00am - 12:00pm. Refreshments will be...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Faith Victory Christian Center
301 Commonwealth Avenue
Claymont, DE  19703
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Sponsor: Faith Victory Christian Center
Telephone: 302.354.6726
Contact Name: Alvin Walker
Website »

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By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

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Join DCH, New Castle Conservation District staff, and Delaware Cooperative Extension to grow and learn together through an entire season! Classes are designed for a beginner, but seasoned gardeners...

Cost: $20 members; $30 non-members

Where:
Delaware Center for Horticulture
1810 N. Dupont Street
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Sponsor: Delaware Center for Horticulture
Telephone: (302) 658-6262
Contact Name: Ruth Arias
Website »

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Clearing the mind and learning to think not thinking is Zen awareness. Taking the appropriate action in this moment is Zen. Once you know this in your body, walking, standing, sitting down,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Newark
420 Willa Road
Newark, DE  19711
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Sponsor: UUFN
Telephone: 302.368.2984
Contact Name: Richard Field
Website »

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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

This community event invites attendees to sample healthy dishes prepared by local restaurants and vote for the most creative, tastiest, and best preparation. The first 200 registrants may also sign...

Where:
STAR Health Sciences Complex
540 S. College Ave
Newark, DE  19713
View map »


Website »

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Explore connections between people and plants in these four inspiring presentations. Special thanks to Whole Foods Market for sponsoring this  year’s refreshments. Individual lecture pricing:...

Cost: $20 members; $30 non-members

Where:
Delaware Center for Horticulture
1810 N. Dupont Street
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Center for Horticulture
Telephone: (302) 658-6262
Contact Name: Mackenzie Knight-Fochs
Website »

More information

Tickets are $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students. Tickets are available at the door. Cash or check only.

Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The area’s largest sale of gently used books has been scheduled by the Wilmington branch of the American Association of University Women. The 49th annual Dollars for Scholars Used Book Sale, to...

Cost: free

Where:
Concord Mall
4737 Concord Pike
North Wilmington, DE  19803
View map »


Sponsor: American Association of University Women
Telephone: 302-428-0939

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through a story reading followed by an interactive tour of relevant works of art and a studio art project. This program encourages...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
View map »


Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The area’s largest sale of gently used books has been scheduled by the Wilmington branch of the American Association of University Women. The 49th annual Dollars for Scholars Used Book Sale, to...

Cost: free

Where:
Concord Mall
4737 Concord Pike
North Wilmington, DE  19803
View map »


Sponsor: American Association of University Women
Telephone: 302-428-0939

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Ronald Barron was principal trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1975 until 2008. He joined the orchestra in 1970 after being a member of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and also...

Cost: Free

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

Celebrate the 12th Annual Chinese New Year at the Delaware Art Museum! This celebration includes traditional Chinese art activities, artist demonstrations, a lion and folk dance, a Chinese yo-yo...

Cost: Free; donations accepted

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

For this Saturday’s activity, visitors will have fun with fluid dynamics and hydraulics - Pascal would be proud! Visitors of all ages are invited to discover solutions to science and engineering...

Cost: Free with admission; Adults: $14, Children 6-14: $5, Children 5 and under: Free

Where:
Hagley Museum and Library
200 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-658-2400
Website »

More information

Lights of Life Goes Disco Nights is Delaware’s premier breast cancer fundraiser to benefit the local programs and services of the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition. Join us for a glamorous, fun...

Cost: *VIP $125.00; *Silver Mirror Ball $50.00

Where:
Dover Downs Hotel
, 1131 North Dupont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition
Telephone: 302-778-1102
Contact Name: Eliza Mohler
Website »

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The Newark Symphony Chamber Orchestra presents a performance of Johann Baptist George Neruda, Trumpet Concerto in E flat, with Wendell Banyay, Trumpet.  Also to be featured will be Gabriel Faure,...

Cost: 0 - $20

Where:
Newark United Methodist Church
69 E. Main St.
Newark, DE  19711
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