Since 2006, Takoma Foundation has sought out and recognized the community’s biggest difference makers through its annual Azalea Awards. The “people’s choice” nominations, for individuals and organizations across eleven categories, are collected at the beginning of each year with voting and results being announced in early Spring.
We’re proud to present the nominees and winners for Takoma Park’s 15th Annual Azalea Awards. Note that some categories may have multiple winners.
Someone who contributes to a dynamic arts community
“Mr. Gabe” Hutter, the Pied Piper of Takoma Park, has delighted children and their caregivers for the past decade with tuneful, rhythmic classic songs and original compositions. Performing solo and with his band, the Circle Time All-Stars, Mr. Gabe has played to capacity crowds at the community center, the gazebo, and elsewhere, and donated his time to the Takoma Park Library and at fundraisers for two local preschools. Parents report that their children go home afterwards and pretend to be Mr. Gabe, singing and “playing” the guitar. He contributes to a dynamic arts community and is part of what makes our city special.
Wendy Jason, director of Justice Arts Coalition, believes in the power of art to transform the lives of people even when in prison. She brings the artwork of incarcerated individuals to the rest of us in touching exhibitions (e.g., “Iron Bars” at President Lincoln’s Cottage) and through the recent feature of prisoner artwork in the Washington Post Magazine, plus regular ArtLinks where art critics and art lovers give feedback to the artists. For ten years JAC was a small grassroots group, but last year Wendy took steps to expand and formalize it as a nonprofit (although she still runs it out of her Takoma Park house with a few undaunted volunteers). Wendy also curates a gallery of prison art on JAC’s website. Inside prisons she has organized mentoring and educational programs and reinforced the humanity of these artists by giving them a way to express that humanity to the outside world.
Charlie Pilzer is a mover and a shaker. The owner of Tonal Park studio with recording room and performance venue Allyworld, a Grammy award–winning recording and mastering engineer, and an accomplished pianist and bass player, he’s comfortable on stage and off stage. Charlie has “great ears,” able to critique music from jazz to folk, from Ethiopian to Swedish, to bluegrass and beyond. Musicians want his touch on their project, and he understands all levels of music recording and digital mastering. He’s constantly expanding the limits, adding new gear, trying new methods. Charlie’s generosity is legendary. He houses musicians, features them in concerts, and helps them maximize their creativity. In addition, he invited Takoma Radio WOWD-FM to set up their station in his studio. Charlie has lived in Takoma Park for more than 30 years with his wife Cecily, who also exudes the same warmth as Charlie.
Promotes progressive spirit through local commerce
Community Printing, for nearly a half century, has welded ink to paper, making the spoken word visible. Long before the internet had spun the web, a community was stitched together by Ye’ Olde Town Crier, who wielded nail and hammer to tack printed declarations to trees and posts around Ye’ Olde community. This printed page made up the heart and soul of the village. But even with today’s electronic ether, there is still a need for “hard copy” flyers, tickets, and banners. Run by Michael Keller, Connie Keller, and Jason Jackson since 1973, Community Printing has transformed thoughts into printed word for many individuals and organizations in Takoma Park and has become that distinct thread that knits the progressive spirit of Takoma Park together.
Ada Villatoro, owner and manager of El Golfo restaurant, is always willing to pitch in to help her Long Branch and Takoma Park community. El Golfo, a locally owned restaurant, provides a welcoming environment with its exceptionally friendly service and delicious food. Throughout the years, Ada has hosted numerously fundraisers for local school PTA associations, non-profit organizations, and other community groups. The large mural painted on its external wall highlights this bright spot in the neighborhood, as she builds community by holding monthly musical performances for young families, hosts jazz and Latino musicians, and offers dance lessons. Additionally, the restaurant supported victims of the Flower Branch apartment explosion, furloughed government employees, and more. Ada is a valuable business leader and resource in our community.
For 7 years Kenneth Flemmer has led the Adventist Community Services of Greater Washington (ACSGW), a nonprofit that lends a helping hand for the short term and provides valuable training for the long run. For immediate needs you receive aid from a food pantry and free thrift store and get guidance in weaving through government assistance programs. Hundreds of families are given Thanksgiving and Christmas packages every year. To improve your livelihood and sustain yourself, you can enroll in computer and other educational courses. When disaster strikes, such as the devastating Long Branch apartment fire in 2016, ACSGW is at hand. About 500 local youth are enrolled in summer programs run by ACSGW and its partners. ACSGW was recently recognized by the Catalogue for Philanthropy as one of the region’s best small nonprofits and as Partner of the Year by the Capital Area Food Bank. ACSGW manages the pool at Piney Branch Elementary, where people of all ages learn to swim. You can find ACSGW’s office at 501 Sligo Avenue by looking for the new rain garden installed last year.
Mike Houston joined the TPSS Co-op as general manager in August 2018 and has already made an impact on multiple fronts. He has intensified the co-op’s environmental and food-system work, successfully negotiated the co-op’s first union contract, and centered on the co-op’s interests in discussions around Takoma Junction revitalization. Mike has advanced Zero Waste practices including food-recovery donations, and has worked to educate cooperative grocers nationwide on composting and other steps to go green. Under Mike, the co-op won gold-level certification from Green America and was the first grocery store to be admitted to the Montgomery County Green Business Program. Mike, personally, is a member of the Montgomery County Food Council. Locally, he has strengthened the co-op’s community engagement efforts with the help of manager Leandra Nichola and worked with the board to complete negotiations with Takoma Junction developer NDC, culminating in a cooperation agreement that will protect co-op operations. Mike is an exemplary progressive local business leader.
Deric Tomenko Is landlord and part owner of BTT Management company, which oversees many properties in Takoma Park. Anyone who has lived in an apartment knows how frustrating it is to have urgent repairs go unattended to by landlords. Deric is always available for his tenants. He responds to maintenance requests the same day or the next morning. The employees he hires are all friendly and attentive to work. He is very open to renovation suggestions and appreciates tenant initiative. He has allowed them to create a garden in a common area yard from which they can harvest their own homegrown vegetables. His tenants agree that Deric is the “absolute best and fairest” landlord in Takoma Park.
Provides outstanding community service
Sandy Guarini and Carolyn Pinkard
Crossing guards Sandy Guarini and Carolyn Pinkard make safety at Takoma Junction feel like a warm, friendly hug. Literally! They know the kids’ names and keep track of which high schoolers are in danger of missing the bus. They welcome back a child who’s been out, notice if someone is feeling blue, and applaud big achievements. They have dog treats ready for the neighborhood pooches. They have created a little “garden” where a squirrel statue has become an ongoing crowd-sourced undertaking, decorating it appropriately for different holidays. Sandy and Carolyn make the start and end of each school day special—Takoma Park spirit of community special. So if you’re ever in need of a “Hi, honey!” head over to Sandy and Carolyn’s Takoma Junction for a warm greeting that will make your day.
Jorge Alfaro and Tina Willey
Two members of the Takoma Park Volunteer Fire Department, EMS/Lieutenant Jorge Alfaro and Tina Willey, exemplify all the positives of a life-saving crew that we count on to arrive in minutes in every crisis. Jorge is a model of professionalism, on-incident proficiency, and dedication to help others. He has been TPVFD’s top responder for the past 10 years riding the ambulance. Tina makes sure children learn about fire safety. She spends countless hours scheduling, planning, prepping, and hosting birthday parties at the station where that important message gets delivered.
Takoma Park landlords and tenants are lucky to have someone like Jean Kerr, who has helped them work through their problems for almost 30 years as a Housing Specialist in the Housing and Community Services office. In this fiscal year alone, through her monitoring of the rent stabilization law, Jean has been successful in getting thousands of dollars in illegal rents and fees refunded. Renters and landlords know they can get a fair and honest hearing when they have Jean looking out for their interests.
Turning thought into action requires a hardworking, dedicated planner, and the City of Takoma Park is lucky to have Javonte McDonald as its Recreation Program Coordinator. Javonte has developed a “Think Tank” after-school homework club for 5th- through 12th-grade students at Hampshire Tower Apartments. This club provides one-on-one homework help to augment and enrich the learning process. In January, Javonte helped Hillwood Manor Apartments organize an ice cream social event for their community youth. He coordinated the Takoma Park Success Fair, a community event that brought together resource partners to support the development and success of Takoma Park residents. In coordination with the Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month activities, Javonte served on the planning committee, organizing and directing a variety of hands-on activities, including music, farm animal interaction, face painting, a glow walk, and a community resource area. He also coordinated a Hip Hop Yoga program at Takoma Park Middle School. It is talented and creative city employes like Javonte that make Takoma Park a truly special place for our youth to grow up in.
Catherine Plevy, outstanding Police Department Public Information Officer, has been doing the essential work for 12 years of keeping the community informed. Is your street safe to walk down? Do you have to be concerned about your parked car at night? What do you do to keep safe during a Tornado Watch? What is happening with all the street construction? Using email, Facebook, Twitter, Nextdoor, and Instagram, she provides crime prevention tips, safe conduct reports, updates about pets that have been lost or found, safe routes for students to walk to school, advice on how to protect your bike, and many, many other important lessons. Cathy often works late during the week as well as on weekends and holidays to make sure that the residents of the City of Takoma Park are informed in real time about events and activities. When you check in with her, you can feel the smile through the phone or email.
Takoma Park City Television
City TV has the answer to the proverbial question: “When something happens to that tree in the woods and it is not captured by print, film, or electronic storage, does it really happen?” The City TV crew workdays, nights, and weekends to guarantee that the recorded events will be documented, preserved, and distributed not only to the residents of the City of Takoma Park but, through the internet, to the world. They provide coverage of City Council meetings and special events such as the Folk Festival, Street Festival, Independence Day events, Celebrate Takoma, City Elections, election forums, the Monster Bash, art exhibits…the list goes on and on. They have been led for the last 19 years by Alvaro Calabia, who immediately points out that it is truly a group effort.
Keeps sports vibrant and accessible
Jason Fasteau and Doug Wannall
As coaches and commissioners of the Takoma Park–Silver Spring girls softball league, Jason Fasteau and Doug Wannall are prevailing against two national trends. Girls typically stop playing sports at a higher rate than boys, and softball players more often choose prohibitively expensive invitation-only travel teams over recreational play. Not so locally, though. Doug and Jason (with three daughters between them) have redefined the focus of the 25-year-old league by welcoming all girls regardless of skill level and by removing financial obstacles. With fewer barriers, registration numbers have increased dramatically since 2017. Jason and Doug have mastered the ability to balance teaching softball, developing self-esteem, providing a venue for social development, and sharing their philosophy with fellow league coaches. They’ve also lengthened the program. What was only a spring sport now includes clinics and special programs in fall and winter for more than 200 girls. In addition, Jason established an after-school club at East Silver Spring ES, teaching a variety of sports to girls in a non-competitive environment, and is working with parks supervisors to improve fields. He and Doug are making sure girl players are not forgotten.
Marquelle Jones is giving a group of 2nd and 3rd graders from Takoma Park Elementary and Piney Branch Elementary a chance to play flag football against teams from other nearby jurisdictions. Now in his third season as a coach, Marquelle stands out for his enthusiasm and energy. He also emphasizes sportsmanship and hard work over winning even though his team does win a fair share of the time. This fall his players, under the Royalty Institute banner, won the flagstar championship in their division. Marquelle is also known for his work with Kids Adventures (KA) at Takoma Park Elementary, where kids can’t wait to see which activity he has planned for the day. One activity is soccer, and during a fair last spring that brings together all the KA programs in Montgomery County, his Takoma kids won the first-place trophy in a soccer round robin. Marquelle’s mix of fun and passion is an inspiration to kids who might otherwise never think about playing sports.
Kerron Miller and Duane Scott
Undaunted by rain or wind, Kerron Miller and Duane Scott have not missed a practice or game for the past nine seasons as the coach of their daughters’ Takoma Soccer team. “Soccer has taken over our lives,” says Kerron’s wife, Holly. “Chores, vacations, weekend plans with friends, they all come second.” Kerron and Duane start with a pre-season ritual of inflating all the balls in his bag, and their attention and enthusiasm carry over to remarkable patience on the soccer pitch. The players on their Girls-Three Yellow team are 3rd graders who may be super energetic, perhaps from a bit of a sugar high, or just the opposite, tentative and shy. As if by magic, Kerron and Duane bring out the girls’ inner kicking-a-ball-is-fun selves. Even if they don’t take naturally to soccer, they get the message that it’s great to be outdoors in sunshine and fresh air—or even in rain and wind.
School staffer who makes a difference
Kathryn Medland has touched the lives of thousands of kids in her 14 years at TPMS, She has taught 7th- and 8th-grade language arts as well as the writing elective, spending countless hours of her own time creating compelling lessons and carefully composing thoughtful, direct, and compassionate feedback for her students. She’s also been a team leader and department head, and has sponsored the creative writing club and the Socially Liberal Activist Youth (SLAY) club. Ms. Medland is passionate about diversity of all kinds at TPMS and about setting high expectations. Her students really respond to the energy she brings every day to the classroom and the way she treats each one of them as an individual worthy of respect and capable of growth.
Tavia Lewis is the heart and soul of East Silver Spring Elementary School. She is known and loved by everyone in our school community. If we had to describe her in one word, it would be “positive.” She has a smile for everyone. She has built genuinely meaningful relationships with students, families, and staff through her kindness, warmth, and bubbly personality. She knows how every single one of our over 500 students get home from school each day (and what their missing jacket looks like). Whether she is singing songs with our youngest learners or supporting and challenging our oldest students to reach their full potential, she shows how deeply she cares about our children. East Silver Spring Elementary School is proud to nominate Tavia Lewis as an outstanding educator.
In her 9 years teaching kindergarten and 2nd grade at Takoma Park Elementary School, Emma McClary (previously Emma Dyroff) has been an expert and caring teacher who has made a difference in the lives of students and their families. In 2017, Mrs. McClary launched the Teacher’s Equity Committee at TPES to help the school’s community of diverse students and families thrive and bring meaningful opportunities to the various cultures that contribute to the success of the school community. Under her leadership, the Equity Committee started Young Scholars, an after-school activity that helps all students—particularly low-income students and/or students of color who may be affected by the achievement gap—receive the academic and social support they need to thrive. She has played a key role in expanding the project to Piney Branch Elementary School and helped PTAs at both schools identify ways to serve the schools’ diverse populations. Mrs. McClary is truly an unsung hero in Takoma Park, providing direct service to families in her role as an excellent teacher as well as to the larger community in her roles as a change agent and leader.
Turns environmental ideals into achievements
Mike Tidwell, a long-time resident of Takoma Park, is founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions associated with global warming in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. An author and filmmaker, Mike is a renowned advocate for the environment. His most recent book, focusing on Katrina and global warming, is titled The Ravaging Tide. Mike has been featured in numerous national media outlets including NBC’s Meet the Press, NPR, The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, Politico, and The Washington Post. When not fighting the rising tide, he most likely can be found hiking the Appalachian Trail with his family. It is not a coincidence that he loves living in Takoma Park where, like a placid mountain lake, he reflects the green environmental spirit that is so much a part of our community.
Gretchen Goldman’s commitment and dedication to fighting for a greener, safer, and more inclusive community transcends local activism, but it certainly benefits us in Takoma Park. Over the past year, Gretchen consistently worked with our mayor and county officials from multiple jurisdictions on local transit equity solutions, culminating with WMATA finally installing desperately-needed bus shelters along New Hampshire Avenue. During this time, Gretchen spent her maternity leave testifying in front of the EPA with her newborn strapped to her chest about the importance of scientific facts and research (can’t believe she had to state the obvious). Wherever she goes, Gretchen works tirelessly to ensure we have a better tomorrow. Her passion and expertise are accessible to all—you can read her articles in Science Magazine; learn about climate change while listening to her podcasts; see her at national climate marches with her family; admire her commitment to public transportation as she routinely commutes by bus, bicycle, and train; and visit her in her backyard as she teaches Takoma Park children about composting worms. Not all superheroes wear capes, but if Gretchen did, hers would be green.
Robert Patten literally walks the walk, constantly picking up the litter he finds as he walks throughout town to dispose of it properly (recycling/compost/garbage). Furthermore, as a neighbor to Takoma Urban Park (aka Westmoreland Park and Kombe Park), Bob has taken over the role of unofficial caretaker, compensating for the Maryland–National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s limited maintenance and oversight, so that children and adults can fully enjoy the public space. He spends several hours every month clearing up trash, removing poison ivy, and maintaining a small trail for children in the back of the park. Bob makes a huge contribution to keeping Takoma Park green and clean.
Someone who inspires children to aim high
Jennifer Manguera, Girl Scout Troop 1273 leader, is a super mentor. She leads one local troop of young girls and another of Teen Scouts, with more than twenty of her girls over the years earning the Gold Award, the Girl Scouts’ highest achievement and opens doors to college admissions, scholarships, and civic opportunities. Jenn’s troops are active in community service, including at Progress Place, the DC Diaper Bank, Capital Area Food Bank, and Samaritan’s Purse. They have cleaned up Sligo Creek, planted trees, and tended horses in a shelter for battered animals. They march in the Takoma Park July 4th Parade and volunteer at the DC Cherry Blossom Parade. They are a regular fixture at the Silver Spring Martin Luther King Jr. holiday event, helping children create meaningful crafts. And of course they sell cookies! Jenn is an example of our community at its finest, developing young women leaders.
Alex Rounds, a Takoma Park resident since 1985, mentors youth with kindness, grace, and humility, combining technical (carpentry and home renovation) skills with emotional support to serve local youth in local schools and grief camps and as a mentor and facilitator for over a decade in the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). Through AVP he has recently made inroads into the Baltimore Youth Detention Center, a high-school prison. He participates in the Boys to Men mentoring program, where he is creating a yard care program that employs Takoma Park youth. Of particular note are the week-long service projects via the Appalachia Service Project, where as a team leader he guided Takoma Park student volunteers in making homes “warmer, safer, and drier,” imparting valuable carpentry skills while providing the teens with the emotional support and political perspective needed to process the systemic injustice and poverty they encountered. Alex also organized his own weekend service trips to West Virginia, where he supervised Takoma Park youth in carpentry restoration projects. Alex’s generous spirit and diligent, altruistic work are reminders of why our community is so special.
Pamela Lever’s door at Takoma Park Middle School is always open as she offers her students a supportive retreat when the pressures of middle school life are wearing on them. As a school counselor, Pam provides organizing guidance for students’ schedules and agenda books, and she also simply listens if they’re having a tough day. Her receptive ear and guidance often helps these young adults cope with their ever shifting world, as the pressure of learning increasingly difficult material combines with the required psychological adaptation as they mature physically and emotionally into adults.
A few years ago, Steve Ney was faced with a familiar question: How could he use his spare hours to make a difference? In 2014 Steve started tutoring and mentoring in the After the Bell program at the Community Center. Subsequently, he became a teacher in the Lunch and Learn program, and for several years he’s been a mentor/tutor in the ACE program at the Essex House Apartments, working with kids and families new to the U.S. Through the school year he is an extra teacher in the students’ lives, helping those who are struggling with reading and math. He attends parent-teacher conferences and accompanies students to school and sports events. Steve has used his unique qualifications as a special education attorney and former public school teacher to successfully advocate for several students to receive the special education services they need. His goal is to see these children graduate from high school and go on to college.
When teachers can work with dedicated assistants like Sacdiya Siyaad, both teacher and students come out winners. For the last 6 years, Sacdiya has made sure each student that comes into the classroom of the Lunch and Learn summer program receives breakfast and lunch so they are nutritionally able to concentrate on the lessons. In the classroom she helps in every way possible to make a difference for the students. Due to her dedication, love, and hard work during the school year, it is not uncommon that children, the ultimate voters, actively seek to be assigned to her class.
“Walks the walk” to make a great neighborhood even better
Seth Grimes and Steve Whitney
Seth Grimes and Steve Whitney do amazing things for our community. The two volunteer for Small Things Matter’s Kokua Foods, a program that feeds 150 families in Takoma Park, picking up and delivering thousands of pounds of food each month. Seth was instrumental in the formation of Kokua Foods and the determination of food distribution sites based on community need, while Steve spearheaded Kokua’s composting efforts of unusable foods to reduce methane emissions. Both men wear many other hats as well. Seth co-founded Takoma Park Mobilization and is a climate change activist, an antisemitism activist, and a general font of knowledge on all things Takoma. Steve, also a climate activist, is developing a composting program at New Hampshire Estates ES as a model for schools and works with Share Literacy to bring books to children in need, and his work with the Alternative Gift Fair supports charitable organizations.
Creative, dynamic, neighborhood volunteer Shana Fulcher walks the walk regularly by volunteering in a variety of ways. A fabulous Scout Leader, Shana models positive behavior by leading the annual Girl Scout Tea and helping with the Daughter Dance. Shana has led the Cookie Decorating Activity at the Mid-Winter Play Day for years. At the 2019 September Play Day, Shana and the Scouts created an igloo for attendees to play in during the Play Day. Takoma Park is so fortunate to have Shana in our midst. Shana also participates in several PTAs. It’s time we cheer for Shana!
Lee Howard’s action and leadership make the community a better place for its youth. Lee has been the Cub Master Cub Scout Pack 33 and recently moved on to be Troop 33 Assistant Scoutmaster, providing leadership to more than 60 young men. He is inspired by his own journey to Eagle Scout and continues to inspire fellow travelers on that path. Lee’s work has earned him Scouting’s highest national adult leadership training level, Wood Badge. An archivist in his day job at the Library of Congress, he has catalogued a trove of Troop 33 memorabilia to create a roadmap and standard for future Scouts. Currently, he is taking an active role in planning the troop’s 100th anniversary extravaganza with many events throughout the year to commemorate this centennial milestone. Lee is a terrific example of a Takoma Park neighbor who has planted and tended seeds so that they bear fruit in the lives of young men.
Kiki Oliver, who has lived in the same Takoma Park house for almost 65 years, spends countless hours rescuing and fostering the City’s homeless kittens and cats, nursing her charges to good health, and then finding them forever homes. Just this past month, Kiki, alongside D-20 Delegate Lorig Charkoudian, helped introduce legislation at the state level to ban the inhumane practice of cat declawing in Maryland. Neighbors know that any time you need cheering up, Kiki’s front door is always open with a friendly kitten always waiting. Kiki hopes to one day open Kiki’s Kitten and Cat Cafe in the Takoma Junction development where all can visit, play with, and—hopefully—adopt any one of her lucky rescues. Kiki also works tirelessly as a volunteer to ensure that the Takoma Park VFW always has a lively music scene and an open space to celebrate a wide variety of community events.
A parent who brings the best to our schools
Genet Kassa, a 13-year resident of Essex House, was the first person to be recommended when the after-school program in her apartment building put out a call in 2017 for someone to address the need for more meaningful parent involvement in youth education and socio-emotional development. The consensus of staff and community members was that she was the perfect one to fill the role because she already was working with local families. As a parent of five children ages 7 through 18, Genet has been instrumental in mobilizing Essex House parents to join the PTAs at their schools and to participate in social and educational programs during the evenings in her building. One of her best known activities is organizing a dance troupe in collaboration with Piney Branch Elementary’s ESOL department that is always an on-stage favorite at Celebrate Takoma. The young girl dancers wear dresses from the native countries of their parents, and their moms and dads clap and weave in accompaniment. Genet also conducts Ethiopian coffee ceremonies and is an annual volunteer at the MLK Day celebration, helping bridge the gaps between diverse communities in Takoma Park.
Tracee Matthias is a parent, volunteer, grant writer, advocate, and grass roots organizer committed to the success of students attending Takoma Park Elementary School and Piney Branch Elementary School. She has focused on enhancing both classroom learning and supplemental learning through after-school programs. Through the TPES PTA, Tracee secured grants from the Maryland State Department of Education and the National Education Association Foundation to fund hands-on robotics instruction (especially significant given MCPS’s recent cuts to STEM), and from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation to support the Bridges Book Club hosted on Saturdays. She also serves as the VP for New Programming on the PBES PTA Executive Board, where she is working to establish a robotics club and seeking out grant funds to support student programming. Last year, Tracee rallied the community and succeeded in getting MCPS to restore a portion of the special program funds cut from PBES in the 2019–2020 budget.
Kelly O’Keefe has been a tireless advocate working on behalf of Montgomery County’s students with dyslexia, a specific learning disability that unless confronted and conquered can be a locked door to success. Dyslexic students can learn to read, but only with appropriate identification and intervention--and for most students, this has been happening after years of falling behind in reading, if at all. Kelly helps organize regular meetings of a local Decoding Dyslexia advocacy group, encourages parents and students to testify to the County Board of Education, and manages a local Facebook page to keep parents informed and coordinate advocacy efforts. Kelly led local advocacy in a successful statewide push for the Ready to Read Act, currently awaiting the Governor’s signature, which calls for universal screening of Maryland’s kindergartners for reading difficulties.
Commits to civic leadership, year in, year out
Priscilla Labovitz is a gem living in our midst. Priscilla started mentoring and tutoring Piney Branch Elementary students in the 1980s while also raising her two children, practicing immigration law and staying active in the civil rights, tenants’ rights, antiwar and prison reform movements. One of the students she mentored is today a DC police officer. Now retired, Priscilla is more active than ever. As a member of the City Recreation Committee and as the leader of Friends of the Takoma Park Recreation Center, a group she started, she is in the forefront of a campaign to rebuild the 58-year-old center on New Hampshire Avenue. The goal is a public-private partnership that results in an up-to-date recreation facility along with new housing on the upper floors. Priscilla volunteers with the Let’s Chat program at Takoma Park Middle, serves on the What’s My Bias board, participates with the Racial Equity Working Group and is president of Takoma Park Lunch and Learn. She is also the elf who can be seen over and over placing books in the Free Libraries around town, often in neighborhoods where a book at home is a treasure. Takoma Park is fortunate to have a resident such as Priscilla who continues to give back so very much.
Bruce Baker, founder of Community Health and Empowerment through Education and Research (CHEER), began with a vision to pursue the ideal of equitable, healthy, thriving communities, then gathered the resources, built a network, and created a successful nonprofit organization. He engages people across the lines of race, ethnicity, income, age, and social standing. CHEER’s work has included programs that serve youth in need of summer activities, adults suffering from diabetes and other ailments, and tenants dealing with their landlords. True to his ideals, Bruce’s approach is compassionate and empathetic. He is able to connect with others despite any differences, and he is always willing to give credit to those he works with rather than taking credit for himself.
Mary Jane Muchui
Mary Jane Muchui has been the backbone behind forming a Takoma Park group called Parents of Special Needs Adults (POSNA), which provides support for our adult children in the following areas: housing, jobs, safety and recreation. Mary Jane volunteered her home as a meeting place for POSNA and regularly welcomes everyone, even those she has never met. Mary Jane worked with the Village of Takoma Park to secure a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to enable adults with disabilities to enroll in SPIRIT Club therapeutic exercise classes, which help participants to develop physical coordination, practice weight control and other healthy lifestyle habits, and engage in social group interactions. Also, for more than 15 years, Mary Jane has been collecting food from the Old Takoma Farmers’ Market and taking it to Shepherd’s Table.
Reflects local character with panache
The Tayac Family
The Tayac Family have been residents of Takoma Park since the 1960s. Following in the footsteps of Chief Turkey Tayac, 27th-generation Sagarmore of the Piscataway Nation and a leader and organizer on human rights issues in the 1920s, they carry on the family tradition, recently hosting indigenous youth leaders from Standing Rock and getting arrested with Jane Fonda for Fire Drill Fridays. Gabrielle Tayac, an organizer since her teens and the first member of her Piscataway tribe, the indigenous people of this area, to earn a Ph.D., has worked for Native American rights with Takoma Park-based organizations since 1982. She works to shine a light on the diversity and cultural richness of Native Americans (including 18 years at the National Museum of the American Indian, with much work on local indigenous history that is now used in our schools), supports unaccompanied and undocumented youth from Central America, and brings healing rituals to the waters of the Potomac, and has raised two phenomenal youth leaders, Sebi Medina-Tayac and Jansikwe Medina-Tayac. Since starting his activist career at the Electric Maid and Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Sebi has launched guerilla media campaigns to have the Washington sports team renamed the RedHawks, founded the Uptown Art House to support artists/activitists, and performed with his indigenous drumming group for last fall’s protest against a youth incarceration facility in Takoma DC. Jansikwe, a Blair senior, has co-hosted “Block Period” on Takoma Radio since her sophomore year, made award-winning documentaries about the abuse of Native women, promoted interracial dialogue, led students in last fall’s Youth Climate Strike, and garnered over half a million views of her impassioned speech on intersectionality and climate justice.
Brandy Brooks has a long history of activism on social issues ranging from housing to food insecurity. Both in Takoma Park and in Montgomery County, Brandy continues to fight for racial equity, housing rights, and food justice for all people. Her work with the M.O.R.E network on racial equity helped shape the recent racial equity bill passed by the Montgomery County Council. Whenever she encounters a political setback, she redoubles her efforts. No one works harder and with more passion for equity and equality at the local level than Brandy. She is a beacon and a voice to the voiceless. Her energy and drive make her an asset to her community.
Little Eastern Frydaddyz
For 13 years, The Original Little Eastern Frydaddyz (Randy Cohen, Jeff Hopkins, and Ray McGhee) have built community and camaraderie through battered and deep-fried foods, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. This block (and artery-blocking) party brings together the residents of Little Eastern Avenue but also draws guests from blocks in all directions, including neighbors on the DC side. You don’t need to bring a thing to be welcomed with open arms (and five deep-fried turkeys) by the guys in the red aprons, but you will earn street cred for creative contributions to the fryer. The warmth, inclusiveness, generosity, and humor of the Frydaddyz sets the tone for what a neighborhood can and should be.
Carlean Ponder works as an attorney by day, but her work as an activist and advocate for criminal justice and policy accountability is unceasing. She volunteers with the Montgomery County chapter of the ACLU and has been instrumental in the establishment of the Silver Spring Justice Coalition (SSJC). During her time with SSJC, she has testified before the Montgomery County Council and Maryland General Assembly, speaking out following the death of Robert White, a black man shot by a police officer. Carlean exemplifies the spirit of commitment, exactly what is needed to affect change. She is thoughtful, resourceful, and dedicated.
Shoppers Food Warehouse
Recently the Takoma community bid farewell to the close-knit, dedicated, and long-serving staff at Shoppers Food Warehouse. Most staffers had worked there for 10-plus years, some for 20-plus. Customers were always greeted with a big smile by managers and clerks alike, making the large store feel like a friendly corner market. For loyal families it was a tradition to go to Shoppers for frosted cakes to celebrate the milestones of birthdays, graduations, and holidays. And there were, oh, so many fresh, giant doughnuts for any occasion or no occasion. The workers were the ones who made the store special—how they put just the right sprinkles on a doughnut at a child's request, set aside beef bones for a pet, shared a homemade soup recipe, brought out the freshest produce for ingredients, returned a found wallet with all contents intact, walked an elderly man to his car in the rain, and even visited customers in the hospital. They were like family.