2006 Washingtonians of the Year: Ricardo Drumond

For 35 years, The Washingtonian has honored men and women who give their time and talents to make this a better place for all of us. This year’s winners are caring, committed, and convinced that good things happen when good people work together. They make

By: Leslie Milk, Ellen Ryan

Photograph by Matthew Worden.

“If people are given opportunity and a place to breathe, they will grow in every way.”

In 1987, there was no Hispanic Orientation and Education Program in Alexandria. There were just a jobless Bolivian named Ricardo Drumond and city officials who thought their 400 Hispanic immigrants should learn more about nutrition.

It turned out the city had about 3,000 Hispanics. And Drumond—on a short-term grant—found needs well beyond nutrition. Salvadoran immigrants used to cooking over fires couldn’t cope with electric appliances. With no English skills, they worked long hours at low pay, often living ten to an apartment. Fearing deportation, they avoided doctors and government aid. “With better integration,” Drumond explained to his boss, “they’d get better jobs, which will lead to less crowding, less violence, better child nutrition, and more.”

Starting with one volunteer, Drumond set up English classes; in two months, five students grew to 40. He brought in officials to discuss crime and gang prevention, domestic violence, and home­ownership. He connected clients with nonprofit services. Then the grant ran out.

Alexandria hired Drumond as a “volunteer developer” but provides no budget. Luckily, Drumond is resourceful. At no cost to clients, his program has helped more than 7,000 with English classes, health screenings, referrals, and workshops on parenting, getting a driver’s license, becoming a citizen, beating addictions, and improving credit. Many have gone on to college. Living standards have blossomed. Alexandria may expand the program to other groups; Japan and Europe have sent representatives to see how Drumond does it.

“We are more than happy to share,” he says. “There’s a deep satisfaction in seeing people go ahead in life.”