News & Politics

Washingtonians Of The Year 2003

For 32 Years, THE WASHINGTONIAN Has Honored People Who Make Washington a Better Place. And Each Year, Those Who Make a Difference Inspire Others to Make This a Better City.

Judith Bennett-Sattler

"What inspires me is the courage I see."

Some women approach her quietly, alone, at a business meeting, perhaps embarrassed. "That was my life," they say, or "That is my life." They're referring to Judith Bennett-Sattler's work as head of My Sister's Place, one of the District's only two shelters for abused women.

Others arrive late at night, a child in one hand, all the belongings they could stuff in a bag in the other. Some still bear bruises, cuts, or burns. All carry psychic scars. All are welcomed by Sattler's staff, which offers temporary, confidential housing, counseling, job training and referrals, and a safety plan.

My Sister's Place has helped such women since 1979 but has offered much more since Sattler took over three years ago: It opened a new shelter for Latinas, complete with bilingual staff, Web site, and outreach programs. It quadrupled the number of therapists and now counsels 600 women and children annually on everything from legal rights to relearning trust. It spent a year training DC police recruits in "domestic violence 101." Clergy, medical personnel, and residents of five housing projects were trained to recognize the signs and to get women appropriate help.

To pay for all this, Sattler has doubled the nonprofit group's budget. She's planning a campaign to expand the main shelter and add a playground. She could expand it a dozen times and still not meet the need: DC police get 22,500 domestic-violence calls a year.

"People ask, 'How do you deal with the devastation you see?' " says the longtime Jamaican trade commissioner in her native lilt. "But we also see the hope, the courage, the small steps the women take. We help them get to step two and step three and step four."

As a teacher, trade official, and nonprofit fundraiser, Sattler has had plenty of experience connecting diverse constituencies for the common good; as a kickboxer and poet, she brings strength and grace to her role in gathering support from across the city.

"You don't have to be a woman. You don't have to be a survivor," she says. "There is room for all of us to be angry–and for all of us to help."

J. Fernando Barrueta

"There is no better investment than helping youth learn how to be successful."

Fern Barrueta's college career could have ended after one semester if he hadn't found a helping hand.

The son of Mexican immigrants, Barrueta came to Washington from El Paso with $300 and a scholarship from Georgetown University. He was soon lost in academia–so lost that Georgetown took away his scholarship. He got a job at the Georgetown Coffee House, and each semester the owner advanced him enough money to pay his tuition.

By working 33 hours a week at the coffeehouse, Barrueta made it through Georgetown. Now he is helping other Latinos finance their college educations as president of the Hispanic College Fund.

He got involved with the fund as a volunteer. For years, HCF was headquartered in his commercial real-estate office. Then a couple of bouts with prostate cancer caused Barrueta to rethink his priorities. He left real estate to run the HCF full-time.

His friends were not surprised. "He has a habit of helping anyone and everyone who asks and many more who don't," says one admirer.

Since Barrueta took over, the fund has tripled the scholarship money it gives; the pool this year is $1.5 million. Corporations are eager to participate because they see the scholarship winners as potential employees.

HCF now wants to put more Hispanics into the business world, and Barrueta is working with federal agencies on recruitment.

Selling corporations and selling kids on college is only part of Barrueta's job. He also has to sell the parents: "These kids have parents who never got past sixth grade, who are in the fields picking strawberries."

He keeps his grandfather's green card on his desk to remind him of his roots. But Barrueta is mostly focused on where young Hispanics are going. "We want them to become influential and then remember where they came from," he says. "Then they can help our community."

Linda Rabbitt

"My father taught me to always leave things better than you found them."

"Volunteering is a way of life for me," says Linda Rabbitt. Owner of Rand Construction, a business she built from the ground up, she is involved in so many community groups that her husband has threatened to enroll her in "Just Say No" school.

Rabbitt is the immediate past chair of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, only the third woman to head the 115-year-old organization. She spearheaded creation of the Washington Collaborative, moving the Board of Trade and community organizations that work with the business community into one building where they could share space, resources, and ideas. Rabbitt also raised almost $1 million in in-kind contributions to rehab that building. "We're building communications through physical space," she says.

As CEO of the area's third-largest female-owned business and a leader of the Washington Building Congress and CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women), Rabbitt has encouraged women to build careers in construction and commercial real estate. As president of the International Women's Forum, she pushed for creation of a Leadership Foundation to fund a fellows program for women moving up the corporate ladder.

Three years ago, Rabbitt survived breast cancer. Even before she'd recovered, she was working with the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and the National Breast Cancer Coalition. Rand Construction built the coalition's new offices pro bono. In her spare time, Rabbitt has helped raise funds for My Sister's Place, a program for battered women.

If you ask her, she says she does so much for selfish reasons. "The only things you really keep are what you give away," Rabbitt says.

Sharon Brady Raimo

"This was like a little test tube–I could experiment and let it grow."

It wasn't an auspicious beginning: "A friend said, why don't you look at the St. Coletta job–look at this school because someone needs to close it gracefully."

That was 1993. St. Coletta of Greater Washington had 19 mentally retarded students, a budget of $210,000, and a lack of leadership. Sharon Brady Raimo, a former teacher, fundraiser, and advocate, did take the principal's job–and promptly turned the place around.

When the bishop wouldn't make up a budget gap, Raimo took the school private. She brought in new staff, moved the campus twice, and borrowed money to buy its first building, in Old Town Alexandria–and soon leased two more.

St. Coletta now has 190 students and an $11-million budget. This spring sees the groundbreaking on a second campus, in DC–a $28-million Michael Graves design for 225 children and adults.

The District location is appropriate; DC supplies two-thirds of St. Coletta's students. Besides, they need the space. Many students have multiple disabilities, and one child can use five pieces of equipment; two full-time social workers help track their needs. When "the curriculum is the child," as Raimo is fond of saying, hands-on, individualized learning means color, noise, attention, and lots of room.

Learning goes beyond the school walls. The Living Stage Theatre Company has trained teachers to engage students in dramatic play. The Socrates Institute got them involved in Alexandria's 250th-anniversary mural project, which continued up a four-floor stairwell.

Other collaborators include the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra, the Chamber of Commerce, and area businesses; from age 14, students ease from job sampling to limited paid employment. One goal in the new building is to hire their own alumni: aides, groundskeepers, kitchen help, facilities workers. "If we don't do it, how can we expect everyone else to?" says Raimo.

That's the attitude she brings daily to St. Coletta–and life. "Our people's brains may operate slower," she says, "but their hearts work just fine." So does Sharon Raimo's.

Leonard Slatkin

"We are not just an orchestra in a performing-arts center. I want to make this a musical destination."

o watch Leonard Slatkin in action is to really watch Leonard Slatkin in action. When he conducts the National Symphony Orchestra, he lunges, dips, jumps, and pivots. The audience begins to understand why the podium has a guardrail.

Slatkin brings the same energy to educating his audience and encouraging young musicians. When the DC Youth Orchestra was in trouble, Slatkin pulled together a group of angels to support the group. "Four members of the NSO came from that orchestra," he says. He founded the National Conducting Institute to give young conductors the chance to work with a major symphony.

Nurturing talent is only part of his mission. He is committed to nurturing audiences.

When former Kennedy Center chair James Wolfensohn recruited Slatkin nine years ago, he promised the maestro would "not just be the man who waves a stick," Slatkin says. That has meant working with the Washington Opera's Plácido Domingo and with Center president Michael Kaiser to create festivals that encompass all the arts.

Washington audiences keep him on his toes, Slatkin says. Once, when discussing Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," he noted that Copland finished the piece on April 15, the deadline for filing taxes. Several listeners corrected the conductor–in Copland's time, the deadline was March 15.

Other times the challenge is to overcome the intimidation that some people feel about classical music, Slatkin says. He talks to audiences both during and after concerts, explaining the program and why he picks the pieces being played. Last season, he noticed a couple seated near the front of the concert hall. The wife had never been to a concert before. At the end of the evening, Slatkin heard the woman say, "It was fun. I was moved." That was music to Leonard Slatkin's ears.

Joy Zinoman

"You have to stay passionately engaged in the work."

You could call it the miracle on 14th Street. Sidewalks long littered with trash and needles now have signs for million-dollar condominiums, and new restaurants and galleries are opening. Much of the credit for the transformation is due to the Studio Theatre. Through grit and drama, Joy Zinoman has brought new life to both her stages and the street.

Twenty-six years ago, she shared a space on 14th Street; from there Studio moved twice within the neighborhood. Zinoman's boldest move is yet to come: Studio has acquired two buildings next door and is building a complex that will include two new theaters, classroom and rehearsal space, and state-of-the-art costume and scenery shops.

Zinoman has developed a model for keeping an independent theater afloat that is now being studied around the country: Studio has two same-size theaters, which enables Zinoman to extend a hit show. She plans ahead–casting replacement actors at the outset in case the leads cannot do an extended run. That kind of innovation enables Studio to offer education programs free to children in need–an important service to a neighborhood where halfway houses still outnumber boutiques.

Zinoman credits longtime colleagues with much of Studio's success: Russell Metheny, who started Studio with her; Keith Baker; and Serge Seiden. But it is the spirit of Zinoman, described by Variety as "the irrespressible maestro," that pervades the place.

"Her enthusiasm is the same as it was 25 years ago," says actor Floyd King, who has won three acting awards with Studio. Whether she's teaching a class or climbing through the rubble of what will be her new theater, Joy Zinoman is ever bursting with excitement.

Mary & Jesse Reaves

"When people need help, I'm going to answer that call."

Imagine pitching in at a soup kitchen. Now try running one. Now imagine running one for 30 years.

Jesse Reaves started a Seventh-Day Adventist mission in DC's Shaw neighborhood in 1973–and along with it a soup kitchen in his own home, which served three days a week out of the fledgling Fourth Street Friendship Church. Soon there was a line around the block.

In the church's first few years, Reaves's wife, Mary, was the force behind a slew of social services: tutoring, distribution of donated clothing, attending the sick. The couple started a Pathfinders chapter, which went camping, swimming, and boating to keep children out of trouble.

One time the kids, spotting a fancy house, surmised it must belong to a dope dealer. More likely a doctor or a lawyer, said Elder Reaves. But you stay in school, get an education; when the owner gets up in years, you can buy that house.

It was a violent neighborhood–Elder Reaves once preached eight youth funerals in a year–but church leaders guided their children to become teachers, postal workers, nurses, and proud parents in turn.

By request came a club for adults, too: Regeneration, for addicts and people with HIV/AIDS. "They turned my life around," says a man who existed largely on drugs, booze, and soup-kitchen handouts for five years. Now a husband, homeowner, and medical assistant, he credits Regeneration and the Reaveses.

As Fourth Street Friendship grew, it purchased a townhouse–and then another, then another. Jesse Reaves did much of the renovation. Mary Reaves became the church's volunteer director of community services in 1986, at age 61. Though the soup kitchen now operates Sundays only–when other churches' don't–she estimates it's served about a million meals.

On Sundays, Mary is in at 6 AM. After cleanup, she often delivers food or food baskets. During a 50- to 60-hour week, she picks up vanloads of donations, visits shelters, coordinates some 100 volunteers, and works with social-service agencies.

Why not retire into well-deserved rest? Says Mary, simply, "It's more blessed to give than to receive."

Darnerian McCants

"I told the team, anything dealing with kids, count me in. "

When it comes to helping kids, Redskin wide receiver Darnerien McCants, also known as D-Mac, is a guy who can't say no. Whether it's coaching Cardozo High School athletes at a football clinic as part of the Redskins' youth-development program or speaking to kids at the 4th & Life forum at FedEx Field, McCants is the first to volunteer his little free time. He loves to read to groups of children in local libraries, using a different voice for every character.

When he talks to young audiences, D-Mac stresses that it's life that matters, not lifestyle. "Education, that's always the message," says McCants. "You have to learn from everything you do, whether it's life, school, or football."

Kids always ask about the money he makes and the car he drives. "I won't sugarcoat what I do," he says. He tells them that Uncle Sam takes a big bite out of his paycheck and that players are taxed in every state where they play. And until recently he drove an old Volvo.

McCants grew up in Howard County, graduated from Arundel High School, and always loved the Redskins. "Guys like Wilbur Marshall–they had style and class." Art Monk was another of his heroes because "he did well but he wasn't boastful."

McCants studied art at Delaware State and planned to be a graphic artist. He still paints and plans a show in the off-season. In college, he was so serious about his work that many of his art professors weren't aware he played football. But pro scouts knew. After McCants set touchdown records in his senior year, he was drafted by his home team, the Skins. "Everything since my senior year has been a blessing," he says.

Just finishing his second season, McCants is second to none in his commitment to community service, says Charlene Lefkowitz of the Redskins Leadership Council. "If I'm saying something that can help at least one kid," McCants says, "that's enough for me."

William Leahy

"When you raise the bar for someone who's never had expectations, you'll be amazed what they can achieve."

Neurologist William Leahy realized that he was seeing more patients with Alzheimer's and other degenerative diseases. They were brought to his Greenbelt office by adult children desperate to find home care. At the same time, Leahy was reading about teens dropping out of school and getting into trouble–kids without skills, without hope. His brainstorm: a high-school home-health-aid training program, a way to meet the needs of both elderly and disabled patients and kids who weren't college-bound.

Leahy wrote the curriculum, convinced the Prince George's schools to let him offer after-school courses, recruited the kids, and taught the classes. He got Doctor's Hospital and Rexford Place, an assisted-living facility, to offer the clinical training. In 2001, 11 students completed the program. Though none was a star in school, all passed national certification tests the first time. Each had two or three job offers.

But numbers don't tell the whole story. One of Leahy's graduates works at Doctor's Hospital. She was very shy and down on herself, he recalls. Training to be a health aide, "she learned she could learn," he says. "She just blossomed." She had a future.

The program, now at Greenbelt's Eleanor Roosevelt High School, costs about $1,000 for each participant, but the students pay nothing. Leahy has raised funds and paid out of pocket for textbooks, exam fees, and expenses. He plows the royalties from the textbook he wrote right back into the program. "After three or four months," Leahy says, "you see the smiles. Kids are saying, 'I can do something. Somebody wants me.' " He adds: "This is better than my day job."

Mark Shields

"I feel very lucky to do what I do."

Columnist and commentator Mark Shields has emceed dozens of charity events, including every celebrity roast for the Spina Bifida Foundation. The easiest was for prince of darkness Robert Novak. "We had dozens of volunteers lining up to give him the needle," Shields says.

Roasting Shields himself would be harder. Sharp-witted but never sharp-tongued, Shields has earned a reputation as one of Washington's good guys. Aside from his charity appearances, Shields is a longtime supporter of So Others Might Eat and efforts to support aging nuns whose orders need help.

Shields and his family have also helped a school in Boston that offers education and enrichment to kids living in housing projects. A similar school is planned for Washington. "At the end of the eighth grade, prep schools are lined up to get those kids," he says. And he's deeply involved in Project Children, a program that brings Protestant and Catholic children from Northern Ireland to the United States to live and work together, breaking down barriers their parents cannot get through.

Inspired by John F. Kennedy, Shields came to Washington from the Marine Corps. While seeking a Capitol Hill job, he went to work at the North Capitol Street post office. Soon after starting, he got good advice from his supervisor: "Shields, you have no future in parcel post." His future in politics fared only slightly better. He worked in the presidential campaigns of Ed Muskie, Morris Udall, and Ted Kennedy. "I hold the NCAA record for writing concession speeches," he says.

It wasn't until Shields began writing about politics that he hit his stride. In 1979 Washington Post opinion-page editor Meg Greenfield asked Shields to write political editorials. He became a columnist soon after and started appearing on the PBS Newshour in 1987. His CNN show, The Capital Gang, began a year later.

What sets Shields apart from other talking heads is his belief in public service and positive change. "Politics is important," he says. "It is nothing less than the peaceful resolution of conflict among competing interests. It works."

Some of the credit goes to Mark Shields, a strong voice in Washington for both good sense and good works.

Jackie Bong-Wright

"We have to provide common solutions to our communities."

Jackie Bong became a heroine in South Vietnam after her husband was assassinated on the eve of becoming prime minister. She and their children were smuggled out of Saigon. Eventually remarried to a diplomat, Jackie Bong-Wright built a new life in Northern Virginia–and started helping fellow Vietnamese do the same.

She interpreted for boat families, then drew on embassy and government contacts to get them shelter and work, arrange for health checkups, get their kids into schools. All this became Indochinese Refugee Social Services. "In the beginning it was survival: education, jobs, houses," she says. "The second thing is empowerment, involvement, rights."

Once Bong-Wright's three children were grown, that meant a master's in international relations, then immigration, education, and health consulting. Those interests eventually coalesced into a new organization: the Vietnamese-American Voters Association, which she founded five years ago. She's gone on local Vietnamese Public Radio to urge civic participation; held forums last fall with 40 candidates; organized a "rock the vote" concert with ten other groups that attracted 600 young people. In 2000, she personally registered 2,000 people to vote.

"Jackie's efforts have pushed the Vietnamese community a giant step forward," says state senator Leslie Byrne. "It's wonderful to see."

Bong-Wright also attends to the health of older immigrants. She published and distributed 2,000 medical directories; this year a bilingual sequel will describe health departments, clinics, and help for the uninsured. That follows the conference she organized on cervical cancer: "Vietnamese have the highest rate in the world," she learned. Appalled, she worked with two other groups to pull together cancer experts and educate 150 people in Fairfax.

"We have to be pluralistic, have to be flexible," says Bong-Wright. "It is how we survive."

Sidney Shankman

"The only thing more addicting than drugs is seeing the effects of overcoming them."

They come up to him in the grocery store, on the street, at the airport: "Do you remember me? I'm a graduate of the program . . . ."

The program is Second Genesis, Washington's first program for drug treatment, and the subject of all this grateful attention is Dr. Sidney Shankman, who saw a need and filled it back in 1969.

Not that that was easy. As head of Alexandria's Community Mental Health Clinic, Shankman realized its services couldn't handle the rising tide of lives and communities ruined by substance abuse. When he started an outpatient group and then the area's first residential therapeutic community, he faced intolerance, threats, and financial strain to do it.

Second Genesis is not easy on the inside, either. Most clients come from the criminal-justice system. They've hit bottom, lost jobs and homes, destroyed families. They may be broke. "Anyone can leave at any time," the staff tells them, "but if you do, you're going to prison for the rest of your sentence." Some find recovery tougher than prison.

Over 35 years, Washington's first drug-and-alcohol program has grown into 11. On any one day, 275 adults and 110 children are in residential treatment, another 250 in outpatient treatment. Shankman still meets each new client to do a personal evaluation.

Tens of thousands have completed Second Genesis and stayed clean. "For every dollar spent on treatment," he says, "society saves seven–on jail, on foster care, on courts." Lives are saved, too. "I who once crawled across the floors of crack houses now live in Chevy Chase with my husband and our healthy son," writes one graduate. "I'm living out my dreams in dignity. I have Sidney Shankman to thank."

Carl Foster

"I consider all these kids to be my own."

arl Foster works two jobs. The night job pays the bills. The day job fills his heart.

Since 1997, Foster has been volunteer head of the Little Blue House, an early-childhood development center for abused and neglected children. Up to eight DC preschoolers live there, for days or a year or two.

They can't see? They get glasses. They won't talk? They get therapy. They shrink from strangers? They get held and fed and loved and read to, and soon they're smiling back and playing with everyone else on the water slide Carl built in the backyard.

But while the kids see fun, food, and learning, Foster and his staff and volunteer network put in at least as much research and advocacy. "We will see to it that each child's needs are met," he says. That involves a small army of pro bono lawyers, social workers, doctors, therapists, nutritionists, psychologists, and more. It means testifying in court, taking children to their first dental appointment and first non-McDonald's restaurant, rescuing crisis cases from car trunks at 2 AM.

How did the man who's been called both "fierce" and "DC's version of Mr. Rogers" make it here from a public-housing project in Hartford, Connecticut? Determination and smarts. "My younger brother died of carelessness and not listening to his family," says Foster, who did a tour in Vietnam before college and a succession of radio jobs. "I had just interviewed Candy Lightner of MADD. She said, 'You need to do something with this.' " He did, mentoring troubled preteens at Sasha Bruce Youthworks, sticking with them when no one else would. That was 1986; he's still in touch with many of those young people.

At the Little Blue House, the children are smaller, but the problems often are bigger. Most foster children have at least one chronic medical condition; most of their mothers are on drugs, officials say. Nearly all such children get routed into special education, whether they belong there or not. But not one child has left LBH for special ed. "Ours are adopted first, because they leave here healthy," says Foster. "When we place children, they stay. The rest of the system can't say that."

As one fan puts it, "Carl's tireless advocacy is nothing short of heroic."

Darell Hammond

"We give people something to fight for, not to fight against."

Darell Hammond takes fun very seriously.

"If play is the work of children, what happens if they're unemployed?" he says. "Ninety percent of children's character is formed by age five. Play is every day for children. We need to provide the opportunity and the outlet."

That's why he cofounded KaBoom!, a DC-based nonprofit that gets communities and corporations to build playgrounds–thus getting both kids and adults to invest in their neighborhood and providing kids a safe place to play. The group has built nearly 600 playgrounds–55 of them around Washington, including DC's first public skatepark–and renovated more than 1,500 others.

A lot of people had a hand in Hammond's own childhood. When his father left, his mother kept the eight kids together by moving them to an Illinois children's home supported by Moose Lodges: "Some people call it an orphanage, but I consider it my home–a happy one."

The Eagle Scout studied government and leadership development, did a string of City Year service projects, and ended up with Marian Wright Edelman after the 1995 March on Washington. Inspired by her example and by local needs, he and a friend "realized this was formative enough to build an organization around."

In eight years, KaBoom! has raised $25 million and involved companies that don't even have a presence in Washington. A new playground is typically 4,000 square feet–with 35 "play activities"–and takes four months to plan. Corporations put in 80 percent of the funds, and the neighborhood raises the rest. "If they work for it, the ownership is greater," Hammond says.

Ownership extends to the plans; children pipe up with their favorite colors and games, and adults often ask for benches, shade, and "talking spaces." On build day, neighbors and corporate volunteers pitch in.

KaBoom! has branched out: Its online Legislative Action Center helps parents and volunteers contact public officials about the importance of play areas and recess, and its manuals and site training show other groups how to replicate a playground build. Hammond's creative outreach has attracted the support of Home Depot, Snapple, and Target, among others; Ben & Jerry's even named an ice cream KaBerry KaBoom!

"Darell has sustained a movement," says one supporter. "Rather than simply point out what is wrong, he spends every day trying to create positive change. Darell's work in the District alone this year will allow more than 30,000 children to safely run, jump, play, and most important, dream."