News & Politics

Washingtonians Of The Year 2005

For 34 years, The Washingtonian has honored those who make the region a better place for all of us. This year's winners prove once again that good people can and do make a difference.

Barbara Fox Mason

"I only have the kids for so long. I have toimpact the family, too."

"Change the life of a child," read the ad in the newspaper. Barbara Fox Mason, a kindergarten teacher who had moved here with her husband from Massachusetts, wasn't looking for a job. But she was intrigued.

She was interviewed by a group of mothers living in the Cameron Valley Housing Project in Alexandria. The 17 children from Cameron Valley had flunked kindergarten that year and couldn't move up to first grade. The mothers felt they had to do something. They had persuaded a church to help them start a preschool, and they were looking for a teacher.

Mason started with six of the 17 students–and a lot of mothers looking in to see what she was doing. She picked the students up for school and brought them home. One day when they were out on the playground, Mason found herself dodging bullets.

"We all ran inside," she says. "We didn't even have a phone then."

All six of Mason's students completed her preschool and passed kindergarten the next year. "When they enrolled at public school, they were labeled as gifted," Mason says.

The next year, she had 12 kids. Today the little school that could is Child and Family Network Centers, serving 218 children and their families. CFNC now does more than preschool. There are screenings for visual, hearing, and learning problems, social-work services for families, English as a second language, and literacy classes.

A Paid Parent Program brings mothers into classrooms as aides. Mason believes that in addition to helping their kids, the mothers learn good parenting skills. Several mothers have gone on to get their GEDs and associate degrees. Many of the teachers started in the Paid Parent Program.

CFNC's waiting list is long because many low-income immigrant families don't qualify for Head Start and other federally subsidized programs when they live just above the poverty line or can't prove employment. CFNC doesn't charge families, so Mason has to raise more than $2.5 million a year to keep the centers running. She continues to work days, nights, and weekends.

Once called a tireless and tenacious advocate for impoverished families, Mason relishes the challenge. "Our kids do well," she says.

Shelley Kramm

"I never thought it couldn't be done."

Hadley's park is all about how a family's hopes crashed, AN idea was sparked, hard work made it real, and one good deed became hundreds more.

Shelley and Kenny Kramm's first child, Sarah, was premature and had a difficult birth. Things went better with their second daughter, Hadley, until she suffered a brain hemorrhage at ten days and developed cerebral palsy. "Every hope and dream was shattered," Shelley says. Their home filled with sleep monitors, medicines, medical paperwork, and therapists of all kinds.

At the playground, Sarah ran straight from the car; Hadley's wheelchair stuck in the mulch. One day tears rolled down her face as she watched her sister play. "I couldn't stand it anymore," their mother says. "I told Kenny, 'I'm going to build a playground where all the kids can play together.' "

She talked to therapists, consulted children and park builders, battled objections, and got the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission to donate an acre in Potomac. She lobbied the Maryland General Assembly, the county, and a fast-food chain for funds; found a landscape architect to donate services; and asked vendors about customized equipment.

Hadley's Park opened in 1999 with a castle, a frontier village, and a pirate ship. Signs used Braille and symbols. The grade was flat, the surface firm but yielding. Shelley started getting calls from around the country: "I decided maybe this one isn't enough."

She worked with the developer of Dulles Town Center on a second park. As three more were built at schools and another in Talbot County, Maryland, Kramm traveled to speak out about the need for playgrounds. "Through Hadley, so many other lives have been changed," she says–kids who welcome disabled peers; disabled parents finally able to play with their children.

Sarah is off to college this fall. Kramm began shutting down her nonprofit last year but is proud that it inspired some 250 playgrounds nationwide.

Hadley, ever cheerful, is mastering a 50-word vocabulary and power wheelchair. Though she's outgrowing "her" playground, says Kramm, "it's really where my heart is."

John M. Derrick Jr.

"I enjoy helping people face up to change."

John Derrick has had a full life: marriage, fatherhood, naval officer, then rising to become CEO of Potomac Electric Power Company. He's joined industry groups, taught Sunday school, and been a trustee of an investment trust.

But that wasn't enough. On the side, he's helped lead nonprofits throughout Washington–Arena Stage, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, Gallaudet University, Salvation Army, University of Maryland University College, Junior Achievement, the Nature Conservancy, YMCA . . . and a dozen more. The number of years he's volunteered on these boards–many as chair–totals more than 100.

"All these organizations do something I really believe in," he says. "When something really contributes, I want to get involved."

Derrick outdid himself with the local United Way. After one CEO pleaded guilty to defrauding the charity and another resigned amid scandal, donations plunged and staff was cut by 60 percent. The Pepco chief stepped in to lead the nominating committee for a new board, then chaired its 2003-04 campaign–and headed its major-donors society for two years. "If there's a single person most responsible for the resuscitation of the United Way, it's John," says United Way CEO Chuck Anderson.

Raised Methodist in DC's Tenleytown, Derrick grew up with a social consciousness and community activism. That feeds his appreciation for groups like Goodwill, which trains down-and-out adults for work. He speaks regularly to classes of new employees–many just off welfare, off drugs, or out of jail–on "how to approach a job and take control of your life."

An ex-con once told him, "I couldn't work for Pepco. I have a record." Derrick replied, "You have something I don't, something all my education and experience can't give: You can be credible telling youth not to take the same path you did. Only you can do that, and you should take that on as a vital part of your life. You have a real power for change with younger people watching you."

So has Derrick, and he's used it well.

Dr. Roselyn Payne Epps

"We need to see ourselves as a vital links in the lives of children–what they can be and should be."

When Roselyn Payne Epps visits fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms, she always asks kids what they want to be when they grow up. "It's amazing, all the occupations they know about," she says. "But I've never heard one child say I want to be a drug addict, on welfare, or in prison."

What happens to those children and their hopes has been the focus of Epps's life. Starting as a "well-baby doctor" in the DC Health Department in 1961 and rising to become the first acting commissioner of health for the District, Epps has worked to improve the health and welfare of children. She directed groundbreaking programs for disabled children and at-risk youth, bringing together the patchwork of public and private services for those who needed help.

"She is always concerned about public health, about the greater good, and always looking ahead," says Epps's daughter and namesake who is also a physician here.

Roselyn Epps broke new ground for women of color in medicine. As the first African-American president of the American Medical Women's Association, Epps edited Women's Complete Healthbook, written by women physicians.

As the first female African-American president of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia and the DC chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Epps focused on getting more babies immunized.

"That's the key, to have access to the family," she says. After the medical society set up free clinics in every ward in DC, the rate of inoculations rose from 40 percent to nearly 90 percent.

One of Epps's main projects now is creating a DC affiliate of Girls Inc., a national program that encourages girls to prepare for interesting work and economic independence, to take risks, and to take pride in success. Epps hopes to launch a center on the campus of Howard University so that girls can "see the possibilities" open to them.

Epps, a former president of Girls Inc., was honored for her work preparing the next generation of female leaders.

The motto of Girls Inc.: Be strong, smart, and bold. In other words, be like Roselyn Payne Epps.

J. Reilly Lewis

"I can't live without doing what I'm doingif it touches someone."

A frog saved Reilly Lewis from a medical career and Washington from a great musical loss.

"I was looking for a 'legitimate career' " while studying at Oberlin, he says. "Then we had to kill a frog." Lewis skipped class with the frog, dropped his premed major, won an organ competition, and went on to Juilliard. "It was always a goal to be a church musician," he says.

Lewis, who grew up playing at the Washington National Cathedral, achieved that: He's been choirmaster and organist at Clarendon United Methodist since 1971. But he's also brought world-class music to the region, inspired children, entertained and educated adults, and encouraged generations of promisingmusicians.

Only the second director of the Cathedral Choral Society in its 64 years, Lewis also founded the Washington Bach Consort, the nation's premier baroque chorus and orchestra, which attracts Metropolitan Opera stars as soloists. Though both groups command high prices–and critical raves–they offer free performances, especially for schoolchildren, such as NSO in Your Neighborhood, a CCS collaboration with the National Symphony that entertains 3,000 people.

The consort's Bach to School program brings in more than 5,000 students a year for performances, by professionals in period costume, that get them singing along. The CCS Young People's Christmas is a private concert for more than 30 District schools, a smaller version of the society's Joy of Christmas concert. CCS also educates area Girl Scouts and has included the DC Youth Orchestra in its free summer concerts.

Lewis seems as awed by the kids as they are by him. "Look at this picture," he whispers, pointing out a little girl clearly overwhelmed by the cathedral's massive organ, the conductor's enthusiasm, or both.

In his 20th year as CCS director, having toured overseas and helped establish Washington as "the choral capital not only of America but of the world," Lewis could record and conduct anywhere. He stays, working with amateurs as well as professionals, mentoring new talent, because "it's so fulfilling to see children and adults benefit from music. . . . I'm having such a good time right here."

Kojo Nnamdi

"Because I'm accessible, people feelthe airwaves are accessible."

It's Friday at noon, time for "the DC politics hour." Using history, opinion, and humor, radio host Kojo Nnamdi guides guests and callers through discussions of the child-welfare system and a proposed smoking ban. They're combative topics, but the worst insult aired is that a former DC Council member could have been defeated by "a well-spoken panda."

That's typical for the host of WAMU's The Kojo Nnamdi Show, which airs Monday through Friday, and the 20-year moderator of WHUT-TV's Evening Exchange. "Kojo asks the tough questions," says Greater Washington Urban League president Maudine Cooper. "He goes into the 'hood and brings out some level of honesty. He's respected and always there when you need him."

The Guyana native runs candidate debates and issues forums. He emcees fundraisers for nonprofits–recently for the Reading Connection, whose volunteers read to homeless and at-risk children. He chairs DC's Public Access Corporation and is a trustee of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. In between, he also reads five newspapers to prepare for broadcasts.

Nnamdi spun a background in acting and speechwriting into work as news editor at WHUT in 1973. Twelve years later he started hosting Evening Exchange, then a five-day-a-week panel discussion. In 1998 he was recruited for WAMU's Public Interest, previously The Derek McGinty Show. His two-hour tryout became a two-hours-daily second job.

"Radio is more fun, more intimate than TV," he says, "but TV often has a greater impact. I always want to make sure people are listening to something that helps them make intelligent decisions about their lives."

In 2001, the host began forays all over the area, exploring local issues of broader interest: affordable housing in Arlington, education in Prince George's, transportation in Fairfax, historic preservation on Capitol Hill. Crowds line up to take part.

Nnamdi often hears from interns he's mentored who go on to media careers: "There's a real gratification in seeing that." Listeners are gratified, too.

Josie Bowen

"If I made it, other young pregnant momscan make it, too."

Josie Bowen was 17 and a student at Eastern High School when she got pregnant with her daughter, Marsha. Bowen was lucky–she was offered a summer job at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which had a stay-in-school program. She got to walk across the stage at her high-school graduation. Her summer job turned into a permanent position, and a VA manager named Yasuko Shiraishi became her mentor.

"She told me all the do's and don'ts," Bowen says. "Most important, she cared about my well-being. She'd pick me up when I was down."

That's what Bowen does now for Youth Professional Development, which she started with her husband, Richard, in Prince George's County for teen mothers-to-be. YPD has helped nearly 1,000 young parents finish school, develop job skills and confidence, and find jobs or colleges that will accept young mothers.

At the same time, Bowen convinces employers that young mothers are worth the risk. One girl was pregnant for the second time and afraid to tell her mother. She was planning to drop out of school.

"You're so close, you can't quit," Bowen told her. Bowen offered to be there when the teenager told her mother, placed the girl in a summer job, and got her together with other young mothers. That young woman landed a job with the Secret Service, got married, and bought a house.

Another teen mother had no intention of attending college when she came into the program. She went on one of YPD's college tours and was accepted into Saint Paul's College in Virginia. She was on the dean's list every semester and graduated in 2004.

A key component of Bowen's program is rebuilding a teen mother's self-esteem. There's an annual weekend retreat that offers leadership and life-skills training.

At every retreat, Josie Bowen pulls out a $20 bill. "Who wants this?" she asks the girls. Everyone raises a hand.

Then Bowen takes the $20 bill, balls it up, throws it on the floor, and steps on it. "Who wants it now?" she asks the group. Again everyone raises a hand.

"You are like that $20 bill," Bowen tells the girls. "You haven't lost your value."

C.D. "Dan" Mote Jr.

"We have to be excellentat everything."

When Dan Mote came to College Park in 1998, the flagship campus of the University of Maryland boasted about its "pillars of excellence"–departments that had achieved national recognition.

The new college president thought that rather than holding the school up, the pillars were dragging it down.

"It's a matter of having high expectations for everything we do," Mote says, "or why do it at all?"

College Park has risen with Mote's expectations. In 1998, 28 of Maryland's academic programs were ranked in the top 25 in the nation–that number has nearly tripled. College Park now ranks 18th among public research universities–it was 30th when he arrived.

A research park next to the campus is home to the Center for the Advanced Study of Language, a joint venture with the Department of Defense, and soon will have the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's new World Weather and Climate Prediction Center.

Last year, 24,000 applied for the 4,000 spots in Maryland's freshman class. The accepted students had an average GPA of 3.9 and average SAT score of 1290. Fifty-eight percent of the incoming students were minorities.

Some of those students were part of an incentive program Mote launched to reach to schools that had never sent students to College Park. He started with nine schools in Baltimore and has extended it to five schools in Prince George's County. Seniors who are academically eligible for College Park and had overcome disadvantages in their lives are offered free tuition, books, and room and board for four years.

"The incentive program has the highest retention rate–93 percent–of any program on campus," Mote says.

Dan Mote is an engineer, but he is as comfortable with the people side of the university as with the research side. Every student has a standing invitation to have lunch with the College Park president.

"Everyone is here to succeed," he says. "It's the institution's job to help them get there."

Jayne Park

"I feel like we've just scratched the surface."

"Mia" emigrated from asia to marry a US citizen. Soon after, her husband refused to let her contact anyone; there was no home phone, and simply waving at a neighbor would bring hours of verbal abuse. Mia's husband demanded money in return for supporting her immigration status. When she prepared to flee, he became violent.

A shelter referred her to the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center, where a lawyer got her a protective order and helped with her divorce and immigration issues.

"I learned to trust and have faith," she wrote. "Without APALRC, I probably would not have been able to find peace."

Hundreds of similar happy endings are due to APALRC and executive director Jayne Park. The nonprofit was formed in 1998 in a closet at Georgetown University Law Center. Bilingual volunteers answered two or three phones. Under Park's leadership, six full-time staff members back 40 law-student volunteers and 35 contracted legal interpreters. Its referral hotline handles problems in ten languages.

Making all this work is Park's mission: She's chief fundraiser, coordinator, strategist, and community builder. "Jayne has a gift for bringing together Asian and non-Asian nonprofits to work toward common goals," says a fan.

One fulfilled goal: DC's Language Access Act, which in 2004 mandated that all government agencies be useable by those with limited English. Getting it enforced is one APALRC aim; another is to expand direct legal aid beyond domestic violence and employment issues.

With some 64,000 local Asian-Americans considering themselves "linguistically isolated"–and nearly half living in poverty–APALRC is in demand. Park hopes to hire more lawyers and to centralize training for interpreters across ethnicities. "Kids should not be brought in to translate for Mom in a domestic-violence case," she says.

Why not sell her legal talent to a big firm? "My heart was to go to the grassroots level," Park says. "To build the organization, to build community."

Pamela L. Michell

"We welcome the unwelcome, the least, the lost,the lonely, the left behind, those for whom all others have given up hope."

"Homeless doesn't mean houseless," says Pam Michell, who heads New Hope Housing. For Michell, home is more than "three hots and a cot." Home means comfort, belonging, and acceptance.

New Hope Housing takes in people other programs reject–people with mental illness who aren't taking their medications, people with criminal records, with behavior problems, with active substance abuse. The idea is that once people are assured of food and shelter, the program can nudge them toward change, provide the tools for change, and inspire hope for a fresh start.

One woman who came to New Hope Housing had suffered from both domestic violence and chronic depression. Her husband had left, and her kids were out of control.

"She was a terrible resident," Michell says. "She screamed and yelled." At the shelter, the kids got the structure they needed and became honor-roll students. One is now at Northern Virginia Community College. The mother got a job in a funeral home. The family was able to move out of New Hope and on to productive lives.

Pam Michell came to Washington in 1974 determined to change the world. She worked for federal and local agencies and nonprofits before she came to New Hope in 1990. The program then had three emergency shelters with 82 beds.

Today New Hope Housing operates emergency walk-in shelters for homeless men and women, family shelters, transitional housing, and services to help residents break the cycle of poverty and homelessness in Fairfax County and Falls Church. The organization serves 1,000 people a year with a comprehensive program that Virginia recently named the state's best housing program.

It's a hands-on job for Michell. Recently when a resident's fear kept him from taking a shower for 60 days, she went to the shelter and spent two hours coaxing him to clean himself up.

"We have to treat each person with dignity and respect," she says. "We are here to provide hospitality, forgiveness, and hope."

Dr. Juan Romagoza

"I continue doing what they tried to kill me for."

Juan Romagoza no longer performs surgery. The torturers who damaged his hands during the Salvadoran civil war made sure of that. But they couldn't stop him from healing his people, even 2,000 miles away.

Romagoza fled El Salvador and made his way to Washington, where he volunteered at La Clinica del Pueblo, a tiny clinic with one doctor, open only a few hours a week. After a stint in California, he returned to DC as the failing clinic's director, supporting himself for two years as a janitor before a bit of funding trickled in.

Ten percent of DC's population now is Latino, about half of those Salvadoran. Many have no insurance. Some abuse substances to escape–the pain of families left behind or killed, the lack of English skills, the poverty and discrimination. La Clinica serves all for free.

The bright waiting room features a play area and bilingual brochures on diabetes, HIV, pregnancy, cancer, and nutrition. There are 80 staff, 30 to 50 volunteers, and partnerships with Howard University Hospital and the Children's Law Center. Unlike most neighborhood clinics, this one promotes mental-health care and alternative therapies. It operates 12 hours each day–seeing 7,000 patients a year–and has organized them to lobby for resources.

Romagoza, now a US citizen, is devoted to his compatriots–no matter what. One night a homeless drunk came in, one of Romagoza's Salvadoran torturers. They drank coffee and cried together, and the doctor invited the man to stay at his home for a week. "I learned from him to see the human in everyone," Romagoza says.

Because he does, the director is grateful not to charge: "That money might be for food. This way I can help the most vulnerable."

Mark H. Tuohey III

"I was raised on the Jesuit philosophy–to be in the middle of things and serve others."

If Mark Tuohey has his way, the call "play ball" will be heard on newly built baseball fields all over the city so local kids get their chance to play.

As head of the DC Sports and Entertainment Commission, a volunteer job with no pay but lots of bosses, Tuohey has been the city's point man in dealing with Major League Baseball. But Tuohey really took the job to get more kids into sports by building or fixing the playing fields, tennis and basketball courts, and gymnasiums they need.

"We are involved in renovation and construction of a major sports complex at Kenilworth Park in Anacostia," Tuohey says. The commission is building 15 new fields for football, baseball, soccer, track, and other sports. The commission plans a new home field for Ballou High School and the Boys & Girls Clubs.

"These facilities will not only benefit neighborhood kids, they'll enable kids from all over the region to play together in Anacostia," he says.

Renovating the DC Armory is also on Tuohey's agenda. He envisions a new NBA development-league franchise, a professional lacrosse team, and interschool and intercollegiate games being played there. He talks about a gymnastics program, an indoor track program, and bringing boxing back to the Armory.

How is Tuohey going to do all this? With funds from the federal government, foundations, baseball, and contributions.

Tuohey came to Washington in 1973 to work for the US Attorney's office. He stayed to practice law at Vinson & Elkins. His office there says a lot about the man.

There are only two photographs on Tuohey's wall, and he isn't in either one. One is of Bobby Kennedy on a road in Oregon–a picture from Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign, which Tuohey worked on. The other is the team picture of the 1924 world-champion Washington Senators with Walter Johnson and Bucky Harris flanking President Calvin Coolidge.

There's plenty of room for a picture of the Nationals as champions. Meanwhile, Tuohey carries a mental picture of Nationals fans–the 500 who boarded buses to Philadelphia for the opening game and the faces of parents and kids cheering in the RFK stands.

"That's my tangible reward," he says.

Brendan and Sean Tuohey

"Most the kids are nervous. Watching the fears subside and the spirit of competition take over is one of the best parts of my job."

What's a nice boy like Sean Tuohey, 29, doing in the back alleys of Tulkarm, a Palestinian village in the West Bank? Teaching 12-to-14-year-old kids to play basketball.

It's the first step in getting Arab and Jewish kids together on the basketball court as part of Playing for Peace, the program Tuohey started with his brother, Brendan, 31, in 2001 to use the sport to break down cultural and religious barriers.

Both Tuoheys played college basketball. After college, Brendan moved to Dublin in 1996 to play for the Tolka Rovers. He discovered that Catholic and Protestant kids never played together. They played different sports. And neither group played basketball.

Sean soon followed his brother across the pond, but he headed to Belfast. He began coaching basketball, mixing Protestant and Catholic kids on the teams. And it worked. Then a police chief in Belfast suggested that Sean organize the same kind of games in South Africa.

By this time, Brendan was back in Washington, coaching at Gonzaga. The Tuohey brothers raised enough money from family and friends to formalize the program they called Playing for Peace. Last summer, Sean moved to Israel to start Playing for Peace there.

Both Tuoheys work on it full-time now–Sean internationally and Brendan in Washington, raising money and awareness.

There are three secrets to the program's success, Brendan believes: Basketball is a neutral sport associated with no race or group; the kids are old enough to play but young enough so their prejudices aren't set in stone; and Playing for Peace runs year-round in their neighborhoods, so it becomes part of kids' daily lives.

Playing for Peace now trains and employs local coaches, includes leadership training for players, and has a grant to provide AIDS education for players in South Africa.

But for the Tuoheys, it's all about the healing power of the sport. In the first championship game played by mixed teams of Israeli and Arab kids, with ten seconds to go and the score tied, Samer, an Arab point guard, drove the length of the floor and passed to Ido, a Jewish shooting guard who put in the winning three-pointer just as the buzzer went off.

The real outcome? Everybody won.

Joe Youcha

"We use the river, boats, and boat building to teach kids, get them jobs, get them back on track."

GO DOWN TO JOE YOUCHA'S WORKSHOP ON THE POTOMAC AND you'll see young men learning to build wooden boats. What you won't see is that Youcha is building futures.

He has an agreement with the International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners: The union will take every kid he recommends into its apprenticeship program.

But first the young men have to complete Youcha's program at the Alexandria Seaport Foundation. That includes hands-on training in boat building, academics so the kids can get their GEDs, drug counseling if needed, and a lot of attitude adjustment.

Many of Youcha's apprentices have been in trouble. "We socialize these kids," he says. "We give them something better to do, get them ready to go into real jobs."

To be accepted by the union, an apprentice needs a diploma or GED, driver's license, car, and his own tools. Youcha has a deal with Don Beyer to help buy used cars for the kids in his program. He'll arrange driver's ed. He'll get donated tools or donations to buy them. Volunteers and staff work with kids every step of the way. "Whatever it takes," Youcha says.

Growing up near New York's Hudson River, Joe Youcha helped his father build a wooden boat when he was five. The craft is still a labor of love–one he shares with families interested in boat building. But his true mission is the apprentice program.

The first time boys come into the shop, they say, "We can't do that," he says.

A week or two later, it's "we can do it, but it's not going to float."

A month or two after that, it's "we can launch it, but I'm not getting in it."

But when they finally do get out on the water, they discover a new world. Youcha remembers Quincy, a teen in the first group, who had to be coaxed into the boat he helped build.

Sailing on the Potomac at sunset, Quincy said, "It's beautiful out here. How come everybody's not out here?"