News & Politics

Washingtonians of The Year 2006

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

Keely Thompson

“Once these kids start boxing in the ring, they stop fighting in the street.”

The kids trading punches mean business. They dance around, looking for chances to take each other down. The shouts from ringside are accompanied by thuds of fists hitting weight bags and feet on treadmills.

These sounds are music to the ears of former world lightweight boxing champion Keely Thompson, the man the kids call “Champ.” Thompson knows that every boxing glove donned is another potential gang fight averted and another homework lesson completed. Thompson had retired from the ring and was running his restaurant, Champ’s Southern Food, when DC councilman Jim Graham came to see him. “I’m tired of locking kids up,” Graham said. “Can you put together a program to help get kids off the streets?”

Thompson opened Keely’s District Boxing and Youth Center in the basement of the United Methodist Church on DC’s Columbia Road three years ago. More than 100 kids showed up the first day. Now 1,100 are involved.

Literacy and nutrition classes are mandatory. Boxing gives the kids discipline and helps them get in shape. The program is an outlet for youthful energy. “They leave here too tired to get into trouble,” Thompson says.

Thompson got into boxing by accident. One summer day, all his friends were going to Kings Dominion. Thompson’s family couldn’t afford the trip, so they took him to a local boxing gym. Most of those friends are now “locked up, killed, strung out on something, or working for me,” he says.

Thompson needs more space and more equipment. But six Golden Gloves champions have come from the church basement. More important, every kid there is learning what is worth fighting for: Get a good education. Work hard. “I didn’t make $350 million, but I live better than Mike Tyson,” Thompson says.

He’s giving hundreds of Columbia Heights kids a fighting chance.

Ricardo Drumond

“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.”

Natwar Gandhi

“I have never done more important work in my life.”

Quick: Where is Natwar Gandhi in charge of the money?

Hints: His city has its highest-ever bond ratings. As a percentage of budget, it has more reserves than most states. Once half a billion dollars in the hole, now it’s one of America’s most solvent cities.

If you’d guessed the District of Columbia even a few years ago, you might have been laughed out of the room. Nat Gandhi got that reaction when he told his General Accounting Office colleagues that he was taking a job with Anthony Williams, DC’s federally installed chief financial officer. No wonder: After the Marion Barry years, DC financial records were literally in piles on the floor. Gandhi, as head of the tax office, fired most top officials and found new revenue sources. In the 6½ years since then-mayor Williams made him CFO, Gandhi and his staff have turned in only balanced budgets and clean audits.

Gandhi’s gotten grief for the closure of DC General Hospital and praise for his spending cap for the new baseball stadium. Without his guidance, there probably wouldn’t be a stadium site, let alone one on schedule. Both decisions came from the same iron will and reverence for honest math. “That’s the whole idea of this office,” he says: “to make sure this city never again goes bankrupt.”

The once-poor Indian immigrant loves his adopted country and city enough to write two poetry collections in their honor. And whereas former Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan once said he did calculus problems for fun, Nat Gandhi takes his grandson to Nationals games. “A great city should have great museums, monuments, and universities,” he says. “A great city deserves a great stadium.”

Jatrice Martel Gaiter

“I work for these kids. They hold me accountable.”

Teens like to talk, and sex is a favorite topic. Jatrice Martel Gaiter encourages teens to talk—and gives them a safe environment to do so—because it could save their lives.

Gaiter is head of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, which most people associate with contraception and reproductive health. But the young people who flock to the Teen Clinics she’s created have a broader agenda. Some come to do their homework, others to feel cared for and respected.

Young people are a passion for Gaiter. Previously a leader at SOS Children’s Villages and three United Way affiliates, she has helped start a women’s shelter and promote teacher education.

Planned Parenthood’s five area clinics provide healthcare and education to 50,000 men, women, and teens each year. Ninety percent of its services are sex education and family planning, and two-thirds of its clients have little or no health insurance.

Teens are especially vulnerable. To launch the Teen Clinic in DC’s Ward 7, Gaiter won the trust of local churches, schools, and sports coaches. Volunteers teach photography, writing, and advocacy and lead field trips: “The White House, Kennedy Center, and Smithsonian may as well be on another planet” to these kids, she says, “so we do a lot of those.” There’s a book club, homework help, support groups, snacks, an innovative mental-health program, and professional clothing and advice for those preparing for job interviews. Since 2003, the center has served 4,000 youth.

Two years ago, PPMW launched a similar clinic in Gaithersburg aimed at Hispanics. Even being open twice a month—as opposed to six days a week—it’s serving more than 500 teens a year.

As a College Park government major, Gaiter didn’t expect to hang a bulletproof vest at the office. But she’s no stranger to hardship. An Army brat from a poor family, she lived all over Washington and helped raise her siblings after her mom, a DC teacher, died young.

“Sometimes I think of these kids as my kids,” Gaiter says, and she backs up the sentiment with hugs, mentoring, and supplies. “When she sees a need, she does something about it,” says a DC parent. “She is the type of person many of our teens want to become.”

Jean Guiffré

“One woman said, ‘If you didn’t deliver food to me, I would starve to death.’ ”

It started 27 years ago with a pot of coffee. Private investigator Jean Guiffré had gone to visit her ailing mother in Hyattsville. When Guiffré offered to make coffee, her mother admitted that her cupboards were bare. A supermarket was only a block away. But for a woman with severe arthritis and congestive heart failure, that market could have been on Mars.

Guiffré started shopping for her mother. She soon discovered that lots of elderly and disabled people needed this kind of help, but they didn’t ask for fear that they would lose their independence.

“I realized nobody else was going to do it,” Guiffré says. So she started Top Banana Home Delivered Groceries with $2,000 and an old van. “I picked the name to make people smile,” she says.

Today Top Banana serves 520 people in DC and Prince George’s, Montgomery, and Charles counties. Clients call to order their groceries. The items are delivered to the door or the kitchen. Drivers will unpack, loosen jar lids for arthritic hands, and make sure clients are doing well.

“Sometimes they are the only people these seniors see,” says Theresa Grant, director of Aging Services in Prince George’s County. Clients do pay for groceries and service—but that covers only 55 percent of Top Banana’s costs. When times were tough, Guiffré remembers taking the delivery truck out herself. “I got in the back and I railed at God,” she recalls. “I couldn’t turn my back on these people. And somehow we made it.”

Guiffré worries that there are still many people who need Top Banana, but even those closest to them don’t know it. “Be sure to give out our number,” she says. That’s 301-372-food.

Vivian G. Bass

“It’s a thrill to meet one of our residents unexpectedly—at the bank, at a Renaissance festival, waiting at a bus stop. They are part of the community. That defines who we are and what we do.”

It looks like every other house in the neighborhood. But the “family” that lives there isn’t made up of ordinary people. They are adults with disabilities and staff members who help them live meaningful, independent lives.

This is one of 20 group homes and dozens of apartments operated in the area by the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes. Residents are treated with such dignity and respect that the program has become a model for residential programs all over the nation.

This is the house that Vivian Bass built. She has been the 24/7 hands-on director of the program for more than a decade. Bass led the group to accept residents who are deaf as well as mentally retarded and residents with mental illness.

Ten years ago, when Great Oaks Center—the Maryland institution for people with severe disabilities—closed, Bass persuaded the JFGH board to accept five of its residents.

Today the more than 150 adults served range from the high-functioning to the severely disabled. But JFGH actually serves hundreds more—the family members of residents.

“They told me my daughter would be a vegetable,” one mother said. “Now I go to her house and she’s preparing vegetables.”

Thanks to Vivian Bass, such little miracles are part of daily life in these group homes.

Terre Jones

“Art is the soul of our nation. Without arts education, a generation will grow up missing a part of themselves.”

Out in Virginia, the woods are alive with the sound of music. Wolf Trap, the only national park devoted to the performing arts, is well known for the more than 100 musical performances annually in its outdoor Filene Center.

But there’s a lot more music than is ever seen on stage. Catherine Filene Shouse, who created Wolf Trap and gave the land for the park, envisioned a center for arts education. Thanks to Terre Jones, president of the Wolf Trap Foundation, Shouse’s dream has become a reality.

Jones built the Center for Education that now serves as a mecca for teachers, artists, and would-be artists. The Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts has brought creative energy into 450 preschool classes in the District and trained hundreds of teachers in ways to incorporate arts into the curriculum.

Every year, Wolf Trap honors area preschool teachers. “It may not be as glamorous as other award ceremonies, but the pride of these unsung heroes is palpable as they receive plaques, applause, and attention they rarely receive,” Jones says.

Jones has also strengthened the Wolf Trap Opera Company and provided a state-of-the-art facility for its young singers. The company has nurtured world-class singers like Denyce Graves; 18 former members of the company are part of Columbia Artists Management, the premier agency representing opera stars. Last year, more than 600 people auditioned for the 12 to 15 openings.

“Jones has become a passionate voice for the value of the arts in the lives of everyone,” says JoAn D. Tolley, daughter of Wolf Trap’s founder. “I have seen Catherine Filene Shouses’s vision of arts and education realized. He has exceeded all of our hopes.”

Jim Larranaga

“We didn’t believe the experts. We believed in ourselves.”

When George Mason University’s men’s basketball team ended up in the Final Four in the 2006 NCAA basketball tournament, it seemed like coach Jim Larranaga’s finest hour. But for many at Mason, Larranaga’s most shining moments were off the court.

He demanded more from his players than winning games.

When one of his stars, Tony Skinn, punched an opponent during a major game, Larranaga benched him for the first round of tournament play. Larranaga’s action won fans who never set foot in an athletic arena. One Mason philosophy professor says, “Instances of such courageous holding to principle are rare.”

Skinn apologized, rejoined the team, and scored three critical free throws to beat defending champion North Carolina.

Larranaga’s high standards hit home. When his son Jon was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age eight, Larranaga coached Jon to deal with his illness head-on. Jon never missed a day of elementary school, Larranaga recalls, and both of Larranaga’s sons grew up to be academic All-American basketball players.

Larranaga started the Coach L Shootathon to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. GMU players worked out with kids with diabetes, and Jon came to show how he had coped with the disease. The Shootathon ran for five years, raised $150,000, and is now part of JDRF’s annual walkathon.

This year will be tougher for the Patriots: Before, they were the underdogs; now every opponent will prepare “like it’s the biggest game of the season for their school,” Larranaga says. Coach L isn’t worried. He quotes Albert Schweitzer: “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.”

By any standards, Jim Larranaga is a very happy man.

Charlene Nunley

“I committed to devote my life to community colleges.”

At a campus event, Montgomery College president Charlene Nunley was chatting with a Maryland state senator and his wife. “I’m so impressed,” Nunley remembers the wife saying. “Someday you’ll go on to be president of a prestigious, selective university.”

“Why would I want to do that?” she replied. “Those students will probably be successful anyway. Here I get to change lives every day.”

In her eight years as head of Maryland’s largest community college, Nunley has stressed getting the widest variety of students into and through higher education. To handle rising enrollment, she secured public funds for the biggest two-year-college expansion in state history—adding four buildings at the Takoma Park campus and integrating it with a revitalized Silver Spring. To encourage sci-tech, she’s led planning of a 40-acre business park at Germantown with a bioscience center and a publicly funded technology incubator.

She helped bring half a dozen University of Maryland System college programs to Shady Grove; now county residents can get a four-year degree close to home. The Gateway to College program lets at-risk youth finish high school and get an associate’s degree. Montgomery Scholars honors-level students and others have the chance to study in Cambridge, England, on scholarship.

All this takes money, and Nunley has pushed Montgomery College into America’s top five community colleges in private fundraising. Says Dan Mote, president of the University of Maryland at College Park, “Charlene has shaped the college and its future.”

Joe Mornini

“We wanted to give them back the sense of adventure.”

The young men and women wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan often face another tough battle at home—the fight to rehabilitate their bodies and their lives. Montgomery County teacher Joe Mornini has found a way to give them back some of the joy and adventure that used to be part of their lives. He cofounded Team River Runner to get disabled vets and their families into whitewater boating.

On Tuesday nights, he and a group of volunteers are at the swimming pool at Walter Reed Army Medical Center helping soldiers in kayaks practice Eskimo rolls. Out in the hallway, other volunteers customize boats to meet the needs of injured kayak users.

Thursday afternoon, spring and fall, Mornini and crew are on the Potomac. They started three years ago with borrowed boats hauled on the tops of cars. Team River Runner has raised enough money for a van; a kayak outfitter helped them acquire boats and equipment; and so many kayakers have volunteered to help that Mornini has to turn them away.

But the energy that powers the program is pure Mornini.

Washington lawyer Sidney Dickstein, dubbed “Colorado Sid” by Mornini, learned about the program because Mornini teaches at Walt Whitman High School, the school his children attended and his grandchild goes to now. Dickstein raised funds to transport Team River Runner out to Colorado for a whitewater trip.

Mornini made vets “earn” their way to Colorado. “They have to show up and develop the skills,” Mornini says.

One of the kayakers on the Colorado trip was Corporal Derrick Harden. He lost his right leg below the knee. His left leg is still scarred from an explosion that blew him through a wall. “When I’m in a kayak, I’m like everyone else who has legs and arms,” Harden says.

“If you listen to Joe, you can do anything,” Dickstein says. “He is convinced. And that conviction makes it happen.”

Earl A. Powell III

“We are the future. I don’t think looking at art can ever get old-fashioned.”

Earl “Rusty” Powell is only the fourth director of the National Gallery of Art. When he arrived in 1992, the museum already had 95,000 works of art, a stunning addition designed by I.M. Pei, and a tradition of blockbuster exhibitions.

Powell has added to the gallery’s luster with more highly regarded exhibitions—including the Vermeer show in 1995, so popular that people waited for hours on a freezing day to see it.

When the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam closed for renovations, Powell arranged for 70 of its masterpieces to come to Washington. “Our free passes were sold on the street for more than the price of a Redskins ticket,” Powell recalls. This month an exhibition of the work of Jasper Johns is expected to draw similar crowds.

“The big shows create an interest in the permanent collection,” Powell says. That collection has expanded—including new galleries for photographs and prints. A six-acre sculpture garden and galleries for more than 200 pieces of sculpture have been added.

Powell is bringing the gallery into the 21st century—embracing new technology to widen its impact and audience. The Micro Gallery—a comprehensive interactive computer system—enables visitors to see every work in detail and to learn more about the art.

Powell has also increased the gallery’s emphasis on education and outreach. A children’s Web site,, encourages young artists to create jungles inspired by painter Henri Rousseau and to design pictures online. These new tools open the arts to many more people. But nothing beats seeing the work up close and in person—and at Rusty Powell’s National Gallery, the best things in life are still free.

Andrea Roane

“One caller told me that we saved her life. She had breast cancer, but she found it early.”

Some smart women do dumb things when it comes to their health. They rarely do breast self-exams and put off getting mammograms. A mammogram can be uncomfortable—“but it beats the alternative,” says WUSA Channel 9 anchor Andrea Roane, who has championed women’s health for the past 13 years.

Roane initiated Buddy Check 9 here—the program that encourages women to buddy up and remind each other monthly to do self-exams and get annual mammograms. Men and women often call Roane to tell her how the program has affected their lives.

One woman told Roane that, thanks to a self-exam, she found a lump just a few months after her annual mammogram. Her diligence made a difference—she lived to tell her story.

One in nine women in the DC area will develop breast cancer. African-American women in DC have the highest mortality rate. Survival rates can reach 93 percent if the disease is caught early. That’s why Roane is so passionate about getting the message out.

Roane and Buddy Check 9 have teamed with Georgetown’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates helps too with a mammography van that reaches women where they live and work.

Roane started as a teacher in New Orleans, so it comes naturally for her to keep after women to do their health homework. “I still believe that education is the answer to all that ails us,” she says.

William C. Smith

“It’s great to take part in children’s lives and broaden people’s horizons.”

Nearly half the District’s children live in Southeast. Some 7,000 live within a mile of one spot. If someone were to create on that spot a gym, a school, ballet, social services, art, music, job training, college classes, and healthcare, those families would burst through the doors.

Someone did: Christopher Smith, CEO of William C. Smith & Co., the District’s largest residential-management firm.

At first, Smith’s vision was a small community center for a renovated apartment complex. But “even the pool was serving only half the kids who wanted in,” Smith noticed. “We decided to open it up.”

He started talking to potential partners: the Levine School of Music, Children’s Hospital. “Good news travels fast,” says Smith. “Next thing we knew, we had the Washington Ballet, the Corcoran, Washington Middle School for Girls, the Boys and Girls Clubs. An all-star cast.”

Revised plans for 30,000 square feet were suddenly too small. Nearly that much went to Covenant House alone; the nonprofit offers at-risk youth everything from legal services to life-skills and job counseling.

Fifteen months ago, Smith and partners unveiled a gleaming, 110,000-square-foot facility in Anacostia named Town Hall Education Arts & Recreation Campus. In its first year, they expected to see 800 children and adults. Instead, they got 2,000 a week.

Neighborhood groups book up the meeting space. More than 30 schools host graduation in the theater. This year’s Nutcracker premiered there. “The synergy is incredible,” says Smith. “The ballet held a dance camp; they did a field trip to the Kennedy Center. Back here at the Corcoran, the kids drew images of what they’d seen. Then the gallery on the first floor displayed them.”

New stores and housing are sprouting nearby. Parents are furthering their education at Trinity University’s branch. The Double Nickels seniors group volunteers with programs throughout. “The children of this neighborhood know that THEARC is a safe haven,” says Jennifer Gibbs-Phillips, former head of the Washington Middle School for Girls. Thanks to Smith, all of Anacostia is learning that, too.

Anne Mosle

“People involved with us feel positive about doing something for the greater good.”

You can invest in people by giving to a charity. Or you can invest in people by creating a charity—plus building financial savvy and developing philanthropic leaders.

After just eight years, the Washington Area Women’s Foundation gave more than $1 million last year to 90 regional nonprofits for women and girls. “We’re creating a new model of philanthropy,” says president Anne Mosle. “Women come together as both donors and recipients.” One of the world’s five fastest-growing women’s foundations, WAWF is already in the top 10 percent in grantmaking. It also trains leaders of partner organizations—those that receive grants and provide direct aid—to operate more effectively, deliver more services, and raise more money.

WAWF has formed the Washington 100, who commit $10,000 over two years. But thousands of donors give much less. Volunteers investigate charities and aim to address the greatest needs to build stronger communities. WAWF ultimately focuses on building financial independence for low-income families.

Mosle’s parents volunteered and donated and taught young Anne to do the same. “Equity is really important to me,” she says. “I’m driven by how to help vulnerable populations.”

WAWF gave four hours’ training on donor and board development to Bethel House, which serves the needy of Prince George’s and Charles counties. Within two days, executive director Sherita Seawright requested—and won—a $10,000 donation. “The training taught me that people give because people ask,” says Seawright. Mosle and the foundation “are able to harness their talents and make a serious impact on the Washington area. They’re awesome!”

Zainab Salbi

“It’s in the national interest to invest in women.”

Instead of taking a honeymoon, Zainab Salbi took on the world.

The Iraqi native and her new husband meant to visit Spain in 1993. Then they heard news of the rape camps in Bosnia and Croatia.

Salbi found no nonprofits working on the problem, but All Souls Church, Unitarian, in Northwest showed an interest. With its support and $2,000 of honeymoon money, the two flew to Croatia to document war victims’ horrors. Salbi, an abuse survivor herself, came back inflamed. She quit her translator job to start Women for Women International and serve “those with no money and no voice.”

WFWI first gains community support—crucial where men rule by the sword. Women most in need gather biweekly to share experiences, learn about rights, and receive survival and psychological aid. Meanwhile, women get guidance on business plans and long-term self-sufficiency. Some women lease or buy land to farm; some form cooperatives. In Kosovo, Salbi says, “everyone spent money on fixing damaged doorframes and windows. So we set up carpentry classes.”

The nonprofit does leadership training for men as well. As a result, an Ibo chief in Nigeria abolished persecution of widows; a Congolese leader punished soldiers who rape enemies.

Nearly 23,000 sponsors send encouraging letters plus $27 a month for a year to women in nine countries. Supporters number 6,700 around DC, where WFWI is based. Growing up in Saddam Hussein’s Baghdad taught Salbi the safety of silence. Now she helps others find greater safety in speaking out—and “blossoming like a flower.”

Jacquelyn Davis

“All children deserve to have a passionate and high-quality principal.”

Jacquelyn Davis is always starting something. Before starting law school at Georgetown, it was Hands on D.C., a yearly workathon to fix up public schools and fund college scholarships. The all-volunteer organization is now in its 13th year.

Then, while teaching a law course at a DC high school, Davis and other GU students found that “the kids were so smart but weren’t being provided the skills they needed to get anywhere,” she says. “We said, ‘Something must be done. Let’s start a charter high school!’ ” They did: Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School in Southeast, whose curriculum centers on law and government.

Davis turned down a clerkship with a federal district judge to lead the school’s initial marketing, external affairs, and fundraising. She was training 300 volunteers to tutor and mentor its teens when a group called New Leaders for New Schools got in touch. It was considering a DC program. If so, would she be its director?

“My first response,” she says, “was no way: ‘I’m tired—I want a normal job.’ ”

Instead, New Leaders became her normal job. Early in 2003, Davis selected ten top teachers and administrators to undergo NLNS training, an intense year that immerses would-be principals in best practices, coursework, and leadership development. The program coaches and mentors them for another three years on the job.

“We want schools where 90 percent of students are at grade-level proficiency,” Davis says. Some District schools now are at 7 percent: “We have a long way to go.”

NLNS’s work is helping to turn the tide. One of its 36 new principals had the biggest improvement in DC school attendance last year, and NLNS principals on average already outperform others in student test scores.

“Jac is amazing. She models problem-solving and takes time to help me be strategic, business-minded, and efficient,” says Roslyn Rice, principal of H.D. Cooke Elementary. “She gives great advice and doesn’t seem to sleep.”

Davis misses teaching, especially those “aha moments,” but says “here I can multiply those moments across the city.” DC children benefit from that for life.

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