2015 Azalea Awardees

Referee brothers Lonnie and Major Coleman receive the Coach award.The rain held off and spirits remained high for the 2015 Azalea Awards held in conjunction with Celebrate Takoma. Out of an amazing slate of nominees and more than 1,600 votes cast, this year's award winners were:

Arts Leader: Kelly O'Connor. Twice a year, while Kelly O'Connor smiles silently in a corner, off-Broadway comes to life on the Blair stage. That is not just a turn of phrase. Critics have praised Kelly's stirring professionalism as director of the Blair thespians. Perhaps most compelling about her dramatic plays and musicals is her casting against type. How you look, where you're from, whether a boy or girl—these don't matter so much as your talent, and she is an ace at finding remarkable teenage performers, many of whom never acted before. Yet she is as unassuming as the day is long, and during every run she does stay in the background, trusting the student stage manager and crew to keep the show running smoothly and the actors to “break a leg.” In her spare time, Kelly writes reviews for Shakespeare Newsletter, creates theatre costumes, and volunteers with Lumina Studio Theatre.

Business: El Golfo. El Golfo has over many years built community fundraising into the fabric of their weekly calendar. There is scarcely a local organization, from the many area PTAs, to the crew team and drama program at Blair, to all sorts of other community groups, that has not benefited from El Golfo’s generosity (20% of receipts go to the evening’s beneficiary) as well their good food and the good fellowship that results from sitting down to eat together for a good cause. Recent beneficiaries have included Takoma Park JazzFest, TPSS Baseball, and the Blair newspaper “Silver Chips.” Additionally, El Golfo provides a performance venue for local musicians as well as display space for visual artists.

Coach: Brothers Lonnie and Major Coleman. Lonnie and Major Coleman have been well-loved referees for Takoma Park Recreation Department Youth Basketball for many years. The brothers go above and beyond their roles as refs and become teachers. For example, they don’t just call a foul shot—they will explain why it is a foul shot and what the kid needs to do to correct it. Occasionally, they will hold mini-conversations with a player on the floor, saying “What were you doing there, pal?”, and really listen to the answer. Both Lonnie and Major put a positive spin on the game that encourages kids to come back year after year. The Coleman brothers will usually remember a child’s name or at least the nickname they have assigned to him or her (like “sporty” or “high jumper”) that makes a kid feel special to be recognized. They also make light-hearted jokes to ease any nerves kids might have about playing, and start each game with their infamous “You are the red team and you are the yellow team” even when the team colors are blue and orange – just to keep players on their toes! The Colemans are accessible for questions a kid may have before or after the game.

Educator: David Stein. David Stein, a dedicated, understanding, and enthusiastic statistics teacher at Montgomery Blair High School and Takoma Park resident, does it all. As a parent, teacher, Math Team coach, and Puzzle Lord, Mr. Stein goes above and beyond for his young statisticians. In addition to teaching rigorous classes within the Math and Science Magnet program at Blair, Mr. Stein invests much of his free time in organizing the annual Puzzlepalooza competition, which in 5 years has grown from a hastily arranged activity to occupy (mostly) Magnet upperclassmen during HSA week to an eagerly awaited extravaganza that features custom puzzles by top puzzle makers and attracts over 320 students to solve multi-layer puzzles instead of sleeping in. An avid puzzle solver himself, Mr. Stein looks to expand his students' intellectual curiosity as well as his own.

Green Activist: Brenda Platt. Brenda Platt has for over 7 years mentored the Young Activist Club at Piney Branch Elementary and Takoma Park Middle School, where the students are celebrating remarkable milestones this year: adoption of compostable lunchroom trays by the MCPS; the City Council’s passage of the “Young Activist Act of 2014” restricting the use of polystyrene food service containers; the February 13, 2015, “Adopt-a-Sign” commitment to keep the Community Center area clean and litter-free; and advocating for the recent county-wide food service Styrofoam ban recently passed by the Montgomery County Council. She’s kept it fun for the kids by helping them arrange picnics, community teach-ins (most recently at the city’s Earth Day celebration), and on-field presentations of the group’s work at Nationals baseball games. In addition, Brenda goes above and beyond in her work as an environmental champion: helping the Takoma Park Department of Public Works avoid interruption to the popular compost collection program; assisting with state-wide legislative efforts in resource management, composting, and recycling issues; and teaching the “Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders” community composter training program; while also giving time to Lumina Studio Theatre (youth Shakespeare production company).

Mentor (Tie): Rosa Diaz and Jo Hoge. Ward 5 resident Rosa Diaz is the site coordinator for the YMCA Linkages to Learning Program at New Hampshire Estates Elementary School. In her role at the school she runs and arranges support and education programs for parents of children with high needs. She provides children with behavioral health,and supports parents in obtaining health, housing, employment preparation and parenting supports they need to improve the ability of immigrant parents to raise children. She goes above and beyond the normal responsibilities of her position. For example, she runs a women's empowerment circle for Latina immigrant women and acts as a mentor to them as they seek paths to success. She arranged for computer training for parents to be offered in the neighborhood, She helped organize an adult literacy class for parents. She cares deeply about the well-being of all in the community and gives everything she has to help.

Jo Hoge, legendary leader of Brownie Troop 2156, has been a Girl Scout leader in Takoma Park for 38 years, returning to Brownies after leading her daughter’s troop through Seniors. Jo’s highly sought-after troop typically has 14–16 first- through third-grade girls of varying race, religion, ethnicity, and socio-economic background, carefully chosen to include recent immigrants as well as long-time residents, and focuses on activities involving nature (birdwatching, camping, hiking) and especially community service (providing desserts for Shepherd’s Table, etc.). Over the years, roughly 425 girls have gone through Troop 2156 and moved on to local Junior troops. In addition, Jo has recruited and mentored dozens of Brownie leaders among parents seeking space in her troop for their daughters; many of these leaders have continued with their troops through Juniors, Cadettes, and Seniors (as Jo herself is doing once again, having followed her granddaughter and the rest of the troop into Junior status). Jo also spearheaded last year’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouting in Takoma Park.

Neighborhood Volunteer: Jacquette Frazier. Jacquette Frazier has organized events to support underserved elementary school children and youth in Takoma Park. She managed summer Lunch and Learn programs in 2013 and 2014 that provided dozens of children with free lunch and learning and enrichment activities. She worked directly with the youth and also managed volunteers and did everything needed to provide positive experiences for everyone, including assembling a library of donated children's books. Jacquette also assists with after school programs, and helps organize back-to-school events at Essex House to provide kids with backpacks and school supplies for the coming school year.

School Activist: Lindsey Parsons and Karen Devitt. Lindsey Parsons and Karen Devitt are the co-founders of Real Food for Kids-Montgomery (RFKM), a grassroots, parent advocacy group promoting whole, fresh, delicious, and nutrient-rich foods in Montgomery County Public Schools. Since its founding in 2012, RFKM has built a coalition of over 3600 supporters, including parents representing 176 of the 202 schools in Montgomery County. In addition, RFKM has recruited 57 official representatives to MCPS schools, who are taking a leadership role in changing the food environment and policies in the cafeterias. RFKM already has multiple victories under their belt, including last year’s removal of strawberry milk (which has petroleum-based artificial coloring and more sugar per serving than a candy bar) from MCPS menus and the removal earlier this year of some chemical additives from future MCPS food contracts.

Takoma Spirit: Carolyn Pinkard. Carolyn Pinkard has been a crossing guard in Takoma Park for years and has been helping people to navigate the dicey Takoma Junction intersection since 2012. Carolyn knows each of “her” children by name and is always ready with a smile and a wave, but safety is her top priority. This means ensuring that neither feet nor scooters are too close to the curb; that all football passing and snowball tossing stops well before they reach the traffic light; and that the kids look up from their phones before stepping into the street and steer clear of cars and trucks entering the Co-op parking lot. Carolyn also routinely goes above and beyond her crossing guard duties to be helpful to all those who use the intersection, clearing the sidewalks of trash and ice, alerting bus riders that their buses are fast approaching, and reporting potholes to SHA. She arrives early and often stays past her assigned hours when she knows one of the neighborhood children is still headed up the hill for home. She even suffered a broken ankle and foot in the line of duty when she was struck by a car at her previous post at Philadelphia and Cedar. Unfailingly cheerful, helpful, and kind, Carolyn goes out of her way day in, day out, to make her corner of Takoma Park a better and safer place.

Tak-tivist: Terrill North. Terrill North is a persuasive advocate for Takoma’s minority and immigrant community. He works passionately to educate and empower our children and their families in his role as a board member of the Montgomery County Education Forum (MCEF), where he promotes educational equity and parent advocacy in our public schools; as vice president of Impact Silver Spring, where he works with area residents to increase civic participation and economic empowerment; and as president of Making a New United People (MANUP) where he mentors 150 local at-risk youth annually.

Lifetime Achievement: Jim Jarboe.

Special Award: Norman Ridgeway, in appreciation for his many years of community service, notably for his work on behalf of the Takoma Park Library and the Piney Branch pool, as well as his help distributing food to the needy, clearing snow from cars, washing windshields, driving neighbors to the doctor and numerous other volunteer activities.