2014 Azalea Winners
The 10th Annual Takoma Foundation Azalea Awards took place on a gorgeous spring afternoon at Ed Wilhelm Field. For the second year in a row, the Azalea Awards were presented in conjunction with Celebrate Takoma!, a community festival featuring the diversity -- and common interests -- of Takoma Park.
Thanks to all the nominees, voters and committee members whose hard work and unyielding commitment to service are, after all, what the Azalea Awards are all about. 2014 winners are:
Katie Dell Kaufman has been offering art classes and camps for area children for many years through the TP Recreation Department. For middle school students interested in attending the Visual Arts Center program at Einstein High School, her instruction, encouragement, and assistance have been crucial as they prepare their portfolios. For other students who love art but just don't have time for it in their school schedules, Katie's classes fill a gap in their lives. She provides an outlet for creativity, but more than that, she teaches children how to draw and paint, how to use materials well, and how to evaluate their own art and improve it. She also incorporates lessons in art history into her teaching. Her classes are a gift to the children of Takoma Park!
Michelle Dudley, the program manager of the Crossroads Community Food Network, has expanded the organization's outreach beyond a popular farm market to additional initiatives that provide healthy food, food-related economic assistance, and microenterprise support in some of the neediest sectors of our community. Her work in local schools is helping children fall in love with kale and collard greens. Thanks to Michelle, many low-income families are eating healthier at home, and she has helped many food vendors become self-sufficient. Michelle has proved that business and community service can go hand-in-hand.
Kris Gill has been the volunteer coach for Blair High School's Ultimate Frisbee team, Homecooked, for over 5 years. A local resident with young children of her own (whom she also coaches), Kris manages to be at practices and games with the Blair team through every fall, when the students hone their skills against adult teams, and spring, when they play private and public school teams, taking the team to regional and state tournaments every year. This year, she has specifically devoted herself to strengthening the female students on the team. Thanks in large part to Kris's devotion to this unique co-ed sport and the continuity of her involvement, the mellow esthetic of frisbee stays balanced with competitive drive, and the team manages to stay together, have fun, and send great Ultimate players on to college teams.
Jamie Matthews was in 8th grade when the coach of her Takoma Soccer team asked for a volunteer to help with his team of kindergarteners. Four and a half years later, Jamie has become an invaluable member of the Orange Tigers’ coaching staff. Despite a heavy workload in the Blair Magnet, she has made the time to attend weekly practices and games over nine seasons. Jamie runs team practices essentially singlehandedly, and during games she assigns positions to team members and handles substitutions. All the kids on the team adore Coach Jamie and, remarkably for fourth graders, actually listen to her instructions. Jamie will be sorely missed when she leaves the team for college after this season.
Kristen Dunlap, 3rd grade teacher at Piney Branch, exemplifies what an educator should be. Extremely dedicated, hard-working, consummately organized, responsive, and professional at all times, she has great energy and a warm demeanor that children respond to. Striking an unusual balance of structure and nurturing that enables students with different temperaments and learning styles to grow and thrive, Ms. Dunlap meets her students where they are, from the most challenged students to the academic high flyers, and has even reignited a love of learning in students for whom the spark seemed to have gone out. Ms. Dunlap makes a point of participating in outside activities that each student enjoys, attending their ball games, dance recitals, and other events. It is no wonder that current and former students and their families will tell you how glad they are to have had Ms. Dunlap as their teacher.
Catherine Cummings and Julie Taddeo have put Takoma Park in the national forefront of pesticide reform with their Safe Grow Initiative. Their campaign to educate the community about the risks of synthetic lawn and garden pesticides and the availability of safe alternatives began in fall 2011 and culminated last July in the City Council’s unanimous passage of the Safe Grow Act of 2013. One of the first measures of its kind in the country, and the first for a city of our size, the Act bans the public and private use of synthetic lawn pesticides in the City and includes an education component. Now Julie and Catherine are taking their success to the next level and leading the effort to change pesticide laws in Montgomery County. Their work is a significant contribution to the health of our environment, of our watershed, and our children, and to the long and respected history of environmental activism in Takoma Park.
Rachna Rikhye, beloved ESOL teacher at Piney Branch, mentors children from around the world as they integrate into life in Takoma Park and Silver Spring and keeps in touch with many of her students even after they move on from PBES. Working with students from many cultures, Rachna felt that they would benefit from reading about children like themselves, so she launched a nonprofit publishing company, Diversity International, to bring greater diversity to children's literature. Her book about the children from around the world involved in the library mural, The Mosaic Community, encapsulates all that is great about Takoma Park.
Clair Garman is the ultimate volunteer. His pro-bono work as webmaster for ten nonprofits—including Friends of Sligo Creek, Friends of the Takoma Park, Maryland, Library, and Historic Takoma—is the equivalent of a full-time job, yet he still finds time to help individuals and small businesses. In his work with the Spring for Poetry in Takoma Park project since it began in 2007, he has made all of the poster frames and helps install and replace poles and maintain posters during the 6 months they are on the streets. He helps neighbors and friends in innumerable ways, whether with small home repairs, mail pick-up, or rides to appointments, and he feeds feral cats and traps them for neutering and when they need medical care. Few people do so much for so many, with so little fanfare.
Shruti Bhatnagar has been a dedicated and tireless advocate for the students and families of Takoma Park Elementary, Piney Branch Elementary, and Takoma Park Middle for the the past six years. As president of the TPES PTA, she streamlined the organization, increased membership greatly, and increased funding for PTA activities, with a particular focus on needier members of the school community. In her committee roles in all schools, she has worked closely with both parents and teachers to make sure that the focus remains on the students and their well-being. In her current role as Blair Cluster Coordinator, Shruti has kept the community well informed of budgetary and other actions at the county and state level that have a profound impact on our local schools.
Daryl Braithwaite, the director of the City's Public Works Department, consistently goes above and beyond. A Takoma Park resident herself, Daryl could be seen this past winter on evenings and weekends directing the quick response of snowplows and sand trucks. It recalled the scenes of 2010 when Daryl and her crews braved the elements during "Snowmaggedon." Daryl started at Public Works years ago by taking charge of paper and plastic recycling, then a new idea, and recently pioneered the recycling of food scraps. Despite the rigors of her job Daryl is always happy to take on extra tasks, whether putting children's art on display, donating compost to the City's youth gardens or helping with last year's rededication of Lee Jordan field.
Tree House Concerts—Anne Perrault, Pete Marra, Janet Rumble, and Matt Littlejohn—has for approximately a decade organized and produced a series of eclectic, intimate concerts at Anne and Pete's house on Sycamore Avenue. Their recent addition of a second venue, the Takoma Park VFW post, to accommodate acts too large or loud for a living-room concert has revitalized the local post as other groups have held events there (and inspired a front-page article in the Washington Post). By bringing together the music community and the VFW, the Tree House folks have helped to strengthen both communities, and our community as a whole.
Vineda Myers puts her dynamic organizing skills and easygoing personality to work for Takoma’s young people. Currently she is the co-chair of the Recreation Committee, where she is a leading supporter of a new summer jobs program for teenagers to be launched in June, as well as a vice president of the Takoma Park Middle School PTA. Previously, as PTA president at Piney Branch Elementary, Vineda was a dedicated member of a leadership team that promoted academic achievement for all children. She mobilized parents to advocate for more technology in the school, resulting in interactive whiteboards, cameras, and laptops. At the same time she was coordinating various school events, Vineda was also recruiting parents and children to the Garden Crew, weekend volunteers who plant, weed, and harvest vegetables as part of an ongoing teaching seminar at the Takoma Park community center. Of course, she and her children volunteered, too.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Franca Brialliant, former president of the Takoma Foundation and a community leader in every sense of the word.