The Azalea Awards for 2017 were presented at the Celebrate Takoma festival on Saturday, May 20. Congratulations to all of the nominees and the winners in each category, for the difference they make in our community.
Victoria Gau is founder of the Takoma Ensemble, a “free-range chamber orchestra” based in Takoma Park. The group offers concerts for adults and kids (“peanut butter and jam sessions”) and has premiered local composers and student work. Vicki is also artistic director for the Capital City Symphony and assistant conductor for the National Philharmonic. Most Takoma Park elementary schoolers know her from their trips to Strathmore. In all of her roles, she works hard to bring classical music to her Takoma neighbors, young and old.
Kathie Mack and Carol Ossi were among several young women who socialized together in Takoma Park during the 1970’s when their children were young but then started to lose touch with each other as they returned to jobs. In 1981, they hit on an idea for a reunion, “Let’s have a show!” Thus began the craft open house. They thought of it as a one-time event. It was held over a weekend in November at Kathie’s house on Maple Avenue. To their great amazement, the craft open house was a success. They tried it again the next year and gave themselves the name of the Takoma Park Craftwomen. By the third year it was a holiday tradition, and so it has continued under their leadership. The event has evolved, but the craftwomen have always been talented amateurs rather than commercial crafters. The emphasis has always been on fun and holiday cheer more than sales and money. They must be doing something right because upcoming is their 37th craft show.
Charlie Pilzer is a mover and a shaker. The owner of Airshow studio with recording room and performance venue Allyworld, a Grammy award–winning recording and mastering engineer, and an accomplished pianist and bass player, he’s comfortable on stage and off stage. Charlie has “great ears,” able to critique music from jazz to folk, from Ethiopian to Swedish, to bluegrass and beyond. Musicians want his touch on their project, and he understands all levels of music recording and digital mastering. He’s constantly expanding the limits, adding new gear, trying new methods. Charlie’s generosity is legendary. He houses musicians, features them in concerts, and helps them maximize their creativity. In addition, he invited Takoma Radio WOWD-FM to set up their station in his studio. Charlie has lived in Takoma Park for more than 30 years with his wife Cecily, who also exudes the same warmth as Charlie.
Danny Wells is a local boy who has come back to help define Takoma Park as a dining and music destination of choice. His Old Takoma restaurant, Republic, has been on the Washingtonian Magazine 100 Best Restaurants list three years in a row. More importantly, he has made good by doing good. For Danny, Takoma style is more than just the eclectic decor and locally sourced culinary offerings that have earned him acclaim. It’s about weaving Republic into the fabric of the community via live music, support for Main Street Takoma, and hosting fundraisers for local organizations. Last year Danny earmarked a percentage of proceeds from Republic’s menu for Takoma Park’s Lunch and Learn camp, which provides academic help and extracurricular fun during the summer for dozens of young students. By December he had contributed $7,000 to buy Chromebooks for the students.
It was once Takoma Park’s best-kept secret, but now so many people have visited the Hell’s Bottom VFW Post on Orchard Ave. that the word is out. This is the place for live music and a cold beer. We can thank Mike Casey, VFW Post Commander, for booking blues, bluegrass, rock, pop and more; and Vicki Bate, Kiki Oliver and Debbie Smith-Casey, the bartending staff, for making everyone welcome. Not only have they revived the fortunes of the VFW, which was foundering financially, was off limits to non-members and was up for sale only a few years ago, but they have given Takoma Park a happy and hospitable gathering place. It's worth noting that many of their events are fundraisers for local groups and causes.
Nok Kim is the owner of Rainbow Laundromat in Silver Spring. Mr. Kim has brought community service and good business together through an innovative tutoring program for local elementary school students. While customers do their laundry, their kids get free tutoring from Washington Adventist University students in math, reading, and English. The program has been a success for the community and the business. Mr. Kim is a long-time member of the Long Branch Business League, and he has inspired other business owners to look for community services they can host.
Although her daughter moved on from the Montgomery Blair robotics team when she graduated in 2010, Noemi Kedei stayed on, dedicating many hours each week to managing the team’s administrative tasks, from organizing outreach events in the community to planning for overnight competitions. This year the team qualified for the world championships for the first time. Although Naomi had never planned for this challenge, and despite the incredible amount of work involved in moving 28 students from Maryland to Missouri, she worked tirelessly to make this event happen for them. In addition, she mentors team members, helping them develop leadership abilities needed to serve as team officers, as well as the public speaking skills necessary for explaining team activities at community events.
The term “extremely popular” is so routinely associated with Adrian Baez that it seems to be part of his name. For almost three decades he has been known as the local soccer coach with limitless charm, an aptitude for storytelling, a colorful, creative and funny use words and an everlasting smile. No matter the level of talent his teams at Takoma Park Middle and Montgomery Blair and Einstein High Schools, as well as a Takoma Park team in the National Capital Soccer League, have played at an inspired level. In 2015 he was voted the Montgomery County Coach of the Year by his fellow coaches. Adrian may be best known, though, as the stout-hearted guy with the bullhorn voice who, as chief instructor at the Takoma Soccer camps, has guided the transition of scores of children from frolicking five-year-old campers into teenage counselors experiencing a full day of work for the first time.
MaryBeth Hastings and Howard Wilkins are energetic, motivational and trailblazing coaches who have devoted themselves to teaching girls the love of soccer at both the recreational and competitive levels. Mary Beth is a coach and a coordinator of 5th-grade girls in Takoma Soccer, and her husband Howard has been a longtime coach of an older all-girls team. Together they now also coach the Takoma Marvels, a team that competes with Takoma pride in the National Capital Soccer League against the premier teams of Maryland and Virginia.
Terry McDonough, Stephane Messieres, and Nathan Goldstein, coaches of the Takoma Soccer Red team (“Takoma Turkeys”), have been coaching some of the kids on their Kindergarten team for three years. They make up all sorts of creative games that have the kids laughing while they learn. Terry, Stephane, and Nathan are super fun and silly and kind, as well as skillful, and are wonderful at breaking down a complicated game into easily understood drills. They’ve made up a song, which they sing with the kids every week, "Turkeys clap! Clap, clap, clap! Turkeys flap! Flap, flap, flap! Turkeys talk! Gobble, gobble, gobble! Turkeys STOP!” They are completely focused on the players at all times, even during snack, when they sit and talk and make them laugh even more. The coaches also plan a field trip each season to a DC United game, letting the kids see what adult soccer looks like and offering an opportunity for families to get to know each other. The Takoma Turkeys coaches make soccer something really special.
Alison Russell, in her fourth year at Montgomery Blair, teaches AP Government with passion for the subject and dedication to her students. Last year more than 90% of her students passed the AP Government exam in a large part because of her instructional best practices, her relentless professionalism and her willingness to persevere when students are challenged. Her students get hands-on experience acting as members of Congress negotiating to pass a bill or as lawyers litigating a case. Rather than memorize facts they get invested in the intricacies of legislative and judicial processes. She likewise is very committed to her Honors U.S. History classes. For next year she has proposed teaching Blair’s first ever Women’s Studies class. In addition, Ms. Russell sponsors the Young Democrats, Young Republicans and Girl Up clubs at Blair. She gives three afternoons a week, even in the midst of her graduate school program (she is pursuing a Masters in History from American University), and does it all with grace and cheer.
Zadia Gadsden, principal at Takoma Park Elementary, has been a champion for kids. She has spent years nurturing our diverse community, making sure that school resources are allocated to benefit all children. In this year’s political climate, when many members of our community are feeling threatened and shocked, Dr. Gadsden has encouraged efforts to give children and their families a sense of security and safety. Dr. Gadsden has also supported and encouraged efforts to promote health and wellness at the school, including a new weekly farm stand to increase access to fresh, local produce not only for students but for all local residents.
Rebecca Lane has made a difference for countless children in her 13 years teaching 5th grade at Piney Branch Elementary. Ms. Lane’s warm, caring demeanor and high expectations for each of her students regardless of past academic history make them feel safe, valued and confident in their abilities. Her success stories include one child who entered her class reading on a pre-primer level and struggling with below-grade-level math but who went on to excel in honors-level classes in middle school. Others have learned to face tests with equanimity instead of shutting down at the word “assessment.” This doesn’t mean that Ms. Lane neglects her higher-flying students. She celebrates all successes and gently points out how they can do better. Each year her class is well represented on the school’s engineering, GeoBowl, and academic quiz teams. Many of her students and their families will tell you they consider Ms. Lane one of their best teachers ever.
Our community looks particularly alive in spring thanks to residents who delight in maintaining their gardens, but also due to Mike Welsh, our City gardener who has special plant-whispering skills. Along with his team, he adds beauty and originality to our local greenways. All over town you can see his favorite additions: old-fashioned irises, summer-blooming crape myrtles, dry-weather boom shrubs, and artful arrangements of rock. You also will see Mike himself. He is outside with gloves on, not hidden in an office. When not in the public gardens, including the storm-water gardens he has added in recent years, he works collaboratively with local garden clubs and with teenage students. Perhaps the best part about Mike is his wonderful low-key modesty about his own knowledge and contributions.
Paul Chrostowski is an environmental scientist, consummate green activist and long-time resident of Takoma Park. An invaluable member of the City Council’s Committee on the Environment, Paul contributed scientific rigor to the City’s landmark ordinance restricting use of cosmetic lawn pesticides and was instrumental in its passage. He authored a document explaining the environmental benefits of the ordinance and followed it up with work on the city’s registry of restricted pesticides. Paul has further provided valuable guidance on the city’s sustainability initiatives; on environmental measures such as the Young Activist Act, which banned food-service polystyrene use; on approaches to food-waste composting; and other initiatives that keep Takoma Park in the forefront of environmental issues.
Lauren Marshall is a dedicated employee of the U.S. Forest Service and mom of a young child, but she still makes time to serve on the city’s Committee on the Environment. In particular, she has put substantial effort into the creation of several maps to help create a plan for managing and adding to open space in Takoma Park. And she continues to be a relentless advocate programs to benefit our tree canopy.
When the effort began to purchase and preserve a local wildlife-filled, woodland property, which came to be known as Dorothy’s Woods, Suzy Stimler announced that she didn’t have a lot of money, but she was able to donate her time. She attended several early planning meetings and helped raise funds from the neighborhood. Then she stepped up again to take an active role in the newly purchased property, coordinating the neighbors in periodic work sessions to remove loads of trash, cut down tree-strangling vines and dig up invasive plants and shrubs. She’s been a vocal supporter of Dorothy’s Woods as a valuable local resource. Unassuming and modest about her own skills, she has applied her organizing talents in many ways to benefit the local environment and her neighborhood.
Peggy Kennedy has been a godmother for Piney Branch Elementary students so long you might assume she must be retired by now. The good news for kids is that she is not. Peggy’s official role is as a counselor, which for her means giving help in whatever circumstance arises. She discreetly fills families’ requests for winter coats and supermarket gift cards, and on Friday afternoons she distributes backpacks filled with nutritious, easy-to-prepare food to students who would otherwise go hungry over the weekend. Need something else? Peggy will find it. Primarily, though, she gives out tough-love advice when it’s most needed. Years after they've left the school, former students still recall those words of wisdom.
Carmen Martinez, a guidance counselor at Takoma Park Middle School, helps students navigate through one of the toughest junctions of life. She helps kids who are sad, stressed, bullied, lost, or abused to feel loved, heard and supported. She goes well beyond the call of duty to ensure that they are comfortable with their teachers, that their voice is heard, and that they are not scared to speak out against injustice. Ms. Martinez is a compassionate, nurturing pillar of strength to children who are struggling in and outside of school, offering shelter through the many storms of adolescence.
Jennifer Manguera, leader of Girl Scout Troop 1273, is a coach, mentor, and volunteer all rolled into one. She has led local Girl Scout troops for years, guiding the girls to do more than sell cookies. They have cleaned up Sligo Creek, mucked out the stalls of abandoned/abused horses, helped at the Diaper Bank and local food pantry, done child care at local PTA meetings, marched in the Fourth of July Parade, cleaned up a school yard, served food at the Fillmore’s Thanksgiving event, and engaged in myriad other civic activities. A large percentage of the girls have received the Silver Award, the highest ranking for a middle school Scout, and some have gone on to get the Gold Award in high school.
Vanesa Pinto is a champion of empowerment and leadership development. She started to volunteer at New Hampshire Estates Elementary School ten years ago shortly after her arrival from Bolivia. She has served in many different roles such as activity organizer with parents, member of the PTA and member of the Parent Involvement Committee. She now participates in the YMCA Linkages to Learning parent leadership team. She has been teaching Literacy in Spanish for the YMCA Youth & Family Services since 2011. She now conducts education and empowerment programs in local elementary schools such as Rolling Terrace and New Hampshire Estates that enable parents to address, housing and health needs and build confidence to participate in their community.
Doris Duarte has been instrumental in bringing community resources and funding to serve people in the neediest areas of our community. She is a former tenant association president of the Hampshire Tower Tenants Association, and took on difficult negotiations to improve conditions in her rental community. She organizes social events and activities for the City’s communities of limited means and disadvantaged youth, and is the assistant director of Lunch and Learn, which is one of the most successful summer youth programs in the City. She exemplifies what one active person can do to help the many, and can always be found volunteering her time and talent to various community events, activities and committees, including Lifelong Takoma. Plus she is an unofficial but ever-present photographer at practically every City event.
Sandra Marquardt has been an indispensable presence in the Forest Estates neighborhood over the past 15 years. She singlehandedly started a farm market that has provided mostly organic produce and enabled both children and adults to commune weekly in the absence of nearby stores, restaurants, or cafés. Many of the young staffers she has hired from the neighborhood to assist with the stalls have blossomed into confident young adults at ease with social interaction and knowledgeable about healthy food, sustainable agriculture, and the need for environmental protection. Sandra also manages the neighborhood’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) produce program and makes her front porch available to neighbors for weekly pick-ups of food boxes. She’s also been a key member of the neighborhood association.
It seems that preserving the invaluable pool at Piney Branch Elementary is a never-ending struggle, but you can always count on Wayne Sherwood to show up and stand up. This past year Wayne once again was at the forefront in dealing with County school officials who were proposing to eliminate the pool for extra classrooms. At this point that outcome seems less likely due in no small measure to Wayne. He has always been a kind and helpful neighbor who has worked behind the scenes to advocate for swim lessons for immigrant families and to develop more recreation options for teens. And he supported upgrades to the park behind the school despite the interminable construction noise directly across from his house.
Allyson Piazza is the person everyone seems to turn to in moments of indecision or concern at the PTAs of both Takoma Park and Piney Branch Elementary. She is knowledgeable, patient, diplomatic, and committed to making the schools a great place. In addition to sitting on numerous committees and organizing such events as the book fair, readathon, and TPES-PBES basketball game, she is in school almost on a daily basis photocopying flyers or assisting teachers in the classroom. Ally also mentors new PTA board members while they learn the ropes, and is an advocate for Takoma Park with the County PTA. She also creates one heck of an appreciation gift basket. Ally doesn't command a lot of fanfare, which makes her all the more special.
Amy Wajda has worked tirelessly and intelligently on many complex issues at Takoma Park Elementary. The list is long, and it includes the successful Move More Sit Less campaign which accommodates the needs of active children without undermining classroom decorum. As an outdoor enthusiast, she has also focused on improving the playground for outside recess. She is incredibly competent and intelligent and always willing to help with whatever needs to be done.
Ellen Zavian has helped introduce Takoma Park Elementary and Piney Branch Elementary students to entrepreneurship, technology and the issue of privacy. When Ellen realized that the Chrome notebook roll-out failed to prepare students for privacy and security matters, she spent countless hours to address concerns regarding cyber safety. Additionally, Ellen has worked on rewriting school bylaws and is working to include “technology” in the Piney Branch mission statement as well as developing plans to increase parent participation and reach lower-performing students. As a George Washington University professor, Ellen knows firsthand what students need to succeed, and her goal is to help students obtain these skills. Recognizing that typing is a critical skill, Ellen helped start an after-school typing club, and she helped create the “Digital Citizenship” program to teach good digital citizenship. Ellen likes to stay behind the scenes but has played a valuable role by raising awareness of topics most people are still trying to understand.
Wolfgang and Gertrud Mergner are the founders and leaders of the Village of Takoma Park, a nonprofit that supports seniors and persons with disabilities who want to continue to lead productive lives in Takoma Park. Wolfgang and Gertrud planted the seed in 2011 with a series of meetings. Under their persistent, unflagging, kind-hearted leadership, those meetings grew into the Village of Takoma Park. The Village now has scores of volunteers of all ages and income levels and provides a wide range of services (rides, friendly visits, help with errands, simple home repairs, walking companions, informative monthly meetings, opportunities for socializing, a website and newsletter offering links to resources, and more). Wolfgang and Gertrud's ongoing support of the Village is a source of inspiration, not only locally, but to other similar undertakings in Maryland and Virginia.
Denise Jones, a longtime resident, organizes self-help workshops for parents and youth and does college coaching with low-income and first-generation students. She has run classes to help parents become more engaged in the school lives of their children and has been involved in the summer Lunch and Learn camp. She recently delivered a quilt workshop series for elementary school students at two apartment houses involving math, geography and the Underground Railroad, as well as a youth life skills camp for middle school students. Denise serves on the steering committee of ACE Academy of the Montgomery County Collaboration Council and as the Director of Community Engagement of Carpe Diem Arts, and has worked with non-profits to prepare teenagers for real life. She is a former member of the Takoma Park Recreation Committee and the Deputy Superintendent's Minority Achievement Advisory Council, as well as a former NAACP rep at both Takoma Park Elementary and Piney Branch Elementary. She is also a board member of the Essex House Tenants Association on Maple Avenue, where she lives.
Lichelle Lawson has devoted several years to the revitalization of her Pinecrest neighborhood. There is nothing splashy or showy about the way Lichelle makes things happen—designing the community newsletter, distributing flyers, canvassing residents about a sidewalk proposal, pushing successfully for a new playground, organizing a barbeque at the VFW, spotting and reporting a water main leak before it gets out of hand, and just caring for neighbors in need. Within her neighborhood, she goes out of her way to get to know everyone, and often testifies on their behalf at Council meetings. She served on the city manager selection task force and is a former member of the Takoma Park Recreation Committee. Lichelle exhibits a sharp, inquisitive mind, strong values, and a can-do approach. Yet she always listens first and is never confrontational. She is a model for the kind of generous, optimistic leadership that makes Takoma Park a special place to live.
Annie Mozer is disarmingly quiet, but when it comes to volunteering she is a force. Along with past contributions to the Takoma Park Recreation Committee and the city manager selection task force, she does the grubby work of woodland clean-ups on MLK Service Day and smiles through the smoky haze of the bratwurst grill at the Beerfest. Give her a large share of the credit also for the educational gardens on the municipal grounds that teach children where food comes from. She devised the compost system for bountiful harvests and spends countless weekends with the kids. And her porch is a pick-up place for the Crossroads CSA deliveries. Beyond what might be considered traditional volunteerism she has taken on a new and pioneering role this year as a facilitator of an eight-week seminar in which friends and neighbors, including one member of the City Council, are confronting their prejudices. As facilitator, she is obliged to do the same. Talk about the courage of your convictions.
Capital City Cheesecake proprietor Meaghan Murphy, Takoma Park Police Captain Tyrone Collington, and Mayor Kate Stewart are the principal collaborators in this public-private partnership that is reviving old-fashioned small-town policing in Takoma Park. The partnership, Unity in the Community, arose out of a mutual concern about how a national pattern of police violence might affect interactions between local officers and young people of color. Meaghan, who has a long history of activism, initially approached Mayor Stewart, who introduced her to Capt. Collington. For a kickoff event last fall the City closed off part of Carroll Avenue. Officers served a barbeque supper. A deejay roused up dancing in the street. Introductions took place. Several police officers now are serving as mentors in a homework group at the police station and are involved in projects with the Scouts and at local churches and schools. For the first time in recent memory, officers also sat down with local teenagers, with whom they might be expected to have an adversarial relationship, and talked about how to change that dynamic.
Gina McNeal is the founder of Recipe for Kindness, a loose affiliation of people who bake and deliver home-made cookies to groups in the area who have suffered from hate speech, threats, and other ugly bias. So far they have visited two Muslim communities, two high schools, IMPACT Silver Spring, and an LGBT center for Hispanic teens. Here's their tagline: “Recipe for kindness: one part empathy, one part inclusion, one part solidarity, and liberal amounts of love and support. We bake to show we care.” You can find them on Facebook for more information.
Pat Rumbaugh is a beautiful example of Takoma Park spirit from her efforts to inspire children to be active, engaged, and immersed in creative play to her constant support and encouragement of her neighbors to her smiling and generous presence on the streets of Takoma Park as she walks her dogs and invites neighborhood dogs to play, too. Before you know it she has you sharing coffee and a discussion. Pat is through and through a good spirit of kindness and good-heartedness.
Takoma Park was witness to an important birth in 2016. Last July the low-powered radio station 94.3 WOWD-FM went on the air, broadcasting and streaming 24/7. The sound, vigor, creativity, innovation, verve, community spirit, and robust international flavor of the WOWD programmers are especially welcome in an era of narrowing visions. WOWD is akin to a town square, the place to find out about all things local, listen to local musicians, hear a local turn to politics, and get clued in to the activism and adventures of neighbors (check out Eric Bond’s “Talk of Takoma”). More than 200 volunteers have been trained as on-air deejays, and they play 17 different genres of music, from jazz to tango to Armenian folk to hip hop. Many programmers are teenagers or just out of their teens, but their listeners come from across the generations, including those who grew up before iTunes and Pandora. Every day WOWD gives us spirit de corps and a healing balm, all with great panache.