This year’s nominees represent the best of what Takoma has to offer, and go “above and beyond” to make a difference for their families, friends and neighbors. They are truly living up to the Takoma Foundation motto of “building bridges and changing lives.”
Kristen Hayes brings top-notch art education to the children at Takoma Park Elementary. The kids love Ms. Hayes and do not realize that they are learning more about art than most adults know. Her lessons cover famous art from around the DC area and from around the world. Recently, her students learned about a famous illustrator from Madagascar. This type of class is so special and rare. Children learn from the love that Ms. Hayes has for art, and they find a sense of self in her class.
Kathie Mack and Carol Ossi were among several young women who socialized together in Takoma Park during the 1970s 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 the craft open house began as a one-time event held over a weekend in November at Kathie’s house on Maple Avenue. To their astonishment, the event was a success, so they returned the following year as the Takoma Park Craftswomen. The craft show has become a tradition featuring talented amateurs rather than commercial crafters, with the emphasis far more on fun and holiday cheer than on sales and money. Kathie and Carol must be doing something right because the next show will be their 38th.
A 20-year Takoma Park resident, Billy Coulter is active in our music scene, performing and recording, and is a regular at the annual street festival. Both of his award-winning bands, the Billy Coulter Band (roots rock/pop) and The Natty Beaux (jump blues/swing/rockabilly), have performed at the festival, which is how Billy built a relationship with David Eisner of the Institute of Musical Traditions. Over the years Billy has collaborated with David to produce and host tribute shows for Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens. Billy selected the artists, giving them a rare chance to perform in a large venue. In an opposite setting, at the casual and comfortable Bump-n-Grind in Silver Spring, Bill co-hosts (with pal Bill Williams) a showcase on the last Thursday of the month for songwriters of varied genres. As with everything Billy does, the shows are known for their connection to the audience.
Charlie is a mover and a shaker. The owner of the renamed Tonal Park 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 exudes the same warmth as Charlie.
It was once Takoma Park’s best-kept secret, but now so many people have visited the Hell’s Bottom VFW Post on Orchard Avenue 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 bartending staff Vicki Bate, Kiki Oliver, and Debbie Smith-Casey 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.
Since October 2017, D. Doley and his employees from RS Automotive have offered a monthly free workshop to help high school students with learner’s permits or new licenses learn the basic skills needed to maintain an automobile. Participants learn how cars work, to identify warning signs and sounds, and to understand sensors on the dashboard. They learn about the underside architecture of the car, how to monitor and fill fluid reservoirs, and how to leverage their bodies to change a tire regardless of physical strength. All students leave with dirty hands from changing tires and jumping batteries. These workshops empower participants to be safer drivers and have become so popular that adults have requested one. In response, Doley offered one for adults including some who were elderly, and they felt empowered and appreciative. So far, 18 high schoolers and 9 adults have participated.
Kenneth Flemmer is the Executive Director of the Adventist Community Services of Greater Washington (ACSGW). This wonderful organization is there to lend a helping hand to those who just need a little more to make ends meet in the short term and to provide valuable training so they can help themselves in the long run. ACSGW provides computer and other educational courses so that residents can improve their living situation by changing their career and earning more money to take care of their families. ACSGW’s case management group helps individuals weave their way through various government assistance programs to get the help they are entitled to. ACSGW has been on hand to help in disaster relief as was needed after a devastating apartment building fire in 2016. They partner with the City of Takoma Park, Montgomery County, and other community organizations to provide healthy and beneficial out-of-school activities for the community’s youth.
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.
The phrase “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.
Margot Bass has her hands full as the head coach of two all-girls teams in Takoma Soccer, not that you’d know it from watching her. She is always a smiling picture of calm, aplomb and positive reinforcement whether at a practice, a game or a training clinic in her backyard. One of Margot's special abilities is her understanding of each girl’s strengths and how to improve any weaknesses. She is a mentor about life as much as a coach about soccer, and she inspires a special loyalty. The girls return season after season. As one mom says, “Soccer is not my daughter's favorite sport, but Margot makes her feel respected and appreciated. The girls love her and so do the parents. I am simply in awe of Margot.”
Kerry Cesareo is a wonderful coach and role model for the all-girls Takoma Soccer Division G5 “Purple Panthers” team. She has been coaching the team for 5 years, and her dedication and enthusiasm is incredible. Kerry patiently teaches her girls technical skills to be successful soccer players while also teaching them the importance of teamwork and good sportsmanship. She encourages the girls to support each other and always try their hardest, with the ultimate goal of having fun. Under her leadership the Purple Panthers have grown into a very tight-knit soccer family, with “family” as the operative word.
Sat Jiwan Ikle-Khalsa, aka Coach SJ, brings the joy of play and the delight of movement by teaching tennis to people of all ages from those just old enough to run to those in their golden years. He brings a love of tennis so captivating that you find your own love or recapture the love you used to have. With portable nets, racquets and an assortment of tennis balls stowed on his bike wherever he goes, tennis becomes available in any venue, block parties, festivals, you name it. His positive attitude and gentle manner make him a coach who makes you feel great about you.
Undaunted by rain, wind, or spring snowflakes, Kerron Miller has not missed a practice or game for the past six seasons as the coach of his daughter’s soccer team. “Soccer has taken over our lives,” his wife says. “Chores, vacations, weekend plans with friends, they all come second.” Kerron’s devotion starts with a pre-season ritual of inflating all the balls in his bag, and it carries over to his remarkable patience on the soccer pitch. The players on his Co-ed 1 Forest Green team are first-graders who may be super-energetic, perhaps from a bit of a sugar high, or just the opposite, tentative and shy. As if by magic he gets them to participate. Even if they don’t take naturally to soccer his message is that it's great to be outdoors in sunshine and fresh air—or even in rain and wind.
Kristina Anderson has taught sixth-grade English at Takoma Park Middle School for the last 5 years. She started at TPMS midway through the school year and quickly earned the respect and admiration of her students her first year. Ms. Anderson was a founder, together with students, of the TPMS Gay-Straight Alliance—one of only 3 GSA clubs in MCPS middle schools at the time—and continues to support the newly renamed Gender and Sexuality Acceptance Club. Ms. Anderson has also been an instrumental member of a school committee that recognizes the positive behaviors of students. In this capacity, she has organized multiple opportunities for all students to be recognized. In summary, Ms. Anderson is a respected teacher and colleague. Our students and staff are fortunate to have a teacher with her dedication and expertise.
First-grade teacher extraordinaire Maleka Brown is completing her second decade at Takoma Park Elementary. She joined the faculty for the 1998–99 school year as a second-grade teacher and moved after two years to first grade, where she has been ever since. Ms. Brown is an exceptional teacher and leader and deserves recognition for what she brings to our community.
Rebecca Lane has made a difference in the lives of countless Takoma Park children in her 14 years teaching fifth grade at Piney Branch. Ms. Lane’s warm, caring demeanor and high expectations for each of her students regardless of past academic history make them feel safe and valued and help them believe in their ability and build on their strengths. Her success stories include one child who entered her class reading on a pre-primer level and struggling with below-grade-level math and went on to excel in honors classes. 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 meets each child on his or her level, celebrates successes, and gently points out how to do better with the result that annually her class has been well represented on the school’s GeoBowl teams. Many of her students and their families will tell you they consider Ms. Lane one of their best teachers ever.
Anneliese Taylor makes a difference to the children of our community every day she enters Takoma Park Elementary School. If you ask the children she works with, they’ll all tell you that “she laughs a lot.” Ms. Taylor is quick to give a word of encouragement and a smile. She helps struggling children with their reading and math. She is generally loved in the lunchroom, playground, and classroom. She brings her best to the schools and all of Takoma. She has also served as the coordinator for the Piney Branch GeoBowl and as a Scout mom, and can be seen throughout our community.
Since spring 2012, Annie Mozer has donated part of her weekends to teach children where food comes from. They learn by getting their hands dirty in the organic vegetable gardens on the grounds of City Hall. With help from a small crew, Annie takes the kids through the seasons, how to plant, weed, water, and harvest, then celebrates with a feast from the gardens (she cooks, too!). It all starts with Annie and the kids screening compost from horse stables. Hence the bright green bounty that’s visible as you go by on Philadelphia Avenue. Annie's contributions to the body and soul of Takoma Park don't stop there, though. Her porch is a pick-up place for the Crossroads CSA, and you can find her at the woodland clean-ups on MLK Day and in the smoky haze of the bratwurst grill at the annual beerfest fundraiser for worthy causes. Very notably, she also was a volunteer facilitator last year for an eight-week anti-bias workshop attended by the mayor and other local residents.
Robert Patten literally walks the walk, constantly picking up the litter he finds as he walks through town and then disposes properly (recycling/compost/garbage). Bob can’t walk the half block from his house to Old Town without filling his hands with trash. Furthermore, as a neighbor to Takoma Urban Park (also known as Westmoreland Park and Kombe Park), Bob spends several hours every month clearing up trash, removing poison ivy so the kids in the park don’t get into it, and maintaining a small trail in the back of the park. Unofficially Bob has taken over the role of caretaker so that children and adults can fully enjoy this public space.
On MLK Day the place to look for the unassuming Suzy Stimler is in the recently named Dorothy’s Woods where she will have gloves on and clippers in hand as she leads another pruning of invasive vines and a haul-out of trash. From the start of the community effort to preserve this woodlot a few years ago Suzy has been in the forefront of planning meetings, raising funds and coordinating neighbors to roll up their sleeves and return the property to a more natural state. Some people might call it grunt work, but whatever you call it, Suzy is good at it. No surprise then that Suzy is also the person behind the scenes who organizes all the volunteers at the Takoma Foundation beerfest fundraiser every September.
For more than a decade, librarian and Dungeons & Dragons organizer extraordinaire Dave Burbank has been the driving force behind dozens of Takoma Park kids who play D&D every Thursday afternoon at the community center and during spring break and summer camp. He gets our kids off their phones and into the magical world of storytelling and adventure. He has also trained a large contingent of teens to be Dungeon Masters, spreading the love of alternate games far and wide. And he is a terrific librarian, always ready with a good book suggestion and a patient hush when things get a little exuberant after school.
Max Althofer, counselor at TPES, had enormous shoes to fill when he took over when Abby Golden retired. Mr. Althofer knows every child at TPES and greets them each morning with high fives. Mr. Althofer is there for our youngest children and teaches the kindergarten classes weekly lessons on kindness, dealing with difficult emotions, how to give respect and how to earn it. Children adore him and learn valuable lessons from his classes.
Shana Fulcher (mom of four) is a troop leader of two Girl Scout troops, one at Takoma Middle and one at Takoma Elementary. She is currently the Service Unit Manager, serving as the go-between for 45 local troops and the Girl Scout Council. She also volunteers as an archery instructor for troops and as a camp counselor (Nacho Mama is her camp name), and performs a variety of other scout roles. And you’ll find her at Takoma Play Days, Casseroles for a Cause and other events.
Noelle Kurtin has served as a Girl Scout Leader in Silver Spring for 12 years, leading two different troops, with more than 75 girls under her tutelage. Her girls have earned numerous Silver and Bronze Awards as well as Silver Trefoil Awards, which are true landmarks in the Girl Scout experience. Noelle also served as Service Unit Manager for Takoma Park–Silver Spring, overseeing more than 50 troops, and coordinated two Service Unit Encampments, which are joint troop camping trips for hundreds of girls. For many years she was also the coordinator for all Woodlin Elementary troops.
Tim Miller has been committed to the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts of both the Takoma Park and Silver Spring communities for more than 15 years. He has shepherded many 6-year-old Tigers up through the ranks of Cub Scout Pack 33 and guided their crossing as 11-year-old Webelos over to Boy Scouts of Troop 33 at Takoma Park Presbyterian Church. Tim served the troop as Assistant Scoutmaster for 3 years and as Scoutmaster for 4 years, working with hundreds of boys to teach the skills needed to learn, live, and love the outdoors. After stepping down as Scoutmaster of Troop 33, he started a new Cub Scout program, Pack 23, at his own church, St. Michael the Archangel in Silver Spring, where he is now helping a new group of young boys. Tim is a fantastic role model and mentor for today’s youth and truly embodies the spirit of an Azalea Award volunteer.
Makiye Pitts teaches kindness, responsibility, inclusion, and confidence to the children in the Takoma Rec aftercare program. He is gentle, warm, and respectful to the kids, and they gravitate to him as to a rock star. When they run up to “Mr. Makiye” to announce excitedly that they’ve learned to tie their shoelaces or—as they do daily—just to give him a hug, he responds with the same enthusiasm. Stories of his thoughtfulness abound. When one child was teased for being the only boy in the dance/step/cheer class, Mr. Makiye joined the class with him to show that it was okay to have fun regardless of gender or activity. Day in, day out, Mr. Makiye brings his best to a challenging job to make a difference in our community.
Some performance stars are on the stage for all to see, but others perform incredible things out of sight. Andrew Partan is one of this second kind. Before Andrew moved to the PEN area of Takoma Park 20 years ago, the neighborhood had something geeky called an email listserv, which lumbered along and nearly vaporized until he took over the hosting and system administration for what is now the 500-subscriber-strong PEN list. Before Andrew, the PEN list routinely broke, went berserk with bounced messages, and flooded people’s mailboxes, and proponents had to continually beg for free hosting from startup Internet service providers. Andrew’s cheerful brilliance has also been a key part of the secret sauce in Takoma Park’s youth soccer league, where he’s helped set up online registration and other applications as a volunteer. Andrew's work is somewhat solitary, involving skills few people possess and for which there is a huge commercial demand. His willingness to share his talent with the community is the epitome of generosity.
Linda Carlson, the coordinator of the Communication Committee of the Village of Takoma Park, provides a quiet and knowledgeable voice to the “neighborhood” of seniors and people with disability. In the position of the communication coordinator, she executes essential functions: Carefully evaluating the available computer management systems and recommending and developing a highly efficient system, forming an active communication committee, and developing a website that in 2017 had 25,443 web visits. On an ongoing basis, Linda coordinates the production and distribution of the Village’s very much appreciated newsletter that combines reporting with providing basic information for seniors, and manages the membership that has risen to more than 230 members. Without effective communication and management, a grassroots group like the Village of Takoma Park could not sustain itself.
Lichelle Lawson has devoted many 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, or 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.
Have you ever looked at kids playing, laughing and having endless fun only to lament having somehow lost that loving, playful feeling? Well, you can recapture those laugh bubbles again thanks to Pat Rumbaugh, aka “The Play Lady.” Pat says “When I play, I am happy, energized and enthusiastic, and I feel like I can take on the world.” Starting right here in Takoma Park she brought her passion for play to fruition and spread it out across the country. She is co-founder of Let’s Play America, a nonprofit organization that strives to encourage people of all ages to play and helps them create playful events in their own communities. Every year, Pat organizes “play days” in Takoma Park and gets us to recapture that youthful past. Rather than channeling anger, she focuses on laughter and goodness. A true “Tak-tivist” but with a playful twist!
Bruce Baker, founder of Community Health and Empowerment through Education and Research (CHEER), began with a vision to pursue the ideal of equitable, healthy, thriving communities, then gathered the resources, built a network, and created a successful nonprofit organization. He engages people across the lines of race, ethnicity, income, age, and social standing. CHEER’s work has included programs that serve youth in need of summer activities, adults suffering from diabetes and other ailments, and tenants dealing with their landlords. True to his ideals, Bruce's approach is compassionate and empathetic. He is able to connect with others despite any differences, and he is always willing to give credit to those he works with rather than taking credit for himself.
Jeff Hopkins has been a force in the community for years. Since 2012, Jeff has run a master's swimming program at the Piney Branch pool that provides not only healthy and fun swimming opportunities for adults but also local jobs for the teens who have coached the program. As a result, he has created an advocacy group that continues to lobby to keep this local resource open, and Jeff himself has played a large role in organizing demonstrations in support of the pool. Jeff is also a member of and advocate for the community garden in Ward 3 as well as a tireless volunteer at the Daleview Pool. Recently he helped organize an inaugural, local triathlon using our parks, pools, and roads. His spirit of enthusiastic volunteerism stands out.
Mary Jane Muchui has been the backbone behind forming a Takoma Park group called Parents of Special Needs Adults (POSNA), which provides support for our adult children in the following areas: housing, jobs, safety and recreation. Mary Jane volunteered her home as a meeting place for POSNA and regularly welcomes everyone, even those she has never met. Mary Jane worked with the Village of Takoma Park to secure a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to enable adults with disabilities to enroll in SPIRIT Club therapeutic exercise classes, which help participants to develop physical coordination, practice weight control and other healthy lifestyle habits, and engage in social group interactions. Also, for the past 13 years, Mary Jane has been collecting food from the Old Takoma Farmers’ Market and taking it to Shepherd’s Table.
Sometimes a member of the City Council engages in an entirely separate realm of service. Meet Terry Seamens, the Ward Four Council representative and the go-to person for anyone looking for housing, food or clothing. In Terry’s case, “go-to” means he goes out of his way, not just referring you to a government agency or nonprofit group but driving you there, giving guidance with paperwork and following up to make certain you’re not left in limbo. Terry is typically alerted to any homeless person seen on our streets, and he typically manages a small miracle. At Thanksgiving he helps pack and deliver bags of food, and at the MLK celebration, the Independence Day celebration and other events he stands ready for any chore. To say that Terry helps in any way he can would sum it up.
Bryan Goehring, seventh-grade science teacher at Takoma Park Middle School, and TPMS parent Roxanne Yamashita saw a need and stepped up to fill it. Together, as one of the many projects of the Difference Makers Club headed by Bryan, they have created Kokua Foods, a pantry that serves hungry families at TPMS along with three other area schools. While Roxanne recruits volunteers to set up at the distributions, pick up donations, and hand out food, she is also there for all of it, putting in countless hours, often with her husband. Bryan recruits students, dozens of them, to help clean the pantry and fill bags. He does a lot of the muscle work, picking up donations and fueling or repairing the Difference Makers van, to make sure everything will go smoothly. They are tireless, and the result is help to those who need it most in our community.
Jessie Carpenter is nominated for her decades of superior service to the residents of Takoma Park as the City Clerk. Anyone who has dealt with the City government seems to have to go through Jessie, which is a blessing because she is the kind of person who “gets things done.” Year in and year out, Jessie has gone beyond the call of duty to provide superior service to residents with questions. Jessie makes great efforts behind the scenes and beyond her job duties to ensure the smooth operation of as many aspects of City government as she can. Jessie uses her savvy and encyclopedic knowledge of the City Charter and Code to guide residents, City staff, Council and Mayor's efforts to improve our community. With exemplary civic leadership she has calmly massaged contentious debates within City committees and among City units to come out in a better place. Jessie is a gem who has influenced our community to be a fantastic place to live and our City government to be transparent, responsive, and well-oiled.
Danny Griffin has been a DJ on WOWD Takoma Radio since it launched, and hosts an amazingly creative, thought-provoking, enjoyable show called “Walking on the Moon” on Wednesday evenings. He combines interviews, sound pieces, music and musings around a different, timely theme each week. Danny draws on his wide network of friends, family, and colleagues to bring a broad range of perspectives on current events (such as the recent “March for our Lives”) as well as events that may be affecting him personally (such as dealing with loss). We're lucky to have him in Takoma Park—his radio show enriches the community!
Sandy Guarini, together with partner and 2015 Azalea winner Carolyn Pinkard, makes up the team of crossing guards at Takoma Junction. Sandy is loved by the children, whom she greets every morning with a hug and a “Hi, Honey!”, and she knows everyone. She is there for the kids and makes sure that they are safe. She is an angel in our neighborhood. Even the neighborhood dogs love Sandy and are always excited to cross the street at the Junction when she is there because she keeps treats for them in her pocket. She notices when kids are down and when they are gone because they have been sick, and she applauds big achievements. Sandy is a part of what makes our days in Takoma Park special.
The Takoma Park Knitty Cats (motto: “Resisting One Stitch at a Time”) came together in response to a listserv invitation a few weeks before the January 2017 Women’s March to make pussy hats for marchers to wear as a symbol of resistance. From a collection of strangers they have grown into a spirited, activist, and welcoming grassroots group with more than 60 members, ages eight to 75. Many meet weekly at Roscoe’s to knit pussy hats and similarly themed items such as pins, magnets, holiday ornaments, and “spirits of resistance” (beverage bottle hats). From sales of these items the group raised over $6,000 for Planned Parenthood, International Rescue Committee, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, World Central Kitchen, and The Advancement Project. With no designated leaders, all decisions are made by consensus. Knitty Cats maintain humor in all activities, adorning neighborhood sculptures and pets with pussy hats. Vice President Pence has received several dozen thank you notes for donations made in his name. By creating a whimsical, activist silver lining in a time of stress and uncertainty the Knitty Cats truly embody the spirit of Takoma Park.
Long-time school bus driver Wellington Varona goes way above and beyond his job description to make sure every child on the route 6112 “Egg Bus” is met with a parent, grandparent, or guardian before getting off. He knows every child’s name and buys special treats out of his own pocket on their birthdays and the holidays. If you are a motorist who does not stop to allow the children to get off his bus and cross the roads safely, ignoring him and the large stop sign that swings out from the side of his bus, he will report you. “Mr. Wellington” is worth his weight in gold and deserves recognition for his high standard of concern and care for all the children who ride his bus.