18th Annual Azalea Awards

Since 2006, Takoma Foundation has sought out and recognized the community’s biggest difference makers through our annual Azalea Awards.

We’re proud to present this year’s award winners, as well as all their fellow nominees below.

Business Leader

A person or organization that promotes progressive spirit through local commerce

Megan Bormet and Matt Bormet

At 5 pm on the first Sunday of most months you can listen to local poets reading original verse inside the People’s Books in Old Takoma. Owners Megan and Matt Bormet have hosted this “Green Way Reading Series,” started by Takoma Park Poet Laureate Taylor Johnson, since opening their store in 2022. Add in their numerous other free events for readers of all ages and tastes, the display of fliers announcing community activities, shelf space for the Montgomery Blair student newspaper and the “pour & linger” table of coffee and tea, and you begin to see their vision of a comfortable public living room amid a warren of bookshelves. Such local luminaries as Congressman Jamie Raskin have drawn big crowds, and there are even occasional free tarot card readings. In sum, People’s Book is fulfilling many community needs, some of which we might not have known we had.

Chris Hishmeh

Chris Hishmeh of Olive Lounge consistently gives back to the Takoma community. As a result of Chris’s leadership, Olive has been a regular and strong supporter of the Foundation’s Beerfest fundraiser. Olive also consistently hosts fundraisers for local schools, nonprofits and nurseries. During the pandemic’s early days, Chris supported other local businesses by creating a space on Olive’s patio for makers and designers to sell their work. The bottom line is that the leader and owner of Takoma’s neighborhood bar regularly demonstrates the importance of supporting worthy causes.

Chris Brown

Chris Brown has continued his streak of providing Greater Takoma with dining options that are delicious and eclectic. Chris often supports local causes (most recently providing deeply discounted food for Takoma Park Elementary and Piney Branch Elementary Teacher Appreciation meals) and his restaurants also serve as important fundraising sites for worthy causes. After helping launch SOKO and Zinnia to great acclaim, Chris has stepped into the void of Republic’s departure with Motorkat. Having a talented and accomplished restaurateur apply his skills here has made Takoma Park a more interesting and tasty place to live. Chris, what’s next?

David Creekmore

The Covid-19 pandemic was an unlikely time to quit your job to pursue a dream, but that is when David Creekmore took a leap of faith and left his CFO position at a nonprofit to open a financial planning firm, Lifetime Financial, that caters to families in Takoma Park. David also volunteers his time to help lower-income households who are desperate for advice and are often turned away by mainstream planners. Over the last few years, he has helped a dozen families get out of financial peril while giving them the emotional support and assurance that they will be okay. A Takoma Park resident for more than 20 years, David has made a long-term commitment to provide other residents with the advice they need so they can plan for the lives they want.

Civil Servant

A public employee who goes the extra mile in service to our community

Renay Johnson

Renay Johnson, the dynamic principal at Montgomery Blair, has Takoma connections going back to 2006, when she became principal at Takoma Park Middle. Since taking the helm at Blair in 2011, Ms. Johnson has instituted day-long picnics for freshmen entering Blair and for seniors as they start their final year. She continues to support the school’s annual Puzzlepalooza competition even though its original purpose of occupying upperclassmen during state testing is no longer an issue. An avid booster of Blair’s athletic and academic teams, she regularly reports their results on Twitter (X). As Blair’s first woman principal, Ms. Johnson has deftly led the largest high school in the state, whose diverse population runs the educational and socioeconomic gamut from STEM and communications arts magnet students to recent immigrants with limited previous education. When she retires this June, after 33 years with Montgomery County schools, she will leave big shoes to fill.

Phil Shapiro

During the week Phil Shapiro can be found at the City Library as the resident geek helping visitors use the 28 Linux stations. Over the years Phil has also been the guy who collects used computers, cleans them up, installs Linux and gives them to families in need. He is a source of inspiration to young and old alike, creating playful songs about technology, math and word puzzles and always challenging folks to learn. As an adjunct professor at American University and as a blogger at the Community Voices blog of PCWorld.com, he covers the intersection of open source and community development, YouTube, social changes engendered by the Internet, and the changing role of public libraries. He can be heard on occasion singing about technology on YouTube around the Library. Phil is an encouraging resource for anyone looking to navigate technology in a fun, educational, and responsible way.

Sacdiya Siyaad

Being a teacher is a monumental task, but when teachers can work with dedicated assistants such as Sacdiya Siyaad both teachers and students come out winners. Sacdiya is employed at Takoma Park Elementary as a classroom para-assistant, and due to her dedication, love, and hard work it is not uncommon that children and teachers want Sacdiya to be assigned to their classes. For the last twelve years, Sacdiya has also worked at the Takoma Park Lunch and Learn summer program where she not only helps in the classrooms but makes sure every student receives breakfast and lunch so they are nutritionally able to concentrate on their lessons. And, since 2013, Sacdiya has been the director of the After School Program for Essex House, again making a difference in the lives of many children.

Vince Cain

Supervisor Vince Cain is the encouraging and welcoming smile at the recreation center on New Hampshire Avenue. Vince started at the center as a part-timer in 2014 and became full time in 2015. With a burst of laughter, he is always ready to jump in and make sure you have a good time in any of the many activities he oversees. As much as he is a supervisor, he is a fan and cheerleader. Pickleball and Double Dutch are all the more enjoyable when Vince is in the house. He encourages new players, gives you helpful recommendations, and makes everyone feel welcome. He makes you want to run, jump and play. You can’t help but have fun. Vince is also well known for building relationships with the teens that come in for his after-school programs and with the families who have children in childcare and summer camps. Before signing up, many of them ask, “Is Vince still running things?” He epitomizes the best of the Takoma Park staff.

Louis Hoelman

One of the most popular faculty members ever to walk our school hallways Louis Hoelman seems to gain more energy every year. Most recently, as the new head coach of Blair’s varsity co-ed golf team, he led the team to the final round of the state championship. Impressively he was doing double duty as the longtime head coach of Blair’s girls’ softball team, reaching his 300th win last season, all the while teaching PE at the school. During the pandemic he taught from his living room, starting off each class with a 20-minute workout on screen. Rare among teachers Louis is a local alum of both Blair and Eastern Middle. In 1993 he returned as a teacher at Piney Branch Elementary and then moved in 2001 to Blair, where he has also coached basketball, handball, field hockey and cross country. He has been named “coach of the year” by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Karen Mendez

Karen Mendez has been described as “the teacher with the 100-watt smile.” She truly lights up any room with her smile and presence. Ms. Mendez has been at Rolling Terrace Elementary for decades. She is the definition of a master teacher, leading her colleagues by example in the implementation of curriculum, captivating a classroom with her kindness and comforting structure while also spreading the message of stewardship and sustainability with her environmental work in and around the school. For years she has donated countless hours outside the normal school day, bringing joy through after-hours tutoring, environmental clubs, and gardening. And if there is an event where she can support her students she is there.

Isabelle Mensah

In just one short year, Isabelle Mensah introduced a new era of achievement at Rolling Terrace Elementary, and her leadership has ignited pride throughout the school. She has the commanding and confident presence that any good elementary school principal should have, but she is also approachable and makes herself infinitely available to students and their families. Her deep sense of care is palpable in the classroom, hallways, extracurricular activities, and community engagement events of Rolling Terrace, all of which have been thoughtfully cultivated to make Rolling Terrace a beacon of the community.

Lifetime Achievement

Bruce Baker

Bruce Baker capped a long career as a local community organizer by starting an unusually resilient nonprofit in 2008 and then administering it until his retirement at the end of 2023. The nonprofit, known as CHEER (Community Health and Empowerment through Education and Research), is based in the Long Branch neighborhood (where most of the staff live) and features grassroots self-help leadership with a focus on improving community health. Prior to establishing CHEER, Bruce played a pivotal role in resurrecting the Takoma Foundation, which he served as treasurer for several years. He also helped oversee the Takoma Soccer league and served on various City committees.

Neighborhood Volunteer

Someone who “walks the walk” to improve their neighborhood

Eula Seals

Eula Mae Seals moved to Ritchie Avenue in 1965 and has been a dedicated community activist ever since. She almost immediately joined the Ritchie Citizens’ Association and was soon bringing food straight from her kitchen to the association’s meetings and other events. This was the era when Lee Jordan was organizing youth baseball and basketball teams in the same neighborhood, and Eula Mae cooked up a storm for his numerous suppers. She also became active in the old Blair High School booster club. In 1997 she retired from her last day job, as a cafeteria worker at what is now Takoma Park Middle, but she hasn’t stopped volunteering. She assists with Children First Day and community picnics. At the July 4th festivities she hands out free water and sells fundraising T-shirts. You can also see her registering voters along Maple Avenue, any activity that strengthens the ties that bind neighbors together.

Carolyn Alderson and Jeffrey MacMillan

The Takoma Porches festival, a spring tradition that had lapsed, was brought back to life this year by Carolyn Alderson and Jeffrey MacMillan (with help from Steve Smith, Alison Baker and James Colwell). On a Saturday afternoon in May hundreds of music lovers ambled from porch to porch in the middle of town to enjoy the sounds of bluegrass, jazz, folk, funk, gypsy jazz, even country and western—all played by live bands. Takoma Porches is a free event because the musicians, most of them local, donate their time and skills, as do the households, including Carolyn’s and Jeff’s, who spiff up their porches and make them available as a place for friends, neighbors and strangers to congregate. Everyone was friendly, and no one was in a hurry as they took in what might be called a “moveable concert.”

Miles Amoore

The origin of the Community Food Forest Collective, a new nonprofit that has planted two food forests of bushes and trees and has plans for several more, can be traced to a conversation Miles Amoore had with a member of Climate Action Coffee about three years ago. Several other members quickly embraced the idea. A food forest, which mimics a forest ecosystem, produces either food or medicines from such plants as Paw paws, persimmons, blueberries, gooseberries and hazelnuts and can teach us about health, nutrition, permaculture, climate impact, and related topics. A search to find suitable locations led to planting forests at Takoma Park Elementary and Montgomery College. Volunteers of all ages and ethnicities—Master Gardeners, teens earning SSL hours, families with young children, and students from the Montgomery College Permaculture Club—pitched in, moving mulch, digging holes, making signs, and cheering on the plants. Besides Miles, the Collective includes Amy Zimmerman, Bea Zuluaga, Philip Bogdonoff, Judy Rosenthal, De Herman, Karen Elrich, Sharon Broderick and Tierney Acosta.

Ali Kahn and Megan Scribner

In 2009 Ali Kahn and Megan Scribner, Willow Avenue friends who had recently published books, embarked on a notable act of good neighborliness by organizing an event where the many writers who live locally can promote new work. That year the first Takoma Park Book Fair featured 19 local authors. Fast forward to 2023 when the annual December event, hosted by their partners at Busboys & Poets Takoma, showcased 34 authors. Nearly 200 authors of every ilk and genre from the Greater Takoma area have participated over the years. Ali and Megan also advise local organizations that sponsor book events, and Megan has created a Facebook page as a year-round network for authors, with posts about relevant events at Busboys Takoma, People’s Books, Historic Takoma, and the City Library. Ali is a writer, editor, and folklorist with a special interest in oral history. Megan is an editor, writer, and community organizer.

School Activist

A parent who brings the best to our schools

Kaitlin Caruso

Kaitlin Caruso is serving this year as president of the Takoma Park Elementary PTA after chairing a committee and serving as vice president. During her time with the PTA she started a weekly newsletter, collecting school events and announcements into one central place, organized a winter coat drive and holiday gift drive, and tutored a small group of students on phonics. She coordinates across the school for ongoing needs while also working as a part-time Academic Intervention teacher. This year she took on the cleaning and beautification of the school atrium, led community outreach efforts, and collaborated on programming and a successful fundraising campaign. Kaitlin leads by example and is one of the first people to volunteer for any activity. She does all this while maintaining a kind and enthusiastic attitude toward everyone.

Claire Dean

As vice president of the Takoma Park Elementary PTA, Claire Dean is an invaluable and devoted leader who has volunteered countless hours. Just a few of her contributions include planning a fun and motivating Earth Day assembly, researching new after-school enrichment options for students, ordering new fundraising merchandise to sell, and being a key member of PTA strategic planning. One of Claire’s most notable achievements was as co-chair of the book fair, a huge undertaking months in the making that raised money for new library books. In addition to her leadership responsibilities, Claire is always willing to step up for any event necessary all the while maintaining a day job as an attorney. The PTA is looking forward to all she will bring to the role next year.

Mari Quenemoen

Mari Quenemoen launched her volunteer service as a room parent at Takoma Park Elementary, finding ways for kindergarten families to connect and engage during the shutdown of the Covid-19 pandemic. More recently, as a co-chair of the PTA’s Health and Wellness Committee, Mari was fully involved in the makeover of the school atrium, salvaging potted plants to give away, organizing teams of adults and children to remove roots and debris, and leading a drive to provide temporary greenery while long-term plans evolved. This year, now at Piney Branch Elementary, she spearheaded Cultural Heritage Night, organizing volunteers, soliciting food donations and other contributions, and working on publicity and logistics. Mari’s leadership style creates an environment where volunteers, school staff, and community members all feel valued and included.

Amy Swift

Amy Swift has worked tirelessly as the Takoma Park Elementary PTA’s treasurer this year. She puts in many hours each week to keep the PTA’s budget balanced by working on long- and short-term planning, as well as depositing donations and fulfilling reimbursements. She has been an integral part of the success of fundraisers such as the Dolphin Drive, Read-a-thon, and Book Fair, the money from which helps provide supplies and programs for students and teachers. Amy has also single-handedly organized many years of financial files and information. Additionally, she has volunteered her time at many school events. The PTA team says they are lucky to have her.


A civic leader who inspires others by example

Enku Taye

Enku Woldemedhin Taye organized the Maple Tree group six years ago to help women like herself, Amharic-speaking neighbors and friends trying to cope with living on Maple Avenue after moving here from their home country. With assistance from a local nonprofit, CHEER, she has inspired many stay-at-home moms to participate in community projects and to make personal strides. Several have gone back to school or gone into the job market. Through Enku’s efforts Maple Tree established programs such as a class on healthy food and fitness, zumba classes, sessions on parenting skills, annual picnics, and a venue where teens feel safe to socialize and explore college choices and future careers. Her communications to other residents have been outstanding and tireless. She has devoted countless hours to staying in touch with people who sometimes have difficult and alienating moments as they settle into a new environment.

Mimi Ikle-Khalsa

Mimi Ikle-Khalsa has been either co-leader or leader of the annual Takoma Park Alternative Gift Fair for the past 15 years, mentoring an entire generation of volunteers. She helped successfully weather the Covid-19 pandemic, creating a robust website and online shopping catalog for the previously in-person event. Not only does the gift fair raise crucial funds and provide an alternative to the over-commercialization of the holiday season, she brightens Takoma Park with the beauty, joy and relaxation that she dispenses in her extensive promotions at the farm market in Old Town and in her decorations at the event itself. After the event she ensures the smooth delivery of tens of thousands of dollars to locally-based, direct-service nonprofits in our region, as well as internationally, and works with new groups so they can participate in future fairs.

Marika Partridge, Olivia Randolph, Steve Hoffman, and Bob Boilen

On July 16, 2016, at 9:43 am, Takoma Radio went live, and listeners have been raving ever since. The announcer was Marika Partridge, who had spearheaded the effort to claim one of the newly created FM frequencies (94.3) and give Takoma Park its own radio station. Funds were raised to build a broadcast facility, and Marika found tech-savvy volunteers and eager DJs and came up with the call letters WOWD. Olivia Randolph, an early supporter, has been station manager since 2017 while Steve Hoffman oversaw programming, now in the hands of Bob Boilen, who retired from NPR and starts at WOWD this summer. Historic Takoma served as the official applicant for the license. The broadcasts are 24-7, and the shows reflect our cultural and musical diversity. Due to streaming, programs are heard well beyond the five-mile radius of live broadcast. The National Federation of Community Broadcasters has praised WOWD for its excellence, but most important to these radio pioneers is the continued enthusiasm of their audience.

Takoma Spirit

Reflects local character with panache

Tim Cooper

Tim Cooper was born and raised on Maple Avenue, and, although he no longer lives there, that’s where his heart will always be. Last year Tim organized the Maple Community Association, a nonprofit that aims to help Takoma Park's youth and to find ways for all of us in town to get to know each other better. The group’s first event was a Maple Avenue block party. This year Tim and a cohort of likeminded volunteers are partnering with the City to organize our first-ever Juneteenth celebration, to be held June 19 on the Takoma Park Middle field. For Tim it’s his latest undertaking to engage people, and it follows the Ward Four events he worked on with Terry and Joyce Seamens and the July 4th picnics with former NBA star Steve Francis, who likewise grew up on Maple Avenue. The two of them also distributed school supplies to families who are current residents in the apartments, and for 30 years Tim has coached and mentored kids growing up here as he did. There’s no doubt Tim’s affinity for his home place is rare and admirable.

Eleanor Landstreet and Tuula Smith

If you walk by Historic Takoma’s window in the Junction and see it filled with eye-catching artwork, you can thank Eleanor Landstreet and Tuula Ehn Smith, who have figured out a way for local artists to promote and sell their work without operating a store. In Eleanor’s case she was a shopkeeper in Old Takoma, Things from Egypt/Back Wall Gallery, until the Covid-19 pandemic shuttered it. Eleanor’s store was known for its vibrant window displays, and, while brainstorming with Tuula, the store manager and curator, the two of them came upon an idea to beautify the many vacant storefronts with local art and handicrafts. Next came the formation of ARTery, a volunteer-run collective of artists, artisans and small businesses, leading to a website, an online directory and a mailing list. Interested buyers are able to contact artists directly using posted QR codes. If there is such a thing as a silver lining from the pandemic, this is one.

Delaine Deer

Delaine Deer’s passion and expertise shine through in her role as an instructor and board member of the new nonprofit AbodesJoy where she teaches a wide range of diverse learners—women, nonbinary individuals, and transgender people—how to make home repairs. Delaine's extensive training in plumbing, electric work, woodwork, and more, combined with her supportive teaching style, enable her students to achieve self-sufficiency and empowerment. She has a remarkable ability to make learning enjoyable and rewarding, as evidenced by the enthusiasm her students express. Have you ever thought “toilet training” would bring whoops of joy? Try attending her class on removing and installing a toilet. One of Delaine’s underlying goals is to make the next generation of construction professionals more inclusive as well as more qualified.

Marcia Diehl

Marcia Diehl is the key organizer of the all-volunteer Community Band, which dates to 1974 and is probably best known for setting a fun, lively tone during July 4th festivities and Takoma PlayDays. What could possibly be more spirited? At present Marcia is planning a celebratory 50th anniversary concert to be held on June 8 in the Community Center. In coordination with CityTV she is producing a film to be shown during the concert—interviews, snippets of ensemble rehearsals, and past performances. Retired members will be honored. Tin Roof Blues, composed by a band member, will be debuted. In recent years Marcia has expanded the band’s reach to the Festival of Lights at the Mormon Temple as well as to smaller venues such as the Franklin Apartments and B’nai B’rith Homecrest House. Marcia is delighted to report the band is adding new members from a younger, more diverse population.

Youth Leader

An educator, coach or mentor who motivates children to aim high

Antonio Castillo

Since 2011, when Antonio Castillo started a local breakdancing academy, he has taught more than 4,000 kids how to make the stylized moves. His academy, now called ALL10 Breaking, provides an alternative for children who may not have an interest in other sports. Antonio’s passion for breakdancing began when he first saw it as a child in Mexico. He modeled his academy on a TaeKwonDo school (he has a black belt), but his students earn different colored shoe laces instead of belts. Generously, he provides scholarships to those in need. Antonio plans to host an outdoor event on June 16 as a send-off to the Paris Olympic Games where breakdancing will be featured for the first time. He has also staged competitions at Takoma Park Middle and partnered with the Folk Festival and the TPSS Co-op. It’s his way of inspiring young people to be active.

Jennifer Manguera

Jen Manguera has been an extremely active Girl Scout Troop Leader in Takoma Park’s Service Unit since 2000. Frequently she leads two troops, one older, one younger, organizing everything from woodworking to robotics to cookie sales, not to mention camping and archery and axe-throwing. Her Scouts do service projects ranging from tree planting, making blankets and helping the needy at Shepherd's Table, and collecting sheets and towels for the cats and dogs at the Humane Rescue Alliance shelter. She has seen 30 of her scouts earn the Girl Scout Gold Award (equivalent to the Eagle Award) and 52 earn the Silver Award, with more to come. Not only is Jen always positive and encouraging with the girls, she shares her knowledge with new Troop Leaders. Jen holds the belief that there is room for everyone and that everyone enjoys getting dirty sometimes.

Anita Burkam

Tutor Anita Burkam is the ideal educator for children in need of math enrichment, especially those whose skills and confidence were eroded by the Covid-19 pandemic. In her words, she “loves to encourage students with positive reinforcement and team up with them to make math a surmountable challenge rather than a dreaded chore.” Under Anita’s tutelage, parents have seen their children’s anxiety and antipathy toward math transform to fluency, curiosity and success. Anita is gifted at reaching children of all ages and abilities, including neurodiverse students. Her wide ranging skills and experiences—writing for the Horn Book, community volunteering, language learning, and more—inspire young people and instill a love of math. As an extra benefit, she offers free or reduced prices to those who qualify.

Terry McDonough and Stephane De Messieres

Takoma Soccer coaches Terry McDonough and Stephane de Messieres have been coaching their players, who are now in middle school, since they were preschoolers. Terry and Stephane have been exceptionally committed to working with this team, nicknamed the Takoma Turkeys, teaching them teamwork, sportsmanship and character in addition to soccer skills. They look for ways to motivate by setting up trips to professional games and finding female as well as male role models, noting that it's important for boys to see women playing at a high level as well. They bring patience, fun, and heart to their coaching roles. The sense of belonging and encouragement has kept kids and parents coming back not only to their team but to other Takoma Soccer teams. Terry is the coordinator and Stephane is the scheduler for all 7th-grade coed soccer teams. The two of them have been a constant during a tumultuous time.