Each spring since 1984 the Capitol Hill Community Foundation has honored individuals whose contributions of time, energy and vision have enriched life in our neighborhood in myriad ways large and small. The one hundred plus men and women thus recognized have been teachers and librarians, clergymen and real estate agents, businessmen, bankers, policemen, doctors, musicians, and scholars. They have worked in government, run a much-loved diner, founded programs to connect kids with volunteer tutors and pruned our street trees. This year is no different from the last thirty-five years. Guy Martin, Charles Allen and Tonya Porter Woods have given much to our community.
Like many people, Guy Martin came to Capitol Hill via politics. He grew up in Denver, Colorado, went to college and law school, married and then, seeking work teaching political science and practicing law, and also wanting to live in a place where there were mountains, found himself at a new school in Anchorage — Alaska Methodist (now Alaska Pacific University). There he quickly got involved in issues relating to native land rights. In the fall of 1970, newly-elected Alaska congressman Nick Begich asked Guy to come to Washington as his legislative director.
Guy and his late wife, Nancy, moved to Washington and their first year on Capitol Hill was thrilling. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, introduced by Congressman Begich, passed, providing the largest settlement ever for Indian land claims. But the year ended in heartbreak when Congressman Begich and house Majority Leader Hale Boggs, flying from Anchorage to Juneau, were lost in what was assumed to be a plane crash. For Guy it was a shocking loss of both a friend and a job.
After a return to Alaska for a position in the cabinet of Governor Jay Hammond, Guy came back to DC in the spring of 1977 when President Jimmy Carter nominated him as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Water Resources, a position he held for four years. From there he went into private law practice with Perkins Coie.
Like many parents, Guy did his early volunteering for his children’s school. He and Nancy were co-chairs of the Capitol Hill Classic, the annual footrace that is a fundraiser for neighborhood public schools. They also worked with the Guild in support of the Folger Theater. But it was when he joined the board of the Old Naval Hospital Foundation in 2005 that Guy became deeply involved in the community. Because of his experience with legal and regulatory issues relating to land ownership and use he was the perfect person to lead the drive to turn the dilapidated, century-old, federally-owned building on Pennsylvania Avenue into an asset for the community. His grasp of and attention to legal detail, his skill as a negotiator and his energy and determination were essential to the long process that resulted in the opening of The Hill Center in 2011. Now retired, Guy takes pride in his role in what has become a wonderfully dynamic part of Capitol Hill life.
Like Guy Martin, Charles Allen was drawn to Washington because of its position at the heart of national affairs. He had grown up with little interest in politics. His sights were set on a medical career when he went to college at Washington & Lee in Lexington, Virginia. But in a non-traditional intensive six-week spring course called “Malcolm & Martin” he got his first academic exposure to issues that had roiled the country, things like the Montgomery bus boycott that he remembered hearing about from relatives. Noting his interest, a professor suggested he look into a new program the college was offering in “poverty studies.” The next summer Charles had his first trip north, for a fellowship working in a health clinic in South Boston and living in a church. It was an intense and meaningful experience. After college he got a master’s in public health and in the winter of 2000 came to Washington hoping to become involved in national health policy. Someone suggested he volunteer in a political campaign so he signed on to work for liberal Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone in his 2002 campaign for a third term. The day he started work, word arrived that the Senator had died in a plane crash. Shaken and saddened but moved by the outpouring of regard for Wellstone, Charles found himself more committed than ever to the idea that individuals are important and can make positive contributions via politics.
Charles originally met Tommy Wells when both were campaigning for Howard Dean for president in 2003 and 2004. Over beers at the Hawk ‘n Dove on Pennsylvania Avenue, the two men discovered that they were not only from the same suburb of Birmingham, Alabama but they had attended the same church and had even – twenty years apart – been impressed by the same dynamic high school history and civics teacher. They bonded over their shared background and before long Charles had accepted the job to run Wells’ campaign for a seat on the City Council. He served as chief of staff for Council member Wells for seven years. When Wells decided to run for mayor, Charles resigned from his staff in order to run himself for the Ward 6 seat on the Council.
Elected to the City Council in 2014 and then re-elected in 2018, Charles has made public safely, education, and health care his primary focus. He is proud of his work for Ward 6 schools — accelerating school and playground modernizations, and getting more resources for at-risk students. He has been involved in decriminalizing fare evasion on bus and Metro and he takes delight in the “Books from Birth” program he brought to DC (imitating one created by singer Dolly Parton in Tennessee) to send an age-appropriate book each month to every child in the city up to the age of 5. Being accessible to everyone in the Ward is another article of pride for Charles who holds regular community coffee hours so he can hear and respond to the concerns of his constituents. Managing growth is a key focus with the future of the RFK Stadium site a significant challenge. Criminal justice reform is another long -term issue he keeps in his sights.
In the meantime, though, Charles and his wife, Jordi, are our neighbors and the parents of two children, one a first grader at J.O. Wilson Elementary School where they are active volunteers.
Tonya Porter Woods
The third of this year’s honorees, Tonya Porter Woods, is DC born and bred, having grown up in Southeast, youngest of three daughters raised by a widowed dad, also a Washingtonian, who worked at the Government Printing Office. She was a tomboy who ran track and played tennis. In the spring of her ninth grade year at Carter G. Woodson Junior High school she found she was pregnant and had to leave school immediately. No, she was told, she could not graduate.
But her energy and help from her family allowed her to cope. Her dad retired from the GPO and soon was walking her daughter, Crystal, to Kimball, the same elementary school Tonya had attended. After a couple of courses Tonya took and passed her GED exam. “Basically,” she says, “I bypassed the whole of high school.” She did well in college courses in English and journalism at UDC, but left school because of the pressure of work.
Tonya found her calling as a teacher and administrator of youth-focused programs during 13 years at Friendship House, the community center that for many years occupied a historic mansion, The Maples, on D Street SE (now part of a complex of apartments and town houses). Starting as a switchboard operator and then a teacher’s aide in the center’s two-year old program, she worked her way up becoming successively a preschool teacher and then an administrative assistant, developing and implementing both academic and recreational programs for children. Many of the children at Friendship House came from Hopkins Public Housing and in 1997 Tonya moved over there as director of the Boys and Girls Club’s after-school program.
At Hopkins, Tonya met the late Jan Eichhorn, who would come to pick up children for the tutoring program she had created. Jan quickly recognized Tonya as someone who would be an asset to her program. But about that time, wanting more money as her daughter was heading to college, Tonya took a job working for the Easter Seals program. There she quickly discovered that she was “allergic” to the office environment and she missed being with children. So she reconsidered Jan’s offer and since 2004 has been Executive Director of Jan’s Tutoring House doing everything from hands-on tutoring and mentoring, to supervising staff and numerous volunteers, to writing grant requests, to cleaning the office. It’s absorbing, draining, satisfying work.
Tonya’s love and care for children isn’t just her profession. She and her husband, Darrick, have personally cared for many – her daughter, his son from a previous marriage, the son they had together, two children her sister left when she died young and numerous grandchildren, some of whom are among the kids who come to Jan’s for tutoring.
For her decades-long inspiring, teaching and encouraging of children in our community, Tonya will receive this year’s Steve Cymrot “Spark” award. She, along with Charles Allen and Guy Martin, will be honored as Community Achievement Awardees at a fundraising gala dinner on Wednesday, April 24 at the Folger Shakespeare Library. For information about the dinner or to purchase tickets, contact Nancy Lazear, [email protected], 202-547-1776.