There is both good news and bad news about the 2020 Capitol Hill Community Achievement Awards. The good news is that three exceptional women have been chosen for this honor. The bad news is that, given the Coronavirus crisis, the Capitol Hill Community Foundation made the painful decision to postpone the gala dinner to honor them. A celebration of their accomplishments and contributions to Capitol Hill will be held in April, 2021. The women to be honored next spring are Patricia Joseph, Kathleen Donahue and Bonny Wolf.
A childhood that took her from the Bronx to Los Angeles with many moves in between, and then three decades as a flight attendant on international routes made Patricia Joseph more than ready to settle down and embrace life on Capitol Hill. She came to this neighborhood initially because her then-husband was studying at Howard University; and it provided a convenient base to come in and out of when she was flying. It was, she thought, sophisticated but with a hometown feel. Milan and Rome are her favorite foreign cities and she has two sisters back in L.A. But in Washington, DC and on Capitol Hill, she says, “I found a lid for my pot. I love it here.”
Pat’s career with the airlines was exciting but interrupted periodically by layoffs and labor disputes. She took advantage of one layoff to go to culinary school which led to two years of working for Ridgewell’s catering and then running her own small pastry business, Pattycakes. She was also interested in city government. Her father had been one of the first African Americans to serve as an undercover federal narcotics agent, her mother worked for the Veterans’ Administration. “I had a government family,” she says. Campaigning for his reelection to City Council she became friends with Tommy Wells and in 2011 she retired from the airlines and went right into another career as his Constituent Services Specialist.
In 2015 Pat took on her current position – Constituent Services Director for At-Large councilmember Elissa Silverman. As such, she helps plan community-wide events and special occasions, promotes voter registration, and is the contact person for the citizen complaints that pour in daily about everything from smaller concerns like a mail box that has been moved or questions about construction to difficult issues relating to crime, evictions, electricity interruptions, and homelessness. Increasingly, her work involves helping individuals navigate the various services offered by the city as well as by organizations like the Salvation Army, Catholic and other charities and local food pantries. She spends a lot of her time “calling all over the place” seeking appropriate assistance for people in distress. Serving on the volunteer board of Everyone Home DC enables Pat to engage with the issue of insecure housing from another perspective as well.
A “cradle” Episcopalian, Pat is a long-time member of Saint Monica and Saint James Episcopal church in Northeast where she has served on the vestry and helped the congregation work through the tough decision to sell the church’s rectory in order to finance much-needed improvements to their beautiful and historic building. The church, with its eclectic, slightly quirky mix of people feels, Pat says “like family.”
Family is the core of Pat’s life. Though separated geographically from her two sisters and two brothers, she keeps in close touch with them. Every Saturday night the five siblings, two in on the west coast, one in Massachusetts, one in Mississippi and Pat here on Capitol Hill, share a conference call.
In the summer of 2010 Kathleen Donahue was stuck in traffic on the 14th Street Bridge returning from a trip to Northern Virginia to buy a game for her young son, David, to take as a present to a birthday party. While dealing with family issues, she had taken time off from a demanding career in strategic planning, marketing and management for both public and private entities, DC-based and international. She had been wondering what kind of work, what career step might come next. By the time she got home she was too late for the party but she was playing with an idea. A few weeks later, at a celebratory dinner in New York for her 40th birthday, she told her husband, Keith, “I’ve decided to open a game store.”
Ten years later, to the surprise of many, Labyrinth (645 Pennsylvania Avenue SE) is a neighborhood destination, not just for parents in search of birthday gifts, though there are many to be found there, but also for a heterogeneous group of both adults and children seeking intellectually stimulating games and, increasingly, a community of folk with whom to play them. “I got so lucky,” says Kathleen of her success. “I had no idea what I was doing….”
In fact, though, despite her years of international travel and high-level business consulting (at 23 she had moved to Mexico City as the first trade representative there for the state of Florida), Kathleen had actually grown up in retail. As an 8 year old in Pensacola she started going to work with her father at his liquor store. After school and on Saturdays she would dust things, check in orders as they arrived, tell the delivery men where to put the various products. As she got older she took on the bookkeeping. When the time came for her to go into retail the positions were reversed. Her father offered to help by investing in her fledgling business. His banker said, “This is never going to work.” He was wrong.
Kathleen’s success owes much to the lessons she learned working for her dad whose friendly, outgoing personality helped create a community feeling around his store. “I knew I wanted that,” she says. And of course, as she points out, games in themselves create community – in families, among friends and even among people who do not know each other. “I wanted to attract smart, curious people,” she says. And she has. The monthly schedule at labyrinth offers Pokémon Clubs for kids, Mah Jong nights, a Capitol Hill Village Game Day, an Intro to Dungeons and Dragons. Most sessions are packed. “Boozy Board Games Nights” at Mr. Henry’s charge a modest fee with proceeds going to benefit Children’s Hospital. Birthday parties for kids, a game library for teachers, after school chess clubs and a summer kids’ program along with an emphasis on customer service and community outreach have all contributed to making Labyrinth a valued part to our neighborhood.
Bonny Wolf lives close enough to the Eastern Market that before dawn on April 30, 2007 she was among the pajama-clad neighbors, wakened by the sirens and clangs of fire engines, watching in horror as flames rose from the ceiling and walls of the one hundred thirty seven year old brick building. That evening, for a nation-wide audience on National Public Radio, she described the market as our “village green,” the heart of the neighborhood, and told of how, moving to Capitol Hill twenty years earlier, she had taken one look at the market and decided “this is the right place for my family.”
It had been in part the desire for a more urban environment that had brought Bonny, her husband, Michael, and their young son Jonathan, to Washington from College Station, Texas. She had had there a “dream job,” on the local newspaper, the Bryan Eagle. As features editor she had created 11 new sections including food, movies and the biggest book review section in the state of Texas. She had enjoyed the excitement of the newsroom and being part of the transition from hot to cold type. “Newspapers were just fun to work at,” she says of that time. But a desire to be closer to their families and to raise their son with the stimulating urban environment that both she and Michael had grown up with, she in Minneapolis, he in Baltimore, brought them to Washington and to Capitol Hill.
As an editor on a series of local publications with a political slant, Bonny had interesting work but realized that she was “more of a soft news type” and that her real love was food and cooking. For two years in the early nineties she published a newsletter, “The Food Pages,” a lively compendium of restaurant reviews, recipes, tips on where to get really good coffee or buy the best spices. It was, she says, “ahead of its time,” an artistic success but financially unsustainable. She then took her interest in food in a completely different direction, with an appointment in the Clinton administration in the office of the undersecretary for food and nutrition. A year later she became a speechwriter for the Secretary of Agriculture. Free-lancing for a time as a speechwriter and then doing food commentaries for NPR, Bonny wrote a series of essays that became her book, Talking with my Mouth Full, Crab Cakes, Bundt Cakes, and Other Kitchen Stories published in 2006 by St. Martin’s Press.
Bonny’s enthusiasm for the neighborhood, as well as her writing ability came into play almost twenty years ago when she joined the small group that was meeting regularly to figure out how to turn the decaying Old Naval Hospital building on Pennsylvania Avenue into an asset for the community. Enthusiastic about the project right from the start, Bonny spent countless hours meeting with a core team, imagining what the building could become, drafting publicity materials, stressing the need for the renovated building to have a demonstration kitchen. She helped hire the first executive director, hosted parties to create awareness of the project and raise money, and gave a lot of thought to what the newly created Hill Center could offer to the public, especially in the areas of nutrition and cooking. The program for a recent concert series says this: “Hill Center’s staff is continually inspired and motivated by Bonny Wolf and her pursuit of engaging programming.”
To celebrate these many and varied contributions to our neighborhood, Pat Joseph and Bonny Wolf will be given Community Achievement Awards and Kathleen Donahue will receive the Steve Cymrot “Spark” award at a gala dinner to be held in the spring of 2021.
This story has been updated to reflect the decision to postpone the awards gala dinner.