Just a year ago, the Capitol Hill Community Foundation made the painful decision to cancel its annual gala dinner, never imagining that a year later in-person celebrations would still be impossible. However, the women chosen for last year’s Community Achievement Awards are even more worthy of recognition now than they were last year and they WILL be honored, albeit in a virtual rather than in-person event.
The good news about that, according to Foundation president Nicky Cymrot, is that—unlike in the elegant great hall of the Folger Shakespeare Library—there’s room online for everybody. The program will be broadcast on the evening of Wednesday, May 19 and Patricia Joseph, Bonny Wolf and Kathleen Donohue will be honored for their many and varied contributions to the life of our neighborhood.
Serve Your City and Everyone Home DC will be recognized for the community works that earned them Arnold J. Keller, Jr. Awards for 2021 and 2020 in the amount of $20,000 each.
For Pat Joseph, as Constituent Services Director for City Council member Elissa Silverman, the year since the cancellation of last spring’s festivities has been “a perfect storm.” Adapting to teleworking while at the same time carrying a tremendously increased work load as constituents dealt with wildly unexpected circumstances created by the pandemic and then confronting the summer’s racial unrest was, she remembers “a nightmare.” Dealing with everything from assisting people as they filed unemployment claims to connecting isolated seniors to organizations providing groceries or picking up prescriptions and, later, transportation to vaccination sites, Pat found herself working long hours by herself at home. Only “once in a blue moon” did she go into her eerily empty office building. She rarely saw her councilmember.
But daily walks to and from Eastern Market, strolls by the Anacostia River with jazz, R&B or Barbra Streisand playing through her headsets, have helped. A few short trips out of town and regular Saturday evening conference calls with her far-flung sisters and brothers have kept her connected to family. Weekly live streams have brought her familiar faces and the comfort of services at St. Monica and St. James Episcopal Church. She continues on the Board of Everyone Home DC and takes satisfaction in what the organization has been able to do, meeting virtually, picking up unexpected grants. So despite the multiple challenges of this most unusual year, Pat is upbeat. She is encouraged by ongoing efforts to get people vaccinated. She got a pillow for her home office with a 51 embroidered on it and is guardedly optimistic about the chances for DC Statehood. And, once the pandemic is over, she’s looking forward to traveling again, especially to Florence and Milan. But always, she says, she will be happy to come home, not just to DC, but to Capitol Hill.
Bonny Wolf spent much of the past year with her husband, Michael Levy, in a house they rent on the Eastern Shore where the surroundings are beautiful and social distancing is easy but the uncertainty about what comes next and cancellation of many events are just as heavy as they are in town. When Michael’s brother died last spring, it was not possible to mourn the painful loss in the usual ways. A major birthday celebration was relegated to Zoom. Visits with their son and friends happened outside which was delightful in the summer but challenging as the weather turned cold.
Still, the year brought dividends. While it was still warm, paddle-boarding on an inlet of the Chesapeake Bay became a daily relaxant for Bonny’s mind and workout for her body. Inside, she spent time writing, working on what she hopes will be the first in a series of “farm to table mysteries.” And she continued her commitment to the Hill Center where for almost twenty years she has been central to every aspect of the Board’s work. She is “most proud” of her part in planning the Center’s demonstration kitchen and successful collaboration with Children’s Hospital and the Common Threads organization sponsoring programs promoting family cooking and nutrition. Now she has conceived a new project–a community cookbook to be published in the fall of 2021 as a fundraiser, part of a kick-off celebration for the tenth anniversary of Hill Center. She has been busily filing and testing the recipes pouring in from well-known chefs who have taught at Hill Center and from neighbors making dinner for their families or remembering favorite dishes from childhood.
Kathleen Donohue, founder and owner of Labyrinth Games and Puzzles on Pennsylvania Avenue, says the past year has been “like a tornado that never stopped.” At the beginning “every phone call I received, I lost money” as one after another scheduled events were cancelled and the store closed to in-person shoppers; but merchandise nonetheless had to be paid for. She was committed to keeping her loyal staff of 14. Despite assistance from a federal Paycheck Protection Plan loan to help meet payroll she says she “really thought we would have to close down.” The confinement at home was hard on her family, especially her son. And every day, “I missed my customers.”
Before long, though, Kathleen was going in to the closed store to work on building an e-commerce website and she was working with Mary Quillian Helms, owner of Mr. Henry’s to create a convenient pick up point for over-the-phone purchases for her customers as well as those of East City Books and Hill’s Kitchen. She began donating games to local shelters and receiving unexpected donations from customers offering to help her pay her staff. Now, she says, she is seeing “the light at the end of the tunnel.” Via the website, she is selling games and puzzles to families serving with the State Department in faraway countries. Since she used her PPP loan to pay staff, she does not have to repay it. The store is open to small numbers of shoppers at a time and she is anticipating, at some point, being able to again offer in-store birthday parties and game nights. Mostly, though, she is overcome with gratitude to her staff and to the community.
Pat Joseph and Bonny Wolf will receive Capitol Hill Community Achievement Awards and Kathleen Donohue will be honored with the Steve Cymrot “Spark” Award at the virtual gala on May 19th. For information about making a donation to the Foundation and watching the event visit www.capitolhillcommunityfoundation.org/achievement-awards.