River East Emerging Leaders (r.e.e.l.), a community organization that empowers and develops leaders East of the River, hosted their annual holiday party last week. During the event, r.e.e.l. recognized community leaders who serve the East of the River community through the Distinguished Service Awards. NBC4’s Tracee Wilkins, an East of the River resident, hosted the awards ceremony.
To my surprise, ThatKellieGirl received the Board of Directors Award for work as a member of re.e.l. and chair of the Leadership and Engagement Committee (LEC). The LEC is responsible for promoting volunteerism and leadership development programs and events. Throughout the year, the LEC has coordinated East of the River community service projects and leadership workshops. However, our proudest moment was the development and implementation of the East of the River Career Exposure Camp, which exposed East of the River youth to professions in the fields of science and math. The LEC works to build partnerships with already established community groups to engage and build capacity as well as serve the community.
However, there are other individuals who have worked East of the River for decades. With slashed budgets and at times lack of volunteers, they continue to labor to make a difference in people’s lives. And through r.e.e.l., I have had the honor to work with some of them.
The recipients of r.e.e.l.’s Distinguished Service Awards included:
Ward 7 Honoree Christina Henderson, Program Manager at the Southeast White House: Ms. Christina of the Southeast White House was an instrumental partner and essential to the success of the East of the River Career Exposure Camp. The Southeast White House is a beacon of light to the community. The volunteers serve those who come to the house in need of lifestyle changes, jobs, fellowship, volunteer opportunities, friendship, and love.
Ward 8 Honoree Jackie Ward, Constituent Services Specialist for Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry: Jackie Ward is a liaison between constituents and the government which takes true skills in diplomacy and problem-solving. Currently, she is working with East of the River condo owners to resolves structural issues with their property.
r.e.e.l. Board Members Courtney Anderson, Charles Wilson, Regan Wilson, Ward 8 Honoree Jackie Ward, NBC4’s Tracee Wilkins
Ward 8 Honorable Mention Brenda Jones, Executive Director of Parklands Community Center: Ms. Jones first opened the doors of the Parklands Community Center in 1980. Her motivation stemmed from the growing violence in her community and the lack of accessible recreational outlets and positive alternatives for her two sons and the large numbers of children and youth living in the community. The center’s mission is to empower parents through life and social skills development workshops and coaching and family bonding activities and trips.
East of the River Award The Annie E. Casey Foundation: The focus of the Casey Foundation is about helping children thrive in safe, nurturing, and strong families. The foundation has offered its services East of the River to help children and ultimately families.
r.e.e.l. Board Members Jeanine Hunter, Charles Wilson, Regan Ford, and East of the River Honoree Annie E. Casey Foundation represented by Irene Lee
Volunteer of the Year Award Bernard Suber: Bernard Suber is an active member of r.e.e.l. He is also the President of the DC Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects(DC NOMA). He is also a part of the LEC where he proposed the idea for the East of the River Career Exposure Camp. He was invaluable to the planning and administering the camp and recruiting architects (DC NOMA members) to instruct the campers.
Presidential Award Philip Pannell: Philip Pannell is a stalwart supporter of r.e.e.l. and has provided guidance to emerging leaders in the community. He also is a political pillar in the community. He has served in several governmental and political capacities such as Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner. Currently, he is President of the Anacostia Coordinating Council.
And finally, by my surprise, ThatKellieGirl received the Board of Directors’ Award for my work as Chair of r.e.e.l.’s Leadership and Engagement Committee.
Folks who know me understand that community engagement is very important to me. It is a part of my belief system. Each of us has the responsibility of service to our community and to be involved. We can’t afford not to, or things begin to happen to us than for us. And r.e.e.l. has provided (and continues to provide) opportunities for me to learn and be active East of the River.
My hope is that more African-Americans begin to volunteer in the community. It is critical that black youth interact with black volunteers in addition to volunteers of different ethnicities. It makes a powerful impact on how they view themselves within the community and within the world. Through these interactions, youth are exposed to other life possibilities. As my mother said to me and my siblings growing up, “you do what you know.” So when youth “know” about other possibilities, the world truly opens up to them. If you are interested in volunteering, please reach out to any of the organizations mentioned above. and in the coming year, let’s continue (or begin) to commit to our communities.