The Alexandria Commission on Women honored eight women at the 23rd annual Salute to Women awards Monday night.
"I’ve been to 10 or more of these programs, and each one is better than the last,” said Lisa Baker, the director of the Office on Women. “All of the women who were honored are remarkable. Erika Mendez, for example, is only 24 years old, and the things that she has accomplished are amazing. Listening to these stories just makes me want to get up the morning after the awards and start going again.”
This year’s banquet attracted 275 guests. Traditionally, women who hold elected office are asked to present the awards. Awards are divided into categories, and Alexandrians from all walks of life nominate those who are considered. The Commission on Women makes the final selections in all of the categories.
Susan Kellom, a member of the Commission on Women, said, “The banquet was wonderful. Each of the women who was honored had a truly compelling story. They run the gamut from Shannon Parker, a young woman who is truly multi-talented, to Beverly Steele, who has served this city both as a member of the city staff and as a volunteer for many years. She is truly deserving of our recognition. Also, Judy Lowe, she epitomizes the spirit of Alexandria and the spirit of Del Ray. She is amazing.”
RETIRED CITY MANAGER Vola Lawson presented the award, which was named for her, to Steele. “I had the privilege of hiring Bev in 1976, of promoting her to my old position as director of housing after I became city manager and then of bringing her to work in my office as an assistant city manager. Everything that Bev has been asked to do, she has done well. I always knew that if there was a difficult job that needed to be done, Bev was the one to give it to.”
Steele was surprised. “I am truly honored and want to thank the Commission on Women and the nominating committee for selecting me,” she said. “It was particularly significant that I received the award from Vola, who has been my mentor for more than 20 years.”
In keeping with the theme of the event, the keynote speaker was Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, the highest-ranking woman ever in the U.S. Army and the first female three-star general, with a career spanning 31 years. After retirement, she was serving as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence and managed policy and resources that impacted 45,000 soldiers stationed around the world.
She makes her home in Alexandria.
THE 2003 WINNERS
Youth Community Services Award —Erika Mendez
Growing up near Alexandria, Mendez saw the consequences for young people who made bad choices about their health, and this inspired her passion to create a different outcome through education. She began work with the Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry, first as a volunteer and later as a staff member. She leads the Ministry's Youth Speak Program, helping young people to make healthy decisions for themselves and to speak to others as peer educators in Northern Virginia high schools. She is bilingual in English and Spanish.
Cultural Affairs Award winner — Carolyn Winters
For 10 years, Winters has worked behind the scenes to make the Little Theatre of Alexandria a success. She has produced numerous plays and now oversees the task of running the theater's box office with her all-volunteer army. She has also created the Theatre's new "Spotlight" Series to attract young, single people. She is also a 10-year volunteer at the Lee-Fendall House, where she serves as a weekly docent. She has developed educational programs to explain Alexandria's history and bring it to life.
Career Development and Education/Training Award — Shaw Barnes
Almost by accident several years ago, Barnes and her husband created a children's book, “Alexander, the Old Town Mouse.” At the suggestion of a staffer from the Reagan White House, she went on to create a special "mouse" series designed to teach children the basics about government. Soon, “Woodrow, the White House Mouse,” the “House Mouse,” “Senate Mouse” and others were created. From one little “Old Town Mouse,” there are now 12 books selling nationwide. Through her volunteer work at Children's Hospital, she met the very young poet Mattie Stepanek, then a 10-year-old dying of muscular dystrophy. One of his final wishes was to see his poetry published, and Barnes made that happen for him.
Woman-to-Woman Making A Difference award — Wendy John
To help her church, Immanuel Episcopal, John took over the well-known pumpkin patch sales at the church at the corner of Quaker Lane and Seminary. The pumpkin sales benefit equally the church that sells them and the Navajo Tribe, which grows and ships the pumpkins. When she took on her job, sales were raising just a few thousand dollars for the church's community outreach projects. She changed the approach, buying lights for night selling, putting up fliers everywhere advertising the sale and explaining its purpose, and assembling many volunteers to help out. In the past three years, the pumpkins have brought in more than $50,000, and Immanuel ranks 10th in sales nationwide of more than 785 churches.
Youth Community Services Award — Ruth Norton
As a family involvement coordinator at Cora Kelly School, Norton is known simply as “mom” or “grandma.” She is also the coordinator for the after-school 4-H Club and Boys and Girls clubs, helping hundreds of children receive guidance and explore new horizons.
Youth Community Services Award — Shannon Parker
Parker is an honors student soon to graduate from T.C. Williams High School. She is a talented dancer, studying ballet, tap, step and modern dance. She has danced with the Dance Institute of Washington, Show Biz, and Step Afrika, and has twice attended the Debbie Allen Dance Program in California. She has also danced in numerous productions staged at the Kennedy Center and won a CAPPIE award for her performance of T.C. Williams' production of "The Wiz." She also teaches at The Campagna Center's after-school programs at two elementary schools.
She is president of the Alexandria Youth Council, leading projects on helping young people learn and grow; she has served as Alexandria's representative to the National League of Cities for three years; she serves on the Mayor's Advisory Council, and on the Alexandria Campaign on Adolescent Pregnancy (ACAP). She also volunteers for the Alexandria Volunteer Bureau, serves on the Teen Center Advisory Board, and is a founding member of the Alexandria Chapter of the National Congress of Black Women.
Vola Lawson Award — Beverly Steele
Steele has been an employee of the City of Alexandria for 30 years. For 14 years, she worked in the department of housing, ultimately as that department’s director. During her tenure there, she led projects of complexity equaled only by their importance, such as the building of the city's homeless shelter and Substance Abuse Service Center, negotiation for complex affordable housing arrangements and policy, and revitalizing business along the Mount Vernon corridor. Her skills were recognized by all who worked with her, and in 1991, City Manager Vola Lawson named her deputy city manager. There she was responsible for the management of a significant portion of the city's government, from the Department of Human Services to the Office of Historic Alexandria. Her work was also central to the city's economic development and tourism, parks and recreation. In 2000, she was appointed special projects coordinator for the city, and most recently, she is serving as interim director of the Department of Human Services. While serving in very responsible positions, she was also active in volunteer work for the United Way and the League of Women Voters, among other organizations.
Marguerite Payez Award — Judy Lowe
Lowe is one of the city's most dedicated volunteer leaders. Some may remember her as leading the charge to stop Potomac Yards from being turned into a football field and parking lot, where she stood up to the governor and Jack Kent Cooke. Those who live in Del Ray may think of her as "their" volunteer. People who live there call her everything from the "Queen" to the unofficial "mayor" of Del Ray. She served on the executive board of the Del Ray citizens association for 10 years. She also helped the founders launch Art on the Avenue. In 2003 Art on the Avenue will showcase children's art for the first time.