Ward 7's exemplary women are honored during a luncheon. (Courtesy of ERFSC, Inc.)
Ward 7's exemplary women are honored during a luncheon. (Courtesy of ERFSC, Inc.)

The service, sacrifices and stellar examples of women who care for and about their community often receive short shrift because of those who dominate the national scene.

But that’s not the case in the District’s Ward 7 where the East River Family Strengthening Collaborative, Inc. (ERFSC) has paused for the last five years to recognize the contributions and accomplishments of women who live in Southeast.

Residents, ERFSC employees and others nominated those whom they believe deserving of receiving their flowers while they’re among the living. In the past, women in the arts, politics and education have been spotlighted for their selfless efforts to improve their communities and help those around them.

And so, on March 27 almost 300 citizens attended a festive and entertaining luncheon at St. Luke’s Center in Southeast where eight distinguished women — Sylvia Butler, Andrea Christie, Patricia Dunston, Carolyn Holbrook, Yvonne Johnson, Sandra E. Lee, Brenda Liddell and Hope Spruill — found themselves singled out for recognition. Spruill received her honor posthumously.

The fifth annual Ward 7 Women of Excellence awards, produced and staged by Rosie “Peppy” Parke and ERFSC in association with Peppy Entertainment & Promotions, recognized women who have worked with seniors in the District’s Ward 7 for at least two consecutive years.

Special guests included keynote speaker Laura Newland, executive director of DC Office on Aging; representatives from Mayor Bowser’s office and ANC members. Unfortunately, inclement weather and challenging schedules made it impossible for other city officials, including Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray and At-Large Council member Robert White from attending.

So, while they may have been present “in spirit,” those who did attend made the most of the celebratory afternoon.

“I no longer work with East River but you just seem to keep drawing me back,” Parke joked while performing Mistress of Ceremony duties.

“This event was birthed five years ago when Ms. Best and I decided to do something special for women in March and every year it’s gotten better. I’m so very pleased with this special event’s growth and also that you were all able to make it,” she said.

Parke, who served as ERFSC’s director of Communications, Partnerships & Community Engagement for 10 years, spoke in a separate interview about the importance of lifting up those who often work tirelessly, make a considerable difference to their surroundings but who often go unrecognized.

Her personal annual Women’s History month event which she initiated in March 2006 served as the inspiration behind ERFSC’s awards luncheons.

ERFSC Executive Director Mae H. Best agreed.

“When we started this event back in 2014, we knew it was something special and we wanted it to grow,” she said. “It has grown so much that others around the city are staging similar events honoring other women. We are much honored to be the trendsetter.”

“I’m glad to be here and excited and gratified for residents’ support and attendance. But being able to salute and honor these outstanding awardees who’ve done amazing work with our seniors, gives me the most pleasure.”

Laura Newland, executive director of the DC Office on Aging, praised the honorees for their work while discussing her agency’s commitment to fully support seniors and provide them with vital needs and safe spaces so that they can live out their lives comfortably and in familiar surroundings.

She also lauded the Model City Steppers whose high-energy performance emerged as one of the highlights of the luncheon.

“They aren’t seniors in the traditional sense because they have so much energy and passion,” she said of the group of 12 whose ages range from 60- to 90-years-old. “They were amazing.”

Among the honorees — Sylvia Butler — a life-long Washingtonian, who has long been an advocate for seniors in the city. She has won several awards over the years and also served as an advocate for change with both the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization and the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Rebuilding Community Initiative.

Another honoree, Patricia Dunston, leads the way as a volunteer line dance instructor at the Washington Seniors Wellness Center [WSWC]. Every Friday she takes the seniors through their paces and currently has more than 100 line dances in her repertoire.

Dunston worked for the US Coast Guard and then the Department of the Navy from which she retired after 37 years of service. She has been a member of WSWC since 2007 whose members nominated her and describe the “super sister” by one word: “awesome.”

Yvonne Johnson is legendary in her community for her absolute commitment to the rights of senior citizens. Part of her activism stems from the fact that she is herself a senior. She says she’s felt for quite some time that seniors have not been getting the respect they deserve and believes strongly that seniors shouldn’t wait for someone else to voice their issues and concerns.

She’s an advocate of independence and says that while some services are good for seniors, older Americans should never give up on doing for themselves. Even with eight children and 14 grandchildren, Johnson still finds the time to serve as active member of the Deanwood Civic Association as well as remaining devoted to her spirituality as manifested in the many churches she regularly attends throughout the ward.

Andrea Christie appeared breathless as she received her trophy.

“I don’t know what to say; I’m so honored,” she told the guests. “I’m glad to see friends and family who came out to support me. Thank you. Thank you.”

Christie, born in Jamaica and educated in London, shared with guests that she’s become referred to as “The Yoga Lady” because of her love for yoga and the years she’s spent providing instruction. She says she’s passionate about her Ward 7 community and has even adopted a UDC garden plot in the heart of the ward.

Hope Spruill, who died at 69, continues to be remembered as a woman of many talents, including playing the piano, painting, knitting, designing clothes and sewing. She worked as a taxicab dispatcher for Yellow Cab Company as well as lending her talents as a Maryland auctioneer.

For more information, contact Rosie Park at msrparke@gmail.com. Next year’s awards will be held in March 2019. Event photos can be viewed at www.erfsc.org.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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