By B.L. Wilson
A team of public workers who help parents searching for the right school, an emergency service worker and his dog who provide closure to families in the worst of circumstances and a boiler plant operator who kept building temperatures comfortable while saving the city money were among the public employees honored by The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation Awards for Distinguished D.C. Government Employees.
The 18th Annual Cafritz Awards Gala was hosted by the George Washington University Center for Excellence in Public Leadership (CEPL) and held at the Marvin Center Thursday evening.
Congratulating the nominees and winners, GW President Thomas LeBlanc said that the program “is particularly meaningful to me as both a resident of the District and as the president of an institution that is committed to the D.C. community and passionate about public service.”
He noted that two of the recipients are GW alumni: Amy Lerman, M.A. ’10, and Aryan Bocquet, M.P.A. ’14, both members of the My School DC Team.
And Dr. LeBlanc expressed a special appreciation for Calvin and Jane Cafritz and the Cafritz Foundation, which sponsors the awards program. Under Mr. Cafritz’s leadership, the foundation has awarded more than $454 million to 10,433 projects in Washington, D.C.
“We are incredibly thankful for your many contributions to community services, education, the arts and humanities, health and the environment in the District of Columbia and the greater Washington metropolitan area, and for your generosity to the George Washington University,” he said.
James Robinson, CEPL executive director, served as master of ceremonies, introducing Mr. Cafritz, the president of the Cafritz Foundation, as the man who created the idea to award D.C. government employees when it was not very popular.
“Mr. Cafritz had the vision and courage to say no, we see that things are really turning around, and we want to recognize them for doing such a great job for the residents of the District, the businesses and the visitors to the District.”
Since the year 2000, the Cafritz Awards have been presented to 92 individuals and four teams.
“Those honored tonight represent truly outstanding District of Columbia professionals who work effectively and passionately all the while quietly demonstrating the best in public service,” said Mr. Cafritz.
As each recipient came forward, Mr. Cafritz stood and presented them with a trophy. This year the following five individuals each will receive $7,500, while the new Team Innovation Award went to an eight-member team that will receive a $15,000 prize:
Imhotep Newsome, language access program manager, Metropolitan Police Department, helped to improve relations between immigrant communities and law enforcement by creating new interpretive resources for his department and by providing officers with cultural-competency training.
Sgt. Gene T. Ryan, D.C. Fire and Emergency Services Department, became aware about 10 years ago that dogs could be used to improve recovery crews’ search for human remains and started a nonprofit called Disaster Preparedness D.C. Inc. that raised $80,000 to create such a program. Since then, Mr. Ryan and a German shepherd named Kylie have worked with law enforcement and rescue teams to find weapons, locate victims in collapsed buildings and others entombed beneath a highway.
Jose Santos, boiler plant operator, Columbia Heights Educational Campus for the Department of General Services, has saved the District of Columbia government hundreds of thousands of dollars by improving equipment performance that reduced energy costs at several D.C. public schools
Gloria Torrento Del Cid, administrative officer at D.C. Public Schools Seaton Elementary, works closely with teachers at the school to break down language and cultural barriers in improving relations with parents. She has run a food bank in partnership with the mayor’s office, served as a translator at family meetings, helped boost enrollment at Seaton Elementary and organized an annual Multicultural Day to highlight students’ different cultures.
Circe Torruellas, deputy associate director for Bus Transit Operations in the D.C. Department of Transportation, took a bus fleet that was in disrepair, identified safety defects, replaced old buses, upgraded services with free wi-fi and USB ports and added a new bus route. Her colleagues praise Ms. Torruellas for “putting her whole heart and services into the Circulator bus program.”
My School DC Team
Office of the State Superintendent of Education
Cat Peretti, executive director
Aryan Bocquet, director of partnerships and engagement
Michelle DeSando, parent response manager
Patricia Etienne-Payano, parent response specialist
Lisvette Garcia-Acosta, parent response specialist
Amy Lerman, director of operations
Antoinette Williams, parent response specialist
Michelle Yan, director of data and strategy
My School DC was launched in 2014 to simplify and improve access to District of Columbia Public Schools and public charter schools. For parents, finding the right school for a child in the city often proves to be a complicated process, especially if they were looking for special services or schools outside their neighborhood that best fit a child’s needs. My School DC created an app, allowing parents to list by preference up to 12 schools on their application in less than five minutes.
In thanking the Cafritz Foundation for recognizing the work of these members of the city’s workforce, Assistant City Administrator for Internal Services Jay Melder reminded the audience that 37,000 people work for the District of Columbia and thanked them for their unshakeable commitment to the residents. He said, “The most precious thing you can give another is your labor,” he said.