Robert Egger wasn’t impressed when his fiancée dragged him out one night to help feed homeless men and women on the streets of Washington. That was 25 years ago, and it wasn’t that the cocky nightclub manager didn’t want to help people—he just felt that the process was more meaningful to those serving the meals than those receiving them. He vowed to come up with something better.
Egger named his gritty, front-line nonprofit D.C. Central Kitchen, and today it has become a national model for feeding and empowering people in need. The Kitchen's CEO Michael F. Curtin, Jr. and Egger are inviting supporters to enjoy live music and great nibbles to launch "The Food Fighters" -- a new book about the nationally-recognized nonprofit innovators. Hors d'oeuvres from Ris, Kaz Sushi Bistro, Pizzeria Orso, Willow, and Art & Soul and others will be served. Scotch and beer tastings plus a signature cocktail made by D.C.’s “Mixtress” Gina Chersevani are also in the offing. The party is Thursday, September 18, 2014, 6-8:30 p.m. at Liaison Capitol Hill’s Rooftop Pool & Bar at 415 New Jersey Avenue, NW. Tickets are $75 and include food, drinks, a signed copy of “The Food Fighters,” and are on sale now at www.dccentralkitchen.org.
For a quarter century, D.C. Central Kitchen has pioneered a new model of using food as a tool to change lives. It provides nutritious meals to neighbors in need, equips unemployed men and women to begin culinary careers, and engineers successful social enterprises that create good jobs. Through job training, healthy food distribution, and local small business partnerships, D.C. Central Kitchen offers path-breaking solutions to poverty, hunger, and poor health.
ACADIA NATIONAL PARK – Georgetowners led by National Park Foundation President & CEO Neil Mulholland trekked to one of Mother Nature’s most beautiful outposts near Bar Harbor, Maine, to celebrate the Rockefeller-supported Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park Thursday in an event featuring Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and some of the nation’s leading philanthropists.
Jewell was the keynote speaker, telling of her first foray to Acadia on a trip in 1977 that changed her life. “I drove alone on a break from college in my little red Fiat from national park to national park, across the west, down to Florida and up the East Coast,” the Obama cabinet dynamo and former chief executive of outdoor clothing giant REI told the crowd of 250. Near the end of the trip, Jewell picked up her then boyfriend Warren and journeyed north from Philadelphia to the landscape once known officially as “Eden.”
“It was raining, but we ate lobster – with butter – outside the tent,” she recalled. The two fell in love with Acadia – and each other: they married one year later.
Jewell serves as chair of the National Park Foundation, which draws significant support in Georgetown,including West Village Democratic fundraiser Elizabeth Frawley Bagley, who serves on the organization’s board along with Chevy Chase resident and EMILY’s List founder Ellen Malcolm. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker’s family foundation is also a major supporter. (Pritzger’s digs are up the street in Massachusetts Heights.)
Mulholland said the Schoodic Institute was a perfect place for the Foundation’s board of directors to meet this summer. The Foundation raiseda whopping $23 million in private gifts to support America’s national parks in 2013. In addition, it invested more than $16 million in grants to dozens of parks, programs and “friends” groups.
NPF supported the Georgetown Waterfront Park and is organizing a new effort involving the C&O Canal.
“I really hope they can raise the money to put the barge back into service and clean the canal,” D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans said. “It is such an integral part of Georgetown’s history.” Evans traverses national park land on his daily five-mile run from his home near P St. and Wisconsin Ave.
Under a bright white tent near the rocky shore, NPF Vice Chair Emeritus David Rockefeller, Jr., praised the development of the Schoodic addition to Acadia National Park. He didn’t have to explain to this crowd that the park was created by philanthropists including his uncle John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who donated 10,000 acres while funding and supervising the construction of 57 miles of wilderness carriage roads in the early 20th Century.
David Jr. said public access to such resources is essential. “We are thirsting for nature, for connection, for quiet,” Rockefeller said. Growing up in nearby Seal Harbor, “Moss and mussel shells were part of the vocabulary of my childhood.” The Rockefeller family, he said, is determined to “protect what is precious.” The Schoodic Institute, he said, will expand Acadia National Park as a catalyst for research, education and training – a model for the country that will encourage “life-long learning,” he said, noting “the life-long part is something I’m increasingly grateful for,” drawing chuckles from the crowd.
Jewell, joined by National Park Service director Jon Jarvis and Acadia superintendent Sheridan Steele, said increasing diversity among conservationists is critical. “In a time of constrained resources,” she said, “there will never be enough to go around.” Diversity, she said, is essential for strong support of the nation’s parks – but the need goes both ways. “We need nature to feed our souls,” Jewell said. “The best classroom is the one without walls. No child left inside.”
Schoodic Institute Chairman Alan Goldstein noted that Acadia National Park was rated by ABC’s Good MorningAmerica last month as “America’s Favorite Place.” Days later, the park dominated the front page of the The New York Times travel section.
While Jewell warned about “loving our natural places to death,” the beauty of Acadia seems to be drawing interest and support – including from Washington-area philanthropists.
The annual Friends of Acadia gala in Northeast Harbor last week included an auction item donated by Potomac resident Mitch Rales, who has a $24.5 million “cottage” near the park. He and spouse Emily offered a one-week stay at their St. Bart’s villa for the auction to support park needs. Media maven and FOA supporter Martha Stewart snapped it up for $50,000, leading Rales to offer the villa for another week. The second week went for another $50,000.
That may sound like a lot.
The price tag on the Schoodic Institute?
A cool $22 million.
Dirty, salty snow in rock-hard piles was frozen to the ground at the Rose Park tennis courts near 26th and O Streets in Georgetown on a frigid morning in January in 1998. As most people slept, an unlikely pair were engaged in a life-or-death struggle.
There had been drug-dealing in the park. Tricks turned. It was the 1990s, the decade of crack, Marion Barry’s “bitch set me up,” and corruption in the D.C. police department.
One of the men wore a ski mask. One wore shorts. Neither planned to lose.
Was it a battle over drugs, money? Were they high?
The sounds in the park were not shouts or gunshots, but the thwacks and groans of tennis players in a fight-to-the-death grudge match. Over, well…winning. That game.
“For six years we used to play three times a week – hundreds of times,” said Erik Wemple, previously editor of City Paper, now a media reporter at The Washington Post. “We must have played 450 times.”
“His backhand was an absolute killer,” said John Winslow, former chair of the Art Department at Catholic University and a serious player. “He would always beat me, but I would get up at all hours and play when he wanted to play – at six or seven in the morning. He liked that.”
“He” was Ruben Castaneda, metro reporter at The Washington Post. Castaneda was obsessive about tennis. Just as he had been obsessive about reporting on the crack epidemic in Washington, D.C. at the Post. And just as he had been obsessive, for a time in his life, about smoking crack himself.
From S St. Rising, Castaneda’s new book:
I should have gotten out of the car already. I should have been working the crowd, scribbling notes on the mayhem while looking for someone to interview.
But I couldn’t bring myself to get out of my beat-up Ford Escort, pulled up to the curb near the intersection of 5th and O Streets Northwest.
It was the afternoon of December 20, 1990. I was a twenty-nine-year-old night police reporter for the Washington Post. I’d joined thepaper fifteen months earlier and was anxious to make my mark, willing to do whatever the bosses asked. I routinely raced to combat zones to cover drug-crew shootings, even if the trips didn’t yield many bylined stories. Single or even double gangster killings were usually relegated to the briefs column. But this assignment was different: five kids shot in a drive-by as they were walking home from school just before Christmas. Other Post reporters were at the scene, and chances were good that one of us was going to get our name on the front page.
But Castaneda was frozen in his car, afraid that his own crack addiction would be discovered if he got out.
The shooting had taken place just four blocks from S Street Northwest, where once, sometimes twice a week I drove my girl Champagne to make crack buys. Champagne was a “strawberry” – a streetwalker who traded sex for drugs.
The book goes on, in Castaneda’s first-person telling, to chronicle a city in crisis, as seen through a reporter in the grip of his own relentless spiral of crack and alcohol compulsions.
Here is how Tanya Paperny of City Paper describes the book:
S Street Rising…replays some of the lowest points in D.C.’s recent history: a time in the 1990s when cops couldn’t seem to do anything about gun violence, when drug-related turf wars led to scores of innocent victims and intimidation killings of witnesses, when my neighborhood of Edgewood was known as “Little Beirut,” and when some children in particularly stricken neighborhoods avoided gunfire by sleeping on mattresses on the floor….
But the main reason you’ll probably hear about S Street Rising is that it’s a memoir from a man who reported on crime at the height of the crack epidemic while he was addicted to crack. While that’s true, Castaneda’s book follows multiple narratives: his own career trajectory, his life as an addict, the spectacular fall of Marion Barry, the professional dramas of then-homicide chief Lou Hennessy, and the coming-of-age story of a small community church located on a lawless S Street NW block.
A few years after Castaneda took his last hit of crack, he sent a note to Stephanie Mencimer, then an investigative reporter at City Paper, complimenting her on a story she had written about problems in the police department. “It was about all these cops who had beaten up their wives and girlfriends and never been prosecuted. It was 1996,” she says.
That winter, Mencimer went to a party with her friend and City Paper colleague Wemple, where the latter encountered Castaneda for the first time. “I overheard Erik talking about his athletic and tennis prowess – I think he had had a couple drinks,” Castaneda says. “So I basically challenged him.”
Castaneda needed to play. Before work, after work – at all hours. He found a loyal nemesis in the taller, younger Wemple.
With razor-sharp crosscourt backhands, a slightly odd serve and the occasional petal-soft drop shot, Castaneda could best almost anyone at the courts, and in the city. But winning wasn’t guaranteed for either man in this case.
Wemple learned the game on manicured courts in upstate New York playing against his two brothers. It was competitive. “You don’t hit, you want to beat the piss out of them. You want to run the pulp out of each other,” he said.
Castaneda taught himself to play on the courts at working-class Mountain View High School in El Monte, California, a majority Latino suburb east of Los Angeles. “At that school, if you showed up and kept coming, you made the team.”
Years later, Wemple and Castaneda started playing in what would become an intense, six-year rivalry – with no regular victor – except the competition itself.
“He had a mortal backhand, really flat, not much spin. The ball wouldn’t bounce very high – it just died,” says Wemple. “And Ruben never gave up on points. He would get everything back.”
There was not a lot of socializing, even in toney Georgetown, where C. Boyden Gray might walk by, Dominique Strauss-Kahn could peep at the courts though his back fence, and Andy Kohut, Founding Director of the Pew Research Center, was a regular.
And Castaneda didn’t stop at the physical game to overcome Wemple. “I would tell him his dark sneakers were going to make his feet sweat,” Castaneda laughs. “I would say things to psyche him out.”
“Yeah, he tried that,” Wemple says.
Earlier this month, the since married Wemple and Mencimer, a Senior Reporter for Mother Jones, hosted a book party for Castaneda in their Logan Circle home.
Post colleagues including Bill Turque, David Montgomery, and Mike DeBonis came to show their support, as did Jim Dickerson of New Community Church, Lou Hennessy (the former D.C. police homicide captain), and D.C. Council candidate Elissa Silverman, who also previously worked at the Post and City Paper.
“I always root for Ruben,” Mencimer said. “He’s been struggling to get this book out for a long time.”
“It was really hard to get this done,” Castaneda says. “I always believed it was a good story, but it took years.”
Just as he wouldn’t be bested by Wemple and others over the years at Rose Park, so too did Castaneda fight for the dream of getting his story published.
The reviews have been good.
So might there be a movie in the offing? The D.C. area has produced several major Hollywood talents who could take an interest. David Nevins, President of Showtime Networks, produced Homeland and Ray Donovan, and worked on Dick Wolf’s Law & Order early in his career. David Dobkin, another graduate of Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, produced Wedding Crashers and Shanghai Knights. And there's Spike Jonze (né Adam Spiegel, also from Whitman), of Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Her fame.
Who knows whether these D.C. natives might find in Castaneda’s story a good treatment for a movie or TV series.
The author has his Hollywood-speak down: “It’s The Wire meets Crash with a Dash of L.A. Confidential,” he says. “Those are great works of fiction. Everything in S Street Rising is true.”
While he’s suffering from a bad disc in his back, Castaneda keeps busy when he’s not working, playing pick-up basketball now and then. Occasionally, he pulls out a racket to try out his strokes. Maybe someday they'll return.
"That’s really the theme of the book,” he says. “Don’t give up.”