Georgetown Current

Young Georgetowner Aims to Name Alley

October 22, 2014

By Kat Lucero
Current Staff Writer

Strange odors, darting vermin, unkempt trash bins and shady activities often give public alleys an unappealing reputation. A quiet rear corridor in the Georgetown Historic District, however, defies this negative perception.

The T-shaped, red-brick alley sits behind the 3200 block of Volta Place, where it abuts the stone-covered, cottage-inspired Georgetown Lutheran Church on Wisconsin Avenue. The alley has a secluded atmosphere, due to having only one point of egress, from the south.

And soon, this alley may adopt a more formal identity. That’s thanks to 12-year-old Raya Kenney, who inspired a D.C. Council bill to name the corridor behind her house, which has served as a play area for neighborhood children.

Raya Kenney’s research helped her discover Hazel B. Cashell as a suitable namesake for the alley. (Photo by: Brian Kapur/The Current) Raya Kenney’s research helped her discover Hazel B. Cashell as a suitable namesake for the alley.

Two weeks ago Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans introduced the “Cashell Alley Designation Act of 2014,” which would name the space after Hazel B. Cashell, who in 1869 purchased the Volta Place lots and developed row houses there — information the young history buff Kenney uncovered in her thorough research. A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 29.

“At the end of this summer, when my mom and I were cleaning the alley, I realized it didn’t have a name,” she said. “I wanted to name it … to make it sound more homey.”

Next week, Kenney will help present her alley-naming initiative to the Committee of the Whole before the full council votes on the bill. The push coincidentally follows other efforts this year by the Historic Preservation Office of the D.C. Department of Planning to refurbish and formally name historic alleys, as part of a vision to reactivate and enliven them.

Kenney, a homeschooled student involved in several extracurricular activities, initially wanted to name the Georgetown corridor after her cat. But following advice from her mother, the curious tween who recently won a city-sponsored poetry contest searched for a more “historic” moniker.

Then, for guidance maneuvering through the civic proceedings, she contacted Evans’ office and the city’s preservation office. The staff said she had already done a good portion of the legwork when she reached out. Last month, her initiative won support from the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission, after she made the case at the September meeting.

To start, Kenney went to the Peabody Room, a special collection of neighborhood history at the Georgetown Library, where she found 19th-century maps and real estate documents showing Cashell’s ownership. To confirm that the chosen name would be historically accurate, Kim Williams of the city’s preservation office helped Kenney check her facts.

Although Pierre L’Enfant’s original 18th-century layout for the federal capital included alleyways, the Georgetown neighborhood didn’t develop alleys until after it was integrated with the District in 1871, according to Williams. She’s the author of a citywide alley survey the Planning Office released this year to highlight the extent of these corridors’ “history and cultural landscapes.”

Historically, most of these rear alleys were named after “their owners, residents or activities that took place” in them, according to the “DC Historic Alley Building Survey.” Today, the city recognizes a few of them, such as the historic Blagden Alley/Naylor Court in Shaw and Cady’s Alley in Georgetown.

At the Washingtoniana Division at the city’s main library, Kenney “enthusiastically” looked through construction permits and other documents to confirm that “Cashell Alley” was an appropriate name, said Williams.

“The Cashell family maintained the ownership of the property up until 1923, at which time they subdivided the lots, built the alley and the back of the houses,” Williams said.

Williams said the advancement of this alley-naming proposal in the council is “a great start” in the Planning Office’s overall goals. In the future, she said, “there should be a more strategic systematic approach” in developing alleys into attractive public spaces and giving them names and identities.

This article appears in the Oct. 22 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Local Marine Runs 65 Miles for Cystic Fibrosis

October 15, 2014

By Kat Lucero
Current Staff Writer

Jesse Sjoberg had a bleak start last Saturday in his quest to run 65 miles.

The dark skies poured chilly rain when he left his Palisades home around 4 a.m., posing a new hurdle for someone accustomed to running the monumental distance in warmer and drier weather.

But the conditions didn’t thwart the 42-year-old Marine, who recently relocated from San Diego. Rain or shine, night or day, overseas or stateside, he had vowed to take on the challenge for his wife, Jacqui, 36, who was born with cystic fibrosis, a rare genetic disease that affects the respiratory and digestive systems.

“This is to show her and the boys to never give up. You keep going,” said Sjoberg, referring to his sons, Hunter, 5, and Aden, 7. “It’s been a rewarding experience.”

Over the past four years, Sjoberg has tackled this distance in an event he created that’s now called “65 Miles for 65 Roses.” The name dates back to the 1960s, when a young patient mispronounced “cystic fibrosis” as “65 roses,” which is now used as a benign-sounding moniker.

Since the event’s founding, he and his family have raised around $72,000, according to Denise Brownlee, executive director of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s D.C. chapter. And they did so with Sjoberg as the sole participant.

“It’s phenomenal,” said Brownlee. “What Jesse proves is that grass-roots funding works.”

Established in 1955, the donor-supported foundation has raised and invested hundreds of millions of dollars to develop treatment and find a cure. The organization estimates that 30,000 children and adults in the United States have the disease, with about a thousand new cases diagnosed each year.

When Jacqui was born, she wasn’t expected to live past school age. Thanks to recent medical breakthroughs, she’s thriving.

“I do what I can,” she said. “I still exercise. I’m just not as fast as everybody else. I cough a lot. I have to catch my breath a lot. But we’re doing OK. You’ve got to keep trying.”

For its fourth season — the first time in D.C. — Sjoberg’s run has raised more than $13,000, according to the foundation’s website tracking his donations.

The family moved here last July from San Diego, where the ultrarunner took on the challenge amid clear and sunny skies for two years, sometimes drawing local news coverage and inspiring other cystic fibrosis patients to see how far they could run alongside him.   

He originally got the idea for the event when he was based in the Persian Gulf. Since he missed a Great Strides three-mile walk organized by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, he challenged himself to run 65 miles. Accompanied at times by colleagues, he ran around a 1.25-mile loop 52 times inside a U.S. military base in Bahrain.

On Saturday, Sjoberg first ran to the National Mall and then headed to Hains Point to make several loops around the southern tip of East Potomac Park. For some lengths, he had running partners. His two brothers joined him for portions, while Jacqui, Aden and Hunter briefly ran with him in the morning.

Before 2 p.m. with still overcast skies, Sjoberg was accompanied by one brother on a bike and a former roommate at the U.S. military base in Bahrain. In good spirits, he was approaching 45 miles, according to his GPS watch.

“Trust me, it won’t be this good for the rest of the run,” he said.

He finished in 13 hours, 17 minutes and 27 seconds, according to the run’s Facebook page.

Sjoberg hasn’t always been a runner, starting sometime after he met Jacqui. He said he was aware of her condition before his brother introduced them. But they say “it was love at first sight.” The couple has been together for 16 years.

“He’s been amazing support with everything,” Jacqui said. “He’s been fantastic through hospitalizations and weeks of IV treatments. Now he’s doing these runs for me.

“It started off with [the idea] that when I got bad enough, he could at least do a lung transplant and donate part of his lungs to save me. That was his whole reason for running years and years ago. Now he likes the challenge of how far he can go,” she said.

This article appears in the Oct. 15 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Lab Celebrates Upcoming New Building

October 8, 2014

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

High school students at the Lab School of Washington face learning difficulties like dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that can make it challenging to follow a normal curriculum. But they also face the additional challenges of a cramped, aging school building, where former dormitories serve as classrooms and students regularly have to work in the hall.

The school took a step toward addressing its facilities needs yesterday afternoon, hosting a groundbreaking ceremony for a new high school wing on its 4759 Reservoir Road campus. The school band performed as students in hard hats turned over dirt next to a small building that will be torn down to make way for a three-story, 30,000-square-foot facility, slated to open in early 2016.

The new wing along Whitehaven Parkway — plus a new story added to an existing arts building on campus — will provide new amenities and much more space for high-schoolers, and it will also free up room for the middle-schoolers to spread out into the former high school space.

“This is a dream we’ve all had, and it’s a dream that’s about to come true,” Mimi Dawson, chair of Lab’s board of trustees, said at yesterday’s ceremony.

In an interview, head of school Katherine Schantz said the goal of the $16 million project isn’t to boost student capacity from the current enrollment of 127. Rather, the facility is meant to better serve the students’ unique academic needs, as well as the special traits that lead many to excel in the fields of art and design.

“We’re really trying to design a school space for kids who learn and think differently, and so we want a space that’s very innovative and responsive to the kind of creative thinkers that they are,” she said.

The 17 new classrooms were designed with flexibility in mind, to let teachers adapt them to different lessons. There will be two “makerspace” areas where students will be able to tinker as they flesh out ideas in different ways. There will be more science labs, a second music studio, an upgraded and expanded theater, and additional visual arts studio space.

Besides having more room within each classroom, Schantz said the expansion will provide students with a variety of places to work in keeping with their own learning styles — for instance, those seeking solitude will be able to get a respite from crowds of classmates.

At the ceremony, Schantz and several students also spoke of even more basic improvements that will come with the new high school facility. Heat and air conditioning will work reliably. Lockers will have room for musical instruments and athletics equipment. Classrooms will have modern communications technology. Students won’t be left working in the hallway.

“At lunch when we’re all at our lockers, we can barely move,” eighth-grader Anika Eigen-Zucchi said at the event. But once the high school moves to the new building, “junior high will be a well-oiled machine, running comfortably and smoothly.”

Schantz said the Lab School is committed to working with neighboring residents and schools to make sure the construction process also goes smoothly. The school is posting project-material and construction updates online, as well as information about regular community meetings that discuss construction issues. The material is available at

Extensive traffic and parking management policies are part of the January Board of Zoning Adjustment order that allows construction to move forward, including mandates for providing shuttle bus service, leasing parking from a nearby CVS, and continuously monitoring the traffic situation.

The new construction will replace two vacant single-family homes owned by the school that front Whitehaven. The school has begun disconnecting utilities to prepare for razing these structures, which Schantz said will likely take about two months. Full-scale construction will begin once that process is complete, and it will last until about January 2016.

The school is working to raise $10 million in private donations by the end of this year to help finance the project; so far it has collected more than $6 million toward that goal, board of trustees member Davis Camalier said at the ceremony, expressing confidence that Lab will reach it.

This article appears in the Oct. 8 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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