Effi Barry was about to pack her bags to move to South Carolina for a college teaching position last fall, when D.C. Council member David A. Catania called.
"He asked me: 'What are you doing? We don't want you to leave the city. I know an organization. . . . Why don't you give them a call?' " Barry said, recounting the conversation.
That encounter between Catania (I-At Large) and the former wife of council member and ex-mayor Marion Barry led to a consulting contract that persuaded her to remain in the District.
Catania said he had immediately thought of Effi Barry when a friend, Mitchell J. Wade, mentioned that his nonprofit wanted to make inroads in the District's poverty-stricken communities. Catania told Wade, a board member of the Sure Foundation, of Effi Barry's ties to the city and knowledge of communities east of the Anacostia River where some of the poorest children reside.
Did Catania reach out to help Effi Barry curry favor with newly elected council member Barry?
Catania said there was no underlying motive. In fact, he said, he already has "a very cordial relationship" with Marion Barry (D-Ward 8).
Council member Barry said Catania casually mentioned that he had helped Effi Barry with a job, after the fact.
"He didn't ask me to do anything," Barry said. "I don't do stuff like that. It would take more than helping my former wife out to get me to build an alliance. . . . I'm not for sale."
The consulting work was a good match, period, Catania said. Effi Barry, Wade and officials from the foundation agree.
"Some jobs are manufactured, and this one was not," Catania said. "I knew Sure was looking and Effi was looking, too. I just helped them make a nice fit."
The Sure Foundation, a Dupont Circle-based nonprofit group that has worked to improve the quality of life for children who have been victims of "civil unrest and war," wanted to do outreach work in the District. This year, the organization broadened its mission to include any young victims of poverty.
"The Sure Foundation has always been interested in supporting the needy children in our own city," Tatiana Strajnic, the foundation's acting president, wrote in an e-mail. "Ms. Barry is helping us establish our links with the various institutions in the city."
Effi Barry is helping the foundation form a collaboration among the D.C. public schools, the Anacostia Museum and the Anacostia Neighborhood Library. The foundation will establish an arts enrichment project for children in elementary schools with a $100,000 federal grant passed through the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer, Strajnic said.
"You never know where this one little project will go," Effi Barry said. "It's just a big effort to try to do something."
She joined the organization's efforts in November on a month-to-month contract. Wade said Effi Barry is paid about $10,000 a month by MZM Inc., a corporate sponsor for the foundation. MZM, an information-technology firm, is headed by Wade. Catania said the firm has no contracts with the city.
"There's no money for me coming from the city," Effi Barry said. "I am a private citizen working for a private foundation who wants to give money to help children in the city."
With a background in the health care field, she said, she is also volunteering to help establish a training program for city health care workers.
Jamie Kendrick, executive director of Service Employees International Union State Council for Maryland and the District, said he has met with Effi Barry and Catania to discuss modeling the program after one based in Baltimore.
"She's doing a good job in putting together a program," Kendrick said. "I've been really impressed by her energy around this. She really knows the area. She knows the industry."