Helping Job Seekers
Look the Part
Dave Wenhold, like most lobbyists, is well dressed. Making a good appearance is an important part of his job.
But unlike many of his colleagues, Wenhold's thoughts about wardrobe don't end with his personal grooming. The 37-year-old former Senate staffer is an advocate with a heart who has devoted thousands of pro bono hours to collecting "gently used" business suits -- men's and women's -- from other lobbyists for people who can't afford their own.
Wenhold is the brains behind the Capitol PurSuit Drive, which once a year asks government workers, members of Congress and their aides, and lobbyists all over Washington to donate business attire for people who want to enter or reenter the workforce.
"I get so passionate about this because at the end of the day we know we really did something and helped people," Wenhold said.
During the run-up to the 2004 elections, Wenhold got tired of hearing what he considered to be empty rhetoric about the need to create more jobs. He decided to do something concrete.
He figured that unemployed people need to dress properly during job interviews to make a good impression and that lobbyists like himself could provide them with plenty of presentable attire.
Thus was born the Capitol PurSuit Drive. Wenhold and Laura Dennis, an associate of his at Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies of Fairfax, spent their time between lobbying appointments enlisting volunteers. Wenhold persuaded Men's Wearhouse, the retail chain, to become a corporate sponsor and the American League of Lobbyists to assist.
At first, Wenhold needed all of his skills to convince his fellow lobbyists that his idea would succeed. "Initially everyone was lukewarm. We weren't sure if it would work," said Patti Jo Baber, executive director of the American League of Lobbyists. "But he kept pushing it, and now everyone supports it."
Wenhold has twice commandeered the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building as the main collection point for "pre-owned" suits. Over the past two years, the drive has pulled in more than 13,000 suits and all sorts of other accessories, such as shoes, that have been distributed by local charities to people eager to move up. (Pictures of the event can be found at http://www.mwcapitol.com/probono.shtml.)
The drive has been so well received by the charities and the givers that Men's Wearhouse wants to expand the concept to state capitals, starting with California.
Wenhold has won an award from the White House for his tireless efforts, but that isn't what motivates him. Getting successful people to serve as role models is more significant.
One of the drive's highlights in 2004 was the handing over of a gray pinstripe suit once owned by Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
The glow in the eyes of the young man who put on the suit, Wenhold said, gave him everything he really wanted: the knowledge that someone in need believes that he now has a chance.
-- Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Joan Marshall is looking after her newest "baby," a seven-pound Pomeranian puppy.
"She sort of just wobbles around," Marshall said. The dog may have a brain injury, or may have been hit in an accident.
As a volunteer and a founding member of Best Dawg Rescue Inc., Marshall plans to take the dog to a neurologist and eventually, she hopes, find a family that will love the puppy despite its vertigo.
Best Dawg was incorporated in 2003 and is based nominally in Bethesda where the other founding member, Moira Gingery, keeps the organization's post office box. Its goal is to save as many dogs destined for euthanasia as possible and foster them until they find a home that matches each dog's personality.
"We take animals that some people wouldn't," said Marshall, a retired government worker, who with the 24 other volunteers hosts Saturday "dog shows" at area Petco stores.
Marshall, a 20-year veteran volunteer in the pet-rescue business, met Gingery when they were working elsewhere on pet cruelty cases. Two years ago, they struck out on their own with Best Dawg to offer more personalized pet adoption.
So far, Best Dawg has collected roughly $170,000 from private donors and an anonymous foundation, and many clinics and volunteers have donated goods and services. Although the group charges a $175 adoption fee, that is only "a drop in the bucket" when it comes to the cost of the dogs' medical care, Marshall said.
Volunteers are committed dog lovers willing to devote a lot of time to the cause, said Marshall, whose son drove a van to Louisiana to pick up a dozen dogs left in shelters in areas hit by Hurricane Katrina.
The group relies on volunteers to drive dogs from shelters or the vet, foster them in their homes until they're adopted, interview prospective families at the Saturday shows and visit the adoptive families' homes, said Marshall, who lives in Faulkner, Md., and has adopted five dogs herself.
The group has placed more than 150 dogs in new homes. The adoption process takes longer than with other organizations elsewhere the group cares more about making sure each adoption is a good fit for both the dog and the family, said Gingery, a Rockville resident who spends roughly 10 hours a day managing the group's business, picking up dogs and running errands.
It's a time-consuming task for everyone involved, Gingery said. "But you know that you really are saving lives."
-- Yuki Noguchi
An Annual Race
Helps Fight Tumors
At age 26, Dana Daczkowski was told she had a brain tumor.
"She felt like she was so out there, so alone," said Nicola Beddow, Daczkowski's older sister. "Who gets a brain tumor when you're so young?"
Four years later, the tumor in remission, Daczkowski, an Alexandria native and runner, started with her family and friends what is now the Cassidy & Pinkard Race for Hope to benefit the Brain Tumor Society.
The inaugural race was in April 1998, but Daczkowski's tumor reappeared and she attended the first race in a wheelchair. She died two months later.
This year, the race she helped found raised $1.1 million and drew more than 5,300 participants, who raced and walked along Pennsylvania Avenue.
The first year of the race took careful financial and logistical planning. Daczkowski and the other founders hired Capital Running Co. to help coordinate the race. Paintmaker Duron Inc. sponsored it. After paying for food, T-shirts and administrative costs, the first race still managed to net $65,000 for the charity, and drew nearly 1,000 runners, Beddow said.
"There's always been a tremendous energy and passion about the event," said Lionel Chaiken, another co-founder. He and his wife, Sandy, lost his daughter Pamela Sue to a brain tumor. At first, Chaiken said, he used business contacts to raise money, but the network has expanded.
When Patrick Cassidy, one of the founders of area commercial real-estate firm Cassidy & Pinkard, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, the firm became a sponsor of the race, which took the company's name.
"The way these events grow is phone calls I get every week -- 'my son has a brain tumor,' or 'my wife died of brain cancer,' " said Barry Glassman, another co-founder of the race, who lost a childhood friend, Seth Feldman, to brain cancer.
Witnessing a loved one suffer is so painful that co-workers, friends and family often want to do something, Glassman said. The race brings those people together. The group now has about 100 volunteers, he said. "It gives them an ability to do something for someone besides give a gift basket."
This year, the charity wants to raise $1.5 million, and wants to involve the medical community by honoring outstanding caregivers or researchers who, in turn, could draw attention to the event, Glassman said.
The race continues to fulfill Daczkowski's original vision, which was to bring families and friends of brain tumor victims together, Beddow said. "It's played a huge role in the whole grieving process" and in letting other brain tumor patients know "they are not alone."
-- Yuki Noguchi
Using Sports and Music
To Get Kids to College
When a Nike official offered to donate 368 pairs of football cleats, Siraaj Hasan and Curtis Blackwell felt their year-old nonprofit group had arrived.
For months, the two had been trying to launch a football camp and college-prep workshop for disadvantaged high school students in Detroit. They pumped their friends for money. They printed T-shirts. They signed up current and former NFL players. They called potential sponsors.
Then Nike came through with about $20,000 worth of shoes.
"We were walking around with our chests poked out," said Hasan, 27, a senior consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. in McLean. "When I got the call from Nike, and they said they'd help, I called Curtis immediately. We were just screaming on the phone."
The Detroit event was the first large-scale program by the Lifting as We Climb Foundation Inc., which is devoted to encouraging youngsters in poor communities to pursue education beyond high school.
Running the nonprofit are co-founders Hasan and Blackwell as well as three of their friends and partners -- all of whom graduated in 2000 from Hampton University in Hampton, Va.
Blackwell, the head junior-varsity football coach at Detroit's Martin Luther King High School, said he and Hasan have toyed for years with the idea of creating a nonprofit to mentor young people. But initially they were a bit disillusioned by their peers' reluctance to join in, Blackwell said.
"A lot of individuals were stuck in what they're doing in their lives. They're waiting for the perfect moment, to get the right amount of money, to get the right position, to get married," Blackwell said. "But even if you're not established the way you want to be, you can still do something along the way."
Hence the name Lifting as We Climb.
Blackwell recalls flying to Washington one weekend, hammering out a mission statement with Hasan, and then brainstorming for ways to jump-start the effort.
The two decided to start with a booth and a happy-hour social at their alma mater's 2004 homecoming. What better place to drum up support, gather e-mails and collect money?
They decided to center their charitable works on themes that attract youth: music and athletics.
That's why their Detroit camp devoted one day to football training and another to the college admissions process. The idea was to connect a sound body to a sound mind.
The event took place in July at Wayne State University in Detroit, attracting 350 students and about 200 parents. In the end, the group broke even. But now it has a blueprint for sponsoring similar programs in the future, possibly in Washington next year.
Hasan says he sees his group as a "youth-to-youth" mentoring organization, since the most active volunteers are all under 30. If they do the job right, the partners hope to inspire their peers as much as they motivate the students.
"Anyone can be a leader in their community whether they know it or not," Hasan said.
-- Dina ElBoghdady
Teaching the Languages
Here and in China
As a native Chinese woman who speaks nearly flawless English, Mei Xu understands the value of being bilingual. Her language skills have been instrumental in helping her build a small candle importing company, Pacific Trade International of Rockville, into a $50 million-a-year business that sells decorative candles to U.S. chains such as Target and Bed Bath & Beyond.
Two years ago, rather than accept yet another invitation to yet another charity event, Xu decided to start her own organization dedicated to "helping kids to learn another language at a very young age so they can really participate, when they grow up, in the global economy."
She has invested about $200,000 of her own money so far in the Mei Xu Cultural Exchange Foundation, primarily setting up a program affiliated with Sidwell Friends School in Washington, one of the few independent schools in the country with a Chinese language program. She bought the software to allow Sidwell students to have video-conference interaction with the English immersion school in Hangzhou, China, that Xu attended starting at age 12. She also sends English-language books, magazines and newspapers to the school in China and hopes to sponsor visits by Chinese and American students to each other's countries.
"I feel very strongly about building that cultural understanding without preexisting stereotypes," Xu said. "The best way to do that is to experience it yourself."
Xu hopes to take the program beyond Sidwell's high-school-level Chinese program. She'd like to use her foundation to encourage the teaching of Chinese to American students at a much younger age.
"It really must start young because Chinese is such a hard language," she said, but she faces fundraising hurdles. So far, all the money for the foundation has come from Xu herself, but as president of a busy and growing company and mother of two young sons, she's been hard-pressed to spend more than 10 hours a week on her project. She'll need more staff on the foundation and more donors, too.
"It'll take millions of dollars," she said. "I have the resources to do it better in terms of contacts and know-how. I just have to find the time."
-- Margaret Webb Pressler
Siraaj Hasan and four of his friends, all graduates of Hampton University, launched a nonprofit called the Lifting As We Climb Foundation to help underprivileged youth in Washington and Detroit. Pictured are, clockwise from bottom, Siraaj Hasan, Caesar Nettles, Samir Cummings, Matt Williams and Mike Powell. Joan Marshall of Best Dawg Rescue, which has found homes for more than 150 dogs.