Although steel-gray clouds hung over the Arthur Capper, Carrollsburg and Ellen Wilson public housing projects in Southeast on Saturday afternoon, hundreds of the complexes' residents came out to celebrate their community service leaders.

It was the fifth annual ACE Recognition Day. The three groupings of multistoried brick buildings, in an area bounded by South Capitol, Seventh and M streets and Virginia Avenue SE, are known as the ACE community (an acronym derived from the three complexes' names).

Children played on a trampoline-like Space Pillow, a yellow and orange bubble of plastic and rubberized canvas, people danced to live music on the asphalt floor of the Arthur Capper playground and older residents watched it all from a shady spot under a tree. Marines from the nearby barracks at 8th and I streets SE helped operate rides and serve hamburgers and soft drinks donated by local businesses. Mayor Marion Barry and other District officials joined the festivities.

Although residents said their area has been plagued by crime, drug addiction and negligent building management by the city, participants at the day's events said it is changing for the better because they have banded together.

"This is the only day in the year where we all get together to let people know those who are doing things for the community," ACE committee chairman Matt Jones said. "We also want to motivate those who aren't doing anything for the community."

Jones said the 1st District police department has lauded the community's crime-watch effort over the past year and the resulting drop in crime in the area. "We fight hard against crime. That's why we work so closely with the police," he said.

ACE Recognition Day is organized by a committee of about 60 community volunteers. "It's a year-long process, making arrangements for today," said Elizabeth Nickson, one of the volunteers and chairwoman of the area's Advisory Neighborhood Commission.

"The committee is open to anybody from the area who cares about what happens in this neighborhood," said volunteer Patricia Duffy. The group also monitors local social service programs, she said.

Most of the day's activity took place on the grounds of the multipurpose Arthur Capper Recreation Center, which houses a drug rehabilitation program, a day-care center and the administrative offices for the Carrollsburg apartments, Nickson said.

The Everyman Street Theatre from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts performed "Spiritsongs," a series of dances choreographed to contemporary songs.

A crowd of several hundred gathered in front of the stage when the mayor arrived with D.C. City Council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2) and Housing and Community Development director James Clay.

Among those given awards for their efforts in projects to improve the community, Derek Armstrong, 18, said he and other students helped in back-alley cleanup projects and other community service projects. A recent graduate of Eastern High School, he plans to attend Morgan State University this fall.

Another honoree was Ann Cooke, a 25-year employe of the D.C. Department of Recreation. "We're working for better housing and drug-free communities. These awards say thank you," she said.