Monday, March 17, 2014

Washington Social Diary

The St. Coletta fundraiser was an intimate and heartwarming occasion.
by Carol Joynt

It’s impossible for me not to be obsessed with Malaysia Airlines Flight #370. The disappearance of the Boeing 777 somewhere in Asia taps into my DNA — love of breaking news, fascination with mystery, and fear of flying. I’ve been madly consuming the low-hanging conventional media, The New York Times, CNN, Huffington Post, but also jumping on the crowd-searching site, where users, with the odds of lottery winners, scan satellite images to find the plane.

The search continues.
I sample pilot threads, too, and flight crew threads and passenger threads, and threads that skew politically left and right. My overall compulsive go-to, however, is’s “Comprehensive timeline: Malaysia Airlines” for 24 hour global human sharing of news, expertise, theories, conspiracies, and just enough wisdom and crazy to keep it irresistible.

Even with all of that information flooding my brain, I know nothing. My theory is simple. The lead international authorities either don’t know where the plane is and are being honest with us or they do know and they are lying.

I had drinks with a friend who I’m sure is CIA — though in Washington when you’re out with a CIA friend you don’t ask, you do along with the ruse — and he theorized that a lot of the secrecy is different nations, some of them warring, who don’t want to reveal how or what they know because they don’t want to reveal their own secret radar (spying) assets. Also, he said, there could be a race of nations to be the first to get to the plane, and for all kinds of good and bad reasons. Good: solve the mystery and maybe save people. Bad: scrub the evidence of what went wrong.
It says quite a lot about St. Coletta of Greater Washington that I fully disengaged from the Malaysia Airlines mystery on Saturday to attend their annual fundraising gala at the Four Seasons Hotel. A lot of fundraisers make the eyes go dry and numb the brain, but not St. Coletta. It can’t be missed.

One of the live auction items: funding hot lunches for the adult program.
Last year I spent a day at the school in southeast DC, speaking with the chief executive officer Sharon Brady Raimo, and making visits with her to various classrooms and other public spaces where the students went about their daily business of learning. I wrote a story for Washingtonian, and rather than plagiarize myself I’m just going to lift the first paragraph:

In so many ways, St. Coletta of Greater Washington looks like any other school or playground where children gather. The DC charter school’s building, designed by architect Michael Graves, is colorful, even festive. It has classrooms and lockers, a cafeteria, an outdoor gym, and even a small indoor pool. In the halls and classrooms children and adults interact. There are smiles.

There’s laughter. Some of the children walk and some ride on wheels; some talk, some don’t. But the wheels they ride upon aren’t strollers or bicycles or skateboards. They are wheelchairs. The children who don’t talk probably never will. The 285 students, some as young as three, are moderately to severely disabled, most since birth, and will be disabled for the rest of their lives. St. Coletta is there for them as advocate and friend and most of all not to pander but to teach. The message is: You are not invisible; you count.

Perhaps you’ll read the full story here.
David Pryor, father of Hampton, at the St. Coletta gala. St. Coletta's CEO, Sharon Brady Raimo.
Amanda Perry and Jake Perry.
Heather Knight and David Knight. Tanya Potter Adler and Sheila Sullivan.
Ready with the white wine at the Four Seasons ballroom.
I first became aware of St. Coletta through David Pryor, Jr., the head of government affairs for Microsoft, former Clinton White House appointee, son of former Arkansas governor and senator David Pryor and older brother of Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor. But it’s his son, Hampton, who is his connection to St. Coletta. Hampton, who will soon be 19, has been a student there for years.

David will tell you they are facing a juncture, too, because DC allows aging students to stay at the school only until they turned 22 and then they have to find an adult program, but DC doesn’t sponsor adult programs. Unless the program changes, Hampton will have to go to a facility in Virginia or Maryland. Pryor loves St. Coletta so much he would like Hampton to be able to stay there for as long as he needs.
William Risbrook, St. Coletta's head chef, and Steve Damato of Restaurant Nora.
DC City council member and mayoral candidate David Catania made it to the dinner despite being under the weather. Jane Froehlich was there with the Trimark Corporation.
Sandi Davis, Allyson Eastman and Andrew Eastman, family of a student.
What Pryor has done with his connections and skills is create an annual gala where tables are bought by his friends and also some of the biggest corporate money in town: Boeing, Beam, Google, Comcast, FedEx, Walmart, Facebook, the National Association of Broadcasters, Trimark commercial real estate, BB&T bank, and various other local organizations. There’s a silent auction and a live auction and the items include the usual luxury getaways and exclusive meets and greets, but also the useful: funds to buy a new van for the school, a new awning, and hot lunches for adult students.
Checking in for table assignments and auction devices.
Bidders focused on the silent auction.
Lyndon Boozer of AT&T with his wife, Karen Anderson.
Lyndon shows off LBJ cufflinks that belonged to his namesake.
The highpoint of the gala is at the beginning, when the school’s choir takes center stage to perform. Music director Joni Thompson leads them in a couple of songs and with obvious affection, determination and joy. The children, in turn, reflect the joy and the pride of a job well done. It’s heartbreaking and heartwarming, but most of all heartwarming. It’s a very positive face of what can be accomplished when need and determination have the opportunity to connect with money and generosity. Sharon Raimo delivers the need and determination, David Pryor, and his friends and other parents, deliver the money and generosity.
Beautiful spring flowers adorned all the tables.
The first course was a salad of lettuces and fruit followed by short ribs.
The band played before dinner and for dancing after. The Google table.
The St. Coletta Chorus performs  "Lean on Me."
The highpoint of the St. Coletta gala is the chorus performance, and the performers know it.
Back stage, the St. Coletta Chorus members change into their bright orange t-shirts.
I returned home feeling as I did after my day at St. Coletta – grateful that these children have the care and attention they need, wishing the same could be there for all the others like them. My story of that day ended with this, and it’s appropriate for the ending here, too.

“Does (Raimo) ever get discouraged by the work? No, she says. ‘It’s a joyful thing. These kids, if it’s in their heart it’s on their lips. There’s no filter. There’s always truth. They are great. I feel happy every day.’”
John Sullivan and Alexa Adler.
Frannie Lasala, Jessica Killin, and Deana Perlmutter.
Leigh Allen and Micaela Fernandez.
Cleveland Greer, Rebecca Hill, and John-Henry Loomis.
Lee Brenner, Pascaline Clerc, and Laura Howell.
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt