Full Disclosure: I’m the senior program director at the DC Creative Writing Workshop. I covered the award ceremony where Bank of America honored our executive director, and I wanted to share it here. Congrats again Nancy!
With two young people from her program, Nancy Schwalb approached the podium. “As you can see, I brought my bosses with me,” she told a laughing crowd Thursday evening.
The DC Creative Writing Workshop’s executive director, known for her wit and sense of humor, continued. “Our organization’s so small—hey! There’s our senior program director! And over there’s our program manager,” Schwalb said, pointing into the audience. “That’s it for our staff—oh! And most of our board is also here tonight.”
Everyone in the packed penthouse laughed until their faces turned red.
Watching Schwalb work the room, the attendees couldn’t have known she was nervous in the days leading up to the award ceremony at the Bank of America building downtown.
She was among the Community Champions the financial institution honored Nov. 10 at the 2011 Greater Washington Neighborhood Excellence Initiative™ Awards.
Since 2004, Bank of America’s initiative has recognized, nurtured and rewarded organizations, local heroes and student leaders who enriched their communities and inspired others to get involved.
In 1995, Nancy Schwalb got involved when she founded the DC Creative Writing Workshop, which uses arts education to transform the lives of at-risk youths living in DC’s Congress Heights neighborhood, an often forgotten part of the city. According to recent data from the Social Justice Center at Georgetown University, Ward 8, which encompasses Congress Heights, has educational hurdles.
For starters, among 16-19 year-olds, the high school dropout rate was 16 percent, “substantially higher than the district average of 10.1 percent.” The center also found that “one third (34 percent) of Ward 8’s population over 25 did not have a high school diploma, which was about average for the District.”
Additionally, 7 percent of residents don’t even have a 9th grade education, and the Median Annual Income is $32,348, according to recent statistics.
Since its founding, the DC Creative Writing Workshop has expanded from its base of operation at Hart Middle School to two neighboring schools—Simon Elementary and Ballou Senior High—to accommodate increased demands.
The Workshop’s creative outlets help our students resist the lure of the streets. Through the nonprofit, thousands of students have attended readings, plays and other literary events, won dozens of writing awards, and enjoyed a wealth of new experiences not otherwise available to young people in Ward 8.
Many of our former students go on to universities such as NYU, George Washington, Penn State and UNC’s Chapel Hill campus, to name a few. (To see more photos of our students, visit our Facebook page!)
According to Bank of America, local heroes, like Nancy Schwalb, “are vital voices for change and role models who move into action, making life markedly better in their neighborhoods.”
The award ceremony and penthouse reception was a fitting way to honor a woman whose superpowers—according to those in the know—include “vocabulary boost, peripheral vision, cookie crumb pinpointing, and indestructibility.”
That night Schwalb was every bit the superhero in her black pant suit, posing for photos with her young-writers-in-residence—Michael Johnson and Renita Williams—who accompanied her earlier to the podium.
The $5,000 Bank of America awarded to Schwalb will help the DC Creative Writing Workshop hire more former students, like Mike and Renita, through its youth employment program.