The National Center for Children and Families Announces Online Gala and 2020 Awardees

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Together We Rise is a free, online community event open to all. Please register today at

In sum, NCCF has great talent lined up, a terrific program planned, and an incredible group of supporters - all of which is guaranteed to entertain and inspire on October 16, 2020.

On the evening of Friday, October 16, 2020, from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm, The National Center for Children and Families (NCCF) will gather its community to recognize the vibrancy of our ever-emerging world with a hybrid virtual livestream gala entitled Together We Rise: The HeART of Community. This unique event will highlight the unparalleled talent and generosity of this region and provide an awe-inspiring virtual experience for both our audience and participants alike.

The most exciting aspect of this spectacular event will be exceptional performances from young artists, musicians, and dancers attending our storied DC area institutions. Our lead emcee, Drew Olivia Tillman [This Is Us], is a 14-year-old native who has found early success in Hollywood as a stand-out actress and singer. Drew will be guiding us through an evening of fun, big surprises, and interactive program including a special performance by Billboard-ranked musician and NAACP Image Award-nominated jazz keyboardist and pianist, Marcus Johnson.

In addition to youth art and performances, The HeART of Community will recognize the outstanding humanitarian achievements of many friends, supporters, and beneficiaries. A diverse roster of distinguished honorees includes:

Humanitarian Lifetime Impact Award: Arne M. Sorenson (President and CEO, Marriott International)
As president and chief executive officer of Marriott International, Inc., Arne Sorenson has built his tenure on the bedrock of Marriott International’s core values: putting people first, pursuing excellence, acting with integrity, embracing change and serving our world. Over the many years he has supported NCCF, he unselfishly has lent his vision and inspiration to ensuring that the former orphanage has successfully served as both an advocate and a “home” within this National Capital region that the Marriott’s Corporate Headquarters also shares with homeless families and maltreated children and youth. This corporate leader manifests a long view and consistent investment towards building community and to demonstrating exceptional social responsibility that matters. He is a world citizen, who promotes the power of hospitality and generosity throughout our planet.

John F. White Alumni Award: Paul Kennedy
Paul Kennedy’s personal story is a premiere example of what hard work, talent, and determination can provide to those who dare to forge their own path in life. Left behind, with no place to stay, by the only person he knew and relied on for support in this country, this young man’s future and academic security as a young Black male seemed non-existent. This quiet, personable homeless teenager took the risk to accept NCCF’s support. He ultimately was able to become the president of the National Society of Black Engineers, intern at NASA, and achieve the Dean’s List. After successfully graduating from the George Washington University with a B.S. in Computer Engineering, he currently works as a Software Engineer at NASA’s Goddard Center in Greenbelt. Unequivocally his resiliency and personal discipline serves as a model for all of us.

Tom Cookerly Exceptional School Superintendent Leadership Award: Jack R. Smith Ph.D. (Superintendent, Montgomery County Public Schools)
At the helm of one of the largest and most diverse school districts in the country, Dr. Smith has spoken directly to the community during these extraordinary times and has shown his dedication to equity as well as his integrity as an educator. His messages demonstrate his compassionate leadership with words of togetherness, kindness, and camaraderie. He especially inspires us all “to be better” for the increasing numbers of poor students who deserve to academically achieve and transition into productive, and contributing young adults. From his perspective, no child should come to school unprepared due to hunger, inadequate clothing and teachers who do not notice the unmet need.

Humanitarian Spirit Award for Volunteerism: Caryn Faircloth
Since 2015, Caryn Faircloth has been a standout volunteer for NCCF with her engaging smile and a personal greeting for everyone she meets on the Bethesda Administrative Campus. However, her recent work during the COVID-19 pandemic is an outstanding testament to her extraordinary dedication to the agency and love for the community. Her very presence as an “essential volunteer” in the administration building, directing visitors and telecommunications, ensures that NCCF is able to continue with daily operations despite COVID shutdown.

Humanitarian Spirit Award for Leadership: The People of World Central Kitchen
As world citizens, and alongside their leader Chef José Andrés, The People of World Central Kitchen have built a caring community by emphasizing the humanity in all people. Their mission to feed and comfort the most vulnerable, those experiencing natural disasters, the homeless, youth removed from their families, and the stressed protesters, as examples. They make it clear to all of us that they understand the human condition and seek to embrace it. The People of World Central Kitchen truly see that everyone must be nourished, both in body and spirit.

Humanitarian Spirit Award for Diversity and Equity: Nancy Navarro (Councilmember, Montgomery County - District 4)
Throughout Nancy Navarro’s well-recognized career in the Montgomery County Council, she has worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life in the county for all of its residents. Councilmember Navarro is a leading champion for equality and she, along with Marc Elrich, the Montgomery County Executive, co-sponsored the 2018 Racial Equity and Social Justice Policy for Montgomery County, introducing this conversation for the first time. As the first Latina ever elected to the Montgomery County Council, she has made it her personal goal to recognize and honor the multicultural nature of our community and to push for a level playing field for those who are challenged economically, who are immigrants, and who need access to the critical resources that they deserve.

Humanitarian Spirit Award for Advocacy: Jim Stowe (Director, Office of Human Rights)
As the Director of the Office of Human Rights, a premier civil and human rights agency in Montgomery County with a long legacy of advocacy, Jim Stowe has sought every opportunity for greater engagement across the entire community. Under his leadership, the Office continues to evolve as the needs and demands of a rapidly changing county shift, while it remains committed to the long-held principles of fairness and equal justice under the law. He has orchestrated intergenerational celebrations of Black legends, highlighting Black elders whose life’s work and contributions have made the county a better place to live for all. Now NCCF wishes to honor his legacy of caring and of commitment to positive change.

Humanitarian Spirit Award for Partnership: Brenda Donald (Director, DC Child and Family Services Agency - CFSA)
Brenda Donald’s extensive senior administrative tenure in both Maryland and the District of Columbia has concentrated on improving outcomes for children, youth, and families. She has dedicated her career to ensuring that the child welfare system is focused on the use of best practices and increased support for families which helped to reduce the number of children placed in foster care, in partnership with many community based agencies, including NCCF. Under Director Donald’s leadership, the District of Columbia was the first jurisdiction in the country to submit and be accepted by the Children’s Bureau, a plan to implement the DC Families First prevention model, designed to support at-risk children within their families. She has served as a national warrior in fighting for front-end services to challenged families because she believes that they deserve support in maintaining their children.

Humanitarian Spirit Award for Outreach: Officer Jason Medina (Metropolitan Police Department, Sixth District)
In unstable environments and areas stricken with poverty and crime, police officers, may be viewed as the “enemy” by some of the citizens they actually are tasked to protect. It takes outstanding effort, dedication and commitment, and unyielding empathy. It involves action and an unequivocal sense of duty to address negative perceptions and engage the skeptical or untrusting members. Officer Jason Medina has made it his mission to prove his devotion to his entire community, from the youth who have been saved from violence through his outreach programs, to the elderly population whom he ensures is represented in critical community discussion. He has earned the confidence and trust of those he serves, demonstrating a moral compass that places safety and well-being over power and control.

Together We Rise is a free, online community event open to all. Please register today at

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Rachel Spassiani
since: 03/2011
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