Honoring Connect With Kids and Do For Kids Champions

Champions For Kids

APCYF created the Connect With Kids (CWK) Champion awards to emphasize a simple, but powerful idea: Children and teens need adults in their lives – beyond their parents. Since 2004, APCYF has given 121 Champion awards.

Past Winners

Champions come from all walks of life – neighbors, friends, businesses, parent, or professionals working with young people. What sets a CWK Champion apart is their intentional and deliberate attentiveness to the needs of young people. By recognizing community Champions, we celebrate adults who make time to build relationships with children and teens. We also hope they inspire other adults to connect with kids.

In 2018, APCYF created a new award, the Do For Kids (DFK) Champion. These are the people committed to creating opportunities for children, or providing for their needs. Many DFK champions operate in the background, quietly making life better for our kids.

Celebrating “ordinary” people who make an extraordinary effort to support kids in our community.


The Partnership continues the 2nd year of two categories of Champions:

  • Connect with Kids Champions are individuals or groups who do things WITH kids.
    They excel at building relationships with young people that are positive and supportive; and guiding them in their growth and development.
  • Do For Kids Champions are individuals and groups who do wonderful things FOR kids.
    They are great at creating opportunities for children/youth and meeting unmet needs. A DFK Champion works behind the scenes to support growth opportunities for children/youth.
Connect with Kids Champions
  • Raymond Duran, Phoenix Bikes. He has a gift of being able to be both firm and encouraging to the young people in the shop.
  • Darlene Owens, Long Branch Extended Day Program. Darlene collaborates with participants and helps facilitate their ideas– sometimes big and creative ones – into a reasonable plan of action that students can make a reality.
  • Design and Engineering Club: Steve Ellis, James Kolody, Topher Paterno, Gunston Midde School. D&E club leaders help students design and construct projects, putting the students in charge of solving safety, style, team, cost, and other problems. They engage as trustworthy mentors who can help with teamwork and interpersonal issues, personal goals and motivations, and complicated problems and issues.
  • Carlyssa Winstead, Doorways for Women & Families. She brings patience, dedication, humour and a strong commitment to ensure the youth who are in transition (ages 18-24) as they prepare to live independently.
Do For Kids Champions
  • APS Aquatics Management Team, The team of aquatics professionals teach 3rd and 4th graders to swim and enjoy the water in such a positive and caring manner that all students benefit from the experience.
  • Cheryl Fuentes and Project Family, Cheryl and the staff at Project Family provide a safe, warm and supportive environment for new parents, giving them a place to learn, share, and feel cared for.
  • Aileen Christian, Sara Duke, Amanda Nell, Encore Stage and Studio, Encore is a safe place where young people feel better about themselves, learn to be confident and EVERY kid is included.
  • Hilton Arlington, The Hilton Arlington Hotel management group hosts an annual event for students to provide a learning experience about the world of the hospitality industry that includes a tour and cooking lessons.
  • Meg Rapelye, Phoenix Bikes, The former Executive Director of Phoenix Bikes expanded the reach of a small organization, offering skill training and opportunities to youth.


In 2018 the Partnership introduced a new category of Champion – the Do For Kids Champion (DFK). This award honors people who commit time and energy to creating opportunities, or providing support to youth and children – often behind the scenes.

Connect with Kids Champions
  • Lisa Cosgrove-Davies, Youth Librarian, Arlington Libraries. Youth mentor, created a group for LGBTQ+ youth to come together and talk, share, and be fully accepted as who they are.
  • Susan Keady, Instructor/Director, Encore Stage & Studio. Creates a space where young people are encouraged to explore, speak, and act. She challenges youth to grow, while providing a supportive environment.
  • Jureen Benjamin, Teacher, Kenmore Middle School. Goes out of her way to get to know each student individually, learn their hopes and dreams and give them opportunities to share and explore those ideas.
  • Elsa Vasquez-Flores, Site Coordinator, Aspire! Afterschool Learning. Provides a very personal touch to students and families, to support both children, and parents, in the child’s learning journey.
Do For Kids Champions
  • Susan Parker, Director, Arlington Unitarian Cooperative Preschool. Teaches and models positive parenting skills and styles, all by building a community of learners for preschoolers and parents.
  • Potomac Valley Track Club, provides opportunities for young people to excel in track and field sports, while also working with caring and supportive adult mentors.
  • Arlington Teen Health Services, Department of Human Services. The ‘Teen Clinic’ team provides a safe space where over 350 young people come each year for health advice and care.


  • Paul Bolejack, Coach, Arlington Girls Softball Association. Thoughtful and supportive coach who focuses on individual growth and team spirit.
  • Buckingham Youth Brigade, Youth Group. Youth model community involvement and fosters connections with one another, other youth groups, and to their own community.
  • McDonald Horne, Volunteer, Drew Model School. A retired scientist, he has supported science program at all levels. But children know him as a kind and helpful man who helps them understand and love science.
  • Francisca Jorgensen, Teacher, HB Woodlawn. Provided long-lasting support to students, rebuilding self-esteem and helped guide many through a tragic transition.
  • Melissa Merson, Dave Philips, Lindsey Appel, Coaches, Arlington Triathlon Club. Through athletics, work to build self-confidence in children, tailoring their approach to each individual.

Mary Ann who started the CWK program
Mary Ann Moran, creator of the Connect With Kids Champion Award


  • Allen Beland, Phoenix Bikes volunteer, combines a very personable style and mechanical know-how to mentor youth mechanics and Phoenix Bikes’ youth racing team.
  • Joe D’Emidio, gymnastics coach at YMCA and Washington-Liberty High School, is kind and caring in an intensely competitive sport.
  • Luis Gendive, Coach and afterschool program director, Arlington Soccer Association, uses soccer as a way to get to kids, but spends time talking and working with them on much more than soccer.
  • Avi Kalman-Rome, Instructor, Jhoon Rhee Adaptive Tae Kwon Do, connects with students who have disabilities; mentors and guides youth without disabilities to also mentor students in adaptive classes.
  • Kenmore Extended Day Team: Milagros Martinez, Maria Small, and Walter Mendoza, models and teaches connections, by helping kids connect to one another and to issues in the community; helps youth lead service projects in their school and the community.
  • Tara Magee, cultivates trust among the young women in her afterschool program for court-involved youth.
  • Kia Martin, builds community and leadership by putting youth in charge at the Williamsburg Middle School Check-In program.
  • Tim McLean, volunteer, Oakridge Extended Day. Started out as a dad trying to help his son connect with other kids; ended up connecting himself with all of the kids in the program.
  • Christina Smith-Gajadhar, HILT Instructor, Yorktown High School. Creates a welcoming environment for newly arrived students; makes herself available for youth who struggle to understand the language, culture, and, high school.
  • Julia Tayloe, Volunteer, Educational Theatre Company. Connects with young actors through McKinley Elementary School productions as well as ETC summer camps.


  • Adam Balutis, President of Arlington Little League has been a coach and friend to many children and youth. He uses his connections with them to teach life skills and instill positive values.
  • Shari Benites, Minority Achievement Coordinator at Yorktown High School, leads and guides dozens of students through 2 clubs. She provides support for them and helps them support one another. She will make time for anyone who needs advice or just someone to listen.
  • Donna Budway, created Action Teams at 6 area high schools. Sponsored by Major League Baseball and Volunteers of America, these youth teams learn about community issues while serving those who are in need.
  • Evolve All Martial Arts Training Center (at right), founded by Emerson Doyle, focuses on building character while also teaching martial arts skills. Staff regularly makes time for young people to help them deal with an issue or concern.
  • Amie Heap, youth leader at Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, connects with young people through Sunday school and the youth group. She is readily available to listen whenever anyone needs an ear and supports teens through challenging times.
  • Conor O’Rourke, an aide with Extended Day moved his place of work to continue to support a young boy with autism and ADHD to make his transition to a new school easier. He goes above and beyond in connecting the boy with other children who don’t have disabilities and fully engage him with others during Extended Day.
  • The Reading Connection Volunteers, 86 of whom read aloud to children at-risk, who are behind in literacy. Children eagerly await ‘reading nights’ and snuggle up to their readers. Many of the volunteers visit the same site over many years and have seen children develop into life-long readers.
  • Tobin Smith, longtime volunteers with 4-H has connected with generations of kids through gardening, nature, and fishing. He still maintains connections with some who are now parents, but continues to build relationships with new young ones.


  • Robert Garcia, a resource assistant at Washington-Liberty High School, supports minority students at W-L and sponsor for the Latin American Student Association (LASA).
  • Javier Gil, or Don Pepito to the students at Claremont Immersion School, shares his knowledge and love of the the Spanish language and Hispanic culture and traditions with students through Adelante (Forward).
  • Bea Ann Phillips, Director of Children’s and Youth Choirs for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington (UUCA), She regularly coaches individual children to prepare for school programs and choral auditions.
  • Will Smolinski and Dave Soles (pictured, right) have changed kids’ lives through Ultimate Frisbee by creating strong connections and a sense of community among players.
  • Lourdes Rubio, the High Intensity Language Training (HILT) Resource Counselor at Washington-Liberty High School. Nearly 40 students organized themselves to nominate her.
  • Susan Duke, for her work in creating the Arlington Youth Philanthropy Initiative, under the Arlington Community Foundation. Her mentorship of philanthropists and youth board members is how she continues to connect with kids.
  • Joanna Miller & Roger Brown, for the many years of tutoring, mentoring, and supporting young people and families at Harvey Hall, an AHC Inc. property and at Arlington Mill High School.
  • Joe Lerner, for leading TOPSoccer, a soccer skills program under Arlington Soccer Association that brings together soccer players with and without disabilities to play and practice together.
  • Francis Pineda, for his work inspiring and supporting a young Tae Kwon Do student, but also for the inclusive, community orientation that he’s given Jhoon Rhee Tae Kwon Do.
  • C. Eugene Hubbard, long time community leader and guide to youth through youth ministries at Mt. Olive Baptist Church and as a youth mentor at the Character Club at Hoffman-Boston Elementary School.

In 2014, APCYF celebrated 10 years of CWK Champions.


  • Alyssa Duda, lives her commitment to inspiring youth of the Buckingham Youth Brigade. Enlisted support of a non-BYB student to produce a video story with BYB youth.
  • Linda Rodriguez, ensures the success of the Dream Project. In her volunteer role as Mentoring Coordinator, she does whatever it takes to make sure her students succeed.
  • James Sample, goes out of his way to ensure that the minority students at W-L HS have a safe, productive, and supportive environment in which to learn and grow.
  • Team Stratford, this group of 50 staff is demonstrates genuine love for students with disabilities; every day they provide a high level of support and care for each student, treating them with dignity and respect.
  • Robert “Tito” Vilchez, has touched the lives of hundreds of at-risk youth as the Gang Task Force Coordinator; especially through the twice-annual soccer tournaments that he runs. It is his hook to meet youth, and then works to get to know and support them.
  • Monica Lozano, seen by many students as a ‘second mom’ at Swanson Middle School, is a High Intensity Language Training Resource Counselor and Minority Achievement Coordinator.
  • Juan Peredo is the Family Liaison at Yorktown High School and is the first friendly face many students see at their new school.
  • Francesca Fierro O’Reilly, shown here with one of her scouts, is a den leader, soccer coach, and is active in her PTA.
  • Lori McFail has been connecting with the children at Carver Community Center for 12 years. As the Director of Kids in Action, the Department of Parks and Recreation’s elementary after school program, she makes it a point to get to know each child.


  • Sandy Harter Crystal City Pentagon Rotary Club volunteer working with Gunston MS Cohort Group and was instrumental in starting and sustaining the Gunston Interact Club.
  • Octavia Harris for her caring and supportive work as cafeteria monitor, InSchool Suspension Coordinator and playground monitor at Swanson MS.
  • Kaylyn Pennock, a high school studentwas honored for her volunteer work with SCAN of Northern Virginia’s ABC’s of Parenting Program.
  • Hayley Vause,volunteer at the Berkeley AHC afterschool program for the past 5 years giving each child individual attention, encouraging them to work and play well together both in the classroom and on the playground.
  • Kelly Wilner, a Yorktown HS student, provided leadership and countless hours of volunteer time to the Best Buddies program which pairs high school teens with young people who have developmental disabilities.
  • Regine Gerard, Independent Living Coordinator for Arlington County’s Foster Care program in the DHS Child and Family Services Division. Ms. Gerard works with youth ages 14-23 helping them prepare for self-sufficiency and life after foster care.
  • Colonel Randy Huiss, a Little League coach who shows kids the game is about more than winning.
  • Bob Bigney, or “Coach Bob,” takes time out of his busy schedule as the technical director for the Arlington Soccer Association to do even more for kids For several years, Bob has carved out time and attention for the students at Carlin Springs Elementary School. Carlin Springs guidance counselor Gretchen Brenckle says He has really helped them understand the larger meaning of teamwork.”
  • Anne Malleck teaches English as a Second Language at Long Branch Elementary School. She has made a difference in the lives of her students by teaching them about getting along with one another and modeling good behavior. Every day, she holds a morning meeting to speak about good peer relations, using examples and role playing to help students understand the lesson. She encourages them to use their words (and build vocabulary) instead of fists to settle disputes, and they practice language skills by complimenting one another.
  • Gerardo Merino, one-time member of the Junior Buckingham Youth Brigade (BYB) , he felt it was important to give back to his community so he finds the time between all of his other responsibilities to do so. In the summer of 2012, he volunteered two to three times a week at the BYB summer camp.
  • Mo Tayari has dedicated his life to connecting with kids and fostering a love of soccer within them. As a soccer coach, he is kind yet tough with the boys on his team.


  • Nick Pakidas, Jerome Green and Fred Jones, Red Top Cab employees,volunteered totransport Arlington Science Focus students to a before school reading program on their own time. Jerome Green has been bringing children to ASFS for the past 6 years and Fred Jones has been transporting another group of students for the past two years.
  • Samantha Hall, 2011 HB Woodlawn graduatefor or her work with special needs children and for creating DARTT, “Doing Art Together,” a Saturday morning art program for special needs children staffed by high school volunteers.
  • Steve Miller For creating and sustaining over 6 years a paid internship at Department of Energy to provide “real work” experience and responsibilities for high school students.
  • DHS Family Partnership Meetings Team, Implemented Family Partnership Meetings, a national best practice to help ensure that children are safe and have their needs met by encouraging extended family, teachers, coaches, and friends, pastors to be part of making a supportive web of connections for children.
  • Sarah Morse and Jan Sacharko, ASPAN staff who worked to educate hundreds of children and teens about the issue of homelessness in Arlington and what they could do to help.


  • Mel Labatt, Director of Tennis at the YMCA Arlington Tennis and Squash center. Developed Junior Tennis programs for over 28 years.
  • cwk-champs.jpgOlivia Merrionhigh school student who created and coached a softball team for young girls at Carlin Springs Elementary School.
  • Keith Miller, teacher for the Boys Recovery Lodge School, an adolescent substance abuse program operated by Vanguard Services Unlimited.
  • Frank Wilson, community activist and member of the APS School Board for 25 years.
  • Laurel Bartalon, an 8th grader at Kenmore Middle School who helped teach and inspire 4thgrade violin students for three years at Carlin Springs ES.
  • Darrell Johnson, Arlington Education TV producer, and José Rodas and Caitlin Wiederkehr, Career Center interns Produced a series of ten outstanding “Assets Minutes” public service announcements on behalf of the Partnership and the Arlington Public Schools.
  • Vivian Delgadoworked with EduFuturo and their Emerging Leaders Program as a mentor and tutor, helping Latino students graduate and go to college.
  • Bernard PiperMakes math fun and empowers the children in the AHC Gates of Ballston Community Center AfterSchool Program.
  • Mary Van DykeExtension and APS volunteer who helps connect children and teens to the wonders of nature all around them.
  • Mary Callow,Activities Coordinator at Gunston Middle School, working to ensure that ALL children have an opportunity to have fun and learn through afterschool activities.


  • Martha Smith, Longtime music and piano teacher in Arlington.
  • Clarence Stukes, Arlington Public Schools Facilities and Operations Department, Assistant Superintendent providing teen internships, mentoring and tutoring.
  • Rebecca Tax, Local businesswomen and owner of Lazy Sundae, hiring teens.
  • David Welsh, Arlington Career Center teacher and producer of Slices of Life I and II.
  • Reverend Kim Coleman and Cynthia Gilmour Partnered to provide Saturday morning art classes for Hoffman Boston ES students at Trinity Episcopal Church.
  • Ralph Johnson,  mentor and supporter of the Cohort group at Wakefield HS.
  • Kathryn Kendricks girls’ youth basketball volunteer coach and mentor.


  • Kevin Richman, Gary White, Matt Frank, and Kevin McNamara, coach the Ashlawn 10 and Under Boys team.
  • Liz Gibbs, Jodi Paci, Dan Park, and Rachel Passafar, University of Virginia grads, coach the Girls 13 and Under in the Arlington Parks and Recreation Youth House League Basketball Program
  • Dan Lemmon, Clarendon Methodist Youth Group Leader and Sarah and Laura Doud, Youth group Leaders at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Creators and caring adults for “Joe’s Place”, a fun monthly event for middle school teens.
  • IMG_3726.jpg Stella Martinez, School Information Specialist, APS School and Community Relations Office.
  • Bobby Meeks, Dive Coach at Arlington Forest Pool and Washington-Liberty HS.
  • Joy Rambert, Director, Residence Services at Harvey Hall, an Arlington Housing Corporation Property.
  • Sara Fiorini Rouse, Washington-Liberty HS Health and PE teacher and coach.


  • Heather Spence, Volunteer soccer coach, coached the same team 2nd grade through to high school.
  • Rebecca Gephardt, Residence Services Coordinator at Fort Henry gardens, an Arlington Housing Corporation Property.
  • Gregg Robertson, Educator and Principal at Washington-Liberty HS.
  • Bart Gray, Volunteer coach and organizer of the Department of Parks and Recreation NFL Flag Football League in Arlington.
  • Mary Ann Jackson, Extended Day Program Supervisor at Long Branch Elementary School.
  • Marji Jepperson, Longtime volunteer with Encore Stage and Studio.


  • John Eklund, hiring and mentoring teens at his business, Preston Pharmacy.
  • Paula Endo, Community volunteer in the Columbia Heights West neighborhood and coordinator of the Teen Photo Program.
  • Marcia Gardner, Director of the Signature Theater in the Schools Program


  • Alonso Abugattas,connecting with kids of all ages as aDPR naturalist at Long Branch Nature Center.
  • Linda Anderson, Kenmore Middle school parent volunteer and neighborhood caring adult.
  • Bill Cochransponsored the Terrific Parent Award, honoring a teen parent each month at Arlington Kiwanis.
  • Portia Clark, Longtime community activist, caring neighbor and advocate for Arlington’s teens.