Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

County residents honored for their service to others

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Raphael Talisman⁄The Gazette
Harriet’s Girls Inc. (from left) President JoKeeta Joyner of Riverdale; Dejah Muriel, 13, of Upper Marlboro; Laci Taylor, 13, of Capitol Heights; Jaida Joyner, 11, of Riverdale; Taryn Harris, 13, of Bowie; and Jasmine Joyner, 13, of Riverdale accept the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Award Jan. 24 at La Fontaine Bleu in Lanham.
Jannie P. McNeil-Hayes and Gary Russell were presented with the Dream Family award for their work on behalf of their families and their communities Jan. 24 at the first Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation, Inc. Awards Dinner at La Fontaine Bleu.

McNeil-Hayes, a mother of four adopted children, is the founder and executive director of the Lanham-based Coalition of Adoption Programs, Inc., a nonprofit in operation since 2003 that assists parents working their way through the adoption process and helps adopted children adjust to their new surroundings.

‘‘I’m honored really. It’s exciting to know the work you do is really being recognized,” McNeil-Hayes said.

Russell, a Capitol Heights resident and the father of six boys ages seven to 19, serves as the boxing coach for all six of his sons and several other youths in the Capitol Heights area.

His oldest son, Gary Russell Jr. is ranked No. 1 in the world in the 119-pound. Bantam weight class and will be representing the United States in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

‘‘I was actually surprised and very honored,” the elder Russell said. ‘‘I don’t do what I do for any accolades. I try to do anything I can for my kids and do what I can for some of the other kids in the community and keep them off the streets.”

The Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation was formed in November 2007 to serve as a leadership organization to educate youth and the community on the principles and teachings of Dr. King, according to its Web site. The foundation has been incorporated as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.

Kevin Martin, one of the foundation’s board members, said there was a need for more nonprofits in the county and more events that honor residents who represent the legacy of Dr. King.

‘‘We want to act as a catalyst for recognizing those who are doing work that Dr. King would be proud of,” Martin said.

Also receiving an award from the foundation was Thomas W. Felder, who was presented with the MLK Community Award for the work done by his Bowie-based business, Blue Chip Title Services, on behalf of the community.

Blue Chip Title Services partners with the District’s Department of Human Services to provide jobs for unemployed single mothers and also frequently employs high school seniors allowing them to gain valuable work experience.

‘‘I’m excited, I’m proud and I truly feel honored,” Felder said. ‘‘It’s not every day you get to do something for your community and it feels good to be recognized.”

Addison Pruitt of Mitchellville, Trenton Gilstrap of Brandywine and JoKeeta Joyner of Riverdale received the Student Leader award.

Al Tillman of Temple Hills received the Business Leaders Promoting Economic Empowerment award.

Janice Euell of Suitland, Steven Morris of Fort Washington and Zalee Harris of Temple Hills received the Advocates for Education award.

Pastor Delmon Coates of Clinton received the Leaders Promoting Civil Rights award.

Former Bowie City Councilman D. Michael Lyles served as the keynote speaker.

Robbi Thompson, a student at Suitland High School, and Brian Carrington, a student at Surratsville High School, read excerpts from King’s ‘‘I Have A Dream” speech.

Lake Arbor resident Sandra Pruitt, who serves as the foundation’s chairwoman, organized the awards dinner.

E-mail Jonathan Stein at