This Week On Metro Connection: Teamwork (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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This Week on Metro Connection: Teamwork

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and this week we'll be talking about--to quote the language mavens a Merriam-Webster, "work done by several associates with each doing a part, but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole," or, to put it a bit more simply, teamwork.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

We'll bring you stories from the playing field…

MR. MICHAEL SEATON

I don't relate to them a lot because they talk about bills, kids and housing and stuff, but you actually learn a lot from them.

SHEIR

…from the world of art…

MS. DOROTHY KOSINSKI

We've had help from many, many corners. It's all built on meaningful relationships.

SHEIR

…and from--I kid you not--the local karaoke scene.

MR. JESSE B. RAUCH

We're really focused on building a community. That is my top goal.

SHEIR

But we're going to kick off the show with a look at what happens when teamwork falls apart.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN

Over time the automatic across-the-board spending cuts could slow economic growth and lead to the furlough…

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

…to allow a series of arbitrary automatic budget cuts…

WOMAN

…Republican congressman today, who said his constituents are suffering from what he called drama fatigue.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN

…before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN

…that may lead to widespread delays in air travel.

WOMAN

…be forced to furlough food safety inspectors.

WOMAN

…Washington lurching from one crisis to another, that's part of the reason you're not seeing 11th hour talks right now to avert these forced spending cuts. Another reason? Well, watch and listen.

SHEIR

Sequestration is the buzzword in Washington right about now. And no matter what side of the political aisle you're on, most people would agree that teamwork has been in relatively short supply as this week's budget-cutting deadline has approached. Emily Berman wanted to get a handle on how the sequestration brouhaha is rippling through our local economy. So she reached out to WAMU's Public Insight Network and asked, how will the sequester affect you?

MS. EMILY BERMAN

And we got a lot of responses.

SHEIR

Oh, hey, Emily.

BERMAN

Hey.

SHEIR

So you got a lot of responses, which, I guess, is not so surprising in this region, given all the people who work for the federal government around these parts.

BERMAN

There are more than 600,000 people who work directly for the federal government or on government contracts. When we put out this question most of the people who wrote us said they were expecting furloughs and pay cuts, but there was actually one person who wrote saying she'd already been laid off.

SHEIR

And I take it you reached out to this woman.

BERMAN

I did.

MS. JULIE JOHN KNOTT

Thank you for calling Sonjara. This is Julie. How may I help you?

BERMAN

Her name is Julie John Knott. She's just shy of 50 years old and works as a secretary at a company called Sonjara. It's based in Falls Church, Va. and builds websites for different government projects.

KNOTT

So I'm at my desk in the operations corner. And I'm currently typing up a list of where everything is, so everybody can function without me.

BERMAN

Shioban Green, Julie's boss, has been running the company with her husband, Andrew, for 11 years. They've gone through ups and downs, she says, but nothing like this.

MS. SHIOBAN GREEN

There's sort of just this general freezing that I'm finding. I've got one contract we submitted in May 2011 that I'm still waiting on it being awarded. Every once in awhile we email them and say, is this still alive? And they say, yes, yes, yes. And that's not unusual.

BERMAN

They've cut Julie's job and told the rest of the staff, which is about 12 people, that unless new contracts come in they're going to have to make more cuts.

SHEIR

Wow, but Julie's already been cut. So I’m curious, if you take a look at her layoff, that single layoff, what does it mean to the local economy? Is there some sort of ripple effect?

BERMAN

There is. So think about it. On a regular day Julie starts spending money around 6:00 a.m. when she hits the gym.

KNOTT

I cancelled last week when it finally dawned on me that, hey, wait, I'm not going to be coming out here anymore.

BERMAN

That's $55 a month, plus an additional $35 for personal training sessions.

KNOTT

Walking into Starbucks.

BERMAN

There's a Starbucks just down the street where Julie typically orders a medium soy chai. The total is about $8.00 for breakfast. I met up with Julie around lunchtime and she had picked up some Thai food.

KNOTT

I'd like the coconut chicken curry, please.

BERMAN

That lunch was $8.95 plus tax, fairly typical she says.

SHEIR

But I'm guessing those visits to Starbucks and the Thai place are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how she'll be making over her family finances, right?

BERMAN

Oh, for sure. There's CVS, where she estimates she spends about $15 a week. Her dry-cleaning bill will be lower, since it'll just be her husband's work clothes, not hers.

KNOTT

We probably won't go out to eat, you know, to a nice dinner like at the Bonefish Grill. So now it'll be more like once a month.

BERMAN

If you're asking how that reduction trickles through the local economy, a good person to turn to is Stephen Fuller, the director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.

MR. STEPHEN FULLER

She's an economy unto herself and now her economic wings have been clipped. She can't spend as much.

BERMAN

So just for argument's sake, let's say Julie spends $500 a month going out to eat. And every dollar she spends, Fuller explains, can support a small fraction of another person's job. So if we imagine 1,000 people like Julie, suddenly not spending money at restaurants…

FULLER

So if we take her $500 and multiply that by 1000 of her, that would support 12.3 jobs.

BERMAN

That's 12.3 jobs for waitresses, cooks, the drivers who bring fresh produce to the restaurant and other people on that supply chain. So when Julie doesn't spend that $500 it's money out of other people's pockets, as well.

SHEIR

Well, let's take it even further then, Emily. What does all this budget cutting mean for our economy overall?

BERMAN

First of all, if the sequester stays in affect this year, Fuller says it would take more than $10 billion out of the local economy. That, he says, is a worst-case scenario. But more broadly, Fuller is optimistic about our economy. He says most likely we've seen the peak of federal spending come and go. If you remember, from 2007 through 2010, we were the fastest growing economy of any major metropolitan area in the US.

FULLER

Now we're one of the slower growing, large metropolitan areas. Instead of first we're tenth. And that's because the federal government isn't driving growth anymore.

BERMAN

Federal spending in our region has already started to decline over the past two years, $7 billion in all. That's a rate of 5 percent less each year.

FULLER

And in many ways, that is the rate of decline, which has been proposed by proponents of balancing the budget or reducing federal spending.

SHEIR

So is he saying then, that in essence, we've already experienced the first year of sequestration?

BERMAN

Exactly. Fuller says the Washington economy will keep growing, but it will be less dependent on government spending. Basically, we're diversifying. The mix of jobs is changing and we'll have more jobs in growth sectors like health and education.

SHEIR

Okay. But to go back to Julie's case for just a second. I mean, she has a family, right? So how are they going to cope with the loss of her salary?

BERMAN

Her husband is retired from the military and works at the Pentagon. He hasn't been affected by the defense cuts. And his contract runs for another two years. No guarantees after that. Now, with only one salary, Julie says the hardest thing about their new reality is not having money to help their kids.

KNOTT

Having to cut down on nice things, like helping out with a viola lesson for my daughter, you know. Now it's like, no, now you've got to cover those yourself.

BERMAN

If there is a silver lining in all this, Stephen Fuller says Julie shouldn't have a tough time finding a new job. He sees a growing need for office administration, but most likely not for a government contractor.

SHEIR

Well, Emily Berman, thank you so much for sharing Julie's story with us and walking us through this very complex topic.

BERMAN

You're welcome.

SHEIR

If you'd like to share how you're being affected by sequestration, consider joining our Public Insight Network. It's a way for people like you to share their stories with us and for us to reach out for input on topics we're covering. You can find more information at metroconnection.org/pin.

SHEIR

Our next story in this week's Teamwork show looks ahead a little bit to the summer. And seriously, the way this year has been flying by, I daresay summer will be here before we know it. But anyway, just to provide a little background, two years ago Kavitha Cardoza reported about problems with the District's youth summer programs, problems that left more than 15,000 young people without very much to do during the long summer months.

SHEIR

Maggie Riden is the executive director of the D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates, which represents 130 nonprofits that work with children.

MS. MAGGIE RIDEN

WAMU absolutely brought attention to the fact that we are service rich and systems poor, that we have a number of really high quality organizations or partners that are executing phenomenal programming, but they tend to get lost in individual agency silos. And being able to break that down and understand how all of these component parts are working together has been a huge impetus behind the summer planning initiative.

SHEIR

As a result of Kavitha's original story, city agencies came together to plan and set goals for 2012 summer programs. Kavitha recently spoke with Riden about the teamwork involved in revamping these programs and what the reforms will mean for kids in summer 2013.

MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA

Every year thousands upon thousands of D.C. children take part in summer programs. Summer school, summer jobs, summer camps. So many children that even figuring out how many were taking part was difficult to determine.

RIDEN

No agency was tracking in a consistent format or collecting or keeping that information for future review. So we could say 25,000 to 35,000 students touched any number of systems, but the extent to which they touched them, if they returned, was impossible to track.

CARDOZA

In short…

RIDEN

It really just was sort of a disparate, shotgun approach to planning a summer.

CARDOZA

That changed last year. Twenty-eight government agencies and eighty community partners began working together as a team. They spent approximately $25 million, served 23,000 children and they did something they hadn't done before, they set goals.

RIDEN

Five city-wide goals that looked at everything from workforce development, to academic achievement, to health and safe behaviors, to family involvement, clearly articulated goals and objectives. Every stakeholder would come together and say this is what we're focused on, this is our degree of funding, this is what we could contribute.

CARDOZA

They also thought more strategically about parts of the city that needed services the most, mapping crime data with other social and behavioral information, such as teen pregnancy rates and academic outcomes. That information was compared with a map showing the locations of schools, libraries and recreation centers. Once they had all that data, they identified areas to bring in programs.

RIDEN

So if you look around St. Elizabeth’s campus, where most of our homeless families are housed, there aren’t a lot of community-based supports, but there's tremendous need. Through this planning initiative, we were able to bring services and supports to the campus at St. Elizabeth so parents could have a parenting class, children could participate in an enrichment or academic program that took them offsite, but also worked with them and their families. It meant that the Department of Health or Department of Parks and Rec could bring services and a mobile unit to that site, really meeting community where they're at.

RIDEN

And as silly as it sounds, an intervention as simple as that, really does increase participation and it means that people are more likely to seek out those services in the future.

CARDOZA

Riden says many of the problems that plagued the summer programs in previous years have largely been addressed.

RIDEN

Not getting paid, employing students who are not from the District, really just providing a warehouse where young people spent six weeks of the summer without learning any employment skills, let alone being modeled what an appropriate or meaningful work environment would look like. A number of those elements have been addressed. And I think we're not hearing the same levels of distress, frustration or anger.

CARDOZA

But Riden emphasizes there is room for growth and this year they’re going to ask leaders of summer programs to collect data measuring how well they’re serving children.

RIDEN

So we'd like to know what are the goals of that summer camp, what can young people expect to get at the end of a program and how are they going to focus and evaluate that progress? Is there a pre- and post-test? Are they taking attendance? Are they asking for feedback from youth and young adults or their parents?

CARDOZA

Riden says she would like to see more summer programs focusing on academics because summer is a critical time to help students catch up.

CARDOZA

The District has the most significant achievement gap, nationally, between low income, middle and upper income students. We know that over a course of a summer a student in a middle or upper-income-level home is likely to make academic gains. A lower income student loses months of academic gains over the course of a summer. And what that means is by fifth grade a low-income student could be as much as 2.5 years behind in reading and 1.5 years behind a peer in math.

CARDOZA

Using the summer programs to address that gap, Riden says, could be a real game changer for the city’s children. I’m Kavitha Cardoza.

SHEIR

Time for a break, but when we get back, the District's roller derby teams look for a new place to call home sweet home.

MS. SAMANTHA MCGOVERN

The league is trying really hard to attain a warehouse space. As great as this is, we are at the mercy of the Armory, so if the National Guard has to do something, which is important, they get first dibs on the space.

SHEIR

That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.

ANNOUNCER

WAMU news coverage of labor and employment issues is made possible by your contributions and by Matthew Watson, in memory of Marjorie Watson. And support for WAMU 88.5's coverage of the environment comes from the Wallace Genetic Foundation, dedicated to the promotion of farmland preservation, the reduction of environmental toxins and the conservation of natural resources.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to "Metro Connection." This week we're talking teamwork. And in this part of the show we're going to explore teamwork of a particularly physical athletic sort, as we turn to sports.

MS. ADRIENNE SCHREIBER

All right. Ladies, we're going to have to focus on communication and sticking together. And if we communicate and stick together, that's going to automatically keep our penalties low.

SHEIR

Were' in Southeast D.C. at the D.C. Armory, where a dozen or so women in helmets, kneepads and roller skates are huddling before a practice scrimmage.

SCHREIBER

All right. Let's bring it in. One, two, three, mean and green, whips, whips, whips (all talking at once).

SHEIR

Mean and green, whips, whips, whips is the battle cry of the Majority Whips, one of five teams in the District's only roller derby league, The D.C. Rollergirls.

SCHREIBER

The team names are fantastic.

SHEIR

Adrienne Schreiber is the president of the D.C. Rollergirls.

SCHREIBER

My derby name is Velocity Raptor. And we just call each other by our derby names, including at birthday parties and in public.

SHEIR

And Velocity Raptor, then, says all the team names have some sort of tie to D.C.

SCHREIBER

We've got Scare Force One, which is my home team. And The Majority Whips, the Cherry Blossom Bombshells and the D.C. DemonCats. Oh, the Capital Offenders, that's our B Team. We're pretty entertaining.

SHEIR

Not to mention, pretty fierce.

SHEIR

During the Rollergirls' scrimmages, they pull no punches as they furiously skate around the track, each team's scoring player or jammer, trying to lap members of the opposing team. And while the whole thing isn't quite as violent as you'd see in a movie like "Whip It," many of the skaters are nursing their share of cuts, bruises and lumps.

SHEIR

The Rollergirls have been holding scrimmages and bouts at the D.C. Armory since their second season, in 2008. And the beauty of the space, says Velocity Raptor, is it's so enormous. The league can lay out anywhere from four to six practice tracks at once. Plus, it's right near a bunch of bus stops and the Stadium-Armory Metro.

SCHREIBER

We do have a lot of League members who don't drive. So being accessible by public transportation is probably priority number one.

SHEIR

The Armory opened in 1941 to house the D.C. National Guard. In recent years, under the auspices of Events D.C., the official convention and sports authority for the District, the Armory's been hosting a whole range of other things, too.

SCHREIBER

So that's car shows and, you know, a marathon here and Army Reserves there.

SHEIR

But, as a result, says Velocity Raptor, the space's availability comes and goes.

SCHREIBER

It's not that they're closing us out from being here, it's just that they have our contract to juggle on top of a lot of other things.

SHEIR

And that contract, she says, isn't cheap.

SCHREIBER

It's expensive.

SHEIR

But then, when it all comes down to it…

SCHREIBER

All of D.C. is expensive.

SHEIR

And the D.C. Rollergirls should know. With their teams growing and the Armory's availability shrinking, the women have been seeking a new space for their scrimmages and bouts, ideally, some sort of warehouse.

MCGOVERN

So that we could practice 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

SHEIR

Because right now, says Samantha McGovern, a.k.a. Green Eggs and Wham.

MCGOVERN

I go by Wham for short because Green Eggs and Wham is sort of a mouthful.

SHEIR

The league is so at the mercy of the Armory's schedule, that it can't set its own schedule. Hence the need for its own space.

MCGOVERN

We've come close a couple of times. Like, we've actually found spaces that work. But financially it just wasn't a sound jump for us to make, because most of these places have five- or ten-year leases that we'd have to commit to. So we need to make sure we have the finances to back that up before we take it to the next level.

SHEIR

That's why the D.C. Rollergirls have launched what they're calling the Warehouse Fund. The goal, $25,000.

MS. JENNY LINDSTROM

We want to have a nice kitty so that we can really look hard and not have to settle for something that isn't quite a good fit.

SHEIR

Jenny Lindstrom skates under the name Slam Grier.

LINDSTROM

My number is 11'4" because it's the reverse of my height. I'm the shortest player on the League, as far as I can tell.

SHEIR

And she says raising those $25,000 for a new, permanent home wouldn't just allow the roughly 80 D.C. Rollergirls to keep on skating. It would allow them to expand.

LINDSTROM

We just started a rec league, which is great for people who just wanna learn and develop and hopefully one day be on one of our teams. And with our own space, it'd be easier to have things like that.

SHEIR

But, here's the thing, despite all the challenges the league has been encountering, in true fierce, hard-core, roller-derby fashion, president Velocity Raptor says she's keeping her hopes high.

SCHREIBER

Having a space of our own, it would be amazing. We're not there yet.

SHEIR

I like that you say, yet, though, because that implies that it's going to happen.

SCHREIBER

Oh, it's going to happen. Absolutely it's going to happen, yeah. This has been our focus for our strategic plan that we put together, was to find that dedicated space for the league. And it'll in the long run save us lots and lots of money and time and headaches.

SHEIR

Indeed, though given the rather aggressive nature of the sport, maybe a new space won't help so much with those headaches, literally, anyway.

SHEIR

The D.C. Rollergirls hold their next bout on Saturday, March 30, at the D.C. Armory. To see photos of the Rollergirls and to find a full list of their names, including the oh, so very D.C. inspired Condoleezza Slice, Martha Squashington and Stabigail Adams, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

We'll jump to another team sport now, to the world's most popular team sport, actually, soccer. When Michael Seaton moved from Jamaica to Prince George's County at age 7, he went from the soccer-crazed Caribbean, where every kid kicks around a ball in the street, to a country just beginning to appreciate the sport. But with a little prodding from his mother, he kept playing. And in January, the lanky 16 year old signed on with D.C. United. Jacob Fenston caught up with the team's youngest player after a training session at RFK Stadium.

MR. JACOB FENSTON

It's a cold, rainy day. D.C. United players are warming up on the patchy Astroturf outside the stadium, gearing up for their first game of the season coming up this weekend against the dreaded Houston Dynamo. Off to one corner, Michael Seaton is recovering from a injured ankle. Up until last month, he was a junior at Central High School in Capitol Heights, Md.

SEATON

People around here, in my area, it's like they like basketball and football. When they hear soccer, they're like iffy about it. So once I put the word pro next to it, it's like their head got all big and they're like, oh, you're a pro, professional soccer player. And so they're now picking up on soccer.

FENSTON

Seaton is about the same age as the team he now plays for. Both were born in 1996. In fact, Seaton is the first pro player in major league soccer born after the league was established. He came to the United States at just the right time, as the game's popularity started to take off. But he says, it's a bit strange now being surrounded by players twice his age.

SEATON

I don't relate to them a lot, because they talk about bills, kids and housing and stuff so I don't relate a lot. But you actually learn a lot from them because they give me advice, they pick on me.

FENSTON

He stopped going to high school in January and now is working with a tutor toward his GED. The rest of his life has changed, too. Hanging out with friends, all the normal teenage stuff…

SEATON

I actually don't have time for any of that. I just go to practice, take care of my body, after that I go home, eat, sleep, play some video games with my little brother and that's it.

FENSTON

He's so focused on soccer right now, he hasn't really thought about what comes after that or a plan B. He set his sights on a career in professional soccer a couple of years ago he says, when he started playing with the D.C. United Academy, which trains local youth.

MR. TOM TORRES

Michael was one of those kids who came in, you know, we weren't really sure about him.

FENSTON

Tom Torres coached Seaton in the academy.

TORRES

You know, athletically he was fine, you know. He was a big kid, he was a fast kid, that wasn't an issue. But as he started to try to do things and try to make his technique better and figure out that, you know, hey, I'm not going to be able to do it just with my, you know, speed, you know, you kind of started to see that he had potential to be something really special.

SEATON

Coach Tom, they kept pushing me. Even when I mess up, like I just want to give up on the field, they will push me. And I'd tell my mom, oh, they're shouting at me, doing this and that. And my mom thought about it and she actually said, they're trying to make you a pro. I know that for a fact because they're not pushing other kids as much as they're pushing you.

FENSTON

Coach Torres says the good thing about going pro at such a young age is that Seaton will have time to focus on soccer day in, day out.

TORRES

You know, in order to really do something well, whether it's playing the piano or writing or, you know, playing a sport, you have to practice.

FENSTON

Torres himself grew up playing soccer in the D.C. area, in Alexandria, Va.

TORRES

Growing up, we didn't have a lot of these opportunities. You know, back then we used to watch the Washington Stars that played at Woodson High School, that was the closest thing we had.

FENSTON

The Washington Stars was a local team that played in Fairfax before major league soccer, before D.C. United. But the United States is still way behind the rest of the world when it comes to cultivating talented young soccer players.

MR. SONNY SILOOY

When I'm growing it's soccer. I breathe soccer, I eat soccer.

FENSTON

Sonny Silooy is director of the D.C. United Academy. He came to Washington after a long soccer career in the Netherlands.

SILOOY

When I was growing up with soccer there was no computers, there was no cell phones. I have only one thing, was my ball and I play soccer every day.

FENSTON

Major League Soccer is relatively new in the United States, but soccer academies are even newer, established in the past decade or so. In Europe, generations of kids have been training at league academies.

MR. BEN OLSEN

At the moment, what I see, nobody is ready for Europe, in youth soccer. I think it's the future.

FENSTON

D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen says training more young homegrown players like Seaton is what will take soccer in the U.S. to the next level.

OLSEN

We need to get up to speed with the rest of the world and develop our young talent at an earlier age and put them in environments to succeed at an earlier age.

FENSTON

Meanwhile, Michael Seaton says he's trying to stay humble and not let going pro go to his head. Seaton says his mom and step-dad were secretly elated at the news, but they tried to act like it was no big deal.

SEATON

They always try to hide it because they don't want me to get my head all big, but I caught them one day. I heard her on the phone. She was calling everyone telling them, oh, my son is a pro, my son is a pro. So I noticed they were really happy, especially my step-dad. He goes on the porch, I sneak outside to just listen to the guy and he was calling everyone Jamaica telling them, oh, he's a pro. My boy all pro, he's a pro.

FENSTON

I'm Jacob Fenston.

SHEIR

And now, our weekly trip around the region. On today's Door To Door, we visit Occoquan, Va. and Washington Grove, Md.

MS. JOLI MCCATHRAN

My name's Joli McCathran . I live in Washington Grove. I've lived here for over 32 years. It's a small, incorporated town. It sits a little over 200 acres. It's to the north of Rockville and south of Gaithersburg. So we are kind of wedged in between the two. In 1873 a group of Methodists from Washington D.C. wanted to build a summer camp for summer programs, for revivals and worship services. So they bought a tract of land. The B&O Railroad brought the wood out for the platform tents. It started on a circle area, where there was originally a tabernacle built at one time.

MS. JOLI MCCATHRAN

It's a walkway. And all the walkways radiate out from that. And there are seven avenues, First through Seven. Seven avenues that are walkways. So in Washington Grove most of the houses face walkways and that was to protect the women and children. So you walk on the avenues and you drive on the roads. We spend a great deal of our time, the majority of our time, trying to protect who we are. We have master plans. We, you know, try and work within those. And it's trying to stay who we are and that's very important to us and that's been very hard with development of the ICC, with 370 and other communities around us kind of pushing us, you know, at the borders. So it's been a real challenge.

MS. JUNE RANDOLPH

This is June Randolph. I'm 92. I have lived here 58 years, in Occoquan. And I don't intend to move any time. We're near Woodbridge, which is not incorporated. We're quite near Lorton Reformatory and Correctional Institution. I knew people, you could walk down to the post office, you saw people you knew. I had young children and other people did, too, on the street and we engaged in social gatherings that way. I would have picnics on Labor Day or some holiday. And the whole street would come.

MS. JUNE RANDOLPH

I enjoyed my children growing up here and being able to fish off the dock. And actually they would swim in the river.

SHEIR

We heard from June Randolph in Occoquan and Joli McCathran in Washington Grove. If you think your neighborhood should be part of Door To Door, send an email to metro@wamu.org or visit us on Facebook, that's facebook.com/metroconnection.org. And to see a map of all the doors we've knocked on so far, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Up next, teaming up over a load of beeswax.

MS. RHIANNON NEWMAN

Jeremiah is a big, buff farm guy and he makes breaking it apart look very easy.

SHEIR

That and more is coming your way on "Metro Connection," on WAMU 88.5.

SHEIR

Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I’m Rebecca Sheir and today we're talking about teamwork. To kick off this part of the show we're going to focus on teamwork of an artistic nature. In just a bit we'll meet a local team of Slam poets and we'll hear what happens when teamwork meets karaoke. Yeah, karaoke. But first, let's head to Northwest D.C., just off Dupont Circle, to the kitchen of the Phillips Collection.

MR. JEREMIAH HOLLAND

We have a relatively large eight-pound hammer now. So we just whack it.

SHEIR

This is Jeremiah Holland and as you're about to hear…

SHEIR

Should I get out of the way?

HOLLAND

No.

SHEIR

…he and his hammer are going to town…

SHEIR

…on a 40-some-pound block…

SHEIR

…of beeswax.

HOLLAND

This wax is from Germany. And it's such a great aroma. It smells of wax and honey.

SHEIR

How long did it take you to adjust to the aroma?

HOLLAND

You don’t really notice it now, after working with it so much, but you miss it when it’s not around. It’s very pleasant, even after you’ve worked in it for quite some time.

SHEIR

And Jeremiah should know. He and three other 20-something local artists have spent nearly a week in this kitchen. Some, like Jeremiah, have been recruited from the Corcoran School of Art, others from the Phillips staff, to help with the museum’s newest installation. It's called the Laib Wax Room, named after Wolfgang Laib, a German artist who specializes in using purely organic materials, like beeswax and pollen.

NEWMAN

I get here about 6:45 in the morning and I turn on the wax double boiler.

SHEIR

Phillips Collection staffer Rhiannon Newman is another member of the assistant team.

NEWMAN

Usually Wolfgang comes in with Bjorn and they start mixing and we keep hammering away and breaking everything up into tiny little hand-size pieces.

SHEIR

Bjorn, by the way, is Bjorn Schmidt, Wolfgang's assistant. And during my visit I get to see him mix the melted wax using what looks like an enormous electric egg whisk.

SHEIR

Jeremiah Holland compares the melted wax to a lumpy golden batter.

SHEIR

I see what you mean about sort of the cake batter, the pancake batter.

HOLLAND

And Bjorn’s so good at it, too. He can make cakes for me any day.

SHEIR

The Laib Wax Room is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, a tiny, intimate chamber with the walls and ceiling coated in layer upon layer of smooth, fragrant, wax.

SHEIR

So this is the first permanent installation since the Rothko Room?

KOSINSKI

Yes.

SHEIR

Dorothy Kosinski is the Phillips Collection director. And as she notes, it's been more than 60 years since the Phillips opened the Rothko Room, which contains four paintings by American artist Mark Rothko.

KOSINSKI

The Rothko Room is something that we are determined to preserve because it was the only room that he anointed. He gave us the clues about how high to hang the works, about the lighting conditions. So this permanent wax chamber, I think it’ll end up being a bookend to Rothko’s very special serene environment.

SHEIR

Because when the Laib Wax Room opens this weekend, she says she expects visitors to find it nothing short of meditative.

KOSINSKI

Wolfgang manages to create like a vessel and then he fills it with the beauty of this natural material, of the beeswax, which has this extraordinarily glowing presence. It has an olfactory presence that’s very seductive. People can visit that chamber and allow themselves to be enveloped within the environment and protected from the chaos of everyday life.

SHEIR

The thing is though, the initial thought of making this serene, meditative room a financial reality wasn’t exactly serene or meditative.

KOSINSKI

Probably after, what a great idea, probably the next statement was, we can’t afford to do that.

SHEIR

So the Phillips Collection teamed up with long-time donors and local galleries to raise funds for the Laib Wax Room. And it raised more than $15,000 through online crowdsourcing.

KOSINSKI

A couple of artists in our community made a gift. And they said, we’d love it if you could make it into a challenge grant. So we worked with IndieGoGo and we matched that money. So we've had help from many, many corners and that reveals how embedded we are in our communities. And it’s all built on meaningful relationships.

SHEIR

Back in the Phillips Collection’s kitchen, the art assistants have definitely been forming meaningful relationships with one another this past week. But another relationship Jeremiah Holland says he’s been forming is with the work of art itself.

HOLLAND

We’ve seen it from the start. And it’s very rewarding knowing that our hands touched the wax that’s going into this room. And, you know, we mixed it and we cleaned the tools and made sure that Bjorn and Wolfgang have everything that they need.

SHEIR

Rhiannon Newman agrees. For her, assisting with this permanent installation is a chance to help make history.

NEWMAN

It’s like really humbling and really different being kind of like a little cog in a great machine and being able to take my kids or grandchildren some day and be like, hey, your mom. Sledgehammer. She did that.

SHEIR

And she did it with the help of an entire community, all of its members coming together to create this aromatic, peaceful space for everyone to enjoy, for years and years to come.

SHEIR

The Laib Wax Room opens this weekend at the Phillips Collection. To see photos of Wolfgang, Bjorn and the art assistants in action, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Sticking with our arts theme, we're gonna transition now from visual arts to poetry. And I don’t know about you, but when I think about teamwork, poetry isn't exactly the first thing that comes to mind. I mean, so often, poems are so intensely personal, right? They're something to be written, and read on your own. But as Jonathan Wilson tells us, that's not the case for members of the D.C. Youth Poetry Slam Team.

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

Adolescents and all the changes and personal growth that come with it, can be excruciating.

MR. ERIC POWELL

I'm Eric Powell. I'm from PG County, Bowie, Md.

WILSON

Eric Powell is sitting in front of three poetry coaches interviewing to be a part of the D.C. Youth Poetry Slam Team. He's articulate, but nervous.

POWELL

Anything, like any social justice issue that I'm really passionate about, like people have told me that I might come across as like the angry black man, when I'll be talking about certain topics that I'm very passionate about.

WILSON

Just watching the passion, nervous energy and heartbreak that so many teenagers wear on their sleeves, can be cringe inducing. But it's also what can make watching them try to harness all those things in a performance, exhilarating. Eric performs a poem for the panel.

POWELL

Have you ever felt nostalgia for a home you've never been to? For lips you've never kissed? As if home would never be able to embrace you in the midst of your own self doubt. Have you ever felt so far away from self, so far away from her?

WILSON

Powell, a short 15-year-old, stands straight as a rod as he recites his poem. He doesn't gesture, and his eyes remain closed most of the time. His performance skills aren't yet as compelling as his writing. He's already been on the team for one year, and is applying to return for another. He says being around other poets also in the process of discovering what their words can do, is powerful.

POWELL

That encouragement, and that family pushing is there, you know, that family support. And so we take each other to like, levels that we didn't even know we could like take it to, you know?

WILSON

One of the panelists listening to Powell's poem is Jonathan B. Tucker. Tucker grew up in Crofton, Md. and has been writing and performing poetry for 10 years. He's now the Youth Programs Coordinator for Split This Rock, the arts and social activism collective that runs the youth slam team. He's coached the team for the past 2 years and says it's about more than just writing and performance.

MR. JONATHAN B. TUCKER

If you can remember back to high school, I remember when I was in high school, it didn't always feel like a safe environment. There was always somebody ready to judge you for something that you chose to do. And so bringing a bunch of teenagers together to share their personal stories, their creative writing in a team atmosphere, and to create such a supportive network of young, creative individuals ready to share this stuff, it's really amazing. It's something outside of the lived experience of a high school.

MR. JONATHAN B. TUCKER

Y'all feeling good?

AUDIENCE

Yeah.

TUCKER

If y'all are ready for a poem, say yeah.

AUDIENCE

Yeah.

TUCKER

If you ain't playing around, say, oh, yeah.

AUDIENCE

Oh, yeah.

TUCKER

You're about to get some poetry.

WILSON

The crowd of aspiring teenage poets, family members, and friends watch as a Sunday show, held at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street. Sitting in the row of upcoming performers facing the crowd is Thomas Hill. He's a sophomore at Magruder High School in Montgomery County, and goes by the name "Vocab" on stage.

MR. THOMAS HILL

I was always one of six other kids who sat in a bare classroom, Mommy can't risk losing her job, and Daddy won't share his corner with nobody, not even his own son. He's too proud of his pavement, he polishes it with his smoky spit and the soles of $200 Jordans. And I couldn't get a new pair of shoes and my ankles depended on it. My father taught me.

WILSON

Hill is auditioning to be on next year's slam team, but he says it took some time for him to get used to the idea of sharing his poetry with a team.

HILL

I wouldn't tell anybody that I wrote poetry because I didn't want to get teased. And then I came to a Split This Rock event, and Jonathan broke me out of my shell.

WILSON

For so many of us, Thomas Hill's first experience with poetry, solitary, personal, isolating, is the image that sticks. We think of Emily Dickinson locked in her bedroom. But at a performance like this one, it's easy to see why the team concept helps budding poets grow. Poet Sarah Browning is the director of Split This Rock.

MS. SARAH BROWNING

Poets always need community, no matter who they are or how they write. And some are very solitary, but others, like myself, I've always worked best even if I'm not in a formal team, but in a community of ideas and of active members of our greater community.

WILSON

Eric Powell says writing honest poems can be painful, and being part of a team can help you fight through that pain.

POWELL

I mean, it's cool if you're making pieces for yourself, just to like to vent, like a private journal or a diary or something, but to have those people surround you, because if you're going through some real stuff, some heavy stuff, it's good to surround yourself with positive people, and that's what you have in the D.C. Youth Slam Team.

WILSON

I'm Jonathan Wilson.

SHEIR

You can see some of the area's best young poets Saturday night at the 2013 DC Youth Slam Team Grand Slam Finals. The event will go from 4-6 pm at GALA Hispanic theatre in Columbia Heights. To find more information and to see clips of some pretty amazing spoken word poetry from local high schoolers, visit our website, metroconnection.org. Oh, and we should note, this story is one that came to us through our Public Insight Network, which we mentioned earlier. And you can get more information about that at metroconnection.org/pin.

SHEIR

The people we'll meet next also perform on stage, not unlike the young poets we just heard from. But these Washingtonians are exploring a very different means of self expression. Laruen Ober brings us their story.

MS. LAUREN OBER

It's a Wednesday night at Policy, a hip restaurant and lounge on 14th Street NW. Billy Idol's 1982 hit "White Wedding" is playing over the speakers and Emily Diamond-Falk is putting the finishing touches on her costume for tonight's karaoke league competition. That's right, I said karaoke league. In this bar tonight, karaoke is a team sport.

MS. EMILY DIAMOND-FALK

Well I'm wearing a very tight French maid's outfit.

OBER

Diamond-Falk is a member of REO Lush Wagon, formerly known as New Kids on the Lush Wagon. These folks make up a dedicated team of karaoke-ers. They're part of District Karaoke, a competitive team-based karaoke league. And they are no joke.

DIAMOND-FALK

And I think it's very important to note that New Kids on the Lush Wagon actually won city -- would be state-wide if we had statehood -- competition last season.

OBER

Yep, she's talking about a city-wide tournament, for karaoke. Last season, Diamond-Falk and her team sang their way to karaoke glory, beating out 22 other teams to take the title. This season, REO Lush Wagon is looking for a repeat.

DIAMOND-FALK

You put a lot of effort into knitting or scrapbooking or whatever, and so we put a lot of effort into our hobby.

OBER

But, like, it's something that people would go and do just for fun, but you've made it into a team sport.

DIAMOND-FALK

Right. We were the ones that didn't have letter jackets.

OBER

Being a member of a karaoke team may seem a little odd, especially if you've ever played a more, say, legitimate sport like lacrosse or basketball. But competitive karaoke isn't all that strange when you consider that D.C. is full of off-the-wall leagues. The city boasts whiffleball, skeeball and shuffleboard teams. Want to compete in something called inner tube water polo? There's a league for that. How about a competitive game show league? D.C. has that, too.

OBER

There's something about this city that makes us turn everything into a competition. Maybe it's because there's so much drive and ambition here that it just naturally extends to our recreational pursuits. In the case of these karaoke-ers, it's not enough just to go to their local bar on karaoke night, belt out some Tina Turner or Guns 'n Roses, and call it a day. This is about victory. And costumes.

MS. SYLVANA NAGUIB

What they say is true, you know, at the top, there's only one direction to go, down, so I think we've decided if we're gonna go down, we're gonna go down in flames.

OBER

That's Sylvana Naguib, a Lush Wagon newbie. At tonight's competition, REO Lush Wagon has picked Diamond-Falk to represent them in one of two solo karaoke rounds. There's also a team round where everyone gets to perform. Diamond-Falk is REO's ringer. By day, she works in environmental policy. By night, she's a belter. Though in competitive karaoke, it takes more than a good voice to bring home a win. The teams are judged on two criteria, sing it, and schwing it.

RAUCH

Singing it is that musicality, how did you sound.

OBER

That's Jesse B. Rauch, commissioner of District Karaoke.

RAUCH

And then the schwing it is that kind of performance. But sometimes it means a little bit more. And if people have a good time, they may give you a high schwing it score.

OBER

Diamond-Falk is definitely going for the schwing tonight. She's decided to go with a Downton Abbey theme. Not the obvious choice to go with her song selection, which is "Alone" by Heart, but it works. She's dressed as a maid with a microphone in one hand, and a feather duster made from a butter knife and some paper napkins in the other. And she's serenading a giant, hand-painted cutout of Mr. Bates, the show's war-wounded valet. The crowd loves it. Her schwing factor is off the charts.

OBER

Rauch, the commissioner, and also the founder, insists that it's not just about competition. It's also about fostering a sense of togetherness.

RAUCH

We’re really focused on building a community. That is my top goal, is to build a community of people who become friends and support each other. As much as individuals can come and do this, it wouldn't bring people together in the same way. That team element adds a certain dynamic that individual karaoke performancing and competing probably doesn't get.

OBER

But don't think that all that community-building talk makes District Karaoke any less serious than other social sports like kickball or dodge ball.

RAUCH

I should tell you our unofficial motto. It's, anyone can kick a ball, but only ballers can belt a ballad.

OBER

That's like some fighting words there.

RAUCH

Yeah, but don't tell them that.

OBER

I'm Lauren Ober.

SHEIR

To learn more about District Karaoke, and to see photos of the members of REO Lush Wagon, head to our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Before we say goodbye today, let's take a moment to turn the microphone to you, and read from your letters and messages. Last week, on our Homegrown D.C. show, we issued a very particular challenge. We asked you to compose a memoir about life in Washington, in just six words. We received some pretty fantastic responses via Facebook and Twitter, and our very own managing producer, Tara Boyle, joins me now to share some of them. Hi, Tara.

MS. TARA BOYLE

Hi, Rebecca.

SHEIR

All right, so, what have we got?

BOYLE

Well, on Twitter, we received sort of a two-part tweet. Or a first and a second draft, I guess maybe you could say. The first tweet reads, "I really hadn't planned on staying."

SHEIR

And the second?

BOYLE

It said, "Wasn't gonna stay, D.C., established 1989."

SHEIR

Cute. And how about some of the others?

BOYLE

Well, here are a few from Facebook, but why don't I let you read them.

SHEIR

Oh, OK. Don't mind if I do. First up, "Walk on left, stand on right." Ha. Very funny.

BOYLE

Exactly. It's great.

SHEIR

Then we have, huh, "Vibrant, connected, theatrical, historical, voteless home." That's kind of a stream of consciousness thing going on there.

BOYLE

Wow, indeed.

SHEIR

And finally, you're gonna love this, "Welcome, enjoy your taxation without representation."

BOYLE

Oh, snap. I think that's one of my favorites.

SHEIR

I think they're all my favorites. Anyway, thank you so much, everybody, for writing in and sharing your memoirs with us. And if you'd like to write in, whether to share a memoir, or just a message, send us an email. Our address is metro@wamu.org. You can also find us on Facebook, of course, or on Twitter. Our handle is @wamumetro.

SHEIR

And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Jonathan Wilson, Kavitha Cardoza, Jacob Fenston, and Emily Berman, along with reporter Lauren Ober. WAMU's managing editor of news is Memo Lyons. Metro Connection's managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is Robbie Feinberg. Lauren Landau, Robbie Feinberg and John Hines produce Door To Door. Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.

SHEIR

Our theme song, "Every Little Bit Hurts" and our Door To Door theme, "No Girl" are from the album Title Tracks by John Davis, and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. All the music we use is listed on our website, that's metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song. Also on metroconnection.org you can read free transcripts of stories. And if you missed part of today's show, you can hear the whole thing online anytime. You can also find us on iTunes and Stitcher.

SHEIR

We hope you can join us next week when we do a little off-roading in the theme department, and bring you one of our all over the place, wildcard shows. We'll dive into a brewing battle over parking in the District, we'll learn why so many artifacts from New York's Ellis Island are being housed in a warehouse in Maryland, and we'll head out to the tiny community of Onancock, Va., which has been home to a thriving theatre community for more than a quarter century.

WOMAN

Well, last night in act two, I looked up when the F word was flying around and there was my minister sitting on the front row, with a kind of a stare. And I thought, this wouldn’t happen in New York.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 News.
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