In 2021 District Bridges began a pilot project at the Columbia Heights Civic Plaza where we work to build strong partnerships and coalitions to address challenges such as crumbling infrastructure, business vacancies, public safety concerns, and access to social services for residents experiencing substance use disorder and housing insecurity. Between May and December 2022, we held 85 free events for the community and spent over 900 hours doing direct street outreach at the Plaza. This work has allowed us to get to know a variety of individuals who are all doing their part to invest in their neighborhood and support a vibrant, healthy Columbia Heights. District Bridges engages all of these partners through our Placekeepers Program, where we work together to increase our collective impact, and to engage people from all walks of life to create a more connected community. Here are a few of the faces of the Civic Plaza!
Mario is originally from New Orleans and has been in DC for almost 20 years. He currently lives in the building right in front of the Civic Plaza and loves participating in events and helping his neighborhood however he can. He has deep relationships with many of his neighbors who spend time in the Civic Plaza, having known them for years. Mario always stops to say hello and get to know people and never hesitates to go the extra mile to help someone in need. He works for DCPS as a 12th Grade chemistry teacher and speaks Spanish, English, French and Arabic. He describes the Civic Plaza as unpredictable and alive. His favorite Columbia Heights restaurants are Los Hermanos Dominican Restaurant and Mi Cuba Cafe.
Paco is originally from DC and grew up in the Petworth and Columbia Heights neighborhoods. He went to Calvary school on Columbia Rd as a child and was raised being a part of the community work that his parents were doing in Columbia Heights. Paco has memories of going to the Woolworths that used to be where the DC USA building is to play arcade games as a kid. His favorite spot in Columbia Heights now is Le Caprice, where he likes to go to read a book, drink coffee and people watch. He currently works as the Ward 1 Events and Community Engagement Manager with District Bridges, and is excited to be able to integrate accessible events among different neighborhoods, bringing in all members of the community in this role.
Amanda is the Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant Main Street Manager with District Bridges, supporting small local businesses on the corridor with financial and technical assistance, marketing, facade improvements and more. A former Columbia Heights resident, Amanda loves bringing people from different backgrounds together to celebrate and support the neighborhood. She started her career in international human rights and environmental law, grew up in Florida, and plays the French Horn. She loves the richness of the Columbia Heights neighborhood, where neighbors come from all walks of life and share space with each other. The Civic Plaza is one of the most important places in the neighborhood to do that, so she is proud to be part of a team working to create an inclusive space in the Civic Plaza.
Luis is known by friends and neighbors as “Mexico,” his country of birth. He has been living in DC for three years and works with District Bridges’ Stewardship Program. Luis helps to clean up the plaza before and after the weekly Farmer’s Markets and helps to maintain a safe and conflict free environment on market days. He has worked in recycling and landscaping in the past and feels that it’s provided him with skills he can apply in his current role. He’s a big soccer fan!
Gian grew up in Miami, Florida and his family is from Venezuela. He has been living in DC for three years and is currently working on a Masters degree in sustainable urban planning. His favorite part of living and working in Columbia Heights is being around people who are Latino and who share parts of his own culture. Gian not only passes by the plaza every day on his way to work, but also performs outreach there through his role as a Community Mobilizer with the Latin American Youth Center. His favorite part of his job is being able to help residents of his community. He sees the plaza as a space with a lot of needs and challenges, but also a lot of potential for community and room to grow.
Sara is the Ward 1 Community Navigator with District Bridges. Her work at the Civic Plaza is focussed on ecosystem development, engaging in street outreach and connective social services, and acting as a resource broker between residents, city agencies, and community partners. Sarita, as she is affectionately known at the plaza, is a former Columbia Heights resident and has worked with the Latino community in Ward 1 and surrounding areas since 2009. Prior to that she lived for 7 years in Italy, where she worked as a marine archaeologist and studied cultural anthropology. She loves doing street outreach and getting to know the other faces in the neighborhood.
Raj is originally from India and has been in DC since 2007. He lived in the Columbia Heights neighborhood when he first arrived in DC and now works at the Civic Plaza with the DC Peace Team and with Fresh Farm Farmers Market. Raj is an avid latin ballroom dancer, and is drawn to different cultures. Raj is fascinated by systems and by learning how to solve some of the complex challenges that public space presents. His favorite thing about working at the plaza is the human aspect of interacting with people who are experiencing a variety of challenges. Raj’s super powers are his curiosity, openness, and an unexpected humor that allows him to connect with anyone and everyone.
Nancy is the General Manager at the &Pizza at the Civic Plaza and has lived in DC almost her whole life. Her favorite part of her job is developing and pushing her employees to meet their potential. She says the Civic Plaza can bring lots of entertainment and she really enjoys the camaraderie with people who work at the other businesses on the plaza. Nancy finds everyone really friendly towards each other and appreciates that neighbors, the DC Peace Team, District Bridges outreach staff, and other community organizations make the place better. Her favorite part of Columbia Heights is the area in front of the Bank of America on 14th where she can find authentic Salvadoran food sold by street vendors that reminds her of family food from back home.
Ron is part of District Bridges’ volunteer Neighbors Initiative. He lives a block from the Civic Plaza and grew up in the DMV. He teaches English at the same DC highschool he attended himself, and loves being involved in his community. Ron has been a steward of his community for a long time, getting to know his neighbors and helping out wherever he can. He became interested in working as a Placekeeper because he wanted to find more tangible ways to connect with individuals at the plaza and to impact his neighbors’ lives in a positive way.
Will is originally from Northern Virginia, and has a background in affordable housing advocacy, social services and community organizing. He loves working in CH because it’s a welcoming community where people support one another. His favorite part of his job is building relationships and being able to witness the short and long term impact of those relationships. He loves helping to empower people in their own recovery from substance use disorder. Will’s superpowers are spontaneous problem solving, contagious optimism, and connecting with people of all ages and backgrounds.
District Bridges is a neighborhood development nonprofit working to connect residents, community based organizations, businesses and city agencies to increase our collective impact to create healthy, vibrant, connected communities. District Bridges works in 7 neighborhoods in Wards 1, 2, and 3.