2021 Award Honorees

2021 Award Honorees

Presenting our 2021 Award Honorees

Get to know the extraordinary individuals who are working to improve the lives of children and youth in our communities!

Alethea Etinoff

     Alethea Etinoff | Point of Care Child Care

Early Educator of the Year - Home-based

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Native Washingtonian Alethea Etinoff grew up in Ward 6, in Lincoln Park and Eastern Market, and raised her children in the District. She took them all over the city to explore museums and attend special events. Until 12 years ago when she bought a home in Ward 8, however, Alethea had never crossed the bridge over the Anacostia River. That move unexpectedly changed her perspective, her life, and her career. 

Although her degree was in business administration and she had worked in accounting and finance, when Alethea moved to Ward 8 she immediately saw a deep need for more high-quality early childhood education opportunities and for training and support for early educators. She earned her Child Development Associate credential and in 2013 Alethea opened Point of Care Childcare, with the goal of making a sustainable difference in her community. Since then she has launched Point of Care Staffing and Training to provide coaching services for early educators and created The Business of Early Childhood Education podcast, where she discusses the complexities of owning and operating a home-based early childhood center. Alethea is currently pursuing a degree in early childhood education at Trinity Washington University.

In addition to her work with children, families, and early educators, Alethea has become a fierce advocate for strengthening the early education sector and improving opportunities and compensation for early educators. Alethea is a fellow in Goldman Sachs 10k Small Businesses program. She also emphasizes the importance of self-advocacy for parents. This year Alethea wrote and presented powerful testimony to the DC Council about the need to stabilize operations and fairly raise the wages of home-based early educators. Thanks to Alethea and all the members of the Under 3 DC Coalition, the DC Council acted to raise $75 million to fairly compensate early educators and improve the quality of care for District children. 

Audrey Walker

     Audrey Walker | Jubilee Housing

Youth Champion of the Year

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Growing up in Shepherd Park, Audrey Walker saw her social worker mom treat the children in her care like they were her own children. Audrey has always understood the importance of being a voice for those whose voices are often silenced, advocating for the needs of others, and giving back to her community. As Director of Jubilee Housing’s Youth Services program, she demonstrates that commitment every day.

While earning her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from the University of the District of Columbia and her master’s degree in early childhood special education from Catholic University, Audrey gained valuable real-world experience and benefited from great mentors. Her post-graduate education career began at DC Public Schools, where she taught preschool through fifth graders. She also taught preschoolers at the Kennedy Institute. After having her own children, who are now ages 6 and 12--Audrey wanted a more flexible position where she could still have a positive impact on youth. 

At Jubilee Housing, Audrey has also worked as an Early Start teacher, Program Coordinator, and Family Resource Specialist, watching children in the program go from babies to teenagers. In addition to building relationships with children and their families, Audrey values the opportunity to engage in activism and advocacy on behalf of and in collaboration with her community. She is committed to promoting cultural competency in youth development and equity in education. Audrey serves as treasurer of the neighborhood commission in Petworth, where she currently lives, and is learning how to work with members of that community to advocate for neighborhood goals and needs. She aspires to serve as an ANC commissioner so she can be a liaison between the community and the powers that be so everyone’s voice is heard and listened to. Audrey has testified often before the DC Council, and her ultimate goal is to be an elected member of it. 

Barbara Lankster

Barbara Lankster | Kennedy Institute CDC

Early Educator of the Year - Center-based

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Although she always loved babies and children, as a young person Barbara Lankster swore she would not become a teacher or a nurse. Determined to find a more exciting career, she studied fashion design, and quickly realized it was not the right fit. So Barbara switched her major to nutrition. After completing an internship teaching nutrition to preschoolers, Barbara understood that she was destined to work with children.

While working with five-year-olds as a Head Start teacher, Barbara wondered why many of the children came to her classroom with delays. Because her own mother was deaf, Barbara had always been interested in people with disabilities. So her next job was at the Hospital for Sick Children (now the HSC Pediatric Center at Children’s National Medical Center), working with children who had developmental and health challenges. When the hospital closed its outpatient services--which included child care--Barbara engineered the transfer of its early education classes to the Kennedy Institute Child Development Center, a program of Catholic Charities. 

Working at HSC inspired Barbara to earn her master’s degree in infant toddler special education from George Washington University. The program gave Barbara the opportunity to see the range of circumstances that children face from birth through preschool and how early interventions can help. She brought this knowledge to a parenting program at the Columbia Hospital for Women where she worked with children from birth to age two and their parents.

When Columbia Hospital closed, Barbara went to work at the Kennedy Institute, where she’s worked with children with disabilities ever since. She actually retired--twice--from her position, because vision and mobility issues impeded her ability to complete the paperwork required in her job. But her love of and expertise with young children have proven powerful enough to keep her coming back whenever the center needed additional support. Barbara’s dedication, insight, and enthusiasm throughout her 40-year career have made a difference in the lives of thousands of children and families.

Destiny Sharpe

Destiny Sharpe | SPACEs in Action

Shooting Star Award

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Destiny Sharpe was in 11th grade when a podium and a law student changed her life. Destiny had attended the African-centered school NationHouse until enrolling in a DC public charter high school. The culture shock was significant, and Destiny struggled to find her identity until taking a class called Youth Justice. Fellows from the American University Washington College of Law taught the class. One day they brought in a podium and asked Destiny to get up and speak. Destiny suddenly found her voice, and the law fellow suggested that she would make a great lawyer. She started paying much closer attention in class, and was selected to participate in a National Moot Court competition, where she was a semifinalist. While still in high school, Destiny met with Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, studied public defenders and sat in on court cases, and attended the National Youth Leadership Forum Law and CSI program

As a student at North Carolina A&T, Destiny gained organizing skills as a leader of 100 Collegiate Women, and a member of several pre-law organizations including Phi Alpha Delta. She was also active in mock trial and the debate team. Destiny participated in a Population Connection Action Fund conference where she learned about reproductive justice and health equity in Africa, and fell in love with lobbying on Capitol Hill. Destiny worked as a summer intern in the Office of the Architect of the Capitol.

After graduating with a degree in political science, Destiny went to work in 2020 as an economic justice organizer for SPACEs in Action, excited to apply her skills in her hometown. Her first assignment was mobilizing support for the Birth to Three For All DC law. She joined the Under 3 DC Coalition and quickly gained confidence and expertise in organizing and lobbying, creatively adapting her strategies to be successful as a digital organizer when the pandemic hit. She volunteered for two weeks with the New Georgia Project to help elect Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock. Meanwhile, committed to her dream of law school, Destiny started studying for the LSAT and working part-time jobs. Destiny plans to study family law while continuing her work to fully fund Birth to Three and strengthen the child care system in DC and worldwide. Her ultimate goal is to become a Supreme Court Justice.

Samantha McDaniel

Samantha McDaniel | Healthy Babies Project

Home Visitor of the Year

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When Samantha McDaniel found out she was pregnant at age 19, she immediately signed up for all the parenting classes and resources she could find. Some people offered help, along with judgment and condescension, unfortunately. But, Healthy Babies had a different approach, helping Samantha feel welcomed and accepted and letting her know it’s normal for first-time moms to feel nervous. She participated in Healthy Babies’ programs for a year after her daughter was born and she no longer felt like she needed that extra support. 

Two years later, Samantha returned to Healthy Babies as a volunteer. Even though she wasn’t officially a case manager or even on staff, one young mom connected with Samantha and consistently sought her out for support. That inspired Samantha to make it official, so she completed all the necessary training to become a full-time home visitor. She worked in that capacity for four years, until 2012 budget cuts to the program forced Healthy Babies to reduce Samantha’s position to part-time, which didn’t pay enough for her to take care of her family. She made the difficult decision to leave the organization and launched a career in facilities management, which she enjoys because each day brings new challenges. 

There are always new moms and babies in the District, and in 2016, Healthy Babies asked Samantha if she would return to her role as home visitor. She knew that most of her work with expectant and new moms was on evenings and weekends, so Samantha decided to keep her property management job while also taking on Healthy Babies clients. She currently manages a caseload of 14 moms, many of whom are teens and unhoused. She sees each of them at least once a week, and a few every day. Understanding what it was like to be a teen mom trying to figure out life, Samantha is committed to providing that same support to her clients that she once received.