She works with incarcerated youth, organizes school supply and holiday gift drives for the underserved, and promotes young talent for local films and events. She also helps expand the District of Columbia Housing Authority’s rental options for its customers.
She is Valerie Lewis and she will be awarded Idealist of the Year on April 21.
Each spring, City Year Washington, D.C., brings together more than 500 guests for the Idealism in Action Gala, a night to celebrate service, impact and idealism. The organization recognizes employees who embody the spirit of idealism—seeking to improve the community, nation, and world. Lewis is among the idealists who will be recognized for their commitment to improving the Washington, D.C. region by making a difference in the life of one person, organization, or community.
“I want to affect people’s lives,” said Lewis, who added she wants her life and time on Earth to matter. “I love what I do. I like seeing people transition into a butterfly.”
Lewis, currently a rental market data analyst for the voucher program, started her career at DCHA eight years ago working with the Office of Resident Services. The majority of that time was as a supervisor at the Southwest Family Enhancement Center, where the team achieved many accolades from the community. During her tenure there, Lewis received the Employee of the Year Award in 2013.
But she has been serving the community in other ways for many years.
Some 20 years ago, Lewis and eight of her girlfriends started Sisters in Touch, an organization that provides direct services to underserved families and children in the D.C. metropolitan area.
“We wanted to have a voice in the community to be empowering and uplifting to our culture and environment,” said Lewis.
They host Christmas events, for example providing dinner and toys to children in shelters. They have hosted mentorship programs, run school supply drives, and food drives, among other activities. They also raise funds and award a scholarship each year to a DeMatha Catholic High School student.
Lewis also works with incarcerated youth through the District Youth Rehabilitation Services. The agency has an initiative called the Covenant of Peace and Lewis is a facilitator with the program. Most recently in January, Lewis and the program stayed overnight in jail with female youth and worked with them to address their anger issues and inspire them to move forward in a positive manner without participating in senseless acts of violence. There were group activities that ranged from sharing sessions to volleyball. They also worked one-on-one with the young women.
“We slept in their space so we can kind of understand and tap into where they are emotionally,” Lewis said. “It was an eye opener, very emotional, very surreal. For me to be able to humble myself and be behind bars...it allowed them to be transparent with us.”
Lewis said the weekend inspired her daughter and her to research developing a group home for troubled young women.
When she isn’t working in the community, she is promoting young people’s talents .
“Talent search is my passion,” Lewis said. “I believe we have enough talent right here in D.C. to have an entertainment industry.”
She keeps a database of talented young people along with producers, filmmakers, and other entertainment industry professionals. She matches talent to events or makes sure performers know when events are being developed so that “they can take advantage of it and get paid for their gifts.”
She also serves as a judge at the annual “D.C. Has Talent” showcase.
“My goal is to be a pillar in the community, to create jobs and exposure for the youth while they showcase their gifts and talents,” said Lewis, whose motto is “Showcase with Integrity.”
Lewis said she wants to share her award with her family and her friends who work with her in her endeavors. She gave a special thank you to her mother who talk her to be generous always and to God for giving her the gift of being a visionary.
“I’m so thankful and grateful for the recognition. I have so much more to do in the community,” she said.