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The 7th Annual Thanksgiving List

Amid the eternal battle over which kind of cranberry sauce, I'd like to thank some of those who've made life in these parts a bit better over the past year:

For the first months after MaryAnn Zima's son Johnny suffered cardiac arrest and a subsequent brain injury, friends and neighbors in Hyattsville jumped to help the family cope with the financial, logistical and spiritual strains of life with a quadriplegic teenager. People came by to paint Johnny's bedroom, deliver a wheelchair lift, prepare meals and pay overdue utility bills.

But when Zima realized she was out of money and low on new ideas, her sister told her to call Christmas in April. The charity's director, Mary Kucharski, put Brad Wilson of NVHomes on the case. He assessed the situation and rallied 20 volunteer contractors and NV employees, who descended on Zima's house and transformed it -- rewiring the place, installing a deck with a ramp for Johnny, widening doorways, adding carpeting, a garage door opener, a new yard. Life, Zima says, is "better and more dignified for my son, and I will be forever grateful to all the skilled and compassionate people they brought into the life of my family."

In a troubled school where principals slide through as if on a conveyor belt, a little stability makes all the difference for some kids. At Eastern Senior High School in the District, Craig English manages to run a Health and Medical Sciences Academy that connects students with hospital internships, finds them college scholarships and places them in jobs, even as he holds his program together with resources and equipment he scavenges from surplus stores, hospitals and government warehouses.

I first met Christa Grim through her work at D.C. Action for Children, a group that advocates for the District's neediest kids, but it was only years later that I learned about Christa's true passion: After her daughter, Isabel, was diagnosed with a cardiac condition and spent months in a neonatal intensive care unit, Christa created Isabel's Gift, a nonprofit based in Riva in Anne Arundel County that assists families with newborns in the disorienting and frightening world of intensive care. Through Isabelsgift.com, the group provides grants to families in need and caters Thanksgiving dinner for parents who spend all their hours in waiting rooms.

The D.C. Employment Justice Center stands up for workers in the District, Virginia and Maryland whose employers fatten their bottom line by taking advantage of those least able to fight back. By winning a $5-an-hour increase for RFK Stadium workers who had been stiffed by the city government and by taking on private employers who abused injured workers, the center last year put about $600,000 in back wages and benefits into the pockets of people who otherwise would have had no lawyer.

Amid the testing mania that has sapped too many schools of arts and physical education, the people at the D.C. Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative -- Allison Manion, Jennifer Burgei and Varissa McMickens-- have filled some of the gap, providing 23,000 students a year with a chance to see performances and exhibitions at the Kennedy Center, Wolf Trap and other facilities, as well as bringing visiting artists into D.C. public and charter schools to train teachers and work directly with students.

Unearthing songs such as "Go, Go, Ichiro," "Rafael Palmeiro's Greatest Hits" and "The Lou Piniella Polka (Ya Ya Ya)," Jeff Campbell compiles CDs of some pretty strange baseball-themed music, sells the discs and uses the proceeds to fund hungryformusic.com, a charity that provides musical instruments to children in the Washington area as well as throughout the nation. Campbell also brings musicians to homeless shelters and schools across the region.

And thanks to these people who sound like Washington: Buck Hill, the legendary sax player who started out on U Street in the 1940s and became "The Jazz Postman," a mail carrier who moonlighted as one of the top musicians in the region. Now retired from the Postal Service, Hill continues to play, accompanying other jazz greats here and around the world. Paul Carr's Jazz Academy in Silver Spring runs a summer camp that connects budding musicians with some of the area's best players, such as bass man Pepe Gonzalez, pianist Jon Ozment and drummer Greg Holloway.

Finally, my thanks to all of those who spend time with this column, in print, online and on the radio.

By Marc Fisher |  November 19, 2006; 3:53 PM ET
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