- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2003

Hundreds gathered on the grounds of the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute in Northeast yesterday to celebrate the achievements of those with developmental disabilities and to honor the efforts of the Institute’s many friends, volunteers, staffers and partners.

About 500 friends of the Kennedy Institute, founded in 1959 and named for the older brother of President John F. Kennedy, chowed down under a canopy on hot dogs, hamburgers, potato chips, soft drinks and veggie burgers while the upbeat sounds of Motown and the Beach Boys resonated throughout the grounds. The party also featured dancing, pony rides and games for children, many of whom liked just running around the vast yard.

The four-hour festival, “Celebrating Our Caring Community,” was the second such event for the social service agency of the Archdiocese of Washington, which serves developmentally disabled individuals living in the District and Maryland. The Kennedy Institute’s programs include job placement, day care and classes.

John Edwards and his friend, Sarah McGhee, 21, danced the afternoon away. Mr. Edwards, 26, said he’s been involved with the Kennedy Institute for many years. The music, the weather and the camaraderie on the grounds made for a perfect day, he said. Miss McGhee, of Rockville, recently enrolled in the Kennedy Institute’s school. For her, the day was special because she saw her friends and partied with them.

“I’ve been with the Kennedy Institute for one month, and I like it a lot. And I’ve made a lot of friends, and I get to sing in class,” she said. “And I’m a very good dancer.” She then returned to the dance area for the R&B; sounds of Sister Sledge and “We Are Family.”

Michael Ward, 38, president and chief executive officer of the Kennedy Institute, described its personnel, volunteers, clients and friends as a family.

“This event brings together the people we serve, the people who do the work and the people who support us — all of the people who make this possible. We’re here to promote people achieving. It’s like a family,” he said.

Mr. Ward introduced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington; Mayor Anthony A. Williams; and Montgomery County Council member George L. Leventhal, who chatted and mingled with the crowd and toured the Kennedy Institute’s school in Northeast.

“The Lord has given us a great day, but I’m glad we have a tent for the older people to get out of the sun,” the archbishop said to those gathered on the lawn — some with hot dogs, others gulping down chilled bottles of water.

Cardinal McCarrick said that a community can be measured by how it takes care of its young and its challenged. He complimented the Kennedy Institute for its work and how it continues to promote inclusion.

“When you see the people [the developmentally disabled], you know what a difference the Kennedy Institute makes in their lives,” the cardinal said.

The mayor proclaimed yesterday as Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute Day in the District and seconded the cardinal’s sentiment on what makes a community. “… The real heart of our community is how we treat the least among us,” Mr. Williams said.

Caryl Ruppert Ersenkal and her sister Cathy Ruppert Washington showed their support yesterday for the agency that nurtured their youngest sister, Colleen. Mrs. Ersenkal said Colleen [Ruppert] enrolled in the Kennedy Institute’s school in the mid-1970s as a teenager. After graduating, she moved into a successful career with the U.S. Government Printing Office.

“Although Colleen could not come today, we remember coming here when she was in school. The Kennedy Institute has a long history and a lot of successes. We’ll be back next year,” Mrs. Ersenkal said.

Mrs. Washington, of Silver Spring, said her sister blossomed at the Kennedy Institute, where she learned vocational skills and to this day maintains friendships with the people she met in school.

Mrs. Ersenkal’s daughter, Anna, 10, and her girlfriend, Megan Kramer, also 10, had fun chatting and dancing. Though the two girls didn’t ride the ponies, they have lots of memories — and they didn’t go home empty-handed.

“We got books,” they said.

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