People to Watch 2016

By Guy Fletcher and Nancy Luse | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 05.12.16 – Feature, Lifestyles, People & Places, Q&A

In selecting the members of this year’s “People to Watch” class, we were once again tasked with the challenge of finding six people from diverse backgrounds, professions and contributions to the community. What makes this job especially difficult for us is there are many people who could be considered excellent candidates for “People to Watch,” but who get left out through no fault of their own.

In the end, we believe we did select six people very much worthy of watching in the coming year and beyond—people who are already making contributions in areas that make our community safer, healthier, more inclusive and more vibrant. Yes, they are very different people carving very different paths on their lives, but they each share a sincere commitment to make Frederick County a better place to live.

Read their stories on the following pages and see if you agree.

natashaNatasha Bowens Blair

As the coordinator of the Healthy Families program for the Frederick City Housing Authority, Natasha Bowens Blair, 33, works with residents to educate and encourage them to adopt good nutrition habits. From cooking classes where residents share recipes and skills in a partnership with The Common Market, to maintaining community gardens at Carver and Lucas Village public housing and engaging youth in a weekly garden club, Blair casts a wide net in her job. Additionally, she has published a book, The Color of Food, in which she traveled the country talking to farmers of color about the nation’s food system, writing about their experiences.

FM: Were you always a gardener?
Natasha: (laughs) No, not at all. I was probably as disconnected as anyone [from the sources of our food]. But six or seven years ago I was working in environmental and health care activism, working on healthcare reform, and saw the intersection. Food was the elephant in the room. Food connects us. In our cooking classes, for example, we tie together seed-to-table, using ingredients from the gardens in our meals. We come together as a community around food.

FM: How did the community gardens start?
Natasha: In 2013-2014 there were AmeriCorps VISTA [participants] who started the gardens and we built on that. The gardens are permanent and we expanded with more beds. At Carver, down from the main office, we had a greenhouse that came down during the blizzard. The ground is good so we’re going to grow corn … the residents didn’t want to use up all their room [in the other gardens] for corn so this works.

We’re always reaching out to residents to see what they want in the program, that’s what makes the program successful. For instance, at Catoctin View [housing for senior citizens on Motter Avenue] residents were talking about herbal remedies; they wanted to grow herbs. We’re also thinking about involving the youth in that, having them help with an herb garden and at the same time they’re learning from the seniors.

FM: The kids also have their own project?
Natasha: There is a garden club for them with hands-on experiences as well as doing activities such as going to the library where they research the different crops they want to grow.

FM: What would you like to see in the Healthy Families program?
Natasha: I want us to reach more and more families. Another important part is education and job placement, getting out of public housing and moving forward with job skills and training. Perhaps this could include creating food products. My dream is for food trucks. I’m all about food trucks. I’d like to see a farmers’ market with prepared foods for sale.

FM: Talk about your book, The Color of Food.
Natasha: Through stories I dig into the issues of food. I talked with Asian, Hispanic, Native Americans and African American farmers. … From the feedback I’ve received, people see food as an important issue; people are getting more involved in where their food comes from. … I’m optimistic about the future because of young people’s interest in it. You look at people returning to the land; it’s exciting and it gives me hope.

krisKris Fair

Kris Fair, 31, is a lifelong Frederick County resident and graduate of Linganore High School, Frederick Community College and Hood College. The manager at New York, New York Salon and Day Spa, he has worked on civil rights issues and been involved in community groups for the past 15 years. Some of those organizations include The Frederick Arts Council, where he was director for three years of the Frederick Festival of the Arts, The Frederick Center, Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the American Advertising Federation-Greater Frederick, Frederick County Democratic Party and the Weinberg Center for the Arts. He currently serves as chair of the outreach and Pride Festival committees for The Frederick Center.

FM: How did your community involvement take off?
Kris: I realized there are so many challenges out there on the local, state and national levels and at the same time how easy it is to get involved in Frederick; people welcome volunteers with open arms. Nothing stops you except your time. It’s so much fun getting involved and I pride myself on being able to roll up my sleeves and get the job done. Frederick is one of the best towns in the world with energetic and caring citizens.

FM: Tell us about The Frederick Center where you devote a large part of your passion.
Kris: We started in 2012. We are a nonprofit dedicated to providing education, resources, outreach and support to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community and its allies. I’ve always had the opinion that there was a large community of support and I have had nothing but support from business leaders, elected officials and others in the community. Frederick is moving in absolutely the right direction. We’ve been brought into the schools, have helped redevelop the [patient] intake forms at Frederick Memorial Hospital, recognizing there are transgendered people in society, as well as working with the police who are often called to do strip searches, and with the state corrections people.

FM: What about the home HIV/AIDS test kits The Frederick Center provides?
Kris: We are doing it in partnership with the Frederick Church of the Brethren, which is helping to underwrite the cost of the kits which are given for free. We are also in partnership with the Frederick County Health Department. Maryland has [one of] the highest rates [of HIV/AIDS] in the country. Supplying the home test kits so that everyone knows if they are at risk would change the face of this infection.

FM: You also have logged some time and effort with the Frederick Festival of the Arts.
Kris: (laughs) I like to tell people that I was the one in charge of trash the year before I was in charge [of the festival]. But it just shows how people will pump you up and support you.

FM: You have no trouble talking politics for hours at a time, whether it’s the presidential contest or who may be running in the next mayoral race. Have you considered seeking office?
Kris: I love politics and, yes, it’s something I would consider as a way to be part of the bright future Frederick has.

FM: What do you do with your spare hours?
Kris: I enjoy spending time with my husband, Dominick, as well as friends and my family, all of them living in Frederick County. I also like gardening and cooking. I like to be busy.

julioDr. Julio Menocal

Born in Cuba and raised in Colombia, Dr. Julio Menocal came to Frederick in 1985 after a residency at Georgetown University Medical School. In 2004 he says he “felt the itch” to leave a large practice and do more for the area’s underserved population, including immigrants. An emphasis of his practice is on children needing vaccinations, and he is also concerned about the increase in diabetes and the patients who can’t afford treatment. Most practices see 7 percent of those on medical assistance; his practice sees 70 percent. He has received numerous citations for his work, including the Lord Nickens Community Service Award from the Human Relations Commission, the Good Samaritan Award from Frederick Memorial Hospital and the Peace Crafter Award from CALM, a nonprofit seeking to solve problems through mediation.

FM: What prompted you to start this practice model?
Julio: When you’re a family physician I’d like to think that you should stand up to certain injustices such as healthcare disparity. Being uninsured is not the problem, it’s being under-insured. For a new patient it’s not unusual to learn that they have been turned away four times [by other doctor’s offices] before they see me. We don’t turn anyone away.

FM: What is the reaction from patients?
Julio: The best word to describe how they feel is relief, relief that someone is giving services to them. Some who are unable to pay may offer to clean the office or take out the trash. If there’s not the ability [to pay] there’s a willingness [to offer something]. We do not want to humiliate them for not being able to pay.

FM: Do you get grants to make up for those unable to pay?
Julio: We are not a nonprofit [so there have been no grants]. The Affordable Care Act is basically what saves us. Reimbursements from the government went up and they expanded the definition of qualified patients. Still, there are times when I wonder, can I pay the rent? Our landlord has been an angel.

FM: In addition to the medical side of your work, you also get into other issues facing the community surrounding your Golden Mile area offices. Could you talk about those?
Julio: I had medical students study what the biggest obstacles were for people to come into the office. The biggest was that there weren’t enough police. They felt unsafe. After 2 p.m. they wouldn’t leave their houses. But the police wouldn’t know about crime because people weren’t reporting it. We tried neighborhood watches. … School is also an issue. Parents couldn’t help their kids with homework. Frederick County Public Schools has an awesome website, but they needed laptops. Through the Community Foundation we have been providing laptops and directly give out four or six a month from our office.

FM: What’s next?
Julio: I want to be able to get past 80 percent of children being vaccinated, actually I want 95 percent. Now it’s 73 to 74 percent. … There’s still a lot of work to be done with interracial issues; Hispanics need a voice and a standard bearer … and I want to bring in the next generation of medical providers for when I’m no longer doing this.   

brittanyBrittany Barber

Though her official title is promotions and social media manager with the Downtown Frederick Partnership—the nonprofit charged with promoting the city’s arts-and-entertainment core—Brittany Barber, 26, could also be described as the area’s cruise director. If you’ve been to one of the [email protected] concerts or First Saturday promotions, you have likely seen her keeping a watchful eye on the activities and making sure everyone is having a great time. She became interested in the Downtown Partnership when she began volunteering for the organization during college; when she graduated from Hood College in 2012, she immediately began working for the organization, forgoing a trip to Europe so she could take her “dream job.”

FM: What do you like about working for the Downtown Frederick Partnership?
Brittany: Everything we do serves Downtown Frederick, and it’s just a special community. The people are passionate, friendly, forward-thinking, and to have a job that allows me to build upon that and highlight that is really just exciting and special to me.

FM: What do you love about Downtown Frederick?
Brittany: I think there are a few things. First, the people. It’s just a community of really passionate, friendly, welcoming people, just walking down the street. I think you get that sense.  Everyone says hello to each other, everyone is willing to lend a helping hand, give directions. There is just something very warm about Downtown Frederick, so I think the people are the first thing that makes it so special. There also is always so much to do. People get really involved in music, the arts, history, dining. There’s that feeling that you are in a larger city, but it still has that small-town feel.

FM: What is something people might not know about Downtown Frederick?
Brittany: I think one thing that has been really eye-opening to me is that the people who own the businesses, they are really putting their heart and soul into what they do. They are often the ones who check you out at the cash register or help you pick out a great outfit, and those people are doing more than just that. They are building their businesses, but they are contributing to Downtown Frederick, helping to make it a better place.

FM: Assisted by Downtown Frederick Partnership programs like [email protected] and First Saturday, Downtown Frederick is now a definite tourist attraction. How do you explain the popularity?
Brittany: Frederick kind of has it all. There is great dining that always draws people. There is just always something to do, almost every day. It’s got history for people who love the history … and it’s beautiful.

FM: Obviously, you have interests that go beyond work. What else keeps you busy?
Brittany: I am a coach for a jump rope team, which sounds a little strange but I was a competitive jump-roper growing up. I coach a group of about 40 girls and boys in the Frederick Skip Squad. I do that in my free time, and I’m busy with my puppy and my husband, and I really love to travel.

monicaMonica Kolbay

It’s fair to say Monica Kolbay doesn’t have many open dates on her calendar. The 39-year-old CEO of ArachnidWorks, the full-service marketing and advertising agency she created as a part-time endeavor in 1998, is very busy most days building her business, whether it’s working to keep current customers happy or networking to find new clients. A mother of two, with a third on the way, she commits her time to community organizations like the Rotary Club of Frederick, the Frederick Rescue Mission and the American Advertising Association-Greater Frederick. She is also a member of the current class of Leadership Frederick, an intensive, one-year program that educates participants about various aspects of life in Frederick County, including agriculture, healthcare and politics. “It’s like this backstage tour in an amazing kind of way,” she says.

FM: Tell us about ArachnidWorks.
Monica: We’re that perfect fit for small-to-medium businesses—some large businesses, as well—that might not have their own internal marketing fleet of people. What we bring to the table is that full-service agency experience usually significantly less than hiring that team internally.

FM: Who are your clients?
Monica: Our client list is very diverse because we tend to not want to pick up businesses that are directly competitive. We are marketing our clients to be number one in their respective areas. That leads to a naturally diverse portfolio of clients. But we do find the service-based companies do make up a larger part of our portfolio.

FM: Do you enjoy the work?
Monica: I enjoy now, at this stage in my business, because it’s all business development. Nobody sells my company quite like I do. I’m sure any business owner would probably understand that. So now I look around me and hopefully what I’ve done is built my team that is better at the creative than I am. So I am surrounding myself with people who are better than me, on a certain level in a very targeted kind of way. Because what I spend most of my time doing now is networking, being out in the community. It’s a lot of outreach.

FM: Do you ever miss the hands-on parts of your business like creating a great graphic design?
Monica: I can take some of it back if I want to [design again], but if I am being completely honest, I’m not the best person every time in my company. I’ve got people who are more creatively talented.

FM: What do you love about Frederick County?
Monica: I love the community. I love the people. I love the business atmosphere. I feel like we are very open for business. We are very supportive of it, and I’m amazed at the small businesses … agencies that are my peers in this community that have done such amazing things for big clients.

FM: And the quality of life?
Monica: I love being up in the mountains where we live. It’s still only about an hour or so from D.C., so if you have that urge to do that Georgetown shopping kind of thing, we’re so close to all of it, but we’re still removed enough to where you get that seclusion and it’s not that New York City atmosphere. It’s perfect. What better location can there be?

FM: Have you enjoyed going through Leadership Frederick?
Monica: It’s awesome. It’s an unreal experience. I’m so sad to see it coming to an end here soon.

mikeMike Moore

Frederick native Mike Moore, 31, never forgets a face. A prosecutor in the Frederick County State’s Attorney’s office, he sees his share of stories, happy and sad, and tends to hang on to them.  Once, he prosecuted a horrific case of domestic violence, an attempted murder in which a woman was shot seven times, once in the head. A few months later he ran into the victim at a local Panera, and she was doing well. “It’s a cool job,” he says. But there is much more to Mike than the job; there’s his home and a variety of volunteer work that includes Heartly House, the Historical Society of Frederick County and the Rotary Club of Carroll Creek.

FM: You have wanted to be a prosecutor since you were a teenager. Why?
Mike: I knew I wanted to help people. I had family members who had gone through domestic violence and I knew I was going to be somebody who was going to fight for people. So I knew I was going to be a prosecutor and I wasn’t going to do anything else.

FM: What do you like about the job?
Mike: It’s always changing. You get to see people through the other side. … I prosecuted a little girl for heroin. She was addicted to heroin and she was a victim of circumstance, really, because her mom was an addict. We’d lock her up, get her sober, let her out, lock her up, get her sober, let her out. It was a vicious cycle. … There were nights when I thought, she’s not going to live, she’s not going to make this. But I saw her for a speeding ticket and she said, “I’m clean, I’m through rehab, I’m sober.” So it’s cool to see people to the other side.

FM: What are the challenges?
Mike: It’s high-stress, it’s fast-paced and the caseload [is big]. In the District Court we handle, I want to say, 8,000 cases a year. And you never know what’s going to happen.

FM: It makes sense that a prosecutor is on the board of directors of Heartly House, which helps victims of domestic violence.
Mike: I love Heartly House. One in four women is going to be the victim of domestic violence, and I’ve got a mom, a wife, two daughters and two sisters. [Heartly House does] such important work. They are the only fully comprehensive place to go in Frederick that offers shelter, therapy and respite.

FM: In another kind of nonprofit work, you are also on the board of directors at the Historical Society of Frederick County.
Mike: That’s what I love about Frederick. You can get involved in anything you want. There are no limitations.

FM: Being a Frederick native gives you a good perspective on how the city has changed over the years.
Mike: It has changed. My favorite memory from Frederick growing up was me and my brothers going to 7th Street to get the barbershop haircut and we would go to Woolworth’s afterwards to get an ice cream sundae. So it’s not like that anymore! But I like the way it’s grown up. It’s still got that small town feel but it’s every bit of a city. It’s got city problems, but I think we are managing it.

FM: You are a father of two with a third on the way. How does that change parenting for you and your wife?
Mike: We’re moving from man-to-man to zone now.