Mrs. Alves goes to Washington

By Kristy Alves

After baking, decorating and delivering three wedding cakes and doing a large catering on Saturday evening, finally the store was closed, catering was finished, and it was Sunday morning at 2 a.m., as we leave Exeter to catch our flight in Bakersfield, the first leg of our journey.

All four of us - my sister, Kelly, my daughter-in-law, Carrie, my niece, Sharon, and myself, Kristy Alves - were exhausted, but so excited to embark on an adventure to Washington, D.C. All flight and hotel arrangements were made compliments of the Jefferson Awards Committee 2006. I still cannot believe that I was selected to receive a Jefferson Award for community service. I do what I do because it should be done, not to be honored with an award. It was so exciting!

Just a short flight from Bakersfield to Phoenix, then to Reagan International in Washington, D.C. In only a few short hours, we would be in D.C. With all of our luggage checked, we boarded our plane in Bakersfield…now I could just sit back, relax and sleep.

Ooops! Change of plans. Mechanical problems. So we all got off the plane and sat in the comfortable airport lounge for hours; then we finally re-boarded and were on our way to Phoenix. Due to the delay in Bakersfield, we missed our connecting flight from Phoenix to Washington and were re-scheduled to Charlotte, N.C. with a short connecting flight to Reagan. Again, our flight into Charlotte was late, causing us to miss our connecting flight to Reagan. So, they re-scheduled us to Dulles International in Washington. Not a problem, but where was our luggage?

All of our luggage went to Reagan, where we should hav been. We got a taxi and got to our hotel with the promise that our luggage would meet us there.

We arrived at the magnificent Mayflower Hotel without luggage. However, our luggage did arrive at 4 a.m. How lucky could we be? There we were in Washington D.C., at our hotel, with all of our luggage and it was only 4 a.m.

We could now go to bed and sleep soundly until 7 a.m.: three hours!

It was rise and shine at 7 a.m Monday morning as breakfast awaited. Dressed appropriately in something nice, we left our room, just beginning to notice the palatial hotel.

The Mayflower was totally beautiful, with white and black marble floors, walls trimmed in gold, gold and crystal chandeliers, the tall hand painted ceilings … we felt as though we had taken a trip back in time.

Everyone at the Mayflower thought we were so special. We were treated like royalty! They love the Jefferson Award winners.

We were escorted to our table and seated next to other Jefferson winners. They are such wonderful people and have done such wonderful things. Their stories are amazing! Am I in the right place? All I do is live my life to the best of my ability…these other people have done great things!

Tourists transfixed

Breakfast was over at 9 a.m. and we had time to sight-see until 3 p.m. that afternoon. So we went to our room and quickly changed into some touristy outfits. Let's go, girls!

We planned on taking a quick walk to the trolley for a tour of D.C., but as we step out of the Mayflower in daylight we realize where we were at - across from the White House!

We spent the night this close to the White House and didn't even know it! And there it was. We became total tourists! We started taking photographs of each other in front of the White House. We called home, &#8220Guess where we are…right in front of the White House!”

This grand historic building, so familiar to us, was so impressive and huge. We were accustomed to seeing it fit neatly in our TV screen, but in real life, we couldn't believe it was so massive and white!

The grounds were meticulously manicured, with not a blade of grass out of place. We all got tears in our eyes just looking at this symbol of our country!

Then we caught the trolley for a quick ride to Capitol Hill, where we see the Capitol, the Senate Buildings, and even Union Station. These buildings too, were massive and beautiful. In the center of our nation's government, we felt like we were in another world.

Then on to the must-see National Mall, an enormous park with majestic trees, right in the middle of the city. Then the Washington Monument, so tall, so stark, so simple, so beautiful, with the huge reflecting pool, just like on a postcard, but so much larger in person.

At the Lincoln Memorial we all stood quietly with tears in our eyes just looking at the impressive building itself. We climbed the stairs to see the likeness of President Lincoln:

&#8220IN THIS TEMPLE, AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE, FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE NATION, THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN IS ENSHRINED FOREVER.”

His eyes looked out over the city. His entire Gettysburg Address hand carved onto the marble. His entire second inaugural address inscribed in marble. This is such an amazing monument. I wish everyone could be here!

The Korean War Veteran's Memorial is a group of soldiers walking silently, frozen in time, covered with their ponchos, intent on their mission. As we stood there looking at them, we realized they were watching us, their eyes seemed to follow when we moved. The wall behind them was filled with almost ghost-like impressions of men and women, veterans all, staring at us.

We stood there for a long time in silence. Even as we moved on, we looked back at their eyes still following us; such a haunting memorial, so realistic, even in stone, so moving, so quiet.

The Vietnam Wall was something we had to see, but dreaded because I had heard so much about it. And suddenly, there it was, a giant slash cut out of the gently rolling knoll; a peaceful place, striking, until you move close enough to actually read the individual names carved into it … until you notice the people sobbing, tracing the name of their loved one onto a piece of paper, or simply laying a rose on the ground ‘neath the name of a loved one. Next you notice that you cannot count the number of names, and that each name represents a young man who gave his life for us, and the large number of obvious veterans who are always there, many in wheelchairs: Living, yes, but always remembering.

The Vietnam War Nurses Memorial, with its nurses attending to a soldier, was so lifelike, so painfully beautiful, so sad, so clearly showing the love, horror and anguish in the faces of those who cared for wounded soldiers. Again, we stood crying.

Cinderallas at the Ball

By 3 p.m. we had been teary eyed or crying for several hours. It won't we look great for our fancy Welcome Reception? We hurry back to the hotel and do our best to look good for our first meeting with the Jefferson committee.

We really didn't know what to expect, but as we entered the Grand Ballroom of the Mayflower, we were greeted with rousing patriotic music from the Mayflower Balcony. The U.S. Marine Band played their rendition of several John Phillip Souza marches.

The Ballroom was magnificent. We were ushered to our tables and welcomed by Samuel Beard, the co-founder (along with Jacqueline Kennedy) of the Jefferson Awards, now in its 34th annual awards ceremony. We were served a wonderful dinner - my girls were so in awe that they took a photograph of our salad, entree, dessert and of each other throughout dinner.

There were flashes all over the room, so others must have been doing the same! Our guest speaker was Max Cleland, former Senator from Georgia, a Vietnam veteran and former head of the Veteran's Affairs Department under President Clinton.

Here was a man who had given his legs and an arm for his country and goes around giving motivational speeches! He was amazing and his speech is exactly that - motivation. It centered on community service, and how ordinary people doing extraordinary things, either by choice or by circumstances, were exactly what kept our nation strong, vibrant and caring. I must say that he was the most patriotic speaker I had ever heard!

Jefferson Award Board members Teresa Heinz Kerrey and Ellen Burstyn also spoke. Both gave passionate speeches about the awards. Jack Valenti, Susan Ball and Samuel Beard presented the awards to each of us.

Stage Fright

Tonight was the night I had to give my speech, but how could anyone follow these people, especially Max Cleland?

I was third, since the Jefferson winners speak in alphabetical order. I wished my name began with a ‘Z' and that maybe they would have just forgotten about me!

Oh, no, it's my time already? I wobbled to the front and began. I didn't even remember reading my speech, I just remember choking up when I got to the part about my boys…now why did I do that. What is the matter with me?

I do remember the applause and thinking, ‘Kristy, do not fall down going to your seat!' Then I could relax and listen to the other speeches…but as every story became more and more overwhelming, we began to realize the sheer magnitude of giving of these and other individuals of our nation. I was so in awe of these Jefferson Award winners! Each of them were just ordinary people who, as Cleland had stated, had, either by choice or by circumstance, done extraordinary things!

Many were like me, who just do the little things they do without thinking of it as a good deed, but simply because they see a need at the moment. But many of these people, through their sheer determination, had enabled, impassioned and enlisted others to greater works of service than any government agency could ever accomplish. Many of these people had suffered horrific tragedies in their lives that would cripple most of us emotional, but through their pain, they were able to rise above and give beauty from ashes.

There wasn't a dry eye in the crowd through the evening! What an honor to meet these people, such as the lady, who along with her volunteers, had delivered over 5,000 handmade blankets and afghans to traumatized and sick children; or the lady, who for 20 years, along with her volunteers, has prepared 250 meals daily in her church basement, and delivered them to people in need; or the man who built a barrier free baseball field, complete with lights and dugouts, for vision impaired wheelchair or walk-restricted children; or the couple who have purchased and provided 10,000 children with shoes over the last 10 years; or the lady who has raised 2,000 foster children since 1970; or the lady who has donated over 65,000 books to teen centers and to soldiers overseas.

What an evening! What a wonderful event! But an exhausting night emotionally! At the end, who else but Samuel Beard himself came up to me and said, &#8220Kristy, it is for people just like you that Jacque and I created these awards.”

WOW!

And this is the night that Carrie and Sharon find themselves face to face with the most beautiful and talented Ellen Burstyn, with whom they have a very delightful and pleasant conversation. Later I found them talking with Board Member Susan Ball. These girls know how to mingle!

A Slice of Home

On Tuesday morning, we had breakfast with the Jefferson people again. Everyone was so humbled by the previous evening's events. After breakfast, we left the hotel - our last chance to sight-see. We wanted to get in some more, so we took a cab to Arlington National Cemetery.

It was another over-whelming site. Row upon row of perfectly placed pure white tombstones as though marching in formation. This Washington…a city of symbolism!

At the Military Memorial, a relatively new museum, couldn't have been any more impressive. Look at this! &#8220Faces of the Fallen”…each individual face etched, painted, carved or a photograph of each person who has died in war since 9-11!

Some faces smiling, some serious, all young, all proud! This is breathtakingly awesome, almost every face has a momento next to it, such as a picture of their family, mother, dad, sister, brother, wife, husband, child; a stuffed animal or personal note.

And yes, we found Exeter's own Daniel Unger's picture there and we all stood and cried. Other displays at the Museum were just as intriguing and impressive also, and although they were not as personal to us, the tears kept flowing. We saw the personal items, uniforms, medals, letters and stories of women in war through the years.

Every story was a life. Every story had a family. Every story had been a person who was loved and whose family had suffered a tremendous loss.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, with the tall and handsome military guards and the impressive changing of the guard ritual, was beautiful.

Just like the rest of the people there, it didn't matter that we did not know who the unknown soldier was. He gave his life for us, and so we cried for him, for us, and for our country.

A Capitol Evening

We had to hurry back to the Mayflower. We had to be in our evening gowns and ready to depart the hotel by 3 p.m. for the the Grand Reception at Capitol Hill. We cleaned up quite well, in fact, we looked gorgeous, not like the normal us at all!

Here we were presented with our Jefferson Award Certificates. Some certificates were presented by Senators from their state, but our Senators were in New York that evening on the Larry King Live show and could not attend.

That was followed by the Gala Evening in the Columbus Ballroom at Union Station. We were treated to another wonderful reception and sumptuous dinner. It was another evening of emotional highs, leaving each of us with so much gratitude that we live in a wonderful country where we have so many freedoms, as well as the opportunity to give of ourselves to our individual communities.

The fact that the President and First Lady were taking care of official duties at a summit in Vienna and could not attend, did not dampen the high spirits of all attending. The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award to Mark Lunsford, an ordinary dad, who is showing the country what can be done when a determined and heart-broken father turns his pain and energy towards an issue that needs a leader.

Mark, a single father, had his 9-year-old daughter, Jessica, silently stolen from her bed in February 2005. She was tortured, sexually assaulted, and buried alive. Through this terrible tragedy, Mark has become a public speaker, determined to make sure that no child ever suffers a similar fate. Because of Mark's efforts, only two months after he buried his daughter, a new and tougher law against sexual predators was passed in Florida, and to date, 11 states have passed &#8220Jessie's Law”.

Mark's goal is to have this law passed in all 50 states. We were all in tears as he received his award, and stated, &#8220I'm only a truck driver, a little rough around the edges. I never wanted an award. After I lost Jessie, I only wanted to help other children as she could not be helped. This is why I do what I do, for Jessie.”

And we all cried.

Headed Home

On Wednesday morning, we had breakfast in the Colonial Room of the Mayflower one more time and said good-bye to some of the people we had met. Since these four girls from Exeter could not go this far away from home without a shopping adventure, we were delivered to the Georgetown Underground Mall by taxi.

What an adventure! Then it was back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and head off to the airport … with our loaded down, over-filled luggage and shopping bags. We returned home to California by way of Reagan, Phoenix, a late flight. We missed our connection to Bakersfield, so on to Las Vegas, then Bakersfield, then finally to Exeter. We all agreed that our trip to Washington D.C. was absolutely outstanding and the most memorable experience of our lives.

But we are happy to be back home in Exeter.

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