When you walk into Mr. Whitaker’s famous ‘Redskins Room’ in Webster Gardens, a singing fish just to your left heralds your arrival. “It’s the best burglar alarm,” Mr. Whitaker says, laughing deeply. He is wearing a Redskins hat and his shirt is embroidered with his name: George.
Mr. Whitaker, or George E. Whitaker as he introduces himself, has lived in Webster Gardens since 1951. He eventually moved his entire family into units in the building. Although he and Mrs. Whitaker have their own unit upstairs, he says he spends much of his time in the Redskins Room, a basement filled with football memorabilia, maintenance supplies, and bric-a-brac. When I walk in for our interview, he is busy reupholstering a chair in Redskin colors. “Always keep busy,” he says. “It keeps you young.”
He certainly has a youthful energy: when THC and Somerset Development redeveloped Webster Gardens Apartments in 2011, the halls suddenly filled with kids. “The previous residents were mostly older. It’s nice to have families around.” The Redskins Room’s laminated sports magazines were taken down to make room for a children’s dart board. His vintage jukebox was crowded out by a Nintendo Wii. As he shares, Mr. Whitaker wants the community kids to have a safe place to hang out. His number one rule? “They always have to ask their parents.”
Mr. Whitaker has received multiple accolades from the neighborhood and District for his efforts to make his community safer. On his wall near his singing fish are signed resolutions by the District Council recognizing him for his service. Not only has he been an active community leader, he served in World War II on a Navy cruiser. He remembered how there were people on board he’d never even seen before; the ships were that large. Although he loved visiting Hawaii and California during his service, DC was always his home.
During our interview, Mr. Whitaker was full of stories and wisdom. I deeply appreciated the opportunity to speak to him. A lot of interns answer phones, make copies, and learn primarily from shadowing full-time staff members. Few organizations trust and support their interns enough to let them pursue independent projects. THC is different. When I expressed interest in telling our clients’ stories, Kate and the rest of THC simply said
‘Go for it.’ It’s this same culture of trust and support that Mr. Whitaker says makes the staff at THC great.
Post by Christine Janumala , Photos by Justin T. Gellerson