Our November issue is dedicated to stories of giving back and we are so thankful for the residents in our community who support so many wonderful organizations and help make our city the vibrant community that it is. Potomac, and surrounding areas, is full of inspirational leaders in their fields who also make the time to do good. Here we recognize the healthcare heroes, veterans, positive impact politicians, and generous philanthropists that make our community shine.
Dr. Norvell Coots
By Erik Trinidad
Many veterans in the Maryland/DC Metro area have received support from the MILVET program at Holy Cross Health, spearheaded in part by the efforts of Dr. Norvell Coots. Once a distinguished military leader, having served as a Brigadier General in the U.S. Army, Dr. Coots is now an accomplished physician with countless accolades. He’s the President and CEO of both Holy Cross Health and Trinity Health’s Maryland region, and continues work to expand veteran health efforts.
“Our plan is to have some version of [the MILVET] program in each of the 88 hospitals in the Trinity Health System,” Dr. Coots says.
Undoubtedly Dr. Coots’ experience in the Army has given him insight to the needs of fellow veterans. His own service includes Commanding General of Regional Health Command Europe and Surgeon General for the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan.
“I truly believe that my military training and experience helped me to successfully lead through [the COVID] crisis,” explains Dr. Coots. During the pandemic, Holy Cross navigated workforce shortages, inflation, and supply chain issues. “One of my leaders told me that every morning at our Incident Management Command meetings, she enjoyed watching me do battle with the enemy called COVID-19.”
Outside his professional life, Dr. Coots enjoys spending time with his wife, Claudia Gomez, along with their two teenagers, Maximilian and Catalina, two dogs, Duke and Snowflake—plus a horse named Vinny.
Wendy J. Hookman, MD
By Ellery Weil
Dr. Wendy Hookman was already an established presence in the Greater Washington area and her field of women's psychiatry when she decided to create a resource for the women and children of Montgomery County and beyond. She has more than 20 years of experience in medicine after earning a medical degree from the Medical College of Virginia and completing a residency in psychiatry at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. Dr. Hookman is a reproductive psychiatrist, meaning that her work with patients specializes in the ways that pregnancy, childbirth, sexuality, and menopause can affect mental health. She maintains a highly-personalized approach to women's psychiatry, viewing the patient holistically, including their previous life experiences and relationships, current circumstances, and goals for their psychiatric treatment.
Dr. Hookman, a longtime Potomac resident, brought her expertise to Montgomery County in an innovative way when, in addition to serving as the Director of Georgetown University's Women's Mood Disorders Program, she founded the Washington Center for Women's and Children's Wellness (WCWCW) in Bethesda, and oversaw its expansion into multiple telehealth locations across the Eastern time zone. Under her direction, WCWCW serves as a valuable resource for women's and reproductive psychiatry, as well as child and adolescent psychiatry. The organization’s inclusive outlook reflects the diversity of not only Montgomery County, but the communities it serves from Miami to Michigan.
By Marie Robey Wood
For Montgomery County residents, Mark Shriver needs no introduction: his father, Sargent Shriver, was the first director of the Peace Corps and his mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics. “When you see your parents loving their jobs…doing it with joy, and grounded in their faith, that pulls you into the work they were doing,” Shriver says. Now, he is setting the example for his three children by promoting support for young people.
Shriver began advocating for children during his summers in college by volunteering with the Connecticut Pre-Enrichment Program, helping first-generation high school students transition to college.
After graduation, he started the Choice Program serving juvenile delinquents and at-risk youth in Baltimore.
While serving in the Maryland legislature from 1994 to 2003, Shriver focused on advancing children’s welfare. He continued promoting the well-being of children while serving in leadership roles at Save the Children USA for eight years.
Today, you can find Shriver in the president’s office (or greeting students around the school) at Don Bosco Cristo Rey, a co-ed Catholic high school in Takoma Park. Based on the Cristo Rey model of a work-study program, students receive a college-preparatory education while working one day a week to help pay a portion of their tuition. Shriver calls Cristo Rey “the area’s best kept secret.” The 384-person student body comes from 60 different area codes who have limited financial resources.
By giving them the opportunity to work for well-known businesses, including Ernst & Young and Accenture, students gain real-life experiences. Cristo Rey shows these dedicated young people that they can achieve The American Dream. Students from last year’s graduating class were offered almost $11 million in scholarships to schools including: Notre Dame, George Washington University, and Catholic University.
Dr. Ligia Peralta
By Ellery Weil
Born into a medical family in the Dominican Republic, Dr. Ligia Peralta was inspired from a young age to make a difference in medicine. Accompanying her father Dr. Ruben Peralta—a Harvard Medical School fellow—to remote locations for clinical work and to deliver immunizations, she developed not only a love for medicine at a young age, but an understanding of the positive impact medical care can have on communities.
After completing her medical residency at Yale, Dr. Peralta's work took her to Maryland as a fellow at UMBC. Today, she's a proud resident of Montgomery County, where she serves as an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology, and the Director of the Adolescent HIV Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She has also developed a unique approach to adolescent medicine with her One-Stop Shopping program, which offers adolescents multiple types of care, from sex and substance abuse counseling to dentistry, at a single location. One such example is the Star Track Clinic, operating under Dr. Peralta's direction in Baltimore.
Finally, Dr. Peralta is looking to decrease health disparities with the help of her fellow community-minded physicians in Maryland through Casa Ruben. The nonprofit organization, named in honor of her father, operates mobile clinics specializing in preventative care from a multicultural perspective in Montgomery, Prince George, and Baltimore Counties.
By Christy Matino
Avi Benaim’s late wife, Michelle Benaim, was a living example of selflessness. After a 2015 diagnosis of young-onset colorectal cancer, she made it her mission to help others who may also be living with the devastating diagnosis. In 2017, she and Avi began co-chairing the Blue Hope Bash, a fundraiser for the D.C.-based Colorectal Cancer Alliance. Now, years after her passing, Avi has become vice chair of the non-profit organization’s board, ensuring his late wife’s legacy lives on. “Michelle taught me what it was to be charitable and lived her life doing that,” he says.
To further honor her legacy, Avi and his family created the Michelle Benaim Memorial Fund, which provides awareness, support, and local access to screenings. The fund has raised nearly $2 million. The Benaim children have followed in their parent’s footsteps: sons Alex and Sam started an Alliance chapter at UNC Chapel Hill and have held several events to raise awareness and money to fight the disease. Their youngest daughter, Sophia, created the Michelle bag, a comfort bag for cancer patients that she distributes at The Aquilino Cancer Center and Medstar Georgetown Lombardi Cancer Center. “The kids are pretty strong,” Avi says. “I am most proud that they made it their mission to honor their mom’s work on this charity.”
Many of Michelle’s girlfriends have co-chaired the Blue Hope Bash since her passing, taking over the event their friend cared so much for. “They were like sisters to Michelle,” says Avi. “I am so proud of them and the way they have stepped up to take on the gala.”
The Benaim family is greeted with big hugs at the event every year. People thank Avi and his children for their commitment to the cause. “I find it therapeutic. It lets me hold on to my wife in a certain way, to still be connected to her. I know this is what she would have done.”
By Ellery Weil
Since 2022, when she was elected to her first four-year term on the Montgomery County Board of Education, Potomac resident and former PR executive Grace Rivera-Oven has been a voice for the community. However, serving as an elected official is just the latest way she’s given back in her distinguished and multifaceted philanthropic career.
Rivera-Oven is the founder and CEO of Upcounty Hub, a nonprofit organization focused on providing food and other essentials for families in need in the northern part of Montgomery County. Based in Germantown, Upcounty Hub serves 1,300 Montgomery County families every week, with bilingual support and drive-thru services, supported by a dedicated network of both full-time staff and volunteers.
In addition to her work with both the Board of Education and Upcounty Hub, Rivera-Oven continues to inspire and serve her community through work with a variety of charitable organizations. These range from addressing local healthcare needs as a former chair of the Latino Health Initiative, to supporting the arts and spiritual community collaboration of Montgomery County residents through Strathmore and Interfaith Works.