Alexander “Sasha” Ryjik
Alexander “Sasha” Ryjik describes fencing as the physical equivalent of chess, and it is an art that he has helped aspiring fencers master through his instruction for many years.
Since he began competing at a young age, Ryjik has composed quite the resume, ranking first in the United States by point standings for 10 consecutive years, being named a multiple-time U.S. National Champion, North American Champion and USA Team Captain at the Cadet/Junior World Championships. Additionally, he has traveled to over half of the states in the U.S. and over 15 countries for tournament play.
Ryjik attended Harvard University, where he earned a degree in political science and won three Ivy League championship titles. After graduating, he continued to grow his family’s business, Virginia Academy of Fencing (VAF). VAF is the world’s largest fencing academy which also provides fencing classes and camps at MCC.
Having experienced a great deal of success on the piste (the playing area) himself, Ryjik says one of his favorite parts of instructing is helping fencers realize their potential. “Teaching at MCC provides the opportunity to meet aspiring students who may one day become Olympic champions,” he said. “There are no fencing academies in the McLean area, so this outreach opportunity is a wonderful way for students to experience the Olympic sport of fencing.”
Serving as the MCC instructor of the Introduction to Olympic Fencing: Foil, Sabre & Epee classes, Ryjik discovered his passion for teaching following his career of competing internationally. “I want to share my knowledge and skills with anyone interested in learning fencing,” he said. “I love to promote the sport of fencing because of how it positively changed my life. It gives me the ability to mentor the youth and to provide students with the opportunity to enjoy a physically and mentally demanding sport.”
In his time away from instruction, you can find Ryjik climbing boulders on the Old Rag Trail with his wife, Hibah. He also enjoys playing the violin, listening to music and building websites to help small businesses.
By Kyle Corwin
Silver Knights Enrichment
Daniel Weissbarth and Silver Knights Enrichment have offered youth chess classes at MCC for more than a decade. Founded in 2006 by Daniel’s brother, Adam Weissbarth, Silver Knights Enrichment has taught more than 100,000 kids, welcoming students of all skill levels. The organization offers in-person and online instruction, tournaments, pre-recorded exercises and other lessons to develop skill sets and knowledge of the strategic game.
Weissbarth stated that his passion for teaching stems from his own journey and appreciation for chess. “I’m a lifelong tournament chess player,” he said, “so teaching kids about the best game in the world is a total joy.” He achieved the title of Expert in 2009, a title given by the United States Chess Federation, the same year he moved to Northern Virginia to be the program director for the new branch of the company.
Since 2008, Weissbarth and Silver Knights Enrichment have taught students that went on to win more than 50 state and national championships. “The kids’ enthusiasm,” however, is what he professed to be his favorite aspect of teaching. “Watching their excitement as they learn a new skill and their excitement and confidence balloons.”
Originally Silver Knights Chess, the company became Silver Knights Enrichment in 2015 following its expansion into coding and robotics instruction. Additionally, the recent launch of online chess programs by Weissbarth himself has enabled the organization to reach more children due to the shift to virtual learning as a result of the pandemic.
Weissbarth says MCC is a wonderful and inviting place that also welcomes some incredible people. “We’ve always had the nicest students and parents!”
By Kyle Corwin
Dog Obedience Instructor
For MCC Dog Obedience Instructor Kevin Healy, the saying, "dogs are a man's best friend," certainly rings true. Currently the headmaster for Beginner and Advanced Dog Obedience classes at MCC, Healy’s expertise and passion for his work is remarkable.
Having worked with dogs since 1980, Healy has a wealth of experience in behavior training in civilian, police and military fields. “I first got interested in K-9 training growing up in Baltimore County, as I lived about a block away from the Baltimore County Police K-9 Center and went there regularly to watch training,” he said.
He began his career as a police K-9 handler, training and recertifying over 500 Police and Corrections and Sheriff's Office K-9 units from 30 law enforcement agencies in four different states. During that time, he also took on an instructor role for civilian dog obedience classes for Ocean City Parks and Recreation from 1984 to 2000. “After getting hired by Ocean City Recreation Department, a K-9 position opened up and I was chosen," said Healy. "A few years later, I got state certified as a K-9 instructor and was also asked by the Ocean City Recreation Department to teach civilian classes on my evenings off.”
Shortly thereafter, Healy spent two years from 2004-2006 as a certified explosive detector K-9 trainer in Baghdad, Iraq, overseeing 100 detector dogs detailed to the United States Army. He has since resumed offering civilian dog obedience classes through the MCC, Arlington County Parks and Recreation, and Providence Community Center while simultaneously running his own obedience business, Dog Solve, LLC.
By Kyle Corwin
It’s been said that it’s all about the journey and not the destination. That’s exactly the way Sports Instructor Justin Nguyen approaches his role with the McLean Community Center. Leading First Strike soccer classes for children ages 2-5, Nguyen has found a way to channel the passion he has for teaching – the same passion he’s had since he was 19. “My best friend was teaching at the time at Spring Hill ReCenter,” he said, “and I thought it would be awesome to teach with him because I loved sports. I quickly realized that working with kids was the best job in the world and super rewarding. I never looked back!”
Nguyen oversees both the Minis Club and the Kids Club soccer classes at MCC, and he will be the first to tell you it’s a far cry from running a daycare. “I get to work with kids as young as two, and trying to figure them out is probably the most challenging and fun part of teaching here at MCC. Sometimes my lesson plans work, and sometimes I throw them out, which is great because I am always learning from my students.” Learning from and interacting with special people is what Nguyen appreciates most about working at the center. “What I love about MCC are the families that I come in contact with. The bonds shared between the young students in the class and interactions between the family members is great!”
Currently in his second year with MCC, Nguyen graduated from nearby George Mason University and serves as the Creative Director of JST Athletics and Dance, LLC, a youth sports and dance instruction company. “I've taught hip-hop dance for as long as I've been teaching sports,” noted Nguyen. “It’s the other passion of mine.”
The second of four children, Nguyen credits his parents for encouraging him to do what he does daily. “[My parents] have always provided me with the opportunity to chase my dreams growing up,” he said. One of his lifelong goals is to be able to provide free sports and dance classes and camps for kids.
By Kyle Corwin
At 21, Quentin MacClean Levin (yes, that’s really his middle name) may be the youngest instructor to have created, and then taught, a class at MCC. His popular Technology Tutoring Workshops teach seniors how to connect with the ever-changing world of technology. “The best part of every class is the look on a participant’s face when he or she is able to FaceTime with a faraway relative for the first time,” he said.
Starting in 2015, while still in high school, Levin served as a youth member of the MCC Governing Board representing students in the Langley High School boundary area. He was the first teen board member to be elected as an officer and member of the Executive Committee. Now a political science major in college, he’s interned at the U.S. House of Representatives and the BBC and he volunteers for D.C. Special Olympics.
After serving two terms on the MCC Board, he established the workshop because he wanted to stay involved in the community while in college. “MCC’s programming provides equal opportunities for everyone in our community to explore their passions, pursue their interests and strengthen the bonds that unite us.”
While caring for his aging grandfather, Levin discovered that physical mobility was not the only factor that could limit a person’s opportunities. “I realized technology is increasingly a barrier to equal access. The growing digital-skills gap hampers socioeconomic mobility, makes it harder to stay connected with distant relatives and complicates our daily lives,” he said. “Our workshop aims to ameliorate this gap by empowering seniors with key technological skills in a collaborative and fun environment.”
By Sabrina Anwah
Chef John Bauhs
Culinary Arts Instructor
For some, cooking feels like climbing Mount Everest but for MCC Culinary Arts Instructor Chef John Bauhs, “cooking life” is a fantastic voyage. That voyage includes the far reaches of our globe, including Antarctica, Bangladesh, Cuba and Norway. Bauhs served for four months at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica (2011-2012), and recently completed a trip to northern Norway where he explored Arctic geography, the people of the Arctic and their delicious food—all under a 24-hour sun! He also visited the southern village where his grandmother was born.
A native of Portage, Wis., he received a bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. After a successful business career, he toured nationally as a professional drummer with bands such as The Useless Playboys of Richmond, Va. Today, the band’s lead singer, Mike Geier, is better known as Puddles the Clown (Puddles Pity Party). After leaving the road, Bauhs graduated from culinary school and began his worldwide cooking voyage. He said he has been honored to teach at MCC for 15 years and “For people of all ages, learning love for food is so vital, so important.”
In recent years, he has received public safety training and is currently a member of the Community Emergency Response Team for Montgomery County, Md. He is a certified CPR and First Aid instructor and deploys to countries and territories that have experienced disasters as part of a team. “Being able to provide a warm meal to people who are experiencing a need has added a deeper meaning to what I do professionally,” he said. “I teach to continue the gift of love for food passed to me by my grandparents and to share that passion with a new generation of cooks.”
By Sabrina Anwah
President/Co-founder of Funfit® Family Fitness
Celia Kibler has offered the Funfit® Tots program at MCC for more than 20 years. Funfit® is a full-of-fun fitness class for children with music, active games and play that keeps toddlers engaged. It enhances cognitive and physical developmental skills that toddlers need to grow healthy and strong.
Kibler said her passion has always been children and their need for happy, fun and empowering childhoods. After enduring a childhood physical ailment, she said, “I decided my journey would be one of teaching and helping kids.” She earned a B.S. degree in Human Ecology and Education from the University of Maryland and holds certifications in nutrition, personal training and yoga instruction.
In 1987, when she and her sister, Maddi Cheers, decided to start Funfit®, their goal was to create a program where all children could participate regardless of their gender, skill level or abilities, have fun and gain a love for physical fitness. Partnering with the expertise of a pediatric cardiologist, an orthopedic surgeon, a childhood education specialist and a speech pathologist, they created the program and it has now been offered all around the metro area for more than 30 years.
A mother of five and grandmother of seven, Kibler says her family “fills my life with daily joy and happiness.” Not surprisingly then, she has recently become a Parenting/Family Empowerment Coach and offers coaching to help parent/caregiver/child relationships. She also continues to teach Funfit® classes. “Honestly, there is nothing better than walking into a Funfit class and having a group of toddlers just run up to you and smother you with hugs and kisses,” she said. “There is no more rewarding job out there.”
By Sabrina Anwah
Body/Moves Fitness, LLC
Students who sign up for MCC’s Yoga Sculpt & Strength or Yoga + Pilates classes are often seeking ways to improve their health and fitness. Years ago, while dealing with serious health issues, class instructor Heidi Himmelberg was seeking the same for herself, and as a result, discovered a new focus and career.
“For people who don’t know me well, it might not be apparent what it took to get me here. I have come from a place of severe physical limitations, which required serious treatments over many years,” said Himmelberg. While dealing with her illness, she discovered mind/body protocols and used them to improve her well-being and quality of life. “To me, this reflects the profound power of self-care through Pilates and Yoga and gives extra meaning to my work.”
In addition to holding a bachelor’s degree in English from the Universi-ty of Mary Washington and a master’s degree in Communication from George Mason University, Himmelberg is a Yoga Education Institute Certified Instructor, with more than 300 hours of training in Pranashama Vinyasa Yoga and Core Strength Vinyasa. She’s also completed course-work in Anatomy, Meditation and Myofascial Self Care. An animal enthusiast, she and her husband are the proud parents of a Chow Chow named Teddy Bear and they’ve “adopted” two orangutans.
For more than two years, Himmelberg has served as the Lead Instructor for BodyMoves Fitness at MCC. “We have received tremendous posi-tive support from students, who take time to write glowing evaluations, and it really makes our instructors feel great knowing we are truly helping students feel better in their bodies,” she said.
By Sabrina Anwah
Joy of Dance
Instructor Allie O’Hare, or “Miss Allie” as she is known, brings dedication, energy and enthusiasm to her work with young dancers-in-training at MCC. Joy of Dance director Marilyn Baird, parents, students and Center staff have all been delighted to work with O’Hare for the last seven years
O’Hare earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Dance and Choreography from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2007. After performing professionally, including with the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, she decided to try teaching. “I had no idea how much I would fall in love with it,” she said. “I get to share my love for the art with all of my students and at the same time, I learn so much from them.”
At MCC, she teaches a wide array of classes, including Pre-Primary I and II, Combination I, II and IV, Junior Company, Senior Company, Ballet, Tap, Jazz, Hip-Hop and Contemporary. “I love the sense of community, the staff and the atmosphere at MCC. All the families I work with are amazing and make me feel appreciated and loved. There is never a dull moment when I’m at work. My students never fail to make me laugh and touch my heart with their sweet little souls every day," she said.
In her free time, O’Hare enjoys spending time with her family. She describes her mother and father as her biggest supporters and her brother and sister have provided her with her favorite “role” thus far --- that of doting aunt to several nieces and nephews.
By Sabrina Anwah
Our youngest and most precious patrons need no introduction to “Ms. Patti,” as Patti Papworth has been teaching Music Together at MCC since 2003.
A native of Salem, Ore., Papworth is one of seven children. She has been performing since she was eight years old and holds a B.A. degree in Vocal Performance from Utah State University.
Says Papworth, “I think the most powerful thing about teaching is seeing how kids learn and grow. I have always had music in my life and I also have a deep love for children, so when I came across this program, I knew it was a perfect fit for me. It’s amazing anytime I run into parents who give an update on their children—that they are now playing instruments or are involved in music programs—those are happy moments.”
Her involvement in music is not limited to teaching at MCC. She has a private piano studio and directs a regional, 60-member church choir. In her free time, she enjoys being outside, playing piano, cooking and helping people with interior design and staging.
Papworth says MCC is a wonderful gathering place that fosters friendships and understanding. “I love how it brings all cultures and lifestyles together. I have classes where every child or adult is from a different area of the world. It adds so much to our experience to be able to enjoy and learn from each other.”
By Sabrina Anwah
Learning how to express oneself in writing has proven to be an isolated quest for many a would-be novelist. Thanks to MCC Writing Instructor D.A. Spruzen (aka Dorothy Hassan), these writers can now have the support of an experienced companion and coach to help them on their journey to publication.
A native of London, U.K., Spruzen graduated from the London College of Dance and Drama Education, and earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte. Author of a historical novel, "The Blitz Business," a poetry collection, "Long in the Tooth," and "Crossroads: Two Novellas," as well as two novels in the Flower Ladies Trilogy - "Not One of Us" and "Lily Takes the Field," Spruzen knows firsthand the myriad issues facing writers.
For five years, she has taught courses to help grow fledgling writers: Getting Started (on the basics of creative writing), Word Portraits (on deepening character and setting) and Fine Tuning (a critique workshop). "I have always loved teaching and very much enjoy seeing my students' growth and their satisfaction in making progress," she said. "At MCC, the environment is collegial and the facilities are well-maintained and conducive to learning."
In her spare time, Spruzen says she enjoys spending time with her family, taking art classes, cuddling with her King Charles spaniel, Sam, and working on her flower garden. "I love flowers! I keep orchids, African violets and other plants in my family room, and the vase always has cut flowers whether from my garden or from the store."
By Sabrina Anwah