10 things you didn’t know about Grassroots' executive director

For Howard Magazine

Ayesha Bajwa Holmes, 47, took the helm of the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center in February after operating a human services consulting company from her home. Born in Pakistan, she and her husband, Michael, have a 6-year-old son and live on the Howard County side of Sykesville.

She recently discussed some of her personal interests with us, such as cooking with red lentils and reading books on American presidents.

1. She came to Maryland on July 4, 1976.

At age 6, Bajwa Holmes arrived in the Free State with her parents and younger sister Kamila on the U.S. Bicentennial celebration after immigrating from Pakistan the previous year and living in various places. She watched spellbound that night as fireworks lit up the skies near the White House. The family settled in Prince George’s County, where she grew up.

2. Bright colors fill her home.

Interesting patterns and vivid colors play a large role in her interior design aesthetic, and she incorporates lots of sunny yellow into her decor.

“When you’re celebrating life, you bring in lots of light and color,” she explains.

3. Sylvia Plath is her favorite author.

Bajwa Holmes became interested in Plath in a women’s studies class at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, from which she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1993. She has read and re-read “The Bell Jar,” the emotional telling of a young woman’s breakdown and steps toward recovery.

She is working her way through the biographies of American presidents “to learn what leadership means.”

4. She identifies with “The Starfish.”

In the 1990s, Bajwa Holmes was introduced to a proverb about a young man who comes upon an old man on a beach tossing starfish back into the sea. When the young man says the small gesture will have no impact, the old man says his actions do matter — to each of the starfish.

“This poem has helped me when I wonder if I’m making a difference,” she says.

5. Hot coffee is an addiction.

She drinks three cups a day of Eight O’Clock Coffee with French vanilla creamer. She indulges in a peppermint mocha espresso on occasion, a flavor combination of hot chocolate and coffee she craves.

6. Her comfort-food recipe is a labor of love.

After soaking red lentils overnight, Bajwa Holmes adds them to a homemade broth that is served over basmati rice. The cook must return frequently to the stove to stir the pot, adding water when needed to get the right consistency. Coriander, cumin, ginger, garlic and turmeric are added to the concoction to create an aromatic and healthy meal.

“If you’re catching a cold, this is my version of chicken soup,” she says.

7. She and her son have a special play group.

Bajwa Holmes and four colleagues were pregnant at the same time when she was a supervisor at Maryland Choices, a nonprofit care management organization. Dubbed the Fabulous Five in utero, the babies were renamed the Fabulous Six after one woman delivered twins. The five boys and one girl share “a level of connection” the moms hope will last a lifetime, she says.

8. London is a top destination.

As a teen, she spent three summers in England with her grandparents, who had left Pakistan at the same time her family did but remained in London instead of continuing on to America. Although she deems the country too expensive for permanent residency, it’s her favorite place to vacation.

9. Hiking is a family activity.

When the mood strikes, the Holmes clan takes to the trails, often at Cunningham Falls State Park in Frederick County or Great Falls Park in Virginia. Hiking is the perfect way to spend time outdoors as a family, she says.

10. She wants to retire in Portland.

The largest city in Oregon is “never hot and never cold” since it lies in a valley surrounded by mountains, Bajwa Holmes says. Equally as attractive as its climate are its friendly people, judgment-free vibe, great food and walkability. Her husband has already signaled his approval of her wish to retire there.

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