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ParentMap's 2014 Superheroes!

Our annual issue of champions for Washington families

Published on: March 27, 2014

What is the magic ingredient that makes a hero? Why do some kids grow up to become the champions of a new generation? Can we clone the amazing people who spend their lives improving the world for families and children?!

We still can’t bottle that special Superhero juice and pass it out for free, but after getting to know this year’s crop of Superheroes, we have a pretty good idea of what it takes to grow a leader: mentors and teachers who spend the time to encourage a child; supportive communities; parents who help fuel their kids’ dreams.

All our Superheroes were inspired to enhance the lives of children and families in Washington state and beyond, from pioneering baby-brain researchers to a poet mentor, from a truth-speaking educator to a philanthropist who has spent half a century pursuing justice for others. And so many more. Superheroes, we salute you!

Meet our 2014 Superheroes

  • Kay Bullitt — The Philanthropist
  • Daemond Arrindell — The Poet
  • Erin Jones — The Educator
  • Mary Jean Ryan — The Game Changer
  • Jennifer Karls and Sarah Butcher — The Advocates
  • Tavio Hobson — The Mentor
  • Paul Shoemaker — The Social Visionary
  • Kim Bogucki + Kathlyn Horan — The Eye-Openers
  • Leslie Walker, M.D. — The Healer
  • Pat Kuhl, Ph.D., and Andy Meltzoff, Ph.D. — The Scientists
  • The kids of Eastside Catholic — The Student Activists
  • Melinda Giovengo — The Champion

Kay Bullitt

The Philanthropist: Kay Bullitt

Education reformer, civil rights and peace activist, historic preservationist, philanthropist

A Puget Sound–area heroine and institution in her own right, Bullitt, a member of the well-known Bullitt clan of community activists and philanthropists, has worked for decades in the areas of social justice, peace, historic preservation, education reform and civic activism.

She helped found Bumbershoot, restore Pioneer Square, organize antinuclear protests, and desegregate Seattle’s schools in the 1970s by organizing the Coalition for Quality Integrated Education. She was born in Boston in 1925 and raised in Arlington, Mass., before attending Harvard, then coming to Seattle in 1953. She is a mother of six and has won many awards for her work, including the United Nations Human Rights Prize.

Bullitt is also known for hosting Wednesday-evening picnics every July for five decades on her Capitol Hill lawn in Seattle. Sometimes hundreds of people come to spread out blankets and eat a community dinner while gaggles of children play.

“Instead of putting the kids in the back of the car and take them all to pursue their different interests, I thought if I wanted to honor their interests, I’d have to have something here,” Bullitt says matter-of-factly.

“I’ve learned by example more than anybody telling me anything. I’ve always just figured out what situation I am in and what I needed to do about it,” she says of her approach to life.

“Like many Seattleites, Kay cares passionately about poverty, injustice, war and environmental degradation. But for her, these are not abstractions,” says Denis Hayes, president and CEO of the Bullitt Foundation. “For Kay, problems are always personified by actual human beings who need help. And she does everything she can to help them all. She opens her house and her heart to the needy of the community.”

The years have helped Bullitt perfect a calming, guiding wisdom that she applies to all she does. As she says in an oral history for the University of Washington’s Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project: “If you just take a little initiative, sometimes it solves the problem.”

Who is your personal hero?

Eleanor Roosevelt. She had many obstacles in her life and she got around them.

What one thing did an adult or mentor do for you as a child that helped you succeed or become the person you are?

My mother. She was dean for women at Colorado College and got married and had children. It showed me that you can do both: a family and a career. Not many people had that model back then.

What was a turning point in your life?

I had been teaching 9- and 10-year-olds and I was just impressed with how able they were, and I thought that they should be more a part of the community [and have more opportunities]. I thought I should take a year off and go around the country [and connect with youth and their issues]. And I did.

How can we inspire today’s youth to pursue their biggest dreams?

They have to believe in the thing that’s important to them and be willing to take a little rough time in order to stay with it. We can help them not to be discouraged.

— Natalie Singer-Velush

Daemond Arrindell

The Poet: Daemond Arrindell

Faculty member, Freehold Theatre; writer-in-residence, Seattle Arts & Lectures’ Writers in the Schools program

Poet, performer and teacher Daemond Arrindell didn’t write a poem until his senior year of high school. Prior to that, “The writing I got exposed to was a lot of old dead white guys talking about nature, and I didn’t relate to it,” he recalls.

But he already understood the power of poetry in action. At age 10, he’d seen the movie Back to School, in which Rodney Dangerfield, playing a middle-age businessman who decides to get his college degree, recites Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.”

“Before it was just words on a page, and it was very static. Through performance, there was passion, there was rhythm, and it had more meaning,” Arrindell says.

These days, as a self-described “teaching artist,” Arrindell aims to bring that same passion for poetry and theater to his young students at Seattle-area schools and to male prisoners at Monroe Correctional Complex. He coached the Seattle Poetry Slam team for seven years, and in 2012, he taught Seattle University’s first course in slam poetry.

“I’ve always loved teaching,” says Arrindell, who grew up emulating his mom, a teacher, by coaching swimming and lending a hand in her classrooms. Today, he motivates his students with a simple mantra: “‘We all have a story to share.’ And that story has value. And sharing that work is informing that value; it’s saying, ‘I have something to say, and my story means something.’”

Robin Lynn Smith, artistic director of Freehold Theatre, praises this approach. “Daemond meets each student where they are — no matter what their age, context, circumstances — and showers true respect and encouragement on them,” she says.

Arrindell also carves out time for his own creative work, because “I can’t legitimately ask my students to take those risks and not be willing to take them myself. I have to put up or shut up.”

Who is your personal hero?

J.T. is a guy that has been with us for the last four years in the prison program, and he got released a couple of months ago. He’s incredibly eloquent, and I’ve watched him grow immensely in the years that we’ve worked with him.

What is one thing an adult or mentor did for you as a child that helped you succeed or become the person you are?

My junior year of high school, my English teacher was Mr. Pasinkoff. He reminded me of Robin Williams in Dead Poets’ Society because he was so passionate about not just the literature that he was sharing with us, but about his students, too . . . and he was really into the Socratic method: He’d ask you a question and keep pushing and keep digging. Never in the sense of trying to embarrass you, but trying to show you that you knew something. And when he got to that point, he’d run over to the wall and turn the lights off and say, “Moment of silence for that brilliant thought!” Allowing himself to be moved, to be physically moved, by art and by other people — that was really powerful.

How can we inspire today’s youth to pursue their biggest dreams?

Kids are talked at, instead of talked to. There’s a very big difference. Being talked at is the “sit down and shut up” mentality: “I have information, and you need to sit there and listen.” Being talked to is “Let’s have a dialogue,” which is how I strive to teach.

How do you take your coffee?

With cream and sugar. Caffeine has no effect on me whatsoever.

— Mia Lipman

Erin Jones

The Educator: Erin Jones

Director of academic acceleration for Tacoma Public Schools

Erin Jones stands tall, her 6-foot height accentuated by the 3-inch heels she wears and the bountiful Afro she sports.

“I want to be seen,” she says. “As a young girl, people were always staring at me, so I decided to embrace it.”

The proud owner of 200 pairs of shoes, most purchased at Goodwill and none costing more than $15, Jones believes everyone has a right to be seen — and heard.

For years, she’s been on a crusade for educational equity, most recently as director of equity and achievement for the Federal Way School District. This spring she assumes her role as director of academic acceleration for Tacoma Public Schools, a district for which she has been a teacher and a basketball coach. She also served three years as assistant state superintendent for student achievement in Washington state.

In 2008, the Milken Family Foundation honored her as the 2007 Washington State Educator of the Year. In 2013, she was named a White House Champion of Change.

“I’m not what you think I am,” Jones is fond of telling audiences, members of which sometimes take in her high heels and elegant suits (most of these are also purchased secondhand) and assume a life of privilege.

Born in Minnesota, the product of an out-of-wedlock, interracial relationship, Jones was adopted by a white couple. She was the only African American in her county.

The family moved to the Netherlands, where her parents worked as teachers, and Jones attended the American School of The Hague. Her classmates were rich and famous and advantaged. Although she was none of these, Jones was determined to make her mark.

A driven student and a multisport varsity athlete — though basketball was and remains her passion — Jones says there was never anything she felt she couldn’t accomplish once she set her mind to it.

Now she’s blazing a trail in education, on a path that she says may one day lead her to become the U.S. secretary of education.

“The challenge in education is that we are always reacting, rather than thinking ahead,” says the ever determined Jones. “I don’t understand why we wait so long.”

Who is your personal hero?

My mom, because she has enabled me to do what I do and because she is my best friend. Also, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

What one thing did an adult or mentor do for you as a child that helped you succeed or become the person you are?

I was surrounded by adults who believed in me.

What was a turning point in your life?

At 9, I decided I would change the world after I met John Denver and an Iranian princess. I realized that though I wasn’t famous like them, I still had the power to make a difference. At 19, while playing basketball in Philadelphia, I realized the people I was playing with had not been lucky enough to have the same incredible education I had. That’s when I realized how I would change the world.

How can we inspire today’s youth to pursue their biggest dreams?

I think it’s important to let kids know that they are beautiful and talented.

How do you take your coffee?

I don’t like coffee, but I like coffee candy.

— Alison Krupnick

Mary Jean Ryan

The Game Changer: Mary Jean Ryan

Executive director, Community Center for Education Results (CCER)

Mary Jean Ryan was the first female student to win a volleyball scholarship to Georgetown University, thanks to the landmark Title IX law calling for gender equity in education.

The product of Catholic school on Chicago’s South Side, home to many first-generation immigrants, Ryan became a champion of equal opportunity. Early in her career, she served as economic development director for the city of Seattle.

“I was always interested in social justice,” Ryan says. “I began to realize that the people I cared most about were not benefiting from the jobs we were creating.”

That’s where the link between education and economic opportunity became clear to her. Ryan helped found the Seattle Jobs Initiative, which provided adult job training. But she realized that for education to have an impact, intervention needed to happen at an earlier age.

Inspired by Cincinnati’s Strive (a cradle-to-career education framework for communities that focuses on collaborative action), Ryan founded the nonprofit Community Center for Education Results (CCER) in 2010. She also launched the Road Map Project, a community effort to improve education outcomes in South King County and South Seattle, a high-poverty region serving 120,000 students, many from low-income and minority families.

The goal: to double the number of that region’s students on track to graduate from college or earn a career credential by 2020.

The project team includes hundreds of individuals and organizations that share a common goal.

Ryan is convinced that their collective impact is a game changer.

“I’m a big believer in team. If you are going to make headway on a big challenge, one entity can’t do it alone.

When leaders feel they have the support to move boulders, it enables them to push harder.”

Who is your personal hero?

The Harlem Children’s Zone’s Geoffrey Canada; Kati Haycock, from The Education Trust; and my mother.

What one thing did an adult or mentor do for you as a child that helped you succeed or become the person you are?

From 1970–71, I had an extraordinary seventh-grade teacher, Mr. Allan Dressel. It was a hot time in the U.S. He ignited so many of us around issues of social justice, fairness, the power of the public sector to do good, and the need to be wary of power and alert to corruption. He made me believe that public service was the way for me to make my best contributions.

What was a turning point in your life?

Winning the big volleyball game of my life: Georgetown against Penn State, a team we had never beaten, in the regional semifinals.

How can we inspire today’s youth to pursue their biggest dreams?

Kids have so much more intelligence, talent and creativity than we assume. Systems are set up as if kids are empty vessels and we adults will fill them up with our wisdom. There is so much we can do by taking them seriously as individuals, setting high expectations, supporting their potential and encouraging them to work hard.

How do you take your coffee?

Often, and in a large cup.

— Alison Krupnick

Jennifer Karls + Sarah Butcher

The Advocates: Jennifer Karls and Sarah Butcher

President (Karls) and vice president (Butcher) of advocacy, Bellevue Special Needs PTA

Sarah Butcher and Jennifer Karls know firsthand that avenues of support and advocacy for parents of children with learning disabilities can be difficult to find.

“From the beginning, it became clear that things were different than the path I had anticipated,” says Karls. “Instead of taking my child to playdates, it was therapies.”

Nor is either woman a stranger to the sense of frustrating isolation that parents of children with special needs often face.

“There is an intense feeling of aloneness,” says Butcher. “When my son first began school, I was consumed with the task of trying to get this really wonderful kid, who didn’t feel like he fit anywhere, to fit in.”

Karls, Butcher and a group of parents started the Bellevue Special Needs PTA in May 2012 to give parents of children with special needs a place where they could find support to navigate challenges.

“We are a volunteer-driven organization of parents and teachers,” explains Karls.

“Our work isn’t just about advocating for special needs children, but for all kids.”

Karls and Butcher have proven to be very effective advocates, successfully submitting a proposal to the Washington State PTA to advance social emotional learning (SEL) standards for grades K–12.

“If we give kids the tools to understand and manage their emotions, they perform better academically, socially . . . the effects are far-reaching,” says Butcher.

The Bellevue Special Needs PTA has also supported the Public School Employees Union in creating a paraeducator development bill. In Washington state, more than 50 percent of special education instruction is given by paraeducators, many of whom have little to no training.

Stacy Gillett, executive director of the Washington State Office of the Education Ombuds, lauds the contribution that Karls and Butcher have made through their work. “They are the ultimate grassroots moms, giving all children a voice.”

Who is your personal hero?

Karls: My daughter. Every day is hard for her, yet she is happy and she powers through. She makes me a better person.

Butcher: My kids, for the same reasons. Also all of those parents who are walking that hard path now and those who have walked it already.

What one thing did an adult or mentor do for you as a child that helped you succeed or become the person you are?

Butcher: I spent seven years of my childhood in Memphis — I was shy, pretty quiet and didn’t always fit in. The pastor there, Father Atkinson, helped me to find my voice.

Karls: My parents, who never passed judgment and allowed me space to pave my own way. My mother was an advocate in our small town for improving schools.

What was a turning point in your life?

Butcher: I had a year of crisis. My second-grader began saying, “I am so stupid,” and my kindergartner was dealing with extreme anxiety. It was a difficult year, but it propelled me down this path to advocate not only for my children, but for all families that find themselves facing similar challenges.

Karls: When teachers at my daughter’s school told us she may never learn to read, but there was no real effort to teach her to read. I wasn’t going to let that happen to her and her classmates.

How can we inspire today’s youth to pursue their biggest dreams?

Butcher: By equipping children with social emotional skills — teaching them to recognize feelings, stress or anxiety in themselves and giving them the tools to handle those emotions.

Karls: That it’s OK to advocate for what you need.

How do you take your coffee?

Butcher: Soy latte all the way! If it is a rough day, throw a little caramel sauce on it.

Karls: Cream and sugar.

— Rory Graves

Tavio Hobson

The Mentor: Tavio Hobson

Founder and executive director, A PLUS Youth Program

Tavio Hobson founded A PLUS Youth Program five years ago with a “student first, athlete second” mission informed by his own experience growing up playing basketball in inner-city Seattle. “I never had a pair of Jordans growing up, but I had a private education, because my parents really valued what a good education would do for my life.”

He saw that many of his peers did not have the same opportunity, so when he returned to Seattle after college, he was inspired to work with young student-athletes to motivate connection to their educational potential through their passion for sports.

Hobson’s vision for A PLUS has expanded dramatically from its hopeful pilot roots, and the program today serves 180 youth (both boys and girls) from fourth grade all the way through high school.

“Kids from inner-city Seattle come to us because they are interested in playing sports, but that is not the purpose of the program,” he says. “The purpose is to help guide them along the path of life so that far after their sports career is done, they’ll have productive, successful lives. Sports is just the hook.”

Hobson credits the mentor support aspect of the A PLUS team-based program model as the critical success factor that helps kids develop an interdependent relationship between athletic and academic achievement. (Players must maintain a 2.5 grade point average or higher to be eligible to compete in A PLUS team and individual competitions.)

“We ask our kids to go to academic tutoring three days a week, we ask them to participate in 140 hours of mentoring and life skills development every year. It is intense,” Hobson explains. “The relationship with their mentor is what keeps them engaged.”

A PLUS Youth Program education director Chris Endsley reveres his colleague. “Tavio is an agent of change, a dream facilitator, a cultural architect, a rock star to the 206, and he is making an enormous difference in the lives of many, young and old.”

Tavio HobsonWho is your personal hero?

My grandfather is the most resilient person I know. He just turned 97. He was a longshoreman for over 30 years, had seven kids. He is a great example of what it really means to be a role model, what it means to take care of your family, and he paved the way for me to be where I am.

What one thing did an adult or mentor do for you as a child that helped you succeed or become the person you are?

When I was in eighth grade at St. Joseph School, principal George Hofbauer brought me into his office for a conversation about how important it was for me to take advantage of my educational opportunity. I still remember the inflection in his voice when he told me that I needed to make sure to embrace not just the struggle of being a person of color, but also the sheer responsibility of being someone who could help others by choosing to march on an unbeaten path.

What was a turning point in your life?

I was a sophomore in high school, and my basketball team had just won the state championship. I was having a conversation with someone in the gym about how I couldn’t wait to get to the NBA. My father overheard me, and he took me aside and said, “Son, basketball is going to take you a lot of places and bring you a lot of opportunities, but what you are destined to do has nothing to do with making it to the NBA. I’ve seen what happens to kids when they live on that hope, and it doesn’t happen.” It was the dose of reality I needed.

How do you order your coffee?

A shot in the dark: an espresso shot in black coffee. Or a grande soy caramel macchiato.

— Patty Lindley

Paul Shoemaker

The Social Visionary: Paul Shoemaker

Founding president and executive connector, Social Venture Partners

Paul Shoemaker has had the “profound and humbling privilege” to work with hundreds of individuals and organizations worldwide to change the world for the better. Since 1998, Shoemaker’s leadership position at Seattle’s Social Venture Partners (SVP) has guided nonprofits to more effectively fight poverty and family homelessness, address climate change and improve the quality of education. SVP identifies nonprofits poised for growth, and engages its partners (the P in SVP) to roll up their sleeves and dig in to muscle up the orgs with their expertise and investments.

Andrea Wenet, director of corporate partnerships for Ashoka Seattle (and my twin sister), says, “Paul Shoemaker’s title, executive connector, underscores his raison d’être. Paul singlehandedly changes the world at an exponential rate, with zero degrees of separation between someone’s change-the-world vision and Paul’s connector superpowers.”

Some of SVP’s most noted successes include having an impact on kids and families by providing pediatric therapy services for children ages newborn to 18 who have a wide variety of developmental delays and disabilities; and by providing quality multicultural early childhood education to children and their families.

There are now SVP groups established or getting off the ground in 34 cities and 7 countries around the world.

“Once someone joins, the most meaningful experience is rolling up their sleeves and using their strategic volunteer skills with a nonprofit in the community,” Shoemaker says. “There is so much given and so much learned. A great two-way street.”

Who is your personal hero?

Martin Luther King Jr., then Churchill.

What one thing did an adult or mentor do for you as a child that helped you succeed or become the person you are?

My first boss out of business school asked me questions all the time, rather than give me answers. It drove me nuts at first, but then I realized how much it made me learn to think better and for myself.

What was a turning point in your life?

Getting married a little too early to the 100 percent right girl.

How can we inspire today’s youth to pursue their biggest dreams?

To be honest, I think the current generation “gets it” better than we did. They have a social conscience, care about their community as much or more than my generation did. The only thing they lack is experience. Other than that, they are smarter, have more energy and are more daring. They can do way more if we give them the opportunity at younger ages.

How do you take your coffee?

I hardly ever drink it. Me plus coffee equals overstimulated!

— Alayne Sulkin

the If Project

The Eye-Openers: Kim Bogucki and Kathlyn Horan

Cofounders, The IF Project

When Seattle police detective Kim Bogucki walked into the room of female inmates at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), she didn’t know what to expect. “I was like, am I gonna get shanked? I’d been watching too much reality TV, like Locked Up,” Bogucki says, laughing.

As a detective assigned to the Community Outreach Unit, Bogucki was contacted by Girl Scouts Beyond Bars, a division of Girl Scouts in which troops are composed of girls whose mothers are in jail, and asked to work with their troops. Because Bogucki was the first police officer involved in the program, she wanted to meet the moms of the girls.

What she found that day at WCCW surprised her. She remembers thinking, “Hey, these women look like you or me; people I would hang out with.”

It was then that she asked the women a single, powerful question: “If there was something someone could have said or done that would have changed the path that led you here, what would it have been?”

Bogucki didn’t get any answers that day, but two months later, when she returned, an inmate named Renata handed her a stack of papers. Renata had gone around the facility asking women to write down an answer to the question. On those papers were 25 stories written by the female prisoners.

“I can’t even explain the energy on those papers. It was raw, emotional. These papers came from a selfless place, with the intent of helping kids not follow in their footsteps,” Bogucki recalls.

The If Project was founded. Horan soon got involved, interviewing inmates for short films used in project presentations and workshops. She is also working on a full-length documentary.

The project now has 3,000 handwritten answers to the “If” question from inmates. Active in five counties in Washington state, this unique program is also being replicated in other states. In addition to writing workshops for inmates, The If Project hosts programs for at-risk youth, bringing them inmate stories and asking kids what someone could do, today, to change their path. It also helps inmates with rehabilitation and re-entry.

“The more we recognize them as people, the more we will support funding and resources that provide real help,” Horan says.

“At the end of the workshop, we give kids a silver bracelet,” Bogucki says. “We tell them: ‘This is the only silver bracelet we want to see around your wrist, not a set of handcuffs.’”

Who is your personal hero?

Bogucki: My grandma. She’s 94 and still drives to assisted living to visit people just to cheer them up.

Horan: Kim Bogucki.

What one thing did an adult or mentor do for you as a child that helped you succeed or become the person you are?

Bogucki: Two PE teachers in junior high. Bruce Brown gave me my first pair of leather high tops when I couldn’t afford them. He encouraged me to play basketball, which became my outlet. I later went on to play college ball. Then there was Dana Allen. She listened to me.

What was a turning point in your life?

Horan: The first meeting we had at the Washington Correction Center for Women for The IF Project was a turning point for me. We thought this would be a much shorter project, one we would finish in a few months. Now here we are, nearly six years later, still working together, and [we] have seen the project really make a difference in people’s lives.

How can we inspire today’s youth to follow their dreams?

Bogucki: Step out of ourselves and our busy lives and take a look at the youth around us and see what they need. Be consistent; they need to feel that you will be there. It might just be a kind word or buying a pair of basketball shoes for a kid who can’t afford them.

How do you take your coffee?

Bogucki: There are double-shot days and quad days. A friend once told me to never order a triple shot because one of the shots just gets thrown out. Go big or go home!

Horan: Strong and often.

— Tiffany Doerr Guerzon

Leslie Walker

The Healer: Leslie Walker, M.D.

Chief of Adolescent Medicine, Seattle Children’s Hospital; professor of pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine

Leslie Walker wears more hats in a day than most of us will in a lifetime. When she sits down to chat one afternoon at Seattle Children’s Hospital — where she researches and treats teen issues “from obesity to substance abuse to eating disorders to school refusal” — Walker is finishing up a quick bite between appointments. She’s already been to Olympia for a meeting, and she had another by phone on the way back.

Walker, mom to a 21-year-old daughter, also sees patients, supervises medical fellows, teaches at UW, works with the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine and sits on numerous committees and boards, all with a singular purpose: to help young people take care of themselves.

She values the level of medical attention focused on early childhood, Walker says, but “I think we lack energy around [continuing] that intensity in adolescence and young adulthood, when we really see people being able to take charge of their own lives.” In addition to scant medical resources, parents must overcome plenty of resistance — their own and their kids’ — when it comes to educating teens about risky behaviors.

“It’s not natural for a lot of parents to talk about something like [sex], so intimate and so personal,” Walker explains. “And it’s not natural for the kids to sit and say, ‘Mom, talk to me about sex.’ But kids need to know what their parents believe.”

Step one for parents, she says, is to be open with your kids about what you think. Parents are “the single most important influence on whether or not kids do drugs, get mental health care, continue in school or have early sexual initiation.”

“Every day, I am happy that Leslie is our boss and advocate,” says Mavis Bonnar, manager of Country Doctor Free Teen Clinic, who was trained by Seattle Children’s and works closely with Walker. “[She] is an exceptional leader, physician and person.”

Asked to name her own heroes, Walker points to the kids who seek out help from Seattle Children’s Adolescent Medicine clinic. “All day they hear, ‘You’re nothing. You don’t count at school. You don’t count at home. We don’t want you on the streets.’ These kids get up in the morning, they get their clothes on, and they come here hoping that somebody can tell them something different.”

We know that Leslie Walker will.

What one thing did an adult or mentor do for you as a child that helped you succeed or become the person you are?

My middle school asked me to host the doctor that came for Career Day. I was asking him all these questions, and there was one [answer] I always kept. He said: “Don’t worry about your grades, don’t worry about anything. Just go day by day meeting each challenge as you see it, and you’ll get there eventually.”

What was a turning point in your life?

When I had my daughter. Because I’m a very impatient person, and you can’t make them walk the day after they’re born, you can’t make them talk to you. You have to just wait. I learned a level of patience that I think helps me today.

How can we inspire today’s youth to pursue their biggest dreams?

By giving them responsibility, giving them things to do — and empowerment to change the world.

How do you take your coffee?

I don’t drink coffee. I will drink herbal tea sometimes, but I’m really a water person.

— Mia Lipman

Pat Kuhl and Andy Meltzoff

The Scientists: Pat Kuhl, Ph.D., and Andy Meltzoff, Ph.D.

Co-directors, University of Washington Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS)

Pat Kuhl and Andy Meltzoff, a happily married couple of 28 years, are both big thinkers and big dreamers. Their vision helps drive the mission of I-LABS, an interdisciplinary research unit founded in 2004 that brings together experts in cognitive development, social emotional development, linguistic development and brain development. Those four elements, and how they all interact, are what make I-LABS unique in this country.

“We knew that brain development was going to be at the cutting edge, so we wanted to [do that] and early learning. Early learning had a lot of followers, but brain development was a new thing when we were starting this,” says Meltzoff.

I-LABS is now home to a 1-ton MEG Brain-Imaging Center, called a “stethoscope for the brain,” which can safely read the mind of a 7-pound baby, yielding important clues into how, where and when human learning happens.

This loving couple energizes one another as they speak glowingly about each other’s work. The necessity to help parents and providers better understand infants’ and children’s emotions and learning motivates the co-directors to get this information out of the ivory tower and into the hands of parents and educators.

Says Kuhl, “If you raise all this information and you do this fabulous research and you’re first in the world doing it, it isn’t going to do people any good if it doesn’t get out into the hearts and minds of those who can use it.”

Their work has real-world applications. For instance, research on stereotypes in second-graders can have an impact on the access that girls have to STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) learning and pursuits. And studies that reflect the extraordinarily positive impact of the use of parentese (baby talk) on increased language development helps parents help their babies.

“Through their groundbreaking research at I-LABS, Pat and Andy are advancing the world’s understanding of how children learn and grow,” says Deirdre Black, chair of the advisory board of I-LABS. “This combination of sophisticated science and genuine compassion is a natural extension of their personalities. Pat and Andy are world-renowned scientists and two of the loveliest people you could meet."

Who is your personal hero?

Meltzoff: Jean Piaget, the Swiss scientist who taught us that child development matters. Fifty years ago, Piaget wrote passionately about the urgent need to understand child development to change the world. He showed intellectual bravery when he was being criticized for “just studying children,” brilliance in his path-breaking science, and compassion for the world’s children.

Kuhl: My dad taught me to dream and convinced me that I could achieve anything. He was completely gender-blind. When I explained that I did not want to take a typing class because I sought more, he said “forget the class, and meet me for lunch every day instead to talk about your future.” All through my life, he asked me, “What will you do next?” It’s still my favorite question.

What was a turning point in your life?

Meltzoff: My first date with my dear wife — what a story, what a ride. Six hours can change your life.

Kuhl: Discovering Andy Meltzoff. Thirty years ago, we were the only two people from a given university invited to a high-powered international conference in New York. A senior female Yale professor sitting next to me at lunch said, “That guy is smart and interesting, you should get to know him,” and I remember thinking, “Hmmm, maybe I should.”

What one thing did an adult or mentor do for you as a child that helped you succeed or become the person you are?

Meltzoff: My father, who celebrated his 93rd birthday in February, showed me that I mattered. He created a magical and potent atmosphere in which to grow up — conveying that truth counted more than style and that all authoritative opinions, including his own, should be probed, poked and questioned.

Kuhl: My older sister had a beautiful voice and played piano. We took lessons from the same teacher each week. When I fretted about not doing as well, our mentor told me that I didn’t need to emulate my older sister but instead seek my own unique talents. That was a revelation for a young child — pursue your own passions.

How can we inspire today’s youth to pursue their biggest dreams?

Meltzoff: It’s all about identity. One important part of mentoring and schooling is to help a child identify with a profession, practice or way of life. This felt identity impels children to explore, improve, dare to fail, and provides an aspiration of what they can someday become. Identities are dreams of yourself in the future.

Kuhl: I think we have to believe in them and lead them to expect that they can set their goals very high and achieve something very important. Youth can soar when they feel the support of a caring mentor.

How do you take your coffee?

Meltzoff: Tall, skinny decaf latte, extra hot.

Kuhl: Double cappuccinos are my favorite!

— Alayne Sulkin

The Student Activists: The kids of Eastside Catholic School

eastside catholic activist students

In the photo (left to right): Maggie McKay; Julia Burns; Blake Lee; Sienna Colburn; Chase Crittenden; Julia Troy

When the kids of Eastside Catholic School went to class on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, they thought it would be just another day at their Sammamish school — classes, friends, homework. What they didn’t know is that the same evening, some of them would begin an unexpected journey of social activism that would change their lives and those of many others.

That day, the vice principal of the middle and high schools, Mark Zmuda, was fired because he had married his partner, violating the school’s (and the Catholic Church’s) rules. Zmuda, who is gay, was also the swim coach.

Many students were shaken and angry. The next morning, hundreds of students participated in a sit-in at the school, having spread the word quickly through social media. As the press descended on the campus from around the nation and the story grew global legs, students planned their next moves. They held more protests and rallies on and off campus, where they were joined by students from other area Catholic schools, parents and Catholics and non-Catholics alike. They spoke to reporters and networked. And they launched a Change.org petition to change the Roman Catholic Church’s stance on gay marriage, which garnered more than 26,000 signatures in less than a week.

The students say that, for many of them, fighting against their vice principal’s firing wasn’t a religious issue.

“It’s a social issue,” says Julia Burns, 18. “Society is more accepting these days, and we shouldn’t just blindly follow [what others say we should]; we should follow what’s right.”

Faced with wanting to push against the status quo, the students had to pull off a tricky balancing act that many adults would have difficulty with: a school administration they didn’t agree with in a school they all still loved; friends who didn’t all hold the same beliefs; family and parental opinions.

Most of the teens who organized the rallies to protest Zmuda’s firing say they relied on their family’s support.

“It was interesting to see my family, and people who grew up in conservative places, still be able to support this modern view,” says Maggie McKay, 17.

“Since there’s two sides, it’s hard to have a happy medium with this,” says Julia Troy, 17. “[When] I called my dad . . . he said, ‘I’ll support you in whatever you chose to believe. I’m behind you.’ There was a weird line between being respectful to my school and following my beliefs. Eastside has done some amazing things for me. But I was so angry about things going on; there was this terrible tear.”

“We choose to go to this school, and we love our school. Many of us wouldn’t want to leave it for this; we wanted to fight for the issue,” says Blake Lee, 18.

With their actions, the students of Eastside Catholic learned important lessons about the power of their voices. And by calling attention to the might of the next generation, they taught a lesson to people around the world at the same time.

— Natalie Singer-Velush

Melinda Giovengo

The Champion: Melinda Giovengo

Executive director, YouthCare

When Melinda Giovengo became the executive director of YouthCare in 2006, she was not new to the organization, which provides critical services to help King County homeless youth get off the streets and prepare for life. Giovengo had spent the previous 20 years carrying out the mission of YouthCare as a case manager, program manager and passionate problem solver. She holds a master’s in clinical psychology and a doctorate in educational psychology, and she is published on issues surrounding homeless youth and learning disabilities within hard-to-serve populations.

Not many advocates have been as up close for as long to some of Washington’s most vulnerable youth. Giovengo, who regularly speaks and testifies about youth homelessness, runaway youth, sex trafficking and adolescent mental health issues, knows the following harsh statistics all too well.

Seattle has one of the largest homeless youth populations in the U.S.; the city estimates that there are between 700 and 1,000 homeless youth on the streets every night. And a 2008 study in King County by Debra Boyer identified 238 minors involved in sex trafficking and determined that 300–500 youth per year in King County are sexually exploited for profit.

To better serve these teens, YouthCare operates the Bridge Continuum of Services for Sexually Exploited Youth, which does outreach advocacy and employment training for youth, and provides emergency shelter and long-term housing for teens in need.

“She is a superhero, especially to kids with difficulties in their lives, broken relationships, who end up on the street . . . Melinda never gives up on them. She helps them change their lives,” says Bobbe Bridge, former associate justice of the Washington Supreme Court and the founder and president of the Center for Children & Youth Justice.

Backed by proof that her programs are needed and that they work, Giovengo isn’t afraid to speak for kids and fight against stereotypes regarding youth on the streets. In an in-depth interview last year with ParentMap  about sexually trafficked youth, Giovengo said prostitution-related crimes should be decriminalized for minors: “The way this will change on a large scale is when we recognize them as victims of domestic violence.”

Who is your personal hero?

My high school history teacher, Susan Hoffman. She showed me a path beyond the very small world of New Orleans. We have been friends for 40 years. She was a liberal and a feminist and believed that I could do great things. She helped me earn a trip to Washington, D.C., where I became interested in the world and politics and policy. She made me believe that individuals can make a difference in the world. She was also a shoulder for me in hard times with my family, stepping beyond her role to make sure I was OK.

What was a turning point in your life?

Leaving New Orleans and going to college in Texas at the University of Dallas. My mentor, Susan, helped me get a scholarship and convinced me I could do it. The rest is history.

How can we inspire today’s youth to pursue their biggest dreams?

Believe in them, show them the path, open the doors — and they will walk though.

How do you take your coffee?

Four straight shots of espresso over ice.

— Natalie Singer-Velush

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