ParentMap Staff; Photographs by Will Austin
Penny Simkin is also the namesake for the Simkin Center for Allied Birth Vocations at Bastyr University. Her curriculum that aimed to prepare entry level providers of emotional and psychological support in pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum grew into an essential workshop with over 5000 graduates. The Birth Doula Skills Workshop is instructed by Penny each June and September at the Simkin Center. Thanks so much for honoring Penny as a heroine for women and families!
Fantastic article, Parentmap! I like the diversity of amazing people this year!
Penny embodies those qualities she admires in others - good listening, critical thinking, kindness and a little humility. She's also funny and warm, and a fabulous teacher. It's heartening to see the growing recognition for the impact she has had on mothers, fathers and children around the world.
Inspiring is the only word to describe the amazing roster of Superhero nominations that we received from our readers, as well as from past ParentMap Superhero honorees.
The select spirited and committed individuals who grace this year’s Superheroes issue come from many sectors of life; all of them positively and directly impact the lives of families throughout Washington State. Some head organizations that challenge the status quo, while others innovate and advocate so our families won’t fail. What these tireless heroes have in common is that they give from a seemingly endless source of compassion, energy, talent, and dedication.
Our hope is that you will learn from and be inspired by these outstanding members of our community, thank them, and perhaps find a way to support their work.
Superheroes, we salute you!
Meet this year's Superheroes for Washington Families: 1. Tricia Raikes 2. Sheila Edwards Lange, Ph.D. 3. Dee Dickinson 4. Mark Fadool and Seema Mahtre 5. Sherman Alexie 6. Gordon McHenry Jr. 7. Gail Butler 8. Penny Simkin 9. Mary Gordon
Tricia Raikes Raikes Foundation
Personal challenge often drives our passions. Tricia Raikes, cofounder (with husband Jeff Raikes) of the Raikes Foundation, reflected on how the foundation’s focus was formed in part by their oldest child’s trials and tribulations in middle school.
“Having three children with different personalities and styles, Jeff and I, like every parent, experienced different challenges as they arose through our children’s phases. The middle school years were most complex. We ‘cut our teeth’ when our eldest was with an unhealthy group of kids and was often the odd girl out. We felt helpless at times.”
The couple did a “deep dive” to make sure their foundation’s mission reflected their core values and beliefs. That mission is to provide opportunities and support during adolescence to help young people become healthy, contributing adults.
Raikes is working so that this age group develops “agency,” a term the foundation defines as helping kids develop the mindset and learning strategies to be successful in school, career and life.
Experts such as Mindset author Carol Dweck, Ph.D., and author/psychologist Joanne Deak, Ph.D., were critical resources in helping to formulate the foundation’s work, says Raikes. The Raikes also gathered data that showed adolescent girls have the greatest capacity for meanness, while boys can exhibit high-risk behavior.
How can kids develop the mindset and learning strategies for success? Raikes feels it’s through “the beautiful synergy” between programs and practices. “Young people need to realize they have to put energy and effort out in order to achieve goals. But knowing that they’ll have failures makes them malleable. The importance of malleability allows you to keep going, and that offers the greatest success.”
The foundation is looking at ways to help young teens recognize their own capabilities. “We have big dreams out there,” she says.
Personal heroes: My mother — for demonstrating grace, compassion and humility for me every day; and Melinda Gates, because she uses her head and her heart to guide the thoughtful, bold work she undertakes.
Quality you most admire in others: Integrity; people who are guided by their beliefs and values.
Best recent read: What I’m reading now: The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone and Benjamin Zander.
— Alayne Sulkin
Sheila Edwards Lange, Ph.D. Diversity Officer
Where and when Sheila Edwards Lange, Ph.D., started on her own personal education path have everything to do with where she has arrived on it: in the role of chief diversity officer at the University of Washington.
Born in Mississippi in the early ’60s, Lange entered first grade just as schools were integrating. She credits her early teachers — as well as the encouragement of her mom, a single mother raising five kids — for inspiring her to go to college.
Lange did make it to college — “on a hope and a prayer,” as she says — and that experience set her on a professional mission: “I realized that my path to college was not the easiest, and that there should be easier roadmaps for students to get to college and achieve economic stability in their lives.”
Lange believes that diversity is an essential driver of excellence in all areas of community life. Her tenure as chief diversity officer at the UW (she started as the interim officer in 2006 and accepted a permanent appointment the following year) has resulted not only in the development of numerous enrichment and support programs for minority and women students, but in a broader, institution-wide vision for diversity that engages faculty, students, community members and parents.
Not surprisingly, “Dr. Sheila,” as she’s called by her students, finds much satisfaction in the fact that every year she gets to see a new group of young men and women she has directly helped graduate from the University of Washington.
The rewards aren’t reaped only at commencement: “At least once a week I have some experience that just hits me, and I say, ‘My life is so on purpose. I am making a difference, not only in individual people’s lives, but in the communities they will go out into and touch.’”
Personal hero: My mom. She had the courage to leave [an abusive relationship] with her children and start a whole new life across the country. As kids, we always felt loved and supported and encouraged, no matter what it was we were trying to do — even if we didn’t have money for it. To me, she just did the impossible.
Quality you most admire in others: One of the things I love about people in Seattle is this sort of selfless commitment to community . . . I think it is a Northwest thing. People in Seattle think that if we can gather a group of people around an issue, we can really make a difference.
Best recent read: The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It’s set in Jackson, and I grew up in Mississippi. My grandmother and many family members were domestics — that is what you did. As I read the book, I could totally relate to many of the stories.
Dee DickinsonTeacher and administrator
Dee Dickinson believes that there is always some way to teach everybody how to learn successfully. A teacher and school administrator for many years, Dickinson experienced firsthand, in the late ’70s, the frustrating failures by the state and the public school system to meet the needs of all learners.
She also knew that there was a wealth of new research and learning techniques emerging from the neural and cognitive science fields at the time. While many talented teachers knew how to engage all kids in learning, they weren’t able to access these latest findings.
Dickinson and several colleagues decided they would develop an education network to reach teachers with the information they themselves would have loved to have had when they were teaching in a classroom setting. Started as a newsletter, the network, named New Horizons for Learning, began in 1980 and ultimately reached an international readership.
The newsletter evolved into workshops, global conferences on education and landmark projects. One project was a video that helped volunteers at Swedish Medical Center work with new parents, and laid the foundation for many of the early learning and childhood development programs in our area.
In 1993, Dickinson added another credit to her résumé — Internet pioneer — when the archive of research and content New Horizons had assembled debuted online as one of the very first professional websites, newhorizons.org.
Along the way, Dickinson gained worldwide renown as a speaker, author and consultant to policymaking bodies, and participated in the White House Task Force on Innovative Learning.
Though she retired from running the nonprofit within the last few years, Dickinson’s work is impossible to fathom: Thousands of teachers, thousands of schools, and many tens of thousands of learners continue to benefit from her mission to provide the latest research on learning.
Personal hero: My mother. My father died when I was 9, and I was an only child, so my mother built her own career to support us. Another hero is the principal I first taught under at the Bush School. She made sure to push me off of the high dive into pools I’d never been before.
Quality you most admire in others: Honesty and integrity, as well as the ability to be interested in and passionate about things and other people.
Best recent read: The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner. It’s a study of all the places in the world right now where people live the healthiest and the longest.
Mark Fadool and Seema MahtreOdessa Brown Clinic
Mark Fadool and Seema Mahtre help parents and children who are hanging on by a thread. This husband-and-wife team at the Odessa Brown Clinic in Seattle’s Central District has woven their own lives into their work with the disadvantaged, creating a safety net for thousands of families.
“We are both passionate in different ways; we try to make what we do seamless,” says Fadool. “And, we don’t take for granted what we have,” adds Mahtre. “We are always seeing inequity, but it is a blessing to see it, because then you recognize privilege.”
Their areas of expertise are different: Fadool’s is in mental health services; Mahtre’s, in social work. But their skills complement each other as they assist families with needs ranging from medical and dental care to counseling support. In enhancing communities that are often overlooked, Odessa Brown’s medical director, Ben Danielson, calls them a “one-two punch.”
With master’s degrees in both social work and public health, Mahtre handles more than 25,000 visits each year, although the numbers do not seem daunting to her. “It’s an honor, not a burden, when we are working with this mission.”
Danielson describes Mahtre’s approach as collaborative and frontline. “Seema might be the first person a family calls to help with post-partum mood disorder, for instance.”
Fadool, the clinical director of the clinic’s Mental Health Services, has championed Promoting First Relationships, a program that reaches out to new parents and coaches them in early development and bonding with infants and toddlers. Fadool says that by using the 10-week program as a foundation, parents can get help without the stigma often assigned to struggling caregivers. “It is really important to look beyond just the social/emotional needs of the kids, but of the parents, too, particularly single parents.”
“He keeps things very positive,” says Danielson. “As opposed to calling a parent the problem, he shines the light on what they are doing right, to build on those strengths.”
More than 15 years ago, Fadool and Mahtre met while helping homeless youth in the University District. Throughout their degree pursuits, job changes and becoming parents themselves, their shared values have tethered them to one another. Their son attends kindergarten at a school near the clinic and goes to Odessa Brown for his own health care.
Walking through the place, one can see why he looks forward to it: The lobby features games and toys, colorful kites in the atrium overhead and ceramic balloons that kids jump up and try to grab.
“There is a congruency in our lives here, a reflection of our values as we walk the halls,” says Fadool.
Mahtre continues, “In fact, we just talked yesterday about privilege . . .”
“And gratitude,” Fadool finishes.
Their conversation is as knitted together as their lives.
Mark Fadool Personal heroes: Mohammed Ali, Roberto Clemente, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi.
Quality you most admire in others: Compassion and the ability to laugh at one’s self.
Best recent read: The Two TV’s, written by our 6 year old son, Taj.
Seema Mahtre Personal hero: My son, Taj, who unknowingly teaches me to see life from a completely different perspective.
Quality you most admire in others: Understated wisdom.
Best recent read: Not recent but best read overall: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.
Sherman AlexieSpeaker, author, filmmaker and poet
Sherman Alexie, the dynamic speaker, author, filmmaker and poet, claims he’s an introvert.
The prolific writer (his books — there are 22 of them — include The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which won the 2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature) comes off as anything but reserved in his interactions with students; his inspiring, often comedic talks; and in his extensive community involvement.
A founding board member of Longhouse Media, an organization that teaches filmmaking to Native American youth, he has long supported programs dedicated to helping at-risk Native American kids.
His devotion to Seattle Children’s PlayGarden, a recreational space for kids with special needs, evolved from his own experiences nurturing his son who has special needs, and from his own childhood. Born with hydrocephalus (water on the brain), he endured seizures throughout his childhood.
He remembers — and treasures — the support he received from others while growing up. “There was an amazing set of adults who helped me at every turn,” he says. “From parents to teachers to health care professionals to random people.”
Contributing to his community comes naturally to him. “I grew up tribal and I made Seattle my tribe,” says Alexie. “In a tribe, you take care of everybody. Every part and every person is important to the whole.”
He values kindness, a quality he strives to impart to his two sons. “Kindness takes you everywhere. It’s the best part of human evolution; when we aren’t kind, we’re regressing back to our primitive roots.”
Personal hero: I believe in heroic ideas such as the separation of church and state.
Quality you most admire in others: Kindness and humor.
Best recent read: How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden.
Gordon McHenry Jr.Rainier Scholars
Gordon McHenry credits his parents for inspiring his commitment to his family and to the community, and for fostering in him an appreciation for the outdoors. “My father was the first in his family to go to college and the first African-American at Boeing to be promoted into management,” says McHenry.
McHenry is a Seattle native and father of three whose focus on his community led him to his current role as the executive director of Rainier Scholars.
Rainier Scholars is an 11-year academic program for students of color that begins with a rigorous selection process just before students enter sixth grade and continues until they complete college. Students are given the academic skills, confidence and support they need to be successful.
The program has helped dozens of young adults gain acceptance to top-notch independent and public schools; many of these students are the first in their families to go to college.
“Gordon brings a love for Seattle to his role as executive director, along with a desire for its young people to have opportunities for leadership,” says Sarah Smith, associate executive director for Rainier Scholars.
The best part of his job? “I enjoy helping talented and motivated youth of color benefit from seeking and receiving educational opportunities,” says McHenry. “This prepares them to be the leaders of our society and our world.”
Personal heroes: Nelson Mandela, Benigno Aquino, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, and my [deceased] father, the first Gordon McHenry. I respect my heroes for their courage, ability to inspire others to act for the greater good and selflessness in the face of physical danger, emotional duress or being perceived as unpopular.
Quality you admire most in others? Curiosity; a sincere interest and desire to learn from others.
Best recent read: The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan and America’s Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women, and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a Nation by Kenneth Davis.
The Role Model
Gail ButlerServing military wives
Gail Butler has been married for 21 years — and that’s how long she’s been a military spouse. She and her husband, Roy, are currently stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma. Roy, a chaplain, has been serving in Afghanistan for six months, with another six months to go.
In the meantime, Butler has been busy doing what she does best: helping other women whose husbands are deployed.
“It’s a tough job to hold the spouses together and try to hold myself together as well,” says Butler, who has a son, 20 (he is stationed at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas), and a daughter, 16.
But holding everyone together is exactly what she does. Every Friday night, Butler conducts a class for the women in her husband’s military unit. Her objective: to help these military wives — many of them newly married — cope with deployment and everything it entails.
“All our husbands are deployed together,” she says. “I talk to the women about the way they’re going to feel and what to expect.”
She takes time to listen, allowing them to “get whatever they are feeling off their chest.” She reminds them that their spouses are under great stress and says, “If your husband says something nasty, he doesn’t mean it.” When things get tough, she tells them, “You can handle this.”
Despite every challenge Butler faces, she serves others, regardless of her own circumstances, says Michael Schindler, founder of Operation Military Family. “She is ready and willing to serve other military wives at a moment’s notice; this is the true characteristic of a hero.”
Personal hero: My husband. He has sacrificed so much to take care of the family. He’s always had a roof over our heads and made sure we lived in a safe environment.
Quality you most admire in others: Strength. The ability to overcome something, to face things head on and take on the challenge.
Best recent read: The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian.
Penny SimkinChildbirth educator
Three little words.” That’s what Penny Simkin calls the story of one of the most pivotal moments in her life.
It was the early 1960s and she was in a hospital in North Carolina, recovering from the difficult, forceps-assisted birth of her first child. Her doctor had encouraged Simkin to try natural childbirth. She had tried, and failed — or so she thought.
Her doctor thought differently. “He came by on rounds, looked me in the eye and said, ‘What a trouper.’”
Those simple words changed Simkin’s perception of her birth experience and demonstrated something she would later verify through her own research: A mother’s satisfaction with her birth experience is not dependent on the type of the birth she had, but on the care and support she receives.
Those words also helped lead Simkin to become an “internationally revered childbirth educator,” as The Seattle Times called her in a 2008 profile. Since 1968, when Simkin first started teaching childbirth classes in Seattle, she has helped prepare 11,000 families for childbirth, reached millions more by cowriting Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn, founded and helped develop the doula movement (she’s known as “the mother of doulas”), and pioneered research on topics such as the impact of childbirth on victims of sexual assault.
Other things we can thank Simkin for? Husbands who read The Birth Partner (Simkin wrote that book), hospitals and birth centers equipped with squatting bars and birth balls (Simkin invented those, too), and many labor comfort measures — such as massage techniques — that are now part of the birth lexicon.
Personal hero: Doulas. They have a life of their own. If I dropped dead right now, there would not be a dent in the doula movement.
Quality you most admire in others: Good listening, critical thinking, kindness and a little humility. I like to see good parents who are very loving with their children.
Best recent read: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. It talks about how we are putting so many black men in jail for things that young white men don’t go to jail for.
Mary GordonRoots of Empathy and Seeds of Empathy
Mary Gordon, founder and president of Roots of Empathy and Seeds of Empathy, has an ethereal and kinetic glow, the kind that radiates from a baby’s face when it’s being held in her embracing arms. Within the field of early learning education systems, Gordon is the fairy godmother for the empathy movement. Her melodic voice and energy command a warm response from everyone in her presence, from newborns to the aged.
Gordon’s programs, which are dedicated to promoting emotional literacy and empathy among children, arrived in Seattle — the only U.S. location for Roots — from her native Canada in the fall of 2007. Today more than 96 schools (45 in the Seattle area) use the Roots and Seeds of Empathy programs as an antidote for bullying, a phenomenon so widespread that the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development calls it a “public health problem.”
Roots of Empathy now has a 16-year track record of reducing aggression and increasing empathy and social/emotional competence in schools all across Canada, as well as in New Zealand, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Germany, Scotland, the Isle of Man and Seattle.
Gordon is collaborating with Andrew Meltzoff, Ph.D., and Pat Kuhl, Ph.D., co-directors of the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, to study the influence of the Roots program on kids’ emotional regulation. Gordon says they know that kids in the program exhibit less aggressive and bullying behaviors. “We are now going to learn what their brains look like to better influence this behavior,” she says.
“If you foster empathy in a child, you have created a gateway to finding the humanity in another person,” says Gordon. “That is the core of human relations — the core of parenting. We are all wired to become competent, loving human beings through our key relationships.”
Personal heroes: My parents, for their wisdom, devotion, big-scale thinking and ability to show me what an ethical life looks like, how to love and the love of learning.
Quality you most admire in others: Empathy.
Best recent read: Howard Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future.