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ParentMap's 2015 Superheroes!

Our annual issue of champions for Washington families

Published on: March 25, 2015

From top left: Rosanna Sharpe, Dennis G. Smith, Maria Chavez Wilcox, Cheryl Stumbo, Jane Weiss, Courtney Weaver, Matt Lawrence, Chuck Morrison, Teri Hein, Will Poole, Janet Levinger, Casey Trupin, Josh Garcia, and Lori Markowitz | Photo credit: Will Austin (

Who gets to be called a hero? Every year at ParentMap, we sit around the table with a stack of recommendations from readers, child advocates, community leaders and previous Superheroes and talk about just that. We always have many more heroes than we can honor in a given year. As we interview our picks and take their photos (a daylong photo shoot where the do-gooder energy radiates), we hear about how they were inspired to make a difference. Inevitably, trends emerge.

Many of our 2015 Superheroes talk about being supported to succeed by their parents, a reminder of how important it is for kids to have adult mentors who champion them. And this year’s heroes are master champions, leaning in so that a new generation of youths can be empowered to follow and achieve their dreams, by learning to lead, getting their ideas and inventions funded for development, writing their stories and more. 

Read on to be inspired by these heroes for Washington kids and families. Thank you, Superheroes! 

Meet our 2015 Superheroes

  • Lori Markowitz — The Compassion Champion
  • Josh Garcia — The Educator
  • Rosanna Sharpe — The History Preservationist
  • Janet Levinger and Will Poole — The Social Trailblazers
  • Cheryl Stumbo, Courtney Weaver and Jane Weiss — The Survivor Advocates
  • Teri Hein — The Fearless Wordsmith 
  • Dennis G. Smith — The Community Helper
  • Chuck Morrison — The Shelterer
  • Maria Chavez Wilcox — The Empowerer
  • Casey Trupin — The Defender
  • Matt Lawrence — The Filmmaker
Lori Markowitz | Photo credit: Will Austin (

The compassion champion: Lori Markowitz

Executive director, Youth Ambassadors

When Lori Markowitz of Seattle helped coordinate youth engagement for the 2008 Seeds of Compassion event held in conjunction with the Dalai Lama’s visit to Seattle, she expected a rich, rewarding, short-term experience. But seven years later, the Youth Ambassadors program she pioneered is still going strong. In fact, it’s grown tenfold, reaching youths all over Seattle with a message of hope, compassion and empathy.

As a former coordinator for global exchange program Bridges to Understanding and codirector and founder of Seattle’s Middle East Peace Camp for Children, Markowitz had the global insight and connections to facilitate the dreams of young people. Today, with Markowitz as its executive director, the Youth Ambassadors (YA) program reaches more than 500 students across Seattle through school-embedded classes that build compassion along with grit, perseverance and self-confidence.

“The mission of Youth Ambassadors is to develop learners who become leaders through compassionate service to the community,” says Markowitz, who co-teaches the classes. “YA engages students in leadership development, mentoring skills and civic engagement. Together, they deepen their understanding of what it means to engage compassion in a purposeful manner.”

Through assemblies and grassroots projects, the program enables students to take control of their learning and assume leadership roles in their community and school. Guest speakers, activities and hands-on experiences instill confidence and a sense of accomplishment. “When they leave the class, they feel empowered and engaged in their school community and feel a sense of responsibility for their community,” Markowitz says. 

One recent grassroots effort culminated in a 2014 assembly that included megastar musician and producer Macklemore and his fiancée, Tricia Davis. The assembly at West Seattle’s Roxhill Elementary School launched the school’s Buddy Bench project. The school’s colorful bench — signed by the famous couple — reminds students of the importance of friendship, advocacy and empathy. “The students said, ‘Nobody will be lonely at Roxhill Elementary!’” Markowitz  says.

The mother of two college students, Markowitz hopes to replicate YA in other states. “I hope every student will have an opportunity to be empowered and raise their voice for positive change.”

Who is your personal hero?

My husband and children for graciously supporting me. The Youth Ambassador students and Rwandan girls from Impuhwe [an organization helping Rwandan girls obtain an education], who inspire me each and every day. My uncle Adam, a survivor of the Holocaust and an incredibly resilient and kind human being despite the horrors he lived through.

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 mom, a single parent, and my sisters taught me the importance of being a strong team player and to care about others.

How do you balance pursuing your passion with your personal life?

It certainly has been challenging at times, and I’m still learning how to navigate my passion for young people with my personal life. Attending a daily 6 a.m. yoga class helps me meditate and reflect on my work/life balance.

What book did you recently read and how did it impact you?

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. I love this book because it reminded me of a student who thanked me for seeing the potential in each and every Youth Ambassador.

— Malia Jacobson

Josh Garcia | Photo Credit: Will Austin (

The educator: Josh Garcia

Deputy superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools

Josh Garcia is changing the way schools view success. When he became deputy superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools (the state’s third-largest school district, serving 30,000 students) in 2012, he started a conversation with parents, teachers and the community about what they thought was essential in a child’s schooling and overall growth. 

Garcia went on to reshape the district’s accountability system. Usually, districts measure their success by attendance, test scores and graduation rates; Tacoma’s system considers a much wider range of indicators. With the new system in place, Tacoma has already seen positive results — in the past two years, the district has experienced increased enrollment in pre–K programs, graduation rates have improved by over 20 percent, and the number of high school students taking college-level courses has almost doubled.

Garcia also helped establish an opt-out program that automatically enrolls students who pass a state test into Advanced Placement classes. In 2013, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) honored Garcia with an Outstanding Young Educator Award. He was also named a “leader to learn from” by Education Week.

But the work to improve hasn’t stopped there. “I relentlessly think about what is missing, what we can do to help a child that we haven’t yet reached,” says Garcia. His excitement seems to be contagious. “For us in Tacoma, accountability is more than shared responsibility,” he says. “There is a core group of citizens that have moved toward aligning our efforts.”

It takes a village — and in Tacoma, that village is the community. “To work in a city that is so strong and so committed to becoming better is truly a gift.” Garcia adds, “We recognize that we may not be perfect, but we can always try to be better.”

Who is your personal hero?

The human being. I am fascinated by people and the obstacles they overcome. I have learned that inspiration is everywhere, within each of us daily. We must open our hearts, minds and hands if we are to change the world. My heroes are those that feed the human soul.

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 mom and dad really taught me to dream and set goals. They didn’t sugarcoat my results, but rather, continued to support me from where I was; they helped me visualize and work toward where I wanted to be.

How do you balance pursuing your passion with your personal life?

I am extremely grateful to work in an amazing team environment with a world-class boss, colleagues and school board. This is matched by a world-class family. They all recognize that I have to run in order to find my balance. This pace makes me feel alive, and they support that.

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

We must believe that every child has infinite power to endless possibilities. Our job is not to determine their dreams, but rather help them achieve those dreams. We need to stop fearing our youth and instead embrace them for the gifts they are to each of us and our collective future.

What book did you recently read and how did it impact you?

I reread David Whyte’s Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity. It has helped me really realize that my work and my job do not have to be competing interests. It has helped me identify the place where I meet the world.

— Nicole Persun

The history preservationist: Rosanna Sharpe

Rosanna Sharpe
Rosanna Sharpe | Photo credit: Will Austin (

Executive director of the Northwest African American Museum

Rosanna Sharpe has an expansive vision of what museums should be.

“Places for alternative ways of learning,” she says, explaining that museums provide a venue for creative problem solving, for family time and learning to go hand in hand, and for students whose learning style doesn’t fit into the traditional school system.

At the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM), she says, “We’re telling stories that often get left out in classrooms and social studies books.”

Sharpe’s path to a leadership role at the seven-year-old NAAM wasn’t a completely straightforward one. She loved to draw as a child, sometimes mimicking her mother’s sketches, but by high school, her focus turned from the arts toward more academic pursuits.

During college, she says, “I looked to the arts as therapy,” a way to balance out a heavy academic load. It’s not surprising that she might have needed an outlet, with a college career that began with the rigors of West Point.

Knee surgery interrupted Sharpe’s time at West Point and brought her home to the Northwest. While recuperating, she enrolled at Pierce College. Walking into the college’s art department changed the course of her career. “That really was a ‘life stream’ moment,” she says. “Something spoke to me, and I changed lanes.”

Sharpe earned degrees in arts management and museum studies, and went on to hold positions at the Tacoma Art Museum, the Museum of Glass and EMP Museum.

“We’re really preserving, rescuing history and interpreting it for the greater public benefit,” she says of NAAM’s focus. Sharpe wants young children of all colors to embrace and respect history, and in it to find role models who will inspire them to make their own contributions. In particular, she wants young African-Americans to see the accomplishments of their forbearers that they might not see on TV or read in books. One special program, NAAM’s Genealogy Center, helps local families research their own histories. Plans are in motion to expand the center to allow more families to discover their legacies.

Who is your personal hero?

Celebrity-wise, it’s Michelle Obama. To me, she personifies the essence of black beauty and health, exhibits poise and style, and values family, education and loyalty. On a day-to-day [basis], it’s the aggregate of the many strong, loving and accomplished women whom I’ve had the privilege of crossing paths [with].

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 parents. They encouraged learning and gave me praise academically. Before I entered school, they purchased a set of Encyclopedia Britannica. That was their first major investment in my education, and symbolic of how much they valued learning.

How do you balance pursuing your passion with your personal life?

I learned how to do this when my daughter turned 13. I sadly realized that I was spending more time at museum events than I was spending with her, and our relationship suffered. But I made the necessary adjustments, and truly believe in self-care and living a balanced life. Practicing yoga helps me stay true to this aspiration.

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

Empowerment. Instilling positivity at an early age is important. Rather than pointing out deficits in young people, we should look at what they do well and encourage them over and over … and over. 

What book did you recently read and how did it impact you?

Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness, a yoga book that teaches how to pause occasionally throughout the day to be still, to breathe, to relax and to feel the energy of the life force that’s within me and all around me. 

— Nancy Chaney

Will Poole and Janet Levinger
Will Poole and Janet Levinger | Photo Credit: Will Austin (

The social trailblazers: Janet Levinger and Will Poole

Board chair, Eastside Pathways; Managing partner at Unitus Seed Fund

Seattle-area social-impact leader Janet Levinger is someone who makes each minute count: Most days, she juggles a full slate of meetings in Seattle or Bellevue, yet she still manages to exercise and cook dinner daily. She pauses to giggle when describing her thriving 36-year marriage to social technologist Will Poole. “I met Will when he was a 19-year-old college student. He worked 24/7 in those days, and he works 24/7 now. No surprises there!”

Like Levinger, Poole works hard with a purpose. He’s currently a managing partner at Unitus Seed Fund, a $20 million fund investing in startups based in Seattle and Bangalore, India; the 13-and-a-half-hour time difference means Poole is often taking business calls after most Seattleites have powered down their laptops for the night.

A number of Unitus investments focus on education, a passion the couple shares. Unitus is a lead investor in Hippocampus Learning Centres, the largest private kindergarten in India, and CueLearn, which offers after-school math instruction to low- and middle-income families across India via “micro franchises” operated by well-educated women.

Levinger and Poole met at Brown University. Levinger studied honors English; Poole, computer science. After graduating in the early ’80s, they moved to New York with jobs in the growing high-tech sector. Soon after, they launched an automated-backup startup called Gemini Software, which they sold in 1985. Eleven years and another startup later, they landed in Bellevue, two young children in tow, after Microsoft purchased Poole’s company at the time. 

After 16 years of working in high-tech marketing, Levinger was looking for a change. “When my son was 14 months old, Will’s aunt asked me if I would work if I didn’t have to,” she recalls. She did have to — with her husband in startup mode, she was frequently the breadwinner in those years — but the question made her realize that her true passion was elsewhere. When she witnessed a passionate political protest over a proposed school levy in which young parents waved signs in favor while older adults demonstrated against it, she decided she wanted to support access to quality education for all kids.

She volunteered with United Way of King County, then Social Venture Partners. Over the next two decades, she amassed thousands of hours working with organizations such as Eastside Pathways, the League of Education Voters and Thrive by Five Washington. “In the early-learning field, we’ve come so far,” Levinger says. “The fact that the City of Seattle is talking about universal pre-K is amazing. When I first started working on these issues in the ’90s, nobody was talking about that; people still thought all mothers should simply be home with their kids.” 

Working with youth is one of the most satisfying aspects of Poole’s work with Fast Pitch, the business training and pitch competition for social innovators ages 16 and older, which awarded $300,000 in cash and prizes in 2014. “Every year, we have over a dozen high school and college students competing right alongside the others, and ultimately, we put four of them on stage in front of the big audience at McCaw Hall. They are always inspiring, often presenting better than others who are many years their senior,” he says.

“Last year, the mom of one of the winners told us, ‘You guys may have changed this kid’s life.’”

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

Levinger: My mother taught me to read when I was 3. My older brother went to kindergarten and was learning to read. I was jealous, so my mom showed me. I just took off. We used to go to the library every week, and I would check out as many books as I could and read them all.

Poole: My mother taught me to never accept limits imposed by society or “the system.” When I was a high school freshman, she helped me enroll in computer science classes at a local university, Brown. The administration said, “No, high school freshman can’t handle these courses.” Undeterred, she and I appealed to the professor, who said, “Sure, try it out, and if you do OK, I’ll help convince the administration.” It worked, and it changed my life.

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

Levinger: I think kids will naturally pursue their dreams if they feel they have the chance to achieve them. So we have to create a system that surrounds kids with support, provides opportunity for all and believes in them. This system starts with basic needs: food, housing, clothes, health care. Then we have to make sure they get a strong early start, which often means supporting their parents as a child’s first and most important teacher. Next, we have to ensure that kids are ready for school — and schools are ready for kids.

Poole: Ensure they know there are no limits to possibilities if they work hard and smart. And to ensure the inspiration is not dampened by the reality of the costs of higher education; give free and/or affordable access to decent quality educational resources so they can develop the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

What book did you recently read and how did it impact you?

Levinger: I recently read Deep Down Dark by Héctor Tobar, which is the story about the 33 men buried in the Chilean mine a few years ago. The story is inspiring ― how they cooperated and supported one another. One of the organizations I am deeply involved with is Eastside Pathways, a partnership of 50 organizations working to provide opportunity to all kids in Bellevue from cradle to career. If these men facing possible death and certain hardship can figure out how to cooperate, all these organizations should be able to figure it out, too. The book gives me hope.

Poole: Zero to One by Peter Thiel. I don’t agree with all of his points of view, but the book re-reminded me of the importance, and joy, of entrepreneurs creating something [big] from nothing. There’s nothing more exciting that setting sights high to create something that really matters and then applying all the resources you’ve got to ensure you get there. 

— Malia Jacobson

From Left: Cheryl Stumbo, Rory Graves (ParentMap's Social Media and Digital Projects Manager), Jane Weiss, and Courtney Weaver | Photo Credit: Will Austin (

The survivor advocates: Cheryl Stumbo, Courtney Weaver and Jane Weiss

Gun violence survivors and prevention advocates 

Courtney Weaver, Cheryl Stumbo and Jane Weiss share an experience that no one wants to share: They’ve all been personally affected by gun violence.

Weaver was shot in the face and arm in a 2010 attempted murder. Stumbo was one of five women shot in the 2006 Jewish Federation of Seattle shooting. Weiss lost her beautiful niece, Veronika Weiss, in the Isla Vista, California, mass shooting in May of 2014.

They’re not just survivors, they’re advocates. 

2014 was a big year for gun violence prevention legislation in Washington state. Legislators unanimously passed House Bill 1840, which gives law enforcement officers more tools for removing firearms when a protection order is issued against a domestic abuser. Voters also passed ballot Initiative 594 in November, which requires a background check on every gun sale in Washington state. I-594 was the first ballot initiative of its kind, circumventing legislators who have been reluctant to pass gun-related legislation and bringing the vote directly to the people. Stumbo was citizen sponsor of the bill.

“We’ve created a model for other states when it comes to how we can pass gun violence prevention legislation when our legislators refuse to act,” she says.

These three advocates have publicly told their stories on countless occasions at press conferences, before legislators, and while volunteering at phone banks and fundraisers to help garner support for this life-saving legislation.

They’ll tell you firsthand that it’s not easy to constantly relive their painful experiences.

“People can say some hateful things. But I’m not going to be silenced. Too many people have been silenced by gun violence,” Weaver says.

Who is your personal hero?

Stumbo: Eleanor Roosevelt. I admire her strength of character and the way she took on issues in a male-dominated world and made things happen.

Weiss: Hillary Clinton. Just look at all of the different ways she broke the glass ceiling.

Weaver: Tina Turner. She was one of the very first performers who came out publicly about domestic violence . . .  she showed the world what a survivor looks like.

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

Stumbo: My favorite high school teacher, Dr. Louis Graham, saw that I was willing to try anything once, even if I had no experience at it . . . he encouraged that quality in me.  

How do you balance pursuing your passion with your personal life?

Stumbo: Trying to separate my experience as a survivor and have it not define me didn’t work. I needed to integrate it fully into who I was. I had to come to terms with the fact that my life has changed and I am not the same person that I was before, to own that rather than be a victim to it.

Weaver: I volunteer on the Fatality Review Board for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV) and also write music about my experience. A lot of my advocacy is a quest for answers, and piecing together and analyzing patterns of violence that happen in society . . . that data is the road to finding the solutions.

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

Weiss: I am faced with picking stories to read with second- and third-graders. We’ve been reading biographies. And, almost in every case, someone overcame what should have impacted them negatively and turned it into something inspiring, which I see these kids drawing inspiration from.

Stumbo: Children have a natural imagination . . . I don’t think it is a matter of inspiring them, but a matter of not driving that creativity and imagination out.

Weaver: When I look back on my lofty childhood dreams, the main thing I want to tell my younger self is, “believe in yourself.”

What book did you recently read and how did it impact you?

Stumbo: I am rereading one of my most favorite book series, Outlander. It has strong female characters. . . . I love reading and the power of story.

Weiss: I just read the Newbery Honor winner Brown Girl Dreaming. Jacqueline Woodson, the author, grew up in the ’60s during the civil rights movement. . . . It is inspiring to think about how things have changed.

— Rory Graves

Teri Hein and Melat Asefa | Photo Credit: Will Austin (

Fearless wordsmith: Teri Hein

Executive director, Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas (BFI, formerly 826 Seattle)

Ask Teri Hein about the Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas’ accomplishments, and she shares a story. Meron was a seventh-grader who lived near the Greenwood-based writing center. Her immigrant mother, who had limited English, signed up Meron for BFI’s free tutoring sessions.

“Meron quickly became a fixture,” remembers Hein, “joining our Youth Advisory Board, employed as our youth mentor and, with our help with writing and homework, thriving at Ballard High School. Today, she is a junior at Bryn Mawr and, as I write this, spending the semester abroad in India.” 

Meron is one of hundreds of kids in Seattle whose lives have been changed by the nonprofit writing and tutoring center that Hein, a teacher with 25 years of experience and a published author, founded in 2004. Started under the name Pencil Head, after one short year, the organization was asked to become a chapter of Dave Eggers’ 826 writing centers. As 826 Seattle, its programs grew, adding writing workshops in schools and at the center, along with kid publishing projects, open mics and writing clubs (including a pen-pal club between kids and seniors). Programs were free, kid-driven and supported by a growing corps of volunteers, teachers, well-known writers, board members and staff.

“The success of this place has been a giant collaboration from the very beginning,” Hein says. 

Another example of BFI's impact is Melat Asefa (pictured above with Teri Hein), who enrolled as one of the students in 2005. Melat began as a student in BFI's after-school tutoring program and has grown to become a member of the Youth Advisory Board, as well as a tutor during after-school programs as a Youth Mentor. For essentially her entire school career she has attended BFI and now, about to graduate from high school, looks forward to starting university next year.

In 2011, as 826 Seattle, the organization won the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, presented by first lady Michelle Obama. In late 2014, under Hein’s leadership, it separated from the national 826 and rebranded as Bureau of Fearless Ideas (BFI).

The new identity is giving BFI more flexibility to tune its programs to the growing number of Seattle communities it serves. And the name, Hein says, couldn’t be more perfect. “To write one’s stories requires a certain fearlessness. And, as an organization, we always want to also
be a place that takes risks and tries new things.”

Who is your personal hero?

My personal hero was a woman named Betsy Presley who started The Hutch School at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where I worked for many years. She passed away last year at age 92. She was someone who walked the walk her whole life, wasn’t afraid to take risks for the right reasons, taught me so much about looking at the whole child, and how to do serious work while having a ton of fun.

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

It is going to sound kind of corny, but I would have to say my mom. She had four daughters and imbued in all of us the sense that we needed to be independent women who could stand on our own two feet.

How do you balance pursuing your passion with your personal life?

I have never really cared about the “work-life balance” so many folks think is so important, as if there is some wall built between the two concepts. I love my work and my family and a farm we have on the Peninsula and making writing when I can and traveling and drinking cocktails with my friends. I do BFI stuff seven days a week, but when I feel like screwing off, I do, or if I want to work from the Peninsula farm some days, I do. I guess I like extremes more than balance.

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

Let them know that life’s biggest lessons come from failures, and failures only happen if you take risks. If you write a story you are proud of and you get up in front of people to read it and your voice freezes and you can’t utter a sound and you feel mortified . . . just know it will be a great story when you are older, and the next time it won’t be so scary.

What book did you recently read and how did it impact you?

I recently read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. It really is a book about crafting one’s life, [in] one’s old age, [into] a life about living, not dying. That sounds kind of grim, but it really isn’t. Lately I’ve been kind of thinking about starting my own (green) cemetery . . . but that’s another story.

— Elisa Murray

Dennis G. Smith | Photo Credit: Will Austin (

The community helper: Dennis G. Smith

President and CEO, United Way of Snohomish County

Dennis G. Smith brings what he learned during his years as a therapist to his role as president and CEO of United Way of Snohomish County. This friendly, curious conversationalist loves asking thoughtful questions when he meets people.

His leadership position melds strong strategic planning skills with his passions. “Working here takes what I knew as a therapist for improving human life and brings that to a community level. I plan ahead, trying to move everything to a positive resolution,” Smith says.

While leading United Way’s response during the 2014 Oso mudslide, he woke up one night thinking about the best way to help the families and communities affected by the disaster. “There were about nine different organizations collecting donations from the public. I realized we needed to coordinate distribution,” he says.

United Way received $2.67 million in contributions for the Oso disaster.

Organization leaders began meeting regularly to work together to get the dollars to the community. “When people asked who they should donate to, we said it didn’t matter because in essence, we are all working together,” Smith says.

Who is your personal hero?

When I was 14, I watched Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech live. I was very inspired by his sense of making society a better place through love and positive engagement. King admired Gandhi, and I also did a study of Gandhi. I followed a bit of King’s path, going into ministry and then jumping to social services. I have felt very fortunate to take those early childhood inspirations and bring them to some level of fruition.

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 father. Earl Smith was an accountant, and he also wrote poetry. He believed every human being has three jobs in life. First, we discover our gift. Secondly, we develop that gift and become the best person we can based on our gift. Third, use that gift to help advance the common good and the community around us.

How do you balance pursuing your passion with your personal life?

My wife and I have been married almost 42 years, and we raised two daughters, who are now married and live near us with our two grandkids. Spending time with them brings me grace, relaxation and love. I’m a planner, so I plan GIFTs: grandkid informational field trips. We do local outings as well as bigger trips, such as our history vacation to the East Coast.

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

Parents like to tell kids about what they ought to do. One of the best ways we can help promote our kids is to sit down and listen. That’s what I did with my own daughters: I had them talk first. I’d look for bridges of agreement so I could say, “Boy, that really makes sense.”

What book did you recently read and how did it impact you?

A book I actually read for the first time in 1980s: Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William L. Ury. It’s a study of negotiation skills. The most common bargaining type is taking your position and arguing it, trying to convince the other person. This is the least effective form of negotiation. The book talks about the importance of active listening and finishing with the bridges of agreement.

— Nancy Schatz Alton

Chuck Morrison | Photo Credit: Will Austin (

The shelterer: Chuck Morrison

Regional executive director, American Red Cross, Snohomish County

Chuck Morrison feels comfortable in two different worlds. He loves the solitary pleasures of fly-fishing and hiking throughout the Northwest, and he’s learned to be calm while leading Snohomish County’s American Red Cross (ARC). 

Morrison grew up in Massachusetts, but moved at age 30 for work at Everett Community College, making the switch to ARC 11 years ago. “Volunteers are 95 or 96 percent of our workforce, and they aren’t just in name only. They do incredible work. It’s a privilege to work with them and our staff, too, who are all totally devoted to the work,” he says.

The ARC team was an integral part of the response to the 2014 Oso mudslide. With the roughly $5 million raised for the effort, ARC immediately set up five shelters for victims, volunteers and first responders, and the agency continues to support survivors and the community.

Morrison is most proud of how his ARC team balanced the needs of the survivors with their need for privacy from the media. “Everyone in our shelter in Arlington had lost family members; there was nobody there whose family was whole,” he says.

During a crisis, Morrison is on 24 hours a day. He talks of fielding a 1 a.m. phone call from a young woman looking for her parents after the slide. “When we gave her the news that her parents weren’t [in the shelter], she asked us to notify her kid brothers, who were both in the military. People don’t know this is a role of the Red Cross. We got the messages to her brothers, and they were able to get home within a few days and stay for months until they found their parents’ remains,” says Morrison. “I think of the survivors every day. Their path to recovery is long and difficult.”

Who is your personal hero?

My late father-in-law. He was a perfect example of kindness, leadership and the importance of family. Six years after he’s passed away, my wife still mourns him every day. Even after he was diagnosed with cancer that would quickly kill him, he spent time walking hand in hand with his wife of nearly 60 years, enjoying the time he had left.

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 dad died when I was pretty young. The next-door neighbor became my surrogate dad. He took me fishing and camping and to ball games. And he was always there for chats that I might have been having with my father.

How do you balance pursuing your passion with your personal life?

Certainly I was challenged in 2014. I probably learned the true importance of work/life balance. I make sure even if it’s three or four months away, to put a vacation day or two or week on my schedule. In my line of work, sometimes it’s hard to forget the whole world’s not having a disaster.

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

Simply by supporting their biggest dream, whether that is to be a writer, photographer or a rock climber. By making sure we don’t inadvertently discourage them. Their dream is what their dream is.

What book did you recently read and how did it impact you?

I reread Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation. The impact of the sacrifice for family and country of the folks he highlighted was probably even more significant than my first reading. Obviously, even now our men and women in uniform make great sacrifices, but we also know a lot more about how to take care of them than we did previously.

— Nancy Schatz Alton

Maria Chavez Wilcox | Photo Credit: Will Austin (

The empowerer: Maria Chavez Wilcox

President, Childhaven

Maria Chavez Wilcox was working for United Way in Seattle when she had her first interactions with Childhaven. “I used to love visiting what was then called Seattle Day Nursery. I loved the agency and the people. As a child-abuse survivor, it’s my mission to end child abuse and neglect. I believe becoming the president of Childhaven has brought me back to the path I ultimately needed to end up on,” she says. “Somebody has to do it, and we are going to take it on, one step at a time!” says Chavez Wilcox. 

The vivacious leader has been at the helm of Childhaven since 2011, creating a more financially stable $17.5 million organization. Its three nationally recognized therapeutic child care centers offer parent education programs, as well as health screenings, meals, transportation, home visits, and monitoring of babies and preschoolers identified as neglected or abused.

The impossible always seems possible to Chavez Wilcox. Two years ago, she adopted two dying feral kittens in need of $1,800 of medical care. “Bailey and Baxter are the best investment I’ve ever made,” she says. 

Who is your personal hero?

Amelia Earhart, because she chose to do something never heard of before, and she risked her life to do it. Despite all the naysayers, she had a vision. I admire her fortitude, persistence and courage.

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

That’s easy: my fourth-grade schoolteacher. When I came to the United States, I was treated very, very badly because I wasn’t blond and I didn’t speak English. This teacher believed in me and spent a lot of extra time after school with me. She showed me that I could have a better life, that I was worthy of care and support. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t like everybody else. Having one person who believes in you, and shows you a different way, is all you need to turn your life around. For a lot of kids, that happens at Childhaven.

How do you balance pursuing your passion with your personal life?

My passion is ingrained in who I am and what I do; it’s in my DNA. This is not a job to me, this is a calling. I didn’t leave the sunny beaches of California — there are 11, 000 nonprofits there — for rainy Seattle. I came to end child abuse. I get energized by the cause and I do whatever it takes.

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

First of all, we have to make them believe their biggest dreams are possible and let them have bold goals. Second, we must show them the resources to get there. I also think mentoring is important; spending time with young people is huge.

What book did you recently read and how did it impact you?

Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter. It’s about her life as a foster-care child and the lack of care she received in the system. Against the odds, she became a great person due to her fortitude. It’s a tough read — some really terrible things happen — but I definitely think it should be on everyone’s list.

— Nancy Schatz Alton

Casey Trupin | Photo Credit: Will Austin (

The defender: Casey Trupin

Coordinating attorney, Children and Youth Project, Columbia Legal Services

Casey Trupin identifies himself as a parent to three young kids, ages 6, 4 and 1, before anything else. His biggest role, according to him, is being a father and supporting his wife in bringing up their children. Having worked most of his career with homeless children and at-risk youth, Trupin knows how critical it is to be an involved and available parent. 

Trupin currently directs a statewide team of attorneys and support staff at Columbia Legal Services (CLS), which uses community education, research, policy advocacy and litigation to help some of Washington state’s most at-risk youths: those who are low-income, homeless or in foster care.

In 1997, Trupin cofounded Street Youth Legal Advocates of Washington (SYLAW) and went on to direct the program until 2005. He is the former chair of the Children’s Rights Litigation Committee of the American Bar Association (ABA), and the current special adviser to the ABA’s Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, which he also chaired from 2006 to 2009.

A product of Seattle Public Schools, Trupin says that he came face to face with the wide socioeconomic gap among the youths when he was studying at Garfield High School. “The school had students who came from no income to middle to extremely wealthy families,” says Trupin, who graduated from the University of Washington School of Law in 1999. 

Trupin and his team at CLS have been instrumental in reforming Washington state’s foster care system, within which children have gone months without seeing their caseworker and have often bounced from home to home. Trupin’s team has helped initiate more stability for the children in foster care. More kids are now being placed with their siblings and relatives, and are getting better mental health support.

Trupin and CLS worked on the Youth Opportunities Act, signed into law last year, which results in the sealing of 6,000–10,000 young adults’ juvenile offense records each year, allowing those youths to receive greater opportunities in housing, education and employment. “The Youth Opportunities Act eliminates a major barrier for many rehabilitated youth who can now contribute fully to their communities,” Trupin says.

“But we still have a lot to do” he acknowledges. “There are around 32,000 homeless kids in Washington schools. We need to be able to help these kids, keep them safe.”

Who is your personal hero?

Many of my clients are my heroes. Growing up, I was lucky to have both my parents, and I was financially and emotionally secure. But my clients, they grew up with almost nothing, yet they are so resilient and keep pushing themselves to help others in foster care and the juvenile justice system. I am blown away by their grit. Many of my clients have become leaders for movements to make things better for other kids.

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 parents played a very big part in my success. As child psychologists, they discussed a lot of social justice topics, particularly surrounding youth. They reminded me of the privileges I had that other kids didn’t. They helped me understand human behavior and taught me never to be ashamed of wanting to help others. They helped me stand up for my choices, against people who felt that working on social causes was a waste of time.

How do you balance pursuing your passion with your personal life?

You should ask my wife if she thinks I am balancing the two well! The balancing act is the toughest part. I have an incredibly supportive wife who understands my passion for my work. She reminds me of how important it is for me to be there for our kids. I am also appreciative of the luxury of having family close by for support and help.

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

I think the youth of today need a platform to voice their views. A young person hearing the success stories from another young person in a similar situation will learn so much more than from someone he can’t relate to.

What book did you recently read and how did it impact you?

A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me by Jason Schmidt. This is a memoir of a kid who grew up mostly in Seattle. He was poor, his mother had abandoned the family, and the father had AIDS. Jason also studied at Garfield High School, around the same time I was there. He lived a few blocks away from me. But we were worlds apart. The book is inspirational in that it tells you that people can achieve great things in spite of all their adversities.

— Padmaja Ganeshan-Singh

Matt Lawrence | Photo Credit: Will Austin (

The filmmaker: Matt Lawrence

Director of the Digital Film Program at Ballard High School

Matt Lawrence has been interested in filmmaking ever since he was a kid who loved movies. He got a Super 8 camera when he was 13, and he started making movies with friends. 

When Lawrence was hired to start the digital filmmaking program at Ballard High School in 2001, the school didn’t even have equipment.

“Being able to build a program the way it ought to be built is an educator’s dream,” says Lawrence, who holds a master’s degree in educational television. “I took the risk and hoped that more funding and support would follow. The gamble paid off.”

Ballard students learn analysis as well as production, and many have graduated to join film and arts programs around the country. Each year Lawrence travels with students to Los Angeles to tour the industry, visit outstanding college programs of film and television production, and meet with program alumni and industry professionals. Since the program started, Ballard High students have won over 460 awards and honors for their work from regional, national and international film festivals as well as organizations such as the YoungArts Foundation and the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

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 young, teachers recognized that I could play music I had heard by ear, with harmony. As a result of their support and attention, I received private lessons from several gifted musicians and composers. Every week, these people took what I did with my time very seriously. As a result, I began to take myself seriously. This is a critical element to success in anything. I was very fortunate to have people around me notice my abilities and help me develop them. Doing this for students is what I love most about teaching.

How do you balance pursuing your passion with your personal life?

I’ve reached the conclusion that balance isn’t achievable for teachers (at least, not in the U.S.).  My mother was a college professor. When I was growing up, I thought she was a workaholic.  Later, when I started teaching, I realized what she was up against. In all the data we hear on education, it’s seldom reported that teachers in the U.S. spend roughly twice as much time delivering instruction to students in the classroom as teachers in countries with quality education systems. This means most everything else that teaching requires — preparing good lessons or meaningful feedback, conferring with colleagues or parents — must happen outside the school day. It’s sad to say but to do even an adequate job as an educator requires sacrificing a significant amount of family time.   

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

Research tells us that people are more motivated when they have more control over what they’re doing. I require my students to produce the type of project we are studying, but they select and develop the content for their project. If it’s a project of their choice, they’ll work hard and invest, and their dream will become a reality.       

Natalie Singer-Velush 

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