Now more than ever, our children need angels. As more families cope with tough times — dwindling incomes, financial insecurity, and even unemployment and homelessness — they come to rely like never before on the selfless work of others.
It’s times like these when the kindness of strangers — a compassionate doctor, an inspiring mentor, an unshakable advocate — can mean so much. It can mean the difference between hope and despair; sometimes even life and death.
Here are 14 of those “selfless strangers” — 14 who stick their necks out for families, pushing tirelessly against the tides of poverty, sickness and sorrow. They lift us all up by lifting the most vulnerable among us.
Behold, our 2009 Superheroes for Washington Families!
—Kristen Russell Dobson
Dr. Abraham Bergman
He doesn’t like awards or being called a “hero,” but the merest glance at his accomplishments makes it clear he deserves both. For more than 50 years, Dr. Bergman has practiced “political medicine,” working not only with individual patients, but with — and sometimes against — the system to improve children’s health. Nationally, he helped pass laws ensuring that the clothes your child wears to bed meet strict flammability standards, reducing the number of children poisoned each year by making child-safe packaging mandatory, and providing crucial funds for research and education on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which he was among the first to identify.
Locally, besides serving as director of outpatient services at Seattle Children’s Hospital and chief of pediatrics at Harborview Medical Center, he has also worked tirelessly on projects such as a campaign that raised the number of children wearing bike helmets in Seattle to more than 60 percent. Bergman also helped create the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, which provides much-needed services to children regardless of their family’s ability to pay.
But perhaps his greatest accomplishment is the number of younger doctors he has inspired, such as another of this year’s honorees, Dr. Ben Danielson. By being a fierce voice for children and showing how to make things change, says Danielson, Bergman “makes us all better people.”
Personal hero: Foster parents of children with special needs.
Pet peeve: Meetings. They provide the illusion of activity for people who like to talk but not act.
Favorite recent read: Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson.
— Kathryn Russell Selk
Dr. Stanley Stamm
In 1967, Seattle Children’s cardiologist and Northwest native Dr. Stanley Stamm founded a camp for children with special medical needs. Each August, the Stanley Stamm Summer Camp gives patients ages 6 to 14 the chance to go fishing, ride horses and take part in other activities typical of summer camp at a weeklong, sleep-over camp near Mount Rainier. The camp includes medical support to allow these children, who are unable to attend other camps, to join in the fun.
“The purpose of this camp from the beginning was not to focus on a single medical condition, but to show these kids that they were not alone,” Stamm says. “The camp also gives parents of our campers a much-needed break.”
Lynn Thompson has been involved with the camp for almost 20 years, first as a camper and now as a counselor. “What made camp so special for me was seeing Dr. Stamm all around camp,” says Thompson. “He always had a smile on his face! He puts all his heart into making camp a special place for kids with not only heart problems, like myself, but with other disabilities, to go. To many people, including myself, he truly is a hero.”
Personal hero: President Obama.
Pet peeve: People who are late.
Favorite recent read: The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope by Jonathan Alter.
— Kathleen F. Miller
Dr. Ben Danielson
Ben Danielson originally wanted to be a marine biologist. But eventually he realized there’d be “a lot of sitting and looking at algae.” Ultimately, he discovered a way to connect his two passions, science and children, and became a pediatrician. Not just any pediatrician, but the medical director of the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic in Seattle and a highly regarded community leader.
Odessa Brown, an inner-city satellite clinic of Seattle Children’s Hospital, serves mainly low-income, multi-ethnic families. “We have a unique model,” Danielson says. “It’s an atmosphere that champions cultural relevance while trying to make the best medical knowledge and technology accessible to families who need it the most.”
Known for his easy, affable manner, Danielson believes in “going beyond the stethoscope” as an involved community advocate. “People at Odessa Brown contribute in ways that don’t involve prescription pads,” he says. “They really think of the child as a whole.”
And no one does that better than Danielson, according to Yaffa Maritz, creator and director of the Listening Mothers and Reflective Parenting programs. “Benjamin Danielson reminds me of a Hebrew phrase, loosely translated as ‘still waters reach far and deep,’” says Maritz. “In his quiet manner, he rose to become one of the leaders in our early learning community, beloved both by his staff and the population he is serving. The impact of his work promoting the well-being of struggling families reaches beyond the Odessa Brown community.”
Personal hero: Dr. Abe Bergman and Dr. Ellie Graham, both strong advocates for children’s needs.
Pet peeve: The word “irregardless.”
Favorite recent read: Dreams of My Father by President Barack Obama.
— Linda Morgan
Where others saw failed schools and kids with little hope for success, Trish Millines-Dziko saw enormous potential. When others talked about finding technology workers overseas, Millines-Dziko looked at Seattle’s urban children and wondered why their young minds were not being trained. “Every kid is bright in my view, and it is up to the grown-ups to develop that.”
Millines-Dziko cofounded Technology Access Foundation (TAF) in 1996 with the vision of teaching children of color information technology skills, so they could go on to college.
TAF now provides 300 inner-city Seattle students after-school enrichment programs in STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math. The nonprofit organization has also evolved into full-day schooling. At the TAF Academy in Federal Way, 130 children are immersed in this high-powered curriculum all day long. “Our goal is nothing short of getting 20,000 public schoolchildren ready for STEM careers by 2020,” says Millines-Dziko.
Harborview pharmacist My Phan is one of TAF’s early successes. She was part of the group’s first class as a freshman back in 1997. Now 26 years old, she still considers Millines-Dziko a supportive role model. “She could have taken her resources and retired, but she opened up so many opportunities,” says Phan. “Trish cares so much about kids and hopes every one of her TAF kids will be a success, not just for themselves, but in using their knowledge to help others in their own communities.”
Personal hero: My partner, Jill. She’s doing a stellar job raising our four children.
Pet peeve: People who whine about problems but don’t do anything to suggest solutions.
Favorite recent read: Turning the Soul: Teaching Through Conversation in the High School by Sophie Haroutunian Gordon.
— Hilary Benson
When Maureen Brotherton’s daughter Tia was 16, she faced a dilemma: She needed a paying summer job, but didn’t want to give up her volunteer work as a tutor to homeless children. Brotherton and her husband’s solution? They paid Tia themselves to stay on as a volunteer with the Atlanta Street Center. Thus the idea for TIPS — Teens in Public Service — was born.
TIPS provides teenagers rewarding summer employment in the form of paid community service internships. “TIPS participants receive more than just a paycheck,” Brotherton says. “TIPS allows teens to be leaders. Our interns discover struggles and needs in their communities. They often find their life’s work or passion. It is a win-win-win program for teens, nonprofits and the community at large.”
Psychologist Laura Kastner, Ph.D., has two children who are TIPS alumni. “TIPS gives teenagers opportunities to work in substantial job roles in the nonprofit world, gives agencies outstanding teen employees, and pays the teens with foundation funds that yield huge community profit mileage out of every dollar,” says Kastner. “Maureen’s brainchild is nothing short of brilliant.”
Personal hero: Right now, it is Michelle Obama!
Pet peeve: When people are rude or condescending to others.
Favorite recent read: There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene.
The Role Model
Maj. Paul Ferguson
When Air Force Maj. Paul Ferguson walks into Neely-O’Brien Elementary School, everyone says hello.
“I don’t even know half the kids who are yelling my name,” he jokes. “It’s kind of funny to be 32 and be a rock star in grade school!”
Neely has a longstanding relationship with the Defense Contract Management Agency-Boeing, where Ferguson is currently assigned. Ferguson has mentored second-graders at Neely in the Kent School District for the last three years.
“He’s fabulous with my children,” says teacher Sharon Waterman. “I have never had a mentor who has done what this man has done. He’s taught my children that you need to take responsibility for what you do and say.”
Ferguson had just returned from Iraq when he became a mentor. Later deployed to Afghanistan, he stayed connected to the class. He was lucky, he says, to be in one of two locations in the entire country with decent online connectivity. When it was bedtime in Afghanistan, the second-graders were just beginning their day and Ferguson would video-conference with them.
These days, Ferguson, his wife, Nicole, and their sons, Chandler, 4 (shown here), and Tyler, 2, have lunch at the school nearly every day. Working with the students has made him a better father, Ferguson says.
“I have been blessed. Volunteering at Neely has given me far more than I’ve given the kids. These kids have really enriched my life.”
Personal hero: Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore. Perhaps you know him as Hal Moore. Lt. Gen. Moore and Joe Galloway recorded their experiences in the Ia Drang Valley in their 1992 book, We Were Soldiers Once . . . And Young; Mel Gibson played Moore in his 2002 movie, We Were Soldiers. Lt. Gen. Moore is a selfless patriot; he is a commander’s commander whose judgment and accomplishments I admire and respect.
After I suffered a traumatic brain injury . . . We Were Soldiers was the first book I read; I “relearned” how to read by poring over that book in the hospital. Shortly after, I corresponded with Lt. Gen. Moore and Joe Galloway . . . Those correspondences might not have meant much to Lt. Gen. Moore and Joe, but they mean the world to me!
Pet peeve: People who make excuses.
Favorite recent read: Longitudes and Attitudes by Thomas L. Friedman.
— Elaine Bowers
When her high school physics teacher told her she would one day be a teacher, Jenny Dew scoffed. “I had other ideas,” she laughs. Now, years later, Dew is described by Cathy Thompson, the former principal at Dew’s school, Seattle’s Roxhill Elementary, as “born to teach.”
“If I had a first-grader, I would fight to put them in Jenny’s class,” says Thompson, who calls Dew an “amazing teacher” who makes every child feel welcome and every family part of the learning process. In fact, Thompson says, it was an honor to have been responsible for hiring Dew and bringing her talent and passion into the district.
Dew started her career with Teach for America, a national organization that sends recent college graduates to teach in low-income communities. Although only required to commit to two years, Dew kept on teaching in inner-city Los Angeles, not wanting to be another adult who abandoned the kids after a few years. She also loved seeing the “light bulb” go off when a child finally grasped something they had been trying to learn.
After moving to Seattle for her husband’s schooling, Dew brought that same commitment and energy to Roxhill, where she has already received an award for excellence in teaching.
Personal hero: My high school physics teacher and my third-grade reading teacher — both inspired me to teach.
Pet peeve: Clutter and disorganization in the classroom.
Favorite recent read: One Child by Torey Hayden.
Regina Carter is passionate about engaging children in math and science, and is proud to be a MESA (Math, Engineering and Science Achievement) teacher. She also teaches drama and second grade at Seattle’s Emerson Elementary.
“Education was the avenue for my family to have a better life,” says Carter, “and teaching is my way of giving back to my community.”
But Carter is no ordinary teacher. “Regina Carter is an educator who consistently creates purposeful learning that honors children, while fostering positive self-worth through individual successes,” says Marilyn McVay, who teaches MESA together with Carter.
“Regina makes a challenging profession look deceptively easy,” says fellow teacher Kathy Langhans. “She is a natural; a teacher who doesn’t just teach the three R’s, but knows her children’s hearts and teaches to them.”
Personal hero: My hero is June A. Faulks, who passed away October 23, 2007, due to complications with breast cancer. Even though she was in pain and she knew the end was near, she never gave up or complained once about her situation . . . I miss her beautiful smile, her brilliant words of wisdom and her unconditional love.
Pet peeve: Anyone can have a pet peeve. However, if you approach situations with a positive approach, you can expect a positive outcome in return.
Favorite recent read: Cane River by Lalita Tademy.
For more than 10 years, Port Orchard’s Larry Davis has been helping parents of children with special needs navigate what he calls “the special-education maze” in public schools. Davis recently began bringing his message — championing the needs of special children — to the airwaves, with a 60-minute talk radio show on KKNW 1150 AM (visit Special Education Advocacy for more).
“Every child is a blessing, a gift waiting to unfold,” Davis says. “No matter how inconvenient their actions and behavior may be, today’s children require imaginative education planning, innovative resource development and consistent classroom management like never before.”
Davis brings 25 years of experience and a background in education, administration and mediation to the process of advocating for children with special needs.
Ronnie Thibault has worked with Davis on meeting the needs of the developmentally disabled, including her own son, who has Asperger syndrome.
“What I love most about Larry is his nonstop, tireless dedication to the special-needs population and their families,” she says. “His knowledge base is way beyond most who work in his field, and he knows how to negotiate the systems and make them work for each family and their educators.
“Larry is a rare gem who totally gets it — and has an uncanny ability to bring everyone together in the interest of the children.”
Personal hero: Ronald Reagan. I have never seen anyone accomplish so much, coming into the world with so little, and doing so with such grace. Sure, we all would never agree about his politics, but very few would question his belief in the human spirit, his vision of freedom as the guiding light and his sense of humor in very trying times.
Pet peeve: Watching chivalry and social grace fall by the wayside.
Favorite recent read: True Love by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Mary Lou Dickerson
Come July, our state will have a little something to celebrate, thanks to Mary Lou Dickerson: Washington will be freer of so-called “toxic toys.” As of July 1, toys sold here will contain lower levels of harmful chemicals, such as lead, cadmium and phthalates, than in any other state in the country.
The state legislator who led the charge? Mary Lou Dickerson (D), whose 36th District includes Magnolia, Queen Anne and other parts of northwest Seattle. “The most rewarding part of my job is being able to pass legislation that will truly makes a difference for children and families,” Dickerson says. “It doesn’t happen every year, but I always count on making small gains.”
Her other gains have included family-friendly policies such as family leave, ensuring Medicaid coverage for children who leave foster care, and even bold attempts to keep violent video games out of young children’s reach.
And that’s just since taking office in Olympia in 1995. Prior to that, Dickerson’s extensive training and fieldwork in human services led her to found the Ballard Family Center and Treehouse, which helps thousands of foster children in this state each year. Treehouse executive director Janis Avery calls Dickerson, a “great gift to all,” who has the experience in the trenches to truly know how to help the disadvantaged. “She understands the empowerment focus.”
Personal hero: John F. Kennedy
Pet peeve: People who form their political decisions solely from watching Fox News.
Favorite recent read: JFK and the Unspeakable — Why He Died and Why It Matters by James W. Douglass.
If you’ve been to a show at Seattle Children’s Theatre (SCT) anytime in the past 25 years, you’ve enjoyed the fruits of Linda Hartzell’s hard work. After losing its artistic director and city financing in 1984, SCT was in a rocky position when a board member talked Hartzell, a local director and actor, into taking on the artistic director’s role.
Since then, Hartzell has built SCT into one of the most respected, honored children’s theaters in the world. “Linda is one of a handful of true visionaries” who saw the need to develop professional theater for a multi-age audience, says Teresa Eyring, executive director of a national organization devoted to supporting nonprofit theaters.
Hartzell, who sees children’s theater as part of the ancient tradition of communal storytelling, has a keen eye for “great stories that should be told” and the talent for knowing what younger audiences are capable of grasping, Eyring says. And Hartzell’s work shows that she doesn’t underestimate the audience by shying away from plays touching on difficult subjects. By refusing to “dumb down” plays, or accepting anything less than the most professional, creative shows she can mount, Hartzell has shown the kids in our community respect, and entertained them — and us — well.
Personal hero: Many over the years, but right now, Michelle and Barack Obama.
Pet peeve: Rude people.
Favorite recent read: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Seattle Times, cover to cover.
Breast cancer at 34 is daunting for any woman. For Mercer Island resident Heike Malakoff, getting that diagnosis six years ago meant managing a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation while juggling a remarkably busy life with her husband, Ed, and her children, 2-and-a-half-year-old Maia and twin boys, 1-year-olds Max and Elias.
How to cope?
Malakoff coped by channeling her energies into the organization she launched in 2005 to teach other women about breast health, cancer prevention and early detection. She called the enterprise Check Your Boobies (CYB), then set about teaching women to do just that.
Malakoff stages CYB parties — about 60 a year — where attendees learn how to perform breast self-exams in fun, social settings. A health professional does the teaching, and a breast cancer survivor comes to share her own experiences.
“It’s all about knowing your body and being proactive,” says Malakoff. While in treatment, she’d talk to friends about what she was going through. “It surprised us how little we really knew about breast cancer.”
Malakoff aims to change all of that, beginning with her parties and a partnership the organization has formed with Swedish Medical Center.
“Heike is so effective,” says Susan Gardner, Swedish Breast Center nursing care coordinator. “She’s personable and high energy, and draws people in. She answers a need that’s out there for a younger population.”
Personal hero: Everyday people. I’m amazed by ordinary people and the things they do. My other hero is my mother; whenever I question something, I think about how she’d handle it.
Pet peeve: Apathy.
Favorite recent read: The “Twilight” series by Stephenie Meyer.
Jane White Vulliet
When it comes to the needs of children, Jane White Vulliet doesn’t mince words.
“I just hope that, as a country, we begin to support children with all our resources as much as we do with our lip service,” says Vulliet, chief executive officer for Camp Fire USA Central Puget Sound Council. “I think, probably, when push comes to shove, the squeaky wheel gets the attention. Children and underserved parents just don’t have much power.”
Vulliet has spent more than 40 years trying to remedy that situation. She was program director at the Holly Park branch of Childhaven, serving abused and neglected children, when she heard about a position with Program for Early Parent Support (PEPS).
“I had been working with children and families down under the waterfall,” she says. “I thought maybe if I go and work upstream, I can make a difference for some of these children before they fall over the waterfall.”
After 12 years as PEPS executive director, Vulliet came to Camp Fire, where she has championed outreach programs for immigrant communities through community family clubs.
Jake Weber, friend and colleague, says Vulliet is unwavering. “I think she brings a deep passion for the work, which is the thing that helps you when you’re going through the hard times.”
Personal hero: Nelson Mandela, who, after being imprisoned for years, returned to freedom and forgave those who had oppressed him during South Africa’s apartheid years. He has become a symbol of forgiveness in the face of improbable odds. Perhaps he will show us how forgiveness can lead the way to world peace.
Pet peeve: Lack of personal accountability.
Favorite recent read: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies by Jared Diamond.
Summing up Ann Lokey’s work on behalf of children is a big endeavor. Perhaps Ann herself says it best: “I believe when I’m gone, the most important thing I will have done with my life will have been to love children, especially the hurt ones. And I believe they can heal with a loving home and family.”
Lokey is the Mercer Island mom of four kids, an M.B.A., the founder of the parent-coaching company My Parent Whisperer and an advocate on the behalf of children with special needs. Among her many volunteer activities, she is longtime board member of the Northwest Children’s Fund and she advocates for children as a court appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteer.
Cynthia C. Goodwin, director of Mercer Island’s Department of Youth and Family Services, says Lokey’s gift is supporting not just children, but entire families. “As a professional, I have never met a layperson with Ann’s ability to understand kids in the system and the challenges they pose to their caregivers, schools, families and society. She truly understands what these kids need and the support and funding required if we want to ensure success for them.”
Personal hero: Janis Avery. She supports me unconditionally. She understands what I do and why. She has been in my shoes. She is the rock star of my work. And a great friend to boot. Having lunch with her is true respite for me. She is a blessing in my life.
Pet peeve: When my special-needs child takes my things and moves them. I will find the key on the windowsill upstairs, the dishtowel on the play structure outside and the mail in the fridge. This is just the tip of the iceberg. It is truly crazy making.
Favorite recent read: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook — What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love and Healing by Bruce Perry.
— Kathleen F. Miller