Image: Young Lee

How We Chose the Winners 

To celebrate the city’s nonprofits and the volunteers and benefactors who support them, Seattle Met is introducing the first annual Light a Fire Awards. 

The selection process began with an invitation to nonprofits and Seattle Met readers to nominate people and organizations in 12 categories, telling how and why the nominees deserve recognition. We received some 350 nomination forms, which were vetted by a selection committee that chose winners based on the impact they have on the community and on how well they meet the challenges of their missions. The award recipients in these pages will be honored at a special ceremony on November 14. 

We owe many expressions of gratitude to our partners and sponsors who made generous commitments of time and resources. We are in debt to the Seattle Foundation on many levels. Vice president and director of communications Mary Grace Roske helped spread the word among the many nonprofits it supports. During the selection process, foundation president and CEO Norman B. Rice, Roske, and former member of its Youth Grantmaking Board Jamie Landefeld contributed invaluable knowledge of the local nonprofit community. Health insurance provider Regence signed on to sponsor the award ceremony, and Eric Pettigrew, its director of community and business relations, brought thoughtful insight to the selection process. Lastly, Mark Canlis of Canlis restaurant volunteered to host the award dinner, a gesture guaranteeing an extraordinary evening for all. 

  

Image: Young Lee

Extraordinary Volunteer
Renae Goettel 
Make-A-Wish Alaska and Washington, nwwishes.org

What if you could have anything in the world? The Make-A-Wish Foundation asks that of kids with life-threatening illnesses, and Renae Goettel got her shot in 2001. Though a surprising 50 percent of recipients choose to hang with Mickey Mouse, this 16-year-old desperately wanted to meet San Antonio Spurs baller Sean Elliott. It wasn’t just for his game-clinching three-pointers; he was a fellow kidney transplant survivor. Goettel’s rare genetic disorder that necessitated her transplant had also taken her sight, and she had a cancer diagnosis on top of that. Today that ailing teenager (her cancer is now in remission) has matured into a marathon-running professional who moonlights as a wish-granting fairy. Oh, and she’s still pals with the NBA All-Star.

Make-A-Wish volunteers commit to coordinating two wishes annually; Goettel juggled five in her first year. She steels herself to enter the homes of very ill children and coaxes big dreams from them: a Disney World visit for a five-year-old or a Hawaiian vacation for a 12-year-old. “The sky’s the limit, but you have to get at what they really want,” she says. Her celebrity encounter gave her hope, friendship, and the grit to navigate downtown Seattle with her service dog. It’s why she volunteers and makes gala speeches for Make-A-Wish: “You can’t put a price on a wish.” 

$100 pays for excursions during dream trips, like
parasailing during a Seattle girl’s Hawaii vacation.

 

Best New Nonprofit
Washington STEM
washingtonstem.org

Last fall a Cleveland High School science teacher wanted to teach his students about flow cytometers. His only problem? No, it wasn’t that he didn’t know what a flow cytometer was; it’s a gizmo that analyzes particles. It was that the machines cost as much as half a million dollars. So the teacher turned to Washington STEM, a private nonprofit that began in March 2011. The organization supports STEM education—that’s science, technology, engineering, and math, four crucial subject areas in the twenty-first--century workplace. And there’s nothing more STEM-y than a flow cytometer.

Grant in hand, the Cleveland teacher bought materials and invited local bioscience engineers from BD Biosciences into the classroom. Together they figured out how to make three cytometers for only $500 each—and one machine still operates today. Those public high school students will need all that STEM for future employment: Right now there are more than two vacant sciencey jobs for every out-of-work person in the state. Washington STEM has granted and directed more than $4.1 million in education funds since it was started by concerned state businesses and citizens; you don’t need a fancy cytometer doohickey to analyze that.

$100would put five to 10 high schoolers on a train into the city, where they see a construction site firsthand and even contribute to a structural design element.

 

Image: Young Lee

Purely for the Love
Books to Prisoners 
bookstoprisoners.net

Anne Paxton sat in the cramped quarters of Books to Prisoners’ office in a U District church, shelves of dog-eared donations hugging the walls and a handful of letters fanned out in front of her. Those handwritten pleas came in bunches to the 40-year-old organization with a $28,000 annual budget, more than a thousand a month from felons across the country who had heard of the tiny nonprofit willing to mail them hope disguised as used pulp fiction. She picked up the closest one, from an inmate stuck in some anonymous concrete cell. And as she slid her finger under the envelope’s flap, the only other sound in the room was a scriiiiiip—another volunteer sealing a literary care package with packing tape. The inmate’s request was simple—Paxton has read too many letters since then to remember exactly what he asked for—and she pulled a couple novels off the shelves that might help fill the hours. The last line of that letter stuck with her, though. It took her back to her college days, when she visited Walla Walla Penitentiary and saw the desolation of the prisoners’ lives, when she realized that even the worst criminal wasn’t without some shred of humanity. It read, “Thanks for everything you do for us, the dregs of society.” 

$100 would cover mailing costs to ship two- or three-book
packages to about 35 prisoners.

 

Image: Young Lee

Extraordinary Board Member
Lucy Woodworth
National Alliance on Mental Illness, Greater Seattle, nami-greaterseattle.org

No one vetted Lucy Woodworth before she was invited to join the board of NAMI Greater Seattle in May 2010. No one asked what skills she could bring to the organization that supports the families of those with mental illnesses. No one explained what the post entailed. She was just a volunteer picking up the pieces after a family member had a mental health crisis, and was barely holding on herself. A disaster in the making, right? Not so much. “I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for 24 years,” says executive director Christine Lindquist. “I’ve never known anyone who has contributed like Lucy does.”

With a background in graphic design, which—yep—no one knew about, Woodworth drew up plans to improve the group’s website. She redesigned its newsletter and annual reports, inspiring one donor to send in a check for $2,500. During the run of Next to Normal at the 5thAvenue Theatre, she planned a NAMI night that raised a couple grand more. Basically, she gave a new face to a nonprofit that had given her the strength to go on. “If I hadn’t found NAMI, I know my family member wouldn’t be doing as well,” she says. “It’s a fact.” 

$100 could pay for the materials for 20 participants
in a peer-to-peer class.

Image: Young Lee

Keeping Us Healthy
Navos
navos.org

The townhouses in the two-acre campus in Burien could be any neighborhood enclave. In fact, they’re part of Navos, a mental wellness facility than can house 24 residents. “I’m so glad we built the town houses right outside my office window,” says Navos CEO David M. Johnson. “These are my neighbors.” The 46-year-old treatment organization serves very low-income children, youth, families, and adults with serious and persistent emotional and mental health challenges. Navos is on the leading edge of integrating primary health care with crisis intervention and long-term stability, and its campuses function like communities. In the on-site cafe, clients pull espresso shots and serve wrap sandwiches. Those who have gone through Navos’s innovative training program lead peer groups on such meaty topics as dealing with hallucinations in public. Johnson, who has a background in statewide wellness leadership as well as family ties to the mentally ill population, says the Navos vibe is “tribal.” Its goal is to help people realize their goals. The policy isn’t abstract: The client who dreams of being a bank executive gets started with math classes. And nurses, administrative assistants, and the resident down the hall might all be called on to help with homework.

$100 invested in the Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Program saves the community $1,700 that would have otherwise been spent on additional services if that child had not had early help. 

 

Inspiring Our Next Generation
Kids in Medicine 
kidsinmedicine.org

They call it the Bioskills Lab: a gleaming room outfitted with bright lights, high-tech surgical equipment, and examination tables—like a set straight out of CSI or maybe even ER. Most days the training room at the Seattle Science Foundation hosts cardiologists who come to sharpen their scalpel skills. But since the foundation launched its Kids in Medicine program in 2008, every Monday during the school year the place buzzes with the sound of fourth graders ewwing and whoaing their way through a real-life heart dissection. Okay, the hearts come from pigs, but the dissection follows the same hands-on, 18-step process that those grown-up doctors do. Future surgeons of Puget Sound come from grade schools all over Seattle—some even get beamed in from rural schools via high-def video feed—dress as doctors and, for two and a half hours, dig in. They find the opening between the superior and inferior vena cava. They inspect the tricuspid valve and the right atrial appendage. They examine the left atrial appendage, a common site of cardiac arrhythmia in humans. And whether or not they remember the terminology or what flows into what, they get what the foundation’s COO calls a peak experience: “Walking into that lab and putting on a gown and gloves—that will stick with them forever.” 

$100 would buy 12 pig hearts, or accommodate
24 students, approximately 1 class.
 

Image: Young Lee

Lifetime Achievement 
Linda Hartzell
Artistic Director, Seattle Children’s Theatre, sct.org

Seeing Linda Hartzell at work is a bit like pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz himself—minus the smoke and giant head. On just her third day postsabbatical, she’s buried deep in color-coded cast lists of Munchkins and Emerald City kids for this month’s production of The Wizard of Oz. “How many Winkies do we have?” she asks choreographer -Marianne Roberts. It’s an age-old question.

After 28 years as artistic director of Seattle Children’s Theatre, Hartzell is officially the hardest-working wizard in town, setting the vision for a theater that has changed the way we think about art for children. “The only difference between adult and kid theater is that children aren’t cynical,” she says. With that motto in mind, SCT has staged some of the most compelling professional theater in the region, tackling complex issues like homelessness and bullying while also putting on playful productions of Peter Pan and Robin Hood that draw eight- and 28-year-olds.

At the center of it all, checking on costumes and watering the office plants, is Hartzell. She has the heart of the Tin Man—a den mother with a tough side who wants the office to be a place of kindness and respect—and the courage of the not-so-Cowardly Lion to stay committed to scholarship tickets for underprivileged kids, even when the budget’s tight. Sometimes she worries that, like the Scarecrow, she’s misplaced her brain: “What’s the award you’re giving me? The Soon-to-Expire Award? The Stage 1 Alzheimer’s Award?” She’s too modest to admit this isn’t her first award. Given how many happy little customers (and parents) have been served—five million and counting—it likely won’t be her last.

$100 would send five schoolchildren in the free and reduced-price
lunch program to see their first play.

 

Image: Young Lee

Most with the Least
Literacy Council of Seattle
literacyseattle.org

When she was 12 years old, Anna Kovacevic moved to Utah after fleeing what was then Yugoslavia. She didn’t know any English but was placed in your typical sixth-grade class anyway, with no resources to help her along. It’s the type of disorienting scenario she regularly sees today as program manager of the Literacy Council of Seattle, where 90 percent of the students learn English as a second language. 

The council operates with one part-time paid staff member, Kovacevic. It is serving more students than ever before: one in 10 adults in Washington state is not functionally literate. But the annual budget—consistently less than $40,000—hasn’t grown with the need. Printer cartridges are in short supply. Computer software dates from the early ’90s. And yet tutoring remains free, and last year the organization reached close to 400 students, thanks to some 10,000 hours put in by volunteer tutors.

Since it started in 1969 in a founder’s basement, the council has seen its share of change. It’s still run out of a basement (rented space at a church in Crown Hill), but while the focus once was native-born English speakers, today’s students, all adults, are almost all refugees or immigrants. For them, everyday activities like navigating bus schedules or signing a lease pose daunting challenges. As volunteers like to say, “Literacy affects everything.”

$100 can train two literacy volunteers. 

Image: Young Lee

Nurturing Creativity

Photo Center NW
pcnw.org

Ruby Smith was 17 when she was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma in 2011. While studying at Photo Center NW, Ruby used a 35-millimeter camera to document her treatment in black-and-white photos of get well cards, hospital trays, and medicine bottles: the mementos and paraphernalia of a young person finding meaning through art. 

Ruby was just one of some 1,000 students a year nurtured by programs at the photo center, where novice and seasoned photographers, as well as collectors, curators, and at-risk youth, find community in place. It’s a beautiful place too, an old ambulance building in the heart of Capitol Hill converted into a crisp white gallery, darkroom facilities, and classrooms. For almost 25 years, Photo Center NW has welcomed students of all ages to learn traditional film techniques, composition, and digital skills.

Ruby died a week after her 18th birthday, but her vision and story continues. In honor of her wishes, Photo Center NW created the Ruby Project. Young adult cancer survivors or those undergoing treatment can attend a 10-week program to learn the basics of photography. From this outreach program and other youth projects emerges a new generation of artists. Thanks to Photo Center NW, these artists will find a place to call home. 

$100 supports the donation of a year-long membership to an emerging photographer.
 

 

Image: Young Lee

Extraordinary Pro Bono Contribution
Pat Novotny
Legal Voice, legalvoice.org

Legal Voice, the scrappy local women’s advocacy group, turns to a powerhouse appellate attorney when their cases, oh you know, wind up in the state supreme court: Her name is Pat Novotny. 

Novotny, a private practice family law appeals attorney, started out as a volunteer back in the ’90s, helping to vet possible cases for the group to advance its fight against sex discrimination. She has now argued three landmark cases for the group in the state’s top court in the last decade. With all the research and brief writing that comes with the task of sparring with the justices, her pro bono contribution is valued at around $100,000 a year.

In the state supreme court, Novotny argued and won a defining case for nonbiological parents (think lesbians, gay men, and plain-old step parents), establishing precedent for parents who were previously ignored when it came to things such as visitation rights. She argued and lost a landmark domestic violence case to help victims keep restraining orders in place and the famous case to legalize gay marriage. But only for a second. 

When Legal Voice helped raise both issues with the legislature, it relied on Novotny’s expert research and savvy talking points to pass bills for the win: The burden of proof for lifting restraining orders now falls to the abuser (that’s right, it used to fall on the victim) and legislators legalized gay marriage.

Legal Voice staff attorney David Ward says Novotny “takes the tough cases where you’re trying to push the law, and you don’t always win the first time, but as we’ve seen, it helps move the conversation forward. Novotny doesn’t quit until she wins.”

$100 can yield $300 in legal work. 

 

Extraordinary Executive Director
Thomas Trompeter
HealthPoint, healthpointchc.org

Not now. A couple years ago Thomas Trompeter was rushing out of his office at HealthPoint, on his way to yet another planning meeting for the network of 14 community health clinics, when a manager stopped him: There was a patient at the front desk who wanted to talk to him. He cringed. The organization’s doctors, dentists, and counselors provide more than 200,000 office visits to uninsured and underinsured patients every year, and usually they go well. But when someone wants to talk to the boss they’re usually not happy.

Trompeter braced for the worst as the clean-cut man sat down across from him. Instead, the man was smiling. He’d been homeless and living in a lean-to in Renton when he came to HealthPoint for some dental work, he said, and the doctors’ care convinced him to start valuing his own health for the first time in years. He got counseling, got a job, got straightened out. As he finished his story, he looked Trompeter in the eye, slapped his palm down on his desk, and said, “This place works.”

Trompeter’s got tons of stories like that—he’s met quite a few patients while expanding the org’s reach over the last 16 years, including with its newest clinic, in Midway—and they’ve all reaffirmed his belief in the need for a level health care playing field. But that one? “That one,” he says, “made my month.”

$100 would pay for a child’s asthma
medication for a year.

 

Honoring Our Elders
Senior Services 
seniorservices.org

Meals on Wheels. Medicaid claims. Home repairs. Ferrying clients to doctors’ appointments—Senior Services, Seattle’s 45-year-old, 3,300-volunteer organization aiding 60,000 seniors with a $16 million annual budget does it all. But what the agency headquartered in Belltown truly traffics in are experiences. Take the day volunteer driver Joyce Foy had a to-do list “a mile long.” That afternoon Foy had chauffeured a nonagenarian we’ll call Alice to a doctor’s appointment in Kirkland and was anxious to get on with the rest of her errands. Alice wasn’t having it. She asked if Foy could drive to a nearby cafe. Hiding her frustration, Foy steered into the cafe parking lot, then led walker-bound Alice inside. Instead of a quick to-go order—as Foy had hoped—Alice called for coffee in a mug and a pastry and asked Foy what she’d like to order. No one in the packed cafe offered the woman with the walker a seat, so the two shuffled outside to some chairs on the sidewalk. Alice thrilled at the sight of the sun breaking the clouds, at a bed of flowers, at the birds darting for crumbs. Foy let the errands fall from her mind and began to savor the experience, right up until it was time to go. Alice, tears in her eyes, turned to Foy and said, “This meant the world to me. Tomorrow is my 92nd birthday and this is my birthday celebration.” 

$100 could provide 22 meals for homebound seniors.