Light a Fire Awards 2013

Seattle Met announces winners of its second annual celebration of individuals and organizations in the nonprofit community.

By Seattle Met Staff October 25, 2013 Published in the November 2013 issue of Seattle Met

John Shadoff is not afraid to roll up his sleeves to help.

Image: Young Lee

Extraordinary Volunteer
John Shadoff, Lifelong AIDS Alliance

At the Lifelong AIDS -Alliance they call it “The A Team”—six retirees out to combat hunger. John Shadoff has been putting together grocery bags in Lifelong’s kitchen (enough to feed seven people one meal) once a week for the past eight years. 

The 68-year-old saw the first wave of AIDS ravage Seattle in the 1980s and watched friends and loved ones die from the epidemic. His response has been what the organization’s chief operations officer Michael Godfrey calls a breathtaking commitment to the cause. 

Beyond feeding the hungry, Shadoff is a top donor to the agency’s thrift store. (Godfrey says they’ve needed extra vans to accommodate Shadoff’s donations.) Shadoff also led the redesign of Lifelong’s website, into which he poured hundreds of hours of his time over a six-month period, all to ensure the site felt current and was accessible to those in need.

“He’s also one of our board members,” notes -Godfrey, one who has pushed for Lifelong’s mission to extend beyond AIDS survivors to those suffering from other chronic health problems. “But he’s the kind of board member who’s obviously not afraid to roll up his sleeves and do the work.”

$100 would pay for 14 meals for people with AIDS, those with other chronic health problems, and homebound seniors.

Eddings' specialty is the under 40 crowd.

Image: Young Lee

Emerging Leader
Kristen Eddings, Washington Global Health Alliance

Imagine. You’re sitting in front of 2,500 people, many of them twenty- and thirtysomethings in whom you’ve kindled the desire to make the planet a better place. To your left, one of the most influential women on earth: Melinda Gates.

Last July, Kristen Eddings interviewed Gates at McCaw Hall. Washington Global Health Alliance’s director of communications and strategic partnerships since the organization’s inception six years ago, Eddings opted out of throwing softballs. The 29-year-old asked the matron saint of global health how she knows for sure when she travels the world that her hosts, given her celebrity and influence, give her an accurate picture of how things truly are in that country. 

The tension in the room rose as the crowd swallowed hard, wondering whether Gates would take offense. Only the two women on stage seemed unfazed. Gates answered: I don’t.

Like WGHA, Kristen Eddings is a connector, mobilizing our state’s robust global health sector and uniting it with causes around the world. Her specialty: the under-40 crowd. Miss Washington 2006 and a top 10 finalist for Miss America 2007, Eddings envisioned Party for the Health of It, an event for 1,000 that takes on a different cause each year: diarrheal disease, tuberculosis in Haiti, mobile technology for pregnant women in Southeast Asia. This year’s proceeds go toward clean water and sanitation in Tanzania. Speaking of which, earlier this year Eddings led Sounder FC players and managers to Tanzania to stir in them the desire to participate in global health efforts. 

$100 would help fund one of WGHA’s signature programs such as the Tanzania water project, a faith and secular-organizations project, or the annual Party for the Health of It event.

The STEM education-based nonprofit changes lives.

Image: Young Lee

Purely for the Love
Big Brained Superheroes Club

We’re all superheroes. We’re born with the capacity for empathy, persistence, respect—which, okay, aren’t save-the-world-style superpowers. But they do change lives. An eight-year-old we’ll call Brittany knew this. Or at least she was starting to believe it when she joined the Big Brained Superheroes Club for a field trip to a STEM education–based nonprofit last May. With an annual budget of less than $5,000, the eight or so volunteers at the free after-school program at Yesler Community Center had been tapping their power to do more with less for weeks as they coaxed her into a metaphorical cape. But on this cool spring day she was struggling to summon her powers of adaptability. 

The obstacle before her—to build a moving robot, with the help of an adult, that could sense when it was nearing a wall and change course—seemed insurmountable. She was just a kid, a Somali emigre who had virtually no possessions and who’d never been given a reason to believe she’d ever have much more than that. How could she build a robot? She hung her head. Tears welled in her eyes. It was, she said, the worst field trip ever. But then her sidekick, a club volunteer, reminded her of that invisible cape hanging from her shoulders and that the strongest superheroes are the ones willing to admit they don’t know it all. She rallied and she built that robot. And as she walked home with her fellow Big Brained Superheroes, now laughing about the best field trip ever, she was practically skipping. For just a second both feet seemed to lift off the ground. And she was flying.


$100 would pay for 16 bags of apples, which amounts to two weeks of healthy snacks.

Under Karch's leadership, FareStart is training and feeding more people than ever.

Extraordinary Executive Director
Megan Karch, FareStart

In 2000, Megan Karch left Maryland to become chief executive officer of FareStart, a Seattle organization that feeds the hungry and gives culinary training to disadvantaged men and women. It was a tremendous leap, and not just geographically: This would be the first leader in FareStart’s 12-year history who wasn’t a chef. But Karch’s human services background proved a sound match for an organization that also offers students shelter, mental health counseling, and even computer training. As her mantra goes, it takes more than a job skill to stay employed and off the streets. It’s that act of giving people “a chance to change their life story,” says Karch, that drew her into the world of food. Thirteen years later, FareStart is training and feeding more people than ever. The student-run restaurant and guest chef nights attract the most attention, but each day students produce 2,000 meals for local child care centers and shelters, run a catering service, and make wholesale batches of potato salad that are sold at area Whole Foods Markets. In 2011 she even flew to New York to accept a James Beard Award for Humanitarian of the Year. Winning one of the nation’s most prestigious culinary honors? Not half bad for a nonchef.


$100 pays for a set of professional chef’s knives given to each -FareStart graduate.

Inmates report calmer moods and heightened self-esteem.

Keeping Us Healthy
Yoga Behind Bars

This isn’t your basic yoga class. When Yoga Behind Bars instructors hold a one- or two-hour session, they’re leading inmates at a juvenile detention center, Seattle’s city jail, or even a maximum-security prison in Monroe. Tranquility in the class is hard won, disrupted by announcements blasted from facility loudspeakers or squawking from guard walkie--talkies. Lights stay at full fluorescent glare, and some inmates aren’t allowed to wear gym clothes. Yogis can’t correct poses with touch, so YBB’s two-day training course teaches them to rely on spoken direction. Poses themselves are often simplified; where a specialized yoga strap might’ve eased a seated forward bend, here a stretched pair of socks must suffice. Instructors think twice before directing students to close their eyes, since prisoners are awfully wary of being so vulnerable. 

But by the time the class reaches shavasana, the traditional meditative lie-down that ends yoga sessions, inmates are yoga converts. They report calmer moods and heightened self-esteem, often employing breathing techniques to combat rage or addiction withdrawal. YBB began in 2008 with a single instructor and has grown to a team of 40 volunteer teachers and three program staffers. They run 18 classes a week in nine facilities, this fall adding meditation for men in solitary confinement. Studies show that yoga reduces recidivism rates, effects borne out at YBB—some of the former inmate-students now serve on the organization’s board.


$100 pays for new yoga mats for an entire class at a juvenile detention center.

Seattle Rep captures Seattle voices.

Nurturing Creativity
Seattle Repertory Theatre

The magic moment comes early in the play. Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old activist crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003, describes flying over Puget Sound, approaching Sea-Tac. It dawns on the Olympia native how much she had missed the verdant Pacific Northwest—its trees, its water.

And so it dawned on Seattle Repertory Theatre in 2007 when it took on My Name Is Rachel Corrie, an adaptation of Corrie’s journals: This is a Seattle story.

The play had until then been the de facto domain of London actor and playwright Alan Rickman, who adapted it, and directors and casts in New York and LA. But the creative forces at the Rep saw in the script the fibers of Western Washington splayed out on the page.

Artistic director Jerry Manning views that realization as a signature moment, a culmination of the 50-year-old theater company’s quest to, in his words, “find the voice of the city.” 

And the Rep continues to lend form to that voice. In 2011 it initiated the Writers Group, a two-year residency that hosts eight Seattle playwrights and a dramatic reading of their works. Earlier this year, the company launched its New Play Festival, staging five works in progress, three of which were written by Seattleites. And in the 2012–13 season alone, the Rep employed some 377 local actors, designers, and other personnel. 

“Seattle Rep,” says Manning, “has always put out a class-A product.” And now it’s focused more than ever on cultivating local talent.


$100 would pay an actor for a day to read a new, Seattle-written play.

Kids write poems, letters, songs, and stories at 826 Seattle's after-school tutoring program.

Inspiring Our Next Generation
826 Seattle

The lights were bright on stage at the Triple Door last April, and nine-year-old Edom could barely see the crowd before her—hundreds of donors who’d come to this fundraiser for 826 Seattle, hundreds of listeners waiting to hear her sing. The pressure was intense, so she did the only thing she knew would help: She turned her eyes away from those people and met the gaze of her guitarist. Who just happened to be Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard.

Two years ago when Edom walked into 826—an after-school tutoring program in Greenwood—for the first time, she knew maybe five words of English. She’d just emigrated from Eritrea with her mother, but was, as executive director Teri Hein says, “a pistol.” She came every night after school for help with her homework. She stayed late to be part of a pen pal club that wrote letters to retired UW professors in assisted living. And most important, she joined the poetry and songwriting club, where she found her voice. 

Until, of course, her nerves tried to squelch it at the Triple Door. Honestly, the crowd knew that even if she froze, the very fact that she was up on that stage proved that 826’s programs worked. She locked eyes with Ben, not knowing he was a world famous rock god. That night he was just an 826 volunteer and a witness to a little girl’s transformation.


$100 pays for transportation for three carloads of kids to go to the Puget Sound Goat Rescue for the summer “Notes to Goats” writing workshop.

Ben Towne's parents discovered that cancer treatments were designed with adults in mind.

Best New Nonprofit
Ben Towne Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation

Ben Towne was a normal toddler in nearly every way. He loved cars and playing on the beach, and, in the manner of the newly upright the world over, he boisterously padded down hallways. His only tell: a discoloration that ringed his green eyes. A month after his second birthday, Ben’s parents, Jeff and Carin, learned he had cancer, specifically stage IV neuroblastoma.

Over the next year and a half Jeff and Carin watched as the best medicine the twenty-first century had to offer ravaged their son’s body. Chemo took his hair, partially claimed his hearing, and poisoned his organs before he died in December 2008. Cancer treatment, the Townes had discovered, is designed with adults in mind. And kids, if they survive, suffer lifelong problems: infertility, stunted growth. The Townes also learned that only 3 percent of cancer research funds go to pediatric cancer. 

In 2010 they launched the Ben Towne Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation. Through fundraisers both large (a dinner and gala every September) and small (lemonade stands run by kids around the country), the foundation has helped accelerate the study of pediatric cancer. In its second year in operation, it contributed $1 million toward pediatric cancer research. 

This past July, the month Ben would have turned eight, a Seattle Children’s Hospital leukemia patient received trial cellular immunotherapy, thanks in large part to funds from the organization that bears Ben’s name. As of this printing she shows no signs of cancer.

 [Editor's note: This entry has been updated since publication to reflect the correct color of Ben Towne's eyes and the full name of the Ben Towne Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation.]

$100 would go toward continued research into a cellular immunotherapy Phase 1 cancer trial.

The Greenwood Senior Center specializes in early memory loss.

Image: Young Lee

Honoring Our Elders
Phinney Neighborhood Association’s Greenwood Senior Center

“Meredith” began experiencing memory loss while living in San Francisco. It started with words—the right one, no matter how simple, seemed just beyond her grasp. So the septuagenarian moved to -Seattle to live with her son. They had heard Greenwood Senior Center specialized in such cases.

They heard right. Though it offers the standard senior activities—like the requi-site community bingo night—the center made the decision to specialize in early memory loss, starting with the Gathering Place, launched in the fall of 2010. Every Thursday afternoon, the elderly exercise their minds and bodies. Sometimes the instructors are actors who teach the art of improv. Forget a word? Improvise and articulate your same point with words you can remember. Next came the Alzheimer’s Cafe—only the second of its kind in the U.S.—where adults diagnosed with -Alzheimer’s or early stage memory loss can, along with loved ones and caretakers, socialize and etch new memories but not feel embarrassed when confusion spreads across their faces.

In just three years the center has made a name for itself, attracting people like Meredith who, says center director Cecily Kaplan, “attends all of our events—everything—and she has told us, ‘I can’t imagine what I’d do without this place.’  ”


$100 would pay for a scholarship for someone who can’t otherwise afford a Gathering Place session.

Lawyers at Perkins Coie give hours of pro bono time on top of their regular case loads.

Image: Young Lee

Extraordinary Pro Bono Contribution
Perkins Coie

In 2007 two Olympia pharmacists and a pharmacy owner sued the state over a new law that required them to sell over-the-counter emergency contraception regardless of their personal religious views. Women’s advocacy practice Legal Voice swung into action to defend the rules. 

But the eight-staff-member nonprofit could hardly go it alone. Enter Seattle law firm Perkins Coie—namely attorneys Katherine Bennett, Thomas Boeder, and Andrew Greene—who on top of their regular case loads devoted hours of prep time and, in the fall of 2011, motored down to Tacoma every day for the 11-day trial. And while the judge did not rule in Legal Voice’s favor, the case is in appeal—and the Perkins team is undeterred. Legal Voice’s Janet Chung estimates the firm has already donated more than $1 million in billable hours to the cause. 

And that’s just one case. Other recent pro bono work from Perkins Coie attorneys includes defending a nonbiological lesbian parent’s right to guardianship and defending an Idaho woman charged with a felony after she took medication that allegedly caused an abortion.

“Our entire model depends on volunteer lawyers,” says Chung. “Without Perkins Coie there would be no one to defend these women.”


$100 would go toward fighting discrimination against women.

At age 11, Jessica Markowitz was inspired to support education for kids in Rwanda.

Next Generation Philanthropist
Jessica Markowitz, Richard’s Rwanda

He was a houseguest like no other—the man who stayed with Jessica Markowitz, then age 11, and her family. Richard Kananga came from Rwanda, and the stories he told burrowed into Jessica’s heart. There was the story of the 1994 genocide, in which the Hutus slaughtered more than half a million of their fellow citizens, the Tutsis. And there were the girls, Jessica’s age, stranded in a war-torn country with no access to education. No hope.

At Seattle Girls School, where Jessica was a student, there was a project, Pay It Forward. Students typically write, say, a letter to the White House or speak out on a matter at a public hearing. For her project, Jessica furthered her work with Richard’s Rwanda, which she launched in 2006 to help girls in that country complete primary school and six years of secondary school. She learned it only cost $40 to send a Rwandan girl to primary school for a year—not an insurmountable amount for a middle schooler in Seattle to raise.

Today Richard’s Rwanda sponsors 40 girls a year in the village of Nyamata, providing money for fees, uniforms, and school supplies. Jessica has traveled to the village seven times and has inspired other young girls in Seattle to do the same. 

She’s since left Seattle Girls School. Last spring she graduated from Garfield High. The organization she started as an 11-year-old lives on, with SGS students still raising funds and going on to start their own chapters in their respective high schools.

Jessica is spending a year abroad in Israel before entering college. SGS headmaster Rafael Del Castillo is certain his former student will continue to be an inspiring leader for global change. “She showed what can happen when a middle school girl believes she can literally change the world.”


$100 would pay for new school uniforms for 10 Rwandan girls.

REST helps women leave the streets and find transitional housing.

Most with the Least
Real Escape from the Sex Trade

Tonight an estimated 300 to 500 young people will participate in prostitution in King County—mostly girls, who’ve been abused, threatened, and cajoled into servitude. One-third of all victims in the U.S. rescued from prostitution in 2010 were in Western Washington.

“Ashley” won’t be joining them tonight. 

Real Escape from the Sex Trade, or REST, approached Ashley, a prostitute since the age of 16, while she worked on the street. Since 2009, REST has met hundreds of women this way. “There’s no hard sell,” says chief operations officer Bridget Battistoni. “These girls have already been coerced. We provide choice, not coercion.” REST may offer a girl breakfast after a “shift,” bus fare to wherever her family support system might be, drug treatment, or prenatal care. Many, like Ashley, have escaped sexual abuse in the home, so counseling is key to REST’s efforts, as is a new transitional housing program, which has hosted four women since August. And REST does it all with only five employees and a $260,000 annual budget.

Oh, and Ashley, she now helps girls like herself leave the streets and build a new life.


$100 would pay for four “comfort kits”—including clothing, food, and hygiene products—given immediately to an underage girl when she’s rescued from the street.

PATH board member Dean Allen brings entrepreneurial business skills to global health.

Extraordinary Board Member
Dean Allen, PATH

In Vietnam they call it Immunization Day. Once a month in the rural Mekong Delta region, clinics swell with extra doctors and nurses, and people pour in from all over the countryside: babies crying and smiling, mothers and fathers with immunization cards at the ready. For Dean Allen, who witnessed Immunization Day during a trip in 2008, it was the fruition of PATH’s rigorous work back home.

“You’re sitting in the middle of nowhere, and here’s five products on the table that PATH invented in Seattle”—a disposable syringe system, say—“and people are using them in their everyday lives.”

Allen exemplifies what it means to be a part of PATH, notes David Wu, PATH’s director of fund development: “an abiding interest and compassion for the enormous inequity in the world—and righting it.” During Allen’s seven years on PATH’s board of directors—first as chair of the development committee and now as board treasurer—the international health organization’s annual budget has grown from $130 million to $300 million. Chalk it up to the entrepreneurial shrewdness he’s honed as CEO of McKinstry, the green engineering and design firm that employs 2,000 people and pulls in some $500 million of revenue a year.

For Allen, PATH scratches an itch he suspects we all have. “A lot of people in Seattle think about making an impact on global health, and they worry about the well-being of children around the world,” says Allen. “But it’s hard to know, with limited resources or limited time, how you can personally make a dent in such a big problem.” With PATH, as Dean Allen saw that day in Vietnam, “you can make a difference right now.”


$100 supports innovative health solutions for women and children around the world.

When Pollock solicits donors and volunteers, his passion is hard to resist.

Image: Young Lee

Lifetime Achievement
Gary Pollock

Eleven years ago Herb Blackinton was a print shop owner nearing retirement when a mustachioed man approached him, saying he was from something called the Moyer Foundation.

“He explained to me the impact losing a parent or sibling can have on a child,” recalls Blackinton. “It had never entered my mind, to be honest with you.” Then the man—his name was Gary Pollock—went for it: the Ask.

You have to understand an ask from Gary Pollock isn’t like an ask from just anyone. No pressure—but not exactly timid either. When Gary Pollock solicits your help, it comes from a passion that burns deep and almost always comes with a story and is impossible to reject.

He asked Blackinton for $10,000 worth of printing work for the Moyer Foundation, former Mariners pitcher Jamie Moyer’s nonprofit for bereaved children. Pollock was its new director.

“I agreed,” recalls Blackinton. Then, with a laugh, “And $10,000 a year became $50,000 pretty quickly.”

Pollock has spread his contagious passion this way for more than 34 years, first at a Jewish community center in Salt Lake City, then from 1979 to 2001 as the executive director of Seattle’s Stroum Jewish Community Center, and at the Moyer Foundation from 2002 to 2010. At the Northwest Center Foundation, where Pollock served as executive director until last summer, the focus was on improving the quality of life for children and adults with developmental disabilities. During his two years there—and this will come as no surprise to Blackinton and others who have worked with Gary Pollock over the years—he raised revenue for the foundation by 162 percent.


$100 would buy up to 15 gifts for underserved children during the holidays through one of Gary Pollock’s favorite charities, Rick’s Toys for Kids. Says Pollock: “Great way to bring a smile to a child.”


How We Chose the Winners

This past summer we invited nonprofits and Seattle Met readers to nominate people and organizations in 14 categories, explaining to us how and why the nominees deserve recognition. The nominations 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 were honored at a special award ceremony at Canlis restaurant on October 22, cohosted by Mark Canlis and Seattle Met president and founder Nicole Vogel. 

The Seattle Foundation vice president and director of communications, Mary Grace Roske, helped spread the word among the many nonprofits it supports. Foundation president and CEO Norm Rice, Roske, and a former member of its Youth Grantmaking Board, Brent Hanower, contributed their invaluable knowledge of the local nonprofit community. Other members of the selection committee included Jonathan Hensley, former president of Regence Blue Shield Washington; Scott Shapiro, managing director at Eagle Rock Ventures; Seattle Met editor in chief Katherine Koberg; Seattle Met senior editor James Ross Gardner; and former Seattle Met associate editor Karen Quinn.


This article appeared in the November 2013 issue of Seattle Met.

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