Trina Westerlund, Children’s Institute for Learning Differences
“They just don’t get my kid.”
Trina Westerlund hears that desperate plea constantly, from parents of kids who’ve been labeled too aggressive, too loud, too active, too something. She felt it herself in the ’70s when, despite her own special education training, her toddler son presented baffling emotional disturbances. So since 1977, Westerlund has told parents that she can educate their kid—she can get their kid—at CHILD, a school that provides academic, social, and mental health support to struggling children from 20 different districts in Western Washington.
Westerlund thought the program would never get bigger than four students in a church basement or, at most, 15 students in a rented house. This fall more than 50 CHILD pupils will move to a new facility in Renton. About half have autism spectrum diagnoses, though Westerlund eschews labels. The program uses play-based occupational therapy and individually addresses each student’s sensory processing, then reintroduces kids back to mainstream schools. A whopping 90 percent graduate high school—one former student, now a lawyer, sits on CHILD’s board.
Westerlund remains at CHILD even after handing the executive director reins to another parent, one who saw the school help her own “champion melter-downer” daughter. After 37 years, Westerlund is driven by what her son said after language therapy addressed his processing problems: “Oh, I thought I was broken.” She built a place where every child learns that they’re not.
$100 provides 45 minutes of occupational therapy in rooms that include swings, a ball pit and a squeeze machine.
Art With Heart
Everyone wanted to help when a school shooting struck Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, but Seattle publisher Art with Heart actually could. Having produced therapy workbooks for hospital-bound children since 2002, the nonprofit quickly assembled a custom activity book that addressed Newtown’s fear, grief, and trauma on coloring pages filled with drawings and activities. Founder Steffanie Lorig arranged for a Seattle printer to produce 600 copies of Make Your Mark: A Gift to Sandy Hook Elementary School Students and got them to Newtown teachers and counselors.
“They were able to give voice to a lot of children who couldn’t find words to help them in their healing,” says Newtown parent and community activist Jenifer Vaughan. After the shooting, Art with Heart’s materials stood out for being “so precise, and concise, and well thought out.”
Art with Heart’s workbooks come backed by 27 different advisers; art therapists vet the drawings and notable artists like Harry Potter illustrator Mary GrandPré donate their work. Publications address all forms of hardship: disease, grief, or even the bewildering trials of teenagehood. Seattle supporters help them send books as far away as Soweto, South Africa.
“Art does something with your heart where it gets past the walls you’ve put up,” says Lorig.
$100 can give art-based therapy to three children.
Extraordinary Board Member
Dave Thompson, Habitat for Humanity
At first, all Dave Thompson could do for Habitat for Humanity was dig a trench. Drawn to Habitat’s “a hand up, not a hand out” ethos, he and his teenage son signed up for an entire month of volunteer house building at Snoqualmie Ridge in August 2002. On his first day, the Microsoft vice president attacked his shovel job with relish. Within weeks he was a volunteer leader. By the next year Thompson was on the board of the East King County branch; when he landed as the chair of its fundraising task force, he rushed to Bellevue College to take a one-day crash course in raising money.
A decade after sticking a shovel in that first trench, Thompson had a new gig overseeing the merger of two Habitat branches, East King County and Seattle/South King County—a massive endeavor for the now-retired exec and the team that helped him. The union was a delicate process: blending boards, hiring a new CEO, and reaching total agreement between two organizations that had been building houses and providing no-interest home loans for decades.
Now president of the board of the newly formed Habitat for Humanity Seattle–King County, Thompson is resurrecting his Microsoft know-how to upgrade the group’s tech infrastructure. Most of his vacations these days are international Habitat builds, and he’s swung a hammer in nine different countries. Every time he visits a Habitat site, Thompson does the same thing—lets other volunteers claim the fun jobs, then takes any grunt work left.
$100 buys paint for a local child's bedroom or builds a latrine for a village in Bangladesh.
Upaya Social Ventures
Poverty had taken its toll on Poonam Devi, a wife and mother in Bhagalpur, India, giving her the stooped posture of someone decades older than her true age. When Upaya Social Ventures came to Poonam’s city, it changed her life. The Seattle-based philanthropic investment group partnered with an Indian textile company, which in turn hired Poonam to weave silk at home. Today she’s dreaming big and hopes to add a front door to her family’s simple house.
Upaya aims to create jobs in India the same way it’s done here—through investment. Since 2011 it has funded six Indian companies and created close to 1,200 jobs, most home based to allow women to enter the workforce. Founders Steve Schwartz and Sachi Shenoy, Wall Street vets with non-profit experience, believe that reliable employment is the only way out of poverty. Their $10,000 investments of philanthropic capital quickly translate to better living conditions in India, where 400 million people endure extreme poverty. Plus their partners get more than an influx of cash; they gain the know-how of Upaya’s fleet of free business consultants.
“We could not have gotten this far without Seattle,” says Shenoy, noting that much of their funds come from local donations as small as $5.
And business is good. Today Poonam Devi’s employer, Ecokargha, is selling silks in giant subcontinent retail chains. By reinvesting its profits, it doesn’t even need Upaya investment anymore—and Devi will soon buy herself a door.
$100 partially funds a job in a company receiving Upaya investment.
Extraordinary Executive Director
Marty Hartman, Mary’s Place
Amid the lunch clamor at the downtown Seattle day shelter Mary’s Place, 140 homeless women and children are finishing an Asian-inspired meal by tearing open fortune cookies. Distressed, one woman finds executive director Marty Hartman and asks for a hug. Hartman embraces the woman then determines the cause of her bad day—a lost bag of hair products. Hartman delivers that too.
Mary’s Place was launched through Seattle’s Church of Mary Magdalene back in 1999; Hartman had just 30 days to build a program. She “bribed” her future clients with soda and pizza so they’d help brainstorm what the new shelter should be. The overwhelming answer: a respite where homeless women could address the grief, fear, and stress of their plight. In 15 years Hartman grew Mary’s Place to a staff of 45—many formerly homeless women—serving more than 1,200 per year and housing 162 at four separate night shelters. Hartman stresses that the women themselves build Mary’s Place, performing chores to earn shopping credit at the “Bon Mary” store.
But Hartman doesn’t only stock Mary’s Place with personal goods, hot meals, and medical care; she and her staff forge individual relationships with the families they serve. For Hartman that means scheduling part of every day outside her office, among the women. She has a lot of hugs to give.
$100 can house and feed a family of three for three nights at a Mary's Place shelter.
Pratt Fine Arts Center
Wandering through the halls of Pratt Fine Arts Center in the Central District is an artistic smorgasbord. The campus flows from woodworking to jewelry making to blacksmithing, painting to screen printing to typography.
Since 1976, Pratt has offered Seattle barrier-free access to artistic creation for all comers. Classes taught by one of Pratt’s 150 teaching artists start at just $100, and the studios are available for rent, providing a vital resource for artists like glassblowers, who require advanced equipment.
For creators like glass artist Jenny Pohlman, who’s taken classes for 22 years, Pratt provided the spark to an artistic career. But the school is also for amateurs—a community for teens learning screen printing or retired friends taking a painting class together. “The Seattle Freeze doesn’t exist at Pratt,” says the center’s board vice president, Piper O’Neill. “The art techniques almost become secondary to the connecting factor of being with other like-minded people.”
“A man sent us a note to thank us for providing a place where he and his kids could escape from the grief of losing their mother,” recalls Pratt executive director Steve Galatro. The family took a total of 17 Pratt classes in the two years following their loss, finding solace in blacksmithing, stone sculpture, and mixed media. While welding, the father says he “felt truly happy for the first time” since he lost his wife.
$100 buys a month's worth of art supplies for a free weekend youth program, or enough steel for an adult welding night class.
Best New Nonprofit
Don’t tell Hadi Partovi that computer coding is too hard. In Iran, where he grew up, his father handed him a computer at age 10 and told him to teach himself to program.
In early 2013, Partovi set out to inspire kids to take the same crucial plunge into the field of coding. The Microsoft vet bought the domain name code.org and shot a video with all-stars Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Chris Bosh. The clip attracted 10 million views, prompting code.org to plan its first Hour of Code on December 9, 2013. Thanks to tutorials drawn from Plants vs. Zombies and Angry Birds characters, Partovi’s team demonstrates to students—and adults—that programming isn’t intimidating, opening doors to future computer science education.
The initial goal was to get 10 million schoolchildren to try coding; so far code.org has touched 40 million. On that first Hour of Code even President Obama encouraged students, “Don’t just buy a new video game, make one.”
Now only a year and a half old, code.org is lobbying states for more computer science education and planning its second Hour of Code. For that Partovi is thrilled to have lined up a code.org spokeswoman even harder to snag than the president: 17-year-old Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai.
$100 would cover the cost of a basic computer science course for 100 elementary school students.
Inspiring the Next Generation
Washington Aerospace Scholars
There were wails of despair in the Museum of Flight when the Mars rover mission failed—several Mars rover missions, actually. “Mission control” was actually groups of high school juniors. Their rovers were flipping over or stalling out just one room away, but it might as well have been Mars. The teams of 10
had spent all week allocating a $329 million “budget” to assemble tiny rovers that could navigate a landscape viewed via remote camera, and some faltered during the final test. But all 151 students were having a blast.
Washington high schoolers have to earn their spot at the Aerospace Scholars summer residency at the Museum of Flight, first enduring a six-month online course that teaches science fundamentals and the history of NASA. Besides the ability to earn five college credits, any student who finishes the course gets a chance to attend a summer week in Seattle packed with hands-on simulations, tours of jet labs, and time with mentors from Boeing, NASA, Blue Origin, and more.
Since the Washington version of the Aerospace Scholars program was launched in 2006—by astronaut and former Museum of Flight CEO Bonnie Dunbar—it has sent 82 percent of its graduates to STEM degree programs; more than half of those graduates specialized in engineering. Many now work at the same companies as their mentors, though none have landed a new rover on Mars. Not yet, anyway.
$100 allows for one student to take the online component of the program.
Jonathan Saturay, Beecher’s Pure Food Kids Foundation
When Jonathan Saturay walked into the classroom, he immediately noticed the chubby Filipino kid. It wasn’t so long ago that the operations director for Beecher’s Pure Food Kids Foundation was a chubby Filipino kid himself.
Though Saturay was there to conduct one of the 469 nutrition education classes the foundation provides free to local elementary schools, he found a moment to bond with the boy over family dinners made with Spam. It’s exactly the kind of food—laced with preservatives, additives, and fat—the 25-year-old was there to discuss. The workshops deputize elementary students as “food detectives,” able to read nutrition labels, decode vague marketing claims like “whole grain,” and deduce that the recommended serving size of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos is a fraction of what one normally eats. Saturay started running the workshops in 2013; now he oversees a program that reached 11,000 kids this past school year.
Prepping and cooking some hearty vegetarian chili remains kids’ favorite part of these sessions. And an hour after their conversation about Spam, Saturay’s youthful doppelganger was happily chopping onions.
In September, Saturay moved to New York City to expand the program to a new region full of kids who might otherwise opt for a lunch of Coke and Cheetos. “I want to turn kids into informed citizens,” he says. “That’s what’s going to turn the tide of obesity.”
$100 would pay for cooking ingredients for five pure food kids workshops, empowering 125 kids to be more curious about what's on their plate.
Promoting Health and Happiness
There’s something different about this workout: The participants are all teenagers, for one, and it’s suspiciously similar to musical chairs. The kids squat-walk around a circle of medicine balls until the music stops, then a scramble to claim seats ends with everyone doubled over in laughter.
Making fitness fun and accessible is exactly the point of Upower, a nonprofit that provides free fitness programs to underserved youth around King County. Jill Beck and Martha Moseley founded the organization when they noticed schools were cutting their physical-education programs; a 2014 KUOW study later found that none of the eight Seattle-area school districts met state PE requirements. At-risk teens were left without safe and affordable fitness options.
They launched Upower this past winter as a five-site pilot and have since expanded to 11 different locations. All Upower classes—which range from CrossFit to running to yoga—are free. And, since many participants are homeless or come from low-income households, the nonprofit also donates workout clothes to those who need them.
“We want to break the cycle of poverty by providing good mentors, developing good character, and developing good habits,” Moseley says. It’s working: Upower students improved their fitness level by an average of 36 percent over the course of 12 weeks, and another 75 percent reported feeling more energized at school and at home.
$100 funds one student through a semester of Upower.
Amy Howell, Marysville Community Food Bank
Half of Marysville public elementary kids are on free or reduced lunch programs—and on weekends, there’s no school lunch. It would take near-boundless energy to change all their lives, but Amy Howell has it. Often decked in head-to-toe Seahawks regalia, Howell works for free at least 30 hours per week at the Marysville Community Food Bank, where she created a backpack program that delivers weekend food to more than 250 kids a week.
“These little kids, they shouldn’t have to worry,” says Howell. “They shouldn’t have to see their parents worry. Not when it’s the cost of a box of cereal.”
The backpack program is called Food for Thought, a plan Howell proposed in May 2012. Students in 11 schools get a bag each Thursday stuffed with shelf-stable milk, cereal, soup, macaroni and cheese, ravioli, tuna fish, applesauce, juice, PB&J, and apples or oranges—all meant to get kids with food insecurity through the weekend.
“Knowing they are going to have food during the weekend has taken stress off kids,” says Moiya Rossnagle, family liaison at Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary, where they’ve seen rising test scores and improved attendance among Food for Thought recipients. One pair of brothers used to be absent three or more days a week, she says; now it’s rare for either to miss school.
But Howell won’t stop there. She’s taken to writing her own grant applications to help the food bank, and so far her energy has garnered the bank a brand new truck.
$100 fills the backpack of one child for three quarters of the year.
Most With The Least
The Goodtimes Project
One day you’re putting on a free summer camp for kids with cancer. The next you have nothing. In 2013, Seattle’s Camp Goodtimes fell on hard times when its partner for the previous 30 years, the American Cancer Society, eliminated support for all pediatric oncology camps. So volunteers established a new nonprofit, hired an executive director and programming director, and launched the Goodtimes Project. Without an office, furniture, a finance system, or a donor list, they set out to raise $400,000 in just six months.
“It was like racing down the freeway while trying to change your tires,” says executive director Carol Mastenbrook. The first thing her team did was start talking about the camp, not about disease or cancer, to donors. “We’re there to live in the joy of childhood, as opposed to the problems of cancer,” she says.
The approach landed Goodtimes a $50,000 grant from a local foundation, and another $15,000 secured the site. The team garnered $17,000 via a Facebook campaign and more through a wine auction. Somehow, before camp—the “first 31st annual” camp, as they call it—they had their $400,000.
In June 2014, the first 100 campers descended on the Vashon Island grounds, running or wheeling through a gauntlet of bedazzled volunteers. They enjoyed archery and wove lanyards. By the final day, the kids were swimming in frigid Puget Sound waters for the polar bear plunge, for which they earned a Klondike Bar. The Goodtimes Project delivered on its name.
$100 buys a week's worth of arts and crafts supplies for two campers.
Extraordinary Pro Bono Contribution
Joanna Plichta Boisen, Domestic Violence Advocacy Project
There was the young man who threatened to kill his ex. The child who watched his father slam his mother’s head into a wall. The husband who assaulted his wife with a soldering iron.
These are the cases Joanna Plichta Boisen remembers the most from her nearly 10 years working pro bono with the Domestic Violence Advocacy Project, which provides free legal services to low-income victims. Formerly run by the King County Bar Association and called the Revision Squad, DVAP was on the brink of shutting down in 2006 after its funding was cut. Boisen, an attorney at Foster Pepper, asked her firm to adopt the program as one of its flagship causes.
Every year about 60 new domestic violence cases land on Boisen’s desk. She reviews them all and, with a team of 73 volunteers, helps victims build their cases and navigate the complicated, often intimidating legal system. In June 2013, she teamed up with two other law firms to launch in-shelter legal clinics to consult with victims. Boisen donates around 30 hours a month to DVAP work, adding up to $130,000 per year in billable hours.
Court protection orders prevent further abuse for 80 to 90 percent of domestic violence victims. “It’s hard not to be passionate about this,” Boisen says.
$100 helps train colunteers who staff lifewire, a 24-hour domestic violence hotline.
How We Chose the Winners
This past summer we invited nonprofits and Seattle Met readers to nominate people and organizations in 13 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 ceremony at Canlis restaurant on October 21, 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 Tony Mestres, senior vice president Jared Watson, Roske, and a member of its Youth Grantmaking Board, Ashley Jensen, contributed their invaluable knowledge of the local nonprofit community. Other members of the selection committee included 2013 Light a Fire lifetime achievement winner Gary Pollock, Seattle Met editor in chief James Ross Gardner, Seattle Met senior editor Allison Williams, and SagaCity Media associate editor Angela Cabotaje.