“It is really heartwarming and reaffirming to have somebody say you made a difference to them,” Stephenson says. “I have been at this a few years, and it’s nice to get this kind of response. I have been exceedingly fortunate.”
Jim Theofelis, ’89
After two decades as a counselor and therapist to thousands of Washington’s most vulnerable youth, Jim Theofelis, ’89, heeded the lesson of three women and a baby.
As he tells it, the women rescue a baby from a river, take turns admiring it and carefully set it on the bank, only to see another baby floating by. Then another, and another, and soon they’re stacking babies like cordwood. At last one woman starts to walk away.
“What are you doing?” her friends ask.
“I’m going upstream,” she says, “to see who’s throwing all these babies in the river.”
Eight years ago, Theofelis felt like these women, helping one distressed youth after another. So he decided to go upstream, launching Seattle’s Mockingbird Society to build a better model for foster care and to reform public policy and legislation in the field.
“I’m trying to build a world-class system so kids who are in trouble, and may or may not have parents who can take care of them, can still have a childhood and a life that doesn’t include trauma, homelessness and exploitation,” says Theofelis, 53. “One of the things that I’ve seen, over 30 years of working with kids in foster care and on the streets, is that far too often the solutions that we provide them are not much better than the problem we pulled them out of.”
One problem is that children and their foster parents often shoulder their burdens in isolation. Theofelis’ Mockingbird Family Model attempts to solve this by connecting foster families in a network so that parents can share support, resources and child-rearing expertise. It also features a single “Hub Home” where foster kids and parents can find help, visit or just rest their heads. The model is similar to what Theofelis enjoyed while growing up with his parents and grandmother in White Center, and it stands apart from the common foster experience of serial homes and stressed-out caregivers.
“The Hub can be a drop-in place, although we would use the language ‘visit,’ in the same way you might drop by and visit someone in your community of friends and family. Additionally, one of the benefits of the Hub Home is the ability to help kids and families plan their visits and respites, which also brings an increased sense of order and confidence to the home.”
Theofelis also has had a hand in roughly half a dozen legislative reforms, including the Washington Foster Care Achievement Act. Before the act passed in 2006, a child with a general equivalency diploma (GED) lost foster care benefits when he or she turned 18. Theofelis paints a picture of a young man celebrating his 18th birthday, only to pack all he owns in a Hefty garbage bag—the unofficial luggage of foster care—and set off in search of shelter.
Theofelis, whose connection to SU extends to stints as a guest lecturer and collaborations with students on special projects, said receiving SU’s community service award is “very humbling.”
“I feel honored,” he says, “as the Seattle University community is composed of so many talented and compassionate people who also do important work.”
A few years ago, when Anne Farrell stepped down as president, CEO and general powerhouse of the Seattle Foundation, the director of a local nonprofit said Farrell could take credit for teaching the region how to open up its wallet.
The numbers justify the claim. Over two decades, Farrell built the endowment of the Seattle Foundation from $10 million to more than $300 million, making it the largest community foundation in the state. As chair of the Seattle Public Library Foundation, she helped raise more than $80 million to overhaul the city’s public libraries.
So when Seattle University started looking for leaders of its unprecedented $160 million capital campaign, Farrell was a prime recruit.
“Anne Farrell was on the short list,” says Jim Hembree, senior development officer in University Advancement. “And they got the dream team.”
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