Seattle’s Child is proud to partner with the state Department of Children, Youth and Families Strengthening Families Washington to honor outstanding caregivers doing important work on behalf of children.
All month long, we’ll introduce you to Unsung Heroes from around the state: biological parents, grandparents, foster and adoptive parents. Some volunteer at local schools; some have started nonprofits; some mentor others in their communities. Enjoy their stories.
Note: These are the final six nominees as 2022 Unsung Heroes. Photos were not available of these people, but please read and enjoy their stories:
Clifford Sheckles, Tacoma
Meet a grandpa with a huge heart and a beautiful spirit
Mr. Sheckles is a grandparent of one of our kiddos (Marsoul) here in our ECEAP Program at Tacoma Daycare & Preschool Association.
Marsoul is in kinship care with Clifford, as his mother is long-term incarcerated along with his father in another state. Cliff has had Marsoul since he was 14 months old when it became clear to him that his mother was no longer able to give Marsoul the care and attention a baby needs to grow. By the time Marsoul turned 3 she was incarcerated. Cliff is a single grandfather starting from scratch as his five kids are all grown.
He works at the Tacoma Rescue Mission, running the floor in sober transitional housing and has a huge heart filled with compassion for people and their struggles. He is an unsung hero as he brings light and positivity to each day and each person he meets even though he is struggling with his own challenges raising this young boy into a young man. It has been a great honor to know him and I know he will continue to bless more people each day with his beautiful spirit.
Nominator: Ashley Hall
Ari Patterson, Chimacum
She gives her all to kids in foster care, because she once was there herself
Ari’s heart is insanely big. Over the last two years she has taken over 20 foster children into her home. Some were short-term stays and some were long-term stays. She adopted her daughter from a mother who was unable to raise her and is working to adopt another one of her foster daughters.
Since she knows the trauma of being in foster care as a child, she feels compelled to welcome children in need into her own home. Though she and her husband are busy parents who both work, they put healthy meals on the table, provide structure, get all of the children to their visits, activities and schools while showering each child that comes through their home with love. They include all of their foster children in their extended families’ gatherings so each child feels like they have a place and, most beautifully, they continue to invite their foster kids back into their homes when they move on so that lasting connection and love remains alive. Ari is an incredibly special someone who deeply deserves to be recognized for her endless and selfless loving.
Ari provides some of the very few foster beds in our whole county allowing children to stay close to home and in their home schools and activities. She says yes to hosting children even when she needs a rest or a reset because she can feel what they are going through and wants them to know they have a soft landing place through their complex journeys.
Nominator: Lexi Koch
Jennifer Hansen, Spokane Valley
Mom brings unending patience, goodwill and optimism to foster parenting
I have known Jennifer for several years. She and her husband, Todd, are currently fostering a sibling set of three, along with raising and supporting their four other children. The sibling set they are fostering came to them just over a year ago. They came from trying circumstances and have had to make lots of adjustments along the way. Despite the trauma, the trouble, the outbursts, Jennifer, Todd and their older children have persevered, making their home a safe refuge.
Jennifer is also a beloved third-grade schoolteacher in Spokane’s East Valley School District. I certainly appreciate all the difficult work they do, along with their unending patience, goodwill and optimism. I nominate Jennifer and her family for this award.
Nominator: Collette Bise
Kathryn Sharpe, Arlington
She is an advocate and warrior for all families
Kathryn is a mother of both grown and preschool/elementary children. She impresses me time and again with her hard work in our community for families and children. She is an advocate and warrior for all families.
She teaches classes for the Parent Leadership Training Institute.
Kathryn is always looking for ways to help the community in any way, whether it is picking up trash in the park or driving supplies to a family in need. I do not know how she does it all.
Please consider Kathryn as an unsung hero.
Nominator: Erica Knapp
Akuyea Karen Vargas, Kitsap County
A gift to the community and to at-risk youth and kids of color
My name is Jodie Knowles, and I would like to nominate Akuyea Karen Vargas with the Living Life Leadership and Living Arts Cultural Heritage Project.
They are truly an unsung hero in Kitsap County who provides unwavering support to families, their children and community. They are steadfast in finding and providing much-needed resources by building community networks, events and educational programs for at-risk youth and their families.
To name a few of their accomplishments in the community would be impossible to list in this email. If you see a cultural celebration, youth program or celebration in Bainbridge or Bremerton area you can bet you will find Akuyea behind the scenes making sure the underserved are being served first. Each year they have built upon what they created the previous year. Today they are busy maintaining and growing a thriving community of like-minded people that believe in equitable and accessible social, emotional, cultural and artistic learning and opportunities. They are a fierce advocate for youth of color making sure their educational needs are not being missed or overlooked.
Each year they provide an empowerment conference for youth during spring break to help provide social/emotional skills knowing what a hardship that time out of school puts on single-income families and their children. They have gathered organizations, businesses, advocates, coaches to provide service learning during a time where youth would be left alone at home to fend for themselves. They provide restorative healing retreats during the winter break to help youth and families to manage their self-care and mental health. During the summer months they will gather the youth and take them on field trips to learn about their culture and history. They make sure it is an immersive experience that is profoundly impactful.
I have witnessed firsthand the impact Akuyea has on these growing communities and how much the lives of our youth are transformed due to their work. It would be a shame to not know Akuyea and their work as they are is leaving a legacy for other cities, towns and states to follow. Thank you for this opportunity to share Akeuyea Vargas with you.
Nominator: Jodie Knowles
Zekkethal Val Vargas-Thomas, Nespelem
She is dedicated to caring for, empowering Native American children
Zekkethal Val Vargas-Thomas is a woman of great compassion and purpose. For over 40 years, Mrs. Vargas-Thomas has been a phenomenal parent, grandparent, foster parent, primary caregiver and guardian to many children. Her dedication to caring for and empowering Native American children is unwavering. She has created a home for those who might have otherwise missed the joys of childhood. Going beyond the enrollment in sports, music and the arts, Mrs. Vargas-Thomas notices everyone’s unique skills and encourages them to explore and express themselves.
Through her personal and professional life, Mrs. Vargas-Thomas never shies away from difficult conversations. She has worked for her community, the Colville Confederated Tribes, since she graduated high school. This includes many years in education and public health addressing issues such as bullying, dropping out of school and suicide. She listens without judgment and builds resilience by helping people cope with sorrow and reconnect to hope. As a community organizer she coordinates seasonal celebrations, Millpond Days community member honoring events, and youth leadership retreats.
Mrs. Vargas-Thomas is always pulling people together. She strengthens connections by visiting her children’s families of origin. She practices cultural traditions through her beadwork, sweat lodges, smudging, and language study. She models sobriety. And she never stops learning! Mrs. Vargas-Thomas earned a bachelor’s degree and is working toward her master’s degree while raising children.
The unconditional love of Zekkethal “Val” Vargas-Thomas leaves a lasting impression on everyone she meets! We are proud to call her “Big Mama.”
Nominators: Kimberly McCall, Shihiya RainyDawn Vargas-Thomas, and Alexandra (Sasha) Silveanu