In 1978, when Mimi Siegel joined as a part-time employee at the Merrywood School in Bellevue, the nonprofit served just eight children.
Forty years on, Merrywood (which changed its name to the Kindering Center in 1993) helps more than 4,100 children each year.
For her steadfast leadership of Kindering, Siegel was honored by King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Medal of Distinguished Service.
“It was really a wonderful award and it was so nice to be honored,” Siegel said. “I think we at Kindering have done a fine job of promoting the effectiveness of early intervention.”
Kindering is based around helping children from birth to 3-years-old and their families. Many of those children who go to Kindering are those with “diverse abilities,” such as autism and developmental disabilities. The nonprofit offers education and therapy for the whole family to “nurture hope, courage, and the skills to soar.”
The MLK Medal of Distinguished Service recognizes those who have gone above and beyond in their efforts to make a difference in communities across King County.
“Mimi’s work has dramatically improved the lives of countless very young infants and children and their families,” Balducci said. “She has ensured that Kindering remained vibrant and strong – a place to go for families facing uncertainty, an agency providing caring, expert therapy to ensure their precious babies and young children can thrive.”
Kindering has opened a facility in Bothell and is working on opening one in Renton. It has expanded services to siblings, parents, families speaking English as a second language and children at risk in transitional housing. It specializes in early intervention services. Treatment and therapy for autism is most effective the earlier it is diagnosed. More than 40 percent of children served by the agency do not need special education services when they enter the school system.
But Siegel knows well that families can make it through a difficult time with a diagnosis.
“I remember one father said my child isn’t defined by her diagnosis,” she said. “I’ve seen two generations of kids come through our treatment. They are out in the community, they are doing well, raising families, they have jobs. They are reaching their potential.”
The award comes at an interesting time for Siegel, who is making moves toward her retirement from Kindering at the end of 2018. For 40 years, Merrywood and Kindering have had her calming presence to help children. But she isn’t worried.
“I’ve just loved every day of it,” Siegel said. “I work with the most dedicated, innovative staff. And I have such respect for the parents who help make it a wonderful joint effort to get therapy for their children.”