Describe your role at Perigee Fund.
As founder, my primary responsibility is ensuring we are grounded in our organizational values and the unique ways we see the world — from the perspective of babies, toddlers, and their caregivers. I bring my experiences as a clinician, providing insight into how young children suffer when their caregivers are not able to be predictable, emotionally regulated, and attentive, as well as the complexities involved in supporting them and their caregivers. The team implements the day-to-day with my ready support, and I am learning a lot from them about how to be an effective philanthropist.
Related to your role, what are you passionate about and/or what is the philosophy you bring to the organization?
I’m passionate about the extraordinary human infant! What is happening in the developing brain in the first years of life is truly astonishing, and this development is heavily dependent on early experiences. We’re talking about the architecture of the nervous system, and the difference between a child who is able to trust grown-ups and learn and play, and a child who is always on ‘alert’ because the world seems dangerous to them, which makes relationships and learning much harder. If you care about young children, you have to care about their parents, who can provide that trusting early start only when they themselves are not utterly stressed out by poverty, racism, or past or current trauma. So providing appropriate interventions and supports can change a child’s life trajectory. I think our whole system of supports for little ones and their parents would look completely different if the brain science of early development was more widely understood.
A principle of infant mental health practice from founding field leader Jeree Pawl is “how you are is as important as what you do.” It means that we at Perigee deeply value relationships, are intentional about how we show up as a funder and partner, and that reflection is part of our organizational culture and practice.
Tell us a little bit about your professional background, starting with your most recent position.
I recently retired as clinical director at Cooper House, a clinic in Seattle that treats the social, emotional, and behavioral challenges of infancy and early childhood, where I worked with families with children aged birth to five. Over the years, I have also trained, supervised, and consulted with a wide variety of early childhood practitioners from infant and early childhood mental health clinicians to nurses to home visitors.
What excites you about working with Perigee Fund?
As a philanthropist, I have found that very few leaders and systems are focused on the social emotional development of very young children in the context of their relationships. The situation is similar in maternal mental health. These areas are drastically underfunded. Perigee Fund can help build these fields and make aligned connections. Through our grantees and partners, we are already making a difference on the issues and for families. And we have only just begun.
What is your favorite way to develop early connections with the babies and young children in your life?
I don’t get to work directly with little ones anymore and I miss it! But when I am around a baby I just like to go slowly, gazing and smiling, letting them get used to me, playing with facial expressions. It is one of life’s great delights to engage with an infant.