By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
TULALIP — Two years ago, Deborah Parker discovered that some children at Tulalip Elementary School weren’t getting yearbooks because their parents couldn’t afford to buy them.
A couple of months later, with Parker leading the way, the children had yearbooks.
It’s a prime example of Parker’s outlook on volunteering, and on life.
She’s won three awards the past two years, two from national organizations. She gives so much time and energy to so many different groups she can hardly keep track of it all.
“It’s just a way of life,” said Parker. “It’s what you do when there’s a need for something to get done. You roll up your sleeves and make it happen.”
Parker, 41, has been making things happen for years both on and off the reservation.
She works full time as a policy analyst for the tribal confederation. She’s married with three children and two stepchildren and still finds time to help out with the following groups:
Tulalip Boys &Girls Club, helper.
Red Eagle Soaring Native Youth Theater, Seattle, acting coach, teacher. “We also combine it with arts and healing,” she said.
Choice and Consequences, president of the board. The group organizes presentations by health care practicioners featuring, for example, healthy human lungs versus the diseased lungs of a smoker.
•Tulalip Early Head Start Program, helper.
University of Washington Office of Minority Affairs, member of board of trustees.
Everett Community College Strategic Planning Council, member.
Various PTSA groups.
Marysville Cooperative Education Program (past).
Tulalip parenting group (past).
Parker especially likes working in children’s programs and education.
“You want the best for your family,” she said.
Plus, on her job, Parker spends a lot of time in the world of politics, including lobbying and speaking in Olympia. It can be a tough business, she said.
Part of her job is tracking educational issues and writing summaries for the National Indian Education Association.
Last June, for her volunteer work, the organization named her its 2011 Parent of the Year. She was nominated by people she’d worked with from other tribes.
In speaking once at a meeting of organization officials, Parker said she stressed that working directly with kids is what makes the difference.
“I know their names, I know their hurts, I know if they come from drug houses and have hard lives,” she said. “I know their favorite colors and what moves them.”
Parker also was named parent of the year for 2011 by the Washington State Indian Education Association and received the Enduring Spirit Award from the Native Action Network, a national group, for 2010.
Parker is very much like a parent, or an aunt, for the kids she works with, others say.
“She is just the best mom,” said Diane Prouty, administrative assistant for the Tulalip Boys &Girls Club. “She just comes in and takes all the kids in under her wing as an auntie — tying shoes, reading stories, picking up after them, helping serve food. When she has a free minute, she’s there.”
Parker believes making learning fun for kids helps them feel appreciated and more excited about the subject. In organizing a reading day at the Boys &Girls Club, she had each room decorated in a different jungle theme — such as a monkey room — and the reading in each room was centered around the theme for that room.
“When the kids came in they were mesmerized,” Parker said. “To make things fun and to make things exciting, that’s what life is about.”
Parker also has a knack for seeing the talent in people and matching it up with a need, said Theresa Sheldon, another policy analyst who volunteers with Parker at schools.
Sheldon was initially reluctant to work with the kids, but Parker talked her into it and now she loves it, she said.
“She’s an amazing team organizer,” Sheldon said of Parker. “You don’t even realize you’re on the team until you have a task, but you’re excited to do it.”
In getting the yearbooks for Tulalip Elementary, Parker enlisted employees at Tulalip Data Services, who took the photos and paid for the printing. Each child in the school received a yearbook.
“I’m always asking, ‘What are people’s gifts?’” Parker said. “When you find what is the strength in people, you can move mountains.”
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.