Jennifer Smith Stepanek, Ph.D., is a noted advocate for children’s and families’ needs in health and education, and a well-respected motivational speaker on topics ranging from disability, collaboration, and bereavement, to hope, peace, and spirituality. The recipient of numerous awards and honors related to her academic, advocacy, and humanitarian endeavors, Jeni is the author or editor of many professional books, chapters, and articles. In 2009, she penned an inspirational memoir of her son’s life, “Messenger: The Legacy of Mattie J.T. Stepanek and Heartsongs,” which was featured by Good Morning America, Larry King, and People Magazine. Jeni is the parent of four children who have died due to a rare neuromuscular disease. Her youngest child, Mattie, was a well-known international peace activist and three-term National Goodwill Ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, who penned six bestselling books of Heartsongs poetry, and one bestselling collection of peace essays. After her children were born, Jeni was diagnosed with the adult-onset form of the same condition, and now uses a ventilator to support her breathing and a power wheelchair for mobility.
Since earning her doctoral degree, Jeni has worked as a consultant for many disability- and peace-related projects, including Connections Beyond Sight and Sound, the Maryland State Deafblind Project housed at the University of Maryland. She also enjoys her volunteer service as the Executive Director of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation, as a National Vice President for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, as a Governor for the We Are Family Foundation, and as a mentor for teenagers around the world who participate in the annual “Three Dot Dash Just Peace Summit.” In 2008, Jeni played a key role in the final design and dedication ceremony of the 26-acre Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park and Peace Garden in Rockville, MD. When she grows up, Jeni wants to be a beach chair philosopher. She lives in Rockville, MD with Micah, the service dog she and Mattie shared.