Jeni Stepanek, Ph.D. is an award-winning speaker and writer, as well as a noted advocate for personal and world peace and children’s and families’ needs and rights in health and education. She is also the author of the NY Times Bestselling book, Messenger: The Legacy of Mattie J.T. Stepanek and Heartsongs. Jeni’s inspirational messages about hope, peace, disability, grief, support, parenting, collaboration, and spirituality have been carried by all media outlets.
Like her son, the late bestselling poet and peace advocate, Mattie J.T. Stepanek, Jeni has a rare neuromuscular disease, and relies on a ventilator and wheelchair for breathing and mobility. A noted guest on Good Morning America, Oprah, Larry King and the MDA Labor Day Telethon, Mattie created poetry and essays from age 3 until he passed away in 2004 at “almost 14” years, and published 7 books that became NY Times Bestsellers. Mattie is the youngest of Jeni’s four children. All four — Katie, Stevie, Jamie, and Mattie — died during childhood due to complications of the genetic neuromuscular disease Jeni unknowingly passed on to the children before she was diagnosed. Since 2015, she has also been battling cancer and rare and progressive side effects resulting from the combined modality treatment for cancer.
In addition to her work with Mattie’s Foundation, Jeni is a motivational speaker and a Faculty Associate at a local university. She also serves as a National Vice President for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, a Governor for the We Are Family Foundation. and is a member of advisory boards for Children’s Hospice International and the national Child Life Council.
From 2005 until 2010, Jeni served as the Chair of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation, and was named Executive Director in 2010. As Executive Director, Jeni developed programs, activities, materials, and events that further the mission of the Foundation. She also created e-Peace Updates and Mama Peace Messages, offered presentations and Skype chats, and networked with other individuals and organizations around the world who are choosing and promoting peace. Jeni’s goal is to “Make Peace the News” that inspires people each day. In 2011, she received the Pax Christi Metro DC-Baltimore “Peacemaker of the Year Award” for her work in continuing Mattie’s mission for peace. In 2012, she was awarded the We Are Family Foundation’s 10th annual “Mattie J.T. Stepanek Peacemaker Award.” In October of 2018, Jeni took on the roles of CEO and CPO (Chief Peace Officer), and Laura Bauer became Executive Director.
Jeni earned her Ph.D. and M.Ed. in Early Childhood Special Education from the University of Maryland, College Park where she currently works as a Faculty Associate, and holds a B.A. in Psychology and Journalism from The Catholic University of America. She works at UMD as an Education & Universal Technical Assistance Specialist with Connections Beyond Sight and Sound (the Maryland & DC Deaf-blind Project) and as the Program Evaluation Specialist for Personnel Preparation in Early Childhood Special Education.
She is proud of her nickname “Mama Peace” and is dedicated to mentoring local and international youth and young adults who are committed to peace. In her free time she enjoys photography, journaling, and watching the world grow forthward — appreciating every sunrise and celebrating every sunset. When she grows up, Jeni wants to be 83 and a beach chair philosopher.
Browse the sections below to learn more about this courageous, inspirational peacemaker!