Peace Maker Spotlight

Posted on: September 28th, 2012 by jeni No Comments



Peace Maker

October/November 2012

(& Summer 2013 Update Honoree!)

Shelly Heesacker


Sometimes, the individuals or organizations we celebrate in our Spotlight feature are interviewed, and a page is created piecing together responses that tell their peace stories to readers. And sometimes, an individual or organization is so excited about the Spotlight recognition that we receive a letter abundant with enthusiasm and details. This month’s Peace Maker, Shelly Heesacker, is in that latter category.


Shelly was selected for the Peace Maker Spotlight, in part, because of her “above and beyond” response to our Foundation’s “Make Peace the News” Summer 2012 Campaign. We invited people around the world to take 3 seconds a day, every day for about 3 weeks, to share 3 simple words — “Peace is Possible” — and in doing, set the tone for peace for countless people around the globe. Every single day, from June 22 (Mattie’s anniversary) to July 17 (Mattie’s birthday), Shelly creatively shared in word and photo that “Peace is Possible.” She shared on Facebook, and in e-mails, and in everyday conversations at home and at work.


When she was notified that she had been selected for the Peace Maker Spotlight, she sent a letter filled with wonderful information and inspiration as her responses to our standard queries. Those responses are below. Thank you, Shelly, for making this Spotlight page such an easy one to create. And thank you, Shelly, for truly exemplifying Mattie’s vision of a peacemaker — one who chooses to make peace a habit in thought, word, and deed through daily interactions at home, at school, and work — for our world.



Shelly Heesacker has been selected by Mattie’s Foundation as a “Summer Spotlight Update” honoree. Each summer, we update some of our Spotlight Honorees from across the previous year, selecting those individuals, families, and organizations who have continued to make deliberate choices that spread peace in our world. Shelly has been doing amazing acts  of kindness across the past year.


Shelly’s original Spotlight feature is below on this page.


Click here to read Shelly’s 

2013 Summer Spotlight Update page.



Responses from Shelly Heesacker,

our October 2012 Peace Maker of the Month: 


Mattie and Shelly enjoying a day at Legoland in San Diego, August 2002.


How did you first learn about Mattie, and what impact has he had in your life?


I met Mattie in October of 2001. I was a fairly new field producer for The Oprah Winfrey Show. In the sad and stressful month following the events of 9/11, I was given the assignment of telling the story of an 11 year old boy with a rare form of muscular dystrophy who wrote poetry. As Mattie’s health declined, wish organizations swooped in to grant final wishes. Mattie’s final wishes were, of course, NOT ORDINARY:


1) To have his books of poems published; 2) To talk peace with his hero Jimmy Carter on the phone for 15 minutes; and, 3) To meet Oprah Winfrey and have her help him spread his message of peace through his poetry.


Videotaping kids is not always the easiest assignment. Add onto that a noisy wheelchair and breathing tube, and you have the makings of a very challenging video-shoot day. However, the moment I met Mattie, I noticed his enthusiasm for life, his manners (which later, we’d abandon completely), and his focused intention for such a young age. I had prepared a list of questions to ask young Mattie that day. About 11 minutes into my interview, when I realized this 11 year old kept talking about peace, I flashed back to when I was 11 and showing rabbits at the local fair, or water skiing on our annual family vacation, peace was not a part of my consciousness then.


I was so intrigued by this young soul’s passion for peace, I went off my list of questions and started asking Mattie about peace. I asked, “Why, at 11 years old, is peace so important to you?” I’ll never forget Mattie’s profound answer. He said, “We’re fighting over our differences and our differences are our true beauties. We are a mosaic of gifts. I don’t understand how we all can’t get along like my Mommy and I do.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing… and did he just say the word MOSAIC??? Clearly the story I traveled to capture that day in Maryland had become a much bigger story by the time I got back to Harpo studios in Chicago.


Meeting Mattie and helping introduce the world to him has been one of my greatest stories I’ve ever told. What means more to me is that Mattie and his mom Jeni became friends after our first connection. Through our friendship, Mattie helped deepen my spiritual connection and understand more about peace in all its many forms. He gave me a clearer understanding about death and life. I am forever grateful to both Mattie and Jeni for being such amazing people who seek, live and bring peace.

Shelly capturing video for Mattie’s Foundation during the Dedication of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park and Peace Garden, October 2008.


How did you learn about Mattie’s Foundation, and how are you involved and why?


I learned about Mattie’s Foundation after he died. I continued to support Mattie’s message through the MDA and Mattie’s Foundation and the creation of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek park in Rockville, MD. To think Mattie lived 13+ years and has a Foundation to further his message… and here I am at 45 and the only foundation I have is the one I put on my face with Mac makeup every day.  I am so pleased there is a Foundation to further all the wonderful, kind, loving, thoughtful, peaceful messages that Mattie had to share.  We all can continue to learn from his example.


Shelly Heesacker (R) and her partner Wendy Vannoy, who reminded Shelly throughout the “Make Peace the News” Summer 2012 Campaign that ‘peace is possible at all times, including random times’ if we choose to share peace.


Why and how did you embrace our “Make Peace the News” and “Peace is Possible” photo campaign this summer in such an incredible way?


On June 22nd, the anniversary of Mattie’s death, I reached out to Jeni simply to acknowledge the day and that I too was missing her son.  She had a simple request: that I post “PEACE IS POSSIBLE” on my facebook page every day from June 22nd until July 17th (which would have been Mattie’s 22nd birthday). At first I felt a little bit awkward about doing it, since I am fairly protective about what I post on Facebook. But then, I thought, if Mattie had asked me to do it, I wouldn’t even hesitate.  So in honor of Mattie and his mission for peace, I started posting some personal pictures of Mattie along with the words “Peace is Possible.”


Many of my friends know of my close friendship and connection to Mattie, so they were thrilled to see pictures of him again.  The first few days were fairly easy because I had several pictures of Mattie. But as I ran out of pictures, I had to start thinking of creative ways to talk about peace and think about it. And what I discovered is when you LOOK for peace, you find it. Then, I found if you share your discoveries about peace, other people help you in your search.  After several weeks, numerous folks were posting peace pictures and stories on my Facebook page, because they knew it was something that was meaningful to me.  It was that easy.  I started posting because of a simple request, but by the end, I felt like I was the one who got the most out of the project.  I posted things that were funny, poignant, calming, inspiring. Again, I was reminded — peace comes in many forms, and mostly in the form that means something to you personally.


Along the path of meeting Mattie and Jeni’s friends over the years, I met Diane Tresca (a friend of Mattie’s and Jeni’s for decades). She also took Jeni’s “Peace is Possible” and “Make Peace the News” requests to heart and posted daily. But she did something I didn’t: she challenged me to keep posting even after Mattie’s birthday had passed, and threw in a little friendly competition. Being the mighty game player I am, I rose to the occasion and found that it’s especially fun when we all win at games and competitions. I learned from Diane that sometime we need friends to help further us along on our own paths.  Thank you, Diane.


Shelly out for a ride with one of her cats.


What are some of your professional and personal interests and endeavors?


I am a Freelance Television Producer. My primary clients include the Oprah Winfrey Network (including OWN shows: Super Soul Sunday and Oprah’s Life Class), The Dr. Phil Show, and My three favorite hobbies are my cats, singing, and playing games — passions which bring me peace. If I am feeling out of sorts at all, the fastest way back to peace is to spend time at any one of these activities.  I also find that when I share my passions with others, it is impossible not to share peace, whether you intended to or not. My 88 year old grandma is struggling with dementia and finding less and less to talk about in our visits.  All I have to do is sing a few verses of Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling In Love” and her eyes light up, her focus on my face becomes sharp and we share a meaningful connection.


What are your thoughts on peace? 


I used to think peace was something huge, conceptual and outside of one’s self — like something political leaders work toward with compromise and discourse.  But after witnessing Mattie go through storm after life storm and still celebrate life and all of its blessings, I began to see peace as a much more personal journey. I now try to use ordinary, daily activities to help foster peace within myself and in others.  For example, when I am meeting someone for the first time as a guest for a television show, they are oftentimes very nervous and apprehensive about the videotaping process.  I find by bringing a relaxed tone to our efforts and a genuine interest in each guest’s story, I help generate just a pinch of peace in their hearts for moving forward.  At home, I enjoy making people laugh or making ordinary moments extraordinary as a way to create peace. As odd as this sounds, I even enjoy the rituals of doing dishes, or laundry or mowing the lawn as a way of calming my noisy mind and allowing peace to enter my home and consciousness.


How do you feel about being recognized as a Peace Maker?


I am truly honored and touched.  Prior to receiving this recognition, I didn’t really see myself formally as a peace maker, per se, but more of a peace seeker. The truth is, any one of us can be a peace maker if we seek peace (if you look…you find it). One of the great truths of the Mattie Foundation is putting Mattie’s words and messages in action. Because of this honor, I can begin to think of myself as a Peace Maker.  What a blessing.




Thank you, Shelly,

for being a Peace Maker.





To learn more about Shelly’s work as a Freelance Producer, 

tune into the shows she produces for OWN, Dr. Phil, or

Click here to view highlights of Shelly’s update on Mattie

for the “Oprah’s Most Memorable Guests” show (May 2011)


For Shelly — Peace is possible!

Thank you for supporting our Summer 2012 Campaign

in such a huge way. Here is your Meow-Mix collection: 

Click on image to enlarge




Return to Archived Spotlight page


Return to Main Spotlight page



October Spotlight

In-Kind Support

Celebrating our "in kind" sponsors and advocates -- who support Mattie's Foundation with services and materials. Thank you ezStorage, Montgomery Printing, Parcel Plus, and Potomac Valley Brick! Read more...

Nourishment Support

Celebrating our "nourishment" sponsors and advocates -- who support Mattie's Foundation with food and services. Thank you Botanero Restaurant, Fontina Grille, Safeway, Coffee Republic, and Red Hot & Blue! Read more...

Community Support

Celebrating our "community" sponsors and advocates -- who support Mattie's Foundation with commitment and participation. Thank you City of Rockville, King Farm Citizen's Assembly, Kick's Karate & Mix 107.3! Read more...

Champion Support

Celebrating our "Foundation Champions" -- sponsors and volunteers of all ages who support Mattie's Foundation through donations, brick sponsorships, participation in our activities and events. Thank you!!! Read more...

- Mattie J.T. Stepanek