Jeni Stepanek, PhD (aka “Mama Peace”) 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, resilience, 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 complications due to cancer treatments..
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, Main Street Connect, and the national Child Life Council.
Jeni is the Founding Chair of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation, which was created in 2005 to continue Mattie’s peace mission. Across the years she has served as Executive Director (2010-2018) and CEO & Chief Peace Ambassador (2019-2021), and currently serves as President of the organization. She developed the “Pathways2Peace” program in 2011, and has created numerous other programs, activities, materials, and events that all further the mission of the Foundation. Her e-Peace Updates, Mama Peace Posts, and Mama Peace Chat sessions have a global following. One of her goals is to “Make Peace the News” that inspires people each day.
Jeni has received numerous awards and honors for her humanitarian work, including the Pax Christi Metro DC-Baltimore Peacemaker of the Year Award (2011), the We Are Family Foundation’s 10th annual Mattie J.T. Stepanek Peacemaker Award (2012), the My Hero Humanitarian Award (2016), the MDA Live Unlimited Toast to Life Award (2019), Senatorial and Congressional citations (2015, 2018, 2021, 2022), and a Lifetime Achievement Award and White House Recognition in 2023.
Jeni earned her PhD and MEd in Early Childhood Special Education from the University of Maryland, College Park where she currently works as a Senior Faculty Associate, and holds a BA in Psychology and Journalism from The Catholic University of America.
She is proud of her nickname “Mama Peace” (given to her by “The Imam & Pastor” of Nigeria) and is dedicated to mentoring local and international youth and 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!