After retiring on March 31, 2018 from a very successful 20-year career at the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving (RCI) at Georgia Southwestern State University, Laura J. Bauer, MPA was named as the new Executive Director of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation. Laura has been involved with Foundation service in an official capacity since becoming a member of the Board of Directors in 2011, and has served as the Foundation Vice President since 2014.  Her new role as the Executive Director became official on October 1, 2018 when the Foundation began their new fiscal year.

Laura was first introduced to Mattie J.T. Stepanek when she saw him talking about angels on an episode of Larry King Live.  She said she remembers being “intrigued by his intellect, maturity, and message,” so to learn more about him, she began following his other television appearances and reading his New York Times bestselling poetry books. She said she will never forget seeing Mattie’s joy when he finally met his hero, Former President Jimmy Carter, during a live segment of Good Morning America during December of 2001.

In July of 2003, Laura had the opportunity to work personally with Mattie when he served as a co-chair with Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter of the RCI’s Intergenerational Caregiving Expert Panel meeting in Washington, DC. “It was a pleasure to get to know Mattie,” Laura said. “He was every bit as real and inspirational in person as he was on tv, but I also got a chance to know him as a friend – and as a very funny young man who had a zest for life, and of course, peace.”

Mattie died just shy of his 14th birthday the following year, and upon returning to Georgia after his funeral, Laura helped develop a caregiving scholarship in his name at the RCI. Since the scholarship was initiated in 2004, 65 caregivers – diverse in age and aspiration – have benefited from this non-traditional scholarship, which continues to this day.  

Jeni jokes that once she heard Laura would be retiring from RCI, she “waited almost a full month, well, at least a couple of weeks after the retirement date” before asking her to consider taking the position of Executive Director for the Mattie’s Foundation. The Foundation is a very small volunteer-based non-profit, but with a global reach and growing  impact, especially with the increasing awareness and support for the Peace Day Campaign and annual celebrations. Jeni was in need of more consistent support and attention to the infrastructure of the organization, and “Laura seemed like a perfect fit, with the right expertise and experience and enthusiasm for our mission,” Jeni said.

One of the main reasons that Laura decided to retire early from RCI was to devote more time to spreading Mattie’s message of hope and peace, so she quickly accepted the invitation to serve as a dedicated leader. “I am humbled and honored beyond belief at this opportunity,” said Laura. “I have looked to Jeni as an inspirational role model for years, and I am pinching myself that I now have the opportunity to work closely with her.”

Laura holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Master of Public Administration from Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia and also holds a Certificate in Gerontology from GSW. Laura sits on the Board of Governors for the We Are Family Foundation in New York City (a collaborative program with Mattie’s Foundations) and is a member of Phi Kappa Phi, Pi Alpha Alpha, and the American Association of University Women. She and her dog, Katie, are a certified Pet Partner animal therapy team; regularly volunteering at local elementary schools, libraries, hospitals, and nursing homes.

Laura brings her experience and skills in grant writing, marketing, public relations, and program development to her new role with the Mattie’s  Foundation. She echoes Jeni Stepanek’s words from the Foundation website: Peace can be taught and learned by people of all ages and abilities, and all nationalities and faiths. Peace can be introduced and explored through both formal and informal lessons, and also nurtured through play and everyday activities and interactions. Peace can be practiced in schools and homes, offices and places of worship, playgrounds and businesses. Teaching peace is more than just a lesson plan or service project or doing good deeds – it is learning about a way of being.”

“My goal as Executive Director is to build the Foundation’s infrastructure,” Laura stated, “so that we have the resources necessary to train and mentor individuals and groups who are vested in bringing peace to themselves and their communities. I truly believe that #PeaceIsPossible and want to do all I can to bring that message to the world.”

Since 2010, the position of Foundation Executive Director was filled by Jeni, who moved the organization from one that “began with a goal of simply building a Peace Garden in the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park, into a globally-recognized source of information and inspiration for making peace a believable and achievable reality. Today, we have programs and activities for people of all ages, and who live all around the world. And we have data that shows we are truly making a difference, and helping global neighbors understand peace as something that begins with tending to basic human needs, and with personals choices in attitudes and habits, and words and actions.”

Jeni is one of five Founding Directors of the organization, which was initiated by a group of neighbors in the months after Mattie’s passing.  She said is “very, very, very excited, and grateful, to have Laura on the team in a more official capacity, especially as we are moving forward with success and growing awareness of the Peace Day Campaign.” In addition to keeping her original title and role with the Foundation – “Chief Peace Officer” and permanent chair – Jeni will now serve as the Foundation CEO, overseeing and supporting all the activities of the Executive Director, the Board of Directors, and the volunteer Peace Guide and Peace Crew teams.

Laura summed up her feelings about her new job by saying, “When explaining his concept of Heartsongs, Mattie said, ‘It can be your feeling. Some people might even call it a conscience, even though that’s not really what it is. It’s your message – what you feel like you need to do.’ This job gives me the opportunity to realize my own Heartsong, and do what I need to do, and I am excited to get to work!”