Rehabilitation and re-homing at the heart of SAFE Harbor

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Safe Debi and Louie close
Debi Shatos and Louie. Photo by Monica Bretherton
Meet Shay, a stunningly beautiful and perfectly proportioned Arab mare. A year ago, however, you would have been hard-pressed to have used these words to describe this incredible creature.

At that time, she was one of 16 horses seized by Pierce County Animal Control.

The animals had been part of a breeding operation and all were starving and severely neglected at the time they were rescued. Shay was fortunate to be taken in by the folks at Save A Forgotten Equine (SAFE), where she received proper care and feeding, as well as the love and personal attention she so desperately needed.

The mare is currently one of 27 horses that SAFE has rescued and is helping to rehabilitate this year.

Founded in 2005 by a group of local women, SAFE is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and re-homing of neglected and abused horses.

“We met online on the Chronicle of the Horse bulletin board,” explains Bonnie Hammond, one of the organization’s founders and SAFE’s executive director. “What began as a few people pooling money to purchase a single horse off a feedlot turned into quite a large group of people banding together in support of a Washington feedlot rescue group.”

After purchasing and sponsoring a number of slaughter-bound animals, the group expanded to oversee the adoption of these horses into permanent homes.

At the end of 2005, the members broke away from the feedlot rescue to form a rescue operation of their own that would have a greater focus on rehabilitation and careful adoption processes. SAFE officially became a nonprofit corporation in the state a year later.

Last July, the organization moved its operations to Woodinville after losing its lease at its previous location in Monroe.

“This prompted the move,” says Hammond, “but we also saw it as an opportunity to find a property better suited for our needs.

“Woodinville seemed like a great fit, with its easy access for volunteers and horse-friendly residents.”

The facility, SAFE Harbor Stables, is located in the Hollywood Hill area and has both an indoor and outdoor arena, as well as substantial hay storage in its two barns.

“It has all the features necessary for the successful rehabilitation and training of the rescue horses,” adds Hammond.

SAFE acquires horses through two primary sources. The first is via local animal control agencies.

“We have contracts in place with King and Pierce counties to provide care and rehabilitation services for horses that are seized or surrendered,” explains Hammond. “Our goal in providing this care is to help animal control agencies be more effective in their ability to take action against people who abuse and neglect animals.

”Most animal control agencies in this state do not have facilities to keep horses or the expertise or manpower to rehabilitate or re-home them.

“So we make it a priority to assist in animal control cases whenever possible.”

SAFE also takes horses that are surrendered directly to the organization by their owners.

In today’s economy, there are many people who find they are unable to care for their animals.

According to Hammond, SAFE receives requests on a daily basis to take horses that belong to individuals facing the loss of their jobs, homes or their health.

Because the organization is limited in the amount of space, funding and manpower it has available, it can only assist in so many cases at one time.

“We take the most desperate cases first – horses that are starving or suffering from illness, injury or severe neglect,” comments Hammond. “These cases take the highest priority for our limited resources, simply because without our help, they are at risk of extreme suffering or death.”

The organization makes a long term commitment to every animal it saves.

“It’s because of this commitment that we cannot and will not take on more horses than we are able to care for,” adds Hammond.

Some of the animals spend a relatively short amount of time at the rescue, but others are there longer, as long as it takes to find them the perfect new home.

Hammond explains that it’s not just about the “save.” It’s everything that follows – the rehabilitation and training and the tender loving care that each animal receives.

“It’s a big responsibility, but it’s one we take on with great joy, knowing that we haven’t just saved a life, we’ve given a life back,” she says.

On average, horses that come into the program are there from six months to a year.

The organization is able to places some of the animals into good homes quickly, whereas others take a lot more time, patience and often luck. The type of rehab is based on the individual needs of the horses.

A starved horse must be re-introduced to food very slowly and carefully or it will become very ill and possibly die.

Severe cases go first to the Northwest Equine Stewardship Center in Monroe, where Dr. Hannah Mueller provides the appropriate veterinary care and prescribes a specialized diet that will allow the horse to recover to a healthy weight. Once the horse has achieved a healthy weight, it will undergo training.

“Our ultimate goal for the horses in our program is to create solid equine citizens that find homes that will last forever,” notes Hammond. “We put a great deal of energy and resources into training our horses, whether for under saddle work or not. After all, even an unrideable horse needs to be able to be handled safely on the ground and have good manners.”

Training continues until the time the animal is adopted, with every effort made to enhance its adoptability, including instruction on different riding disciplines, participation in horse shows, trail rides and even trips to the ocean.

As for the rate of adoption, the organization placed 18 out of 23 horses in 2011.

This year, there’s been less turnaround due to the economy. SAFE is run by a cadre of 80 dedicated volunteers and one full time paid employee, Hammond.

Throughout the year, the organization holds several events, including “Heart of the Horse,” its annual gala dinner and auction in winter, and the SAFE Benefit Horse Show in August.

The show draws horses and riders who compete in a variety of classes including English, Western, Trails, Dressage and Hunters.

There’s also a quarterly open house at SAFE Harbor Stables, which gives supporters the chance to greet “their” horses and newcomers the opportunity to learn more about the organization’s work.

The rewards of being involved with such an organization are many, according to Hammond. She says, “For anyone who has ever dreamed of owning a horse or even helping a horse, SAFE offers the opportunity to be part of something amazing.

“The work we do is hard and dirty and seems like it’s never ending. But, the rewards are unbelievable. Watching a horse transform from a skinny, frightened creature into an animal that is bursting with health and life is an experience you will never forget.”

She adds, “Seeing the light come back into the eyes of a horse that had given up on everything and everyone … it’s magical.”

For more information about SAFE, visit:

Dreams become reality for local teen band

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Third Attempt front of van
Pictured (l-r) are WHS seniors Scot Hook, Aaron Penn and Trevor McNamara, members of Third Attempt, on their West Coast tour. Photo by Carol Hook.
When I last met up with Scot Hook, Trevor McNamara and Aaron Penn, they were fresh-faced sophomores, just entering WHS.

The trio had formed a band, Third Attempt, and was beginning to play at local teen venues like the Redmond Firehouse.

They were writing and recording their own music and trying to develop a following for their special brand of pop punk.

The boys had stars in their eyes, dreaming of going on tour one day and maybe, just maybe, making it big.

Flash forward two years. The teens, now seniors, have become consummate performers, who released their first album and completed a West Coast tour this past summer.

“We had been thinking about doing this ever since we started playing music together back in eighth grade,” says McNamara, “and it all came about because we just decided that we could do it. We were ready and there wasn’t any reason why we couldn’t or shouldn’t do it. We planned it all on our own and used our own money to cover the costs.”

To line up the venues, the guys made phone calls and sent out numerous emails, not only to all-ages concert venues, but to cafes and restaurants with acoustic open mike opportunities.

Third Attempt in van
On the top bunk is Aaron Penn.To his left is Trevor McNamara. And on the bottom bunk to the right is Scot Hook Photo by Kristin Penn
They ended up playing in a variety of places, including the world famous Whiskey a Go-Go in L.A., a definite highlight of the tour.

In a 2006 Chevy Express van, equipped with built-in bunk beds and a cot, the teens made their way down the coast, hitting clubs in Vancouver, Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco, L.A. and San Diego.

Though no one paid them to play, they made some money through donations and the sales of their merchandise, which went to cover some of their costs.

The rest came from after- school jobs and their own personal bank accounts.

“The point of the tour was obviously not to make money,” says Hook. “It was really all about getting our name out there and picking up some fans along the way.” He adds, “I think we accomplished that based on the feedback we got. People came up to us after our shows and told us they liked our music, and then they posted their comments on Facebook later. We had four offers to come back and play again.”

To keep costs down, the band, in addition to sleeping in their van, parked in Walmart lots overnight and ate on the cheap.

“The van was actually comfortable,” comments Hook, “but it sometimes got too hot and stuffy at night.”

As for the Walmart parking lots, Penn adds, “Anyone can park their vehicles out back for free and no one bothers you. We didn’t have any problems, and of course, it was convenient to go in and get what we needed from the store.”

The experience was not only valuable to the boys in regards to promoting Third Attempt, but it also proved to be enlightening to them on a few levels.

“Just the fact that our parents let us do this was cool,” comments McNamara. “I know now that they trust me and it shows me that we can do something pretty big like this even though we’re only17.”

Hook adds, “I think we learned a lot about ourselves, being away from our parents and having to rely on ourselves for everything. It gave us more confidence.”

Penn notes that being on tour with your best friends is really special and it’s an opportunity to learn about each other in a different context.

“I thought I knew everything about these guys, but I was wrong,” he says. “We got along well, but we didn’t always see eye-to-eye with each other. We had some healthy debates at times!”

All three young men express a passion for making music and would love to keep at it, with the hopes that it could become a fulltime career for them.

For McNamara, who plans to pursue music education in college, music is an outlet and form of self-expression. As a guitarist and vocalist, as well as songwriter, he feels he has talent and it is important to him to be able to share his gifts with others.

Penn enjoys being on stage and he feeds off of the audience’s energy.

“I’m happiest when I’m playing the drums,” he comments. “I get such an adrenaline rush from performing live and doing it with my two friends. We have a great connection.”

Writing music is Hook’s forte, though he also plays bass. He gets into the words, which he uses to tell a story. And it constantly amazes him that people want to listen to what he writes.

“It’s just so cool,” he adds. Hook explains that in the early days of the band, the lyrics were all about the boys’ personal experiences. Now, they’re more experimental.

“I’m writing about things I’ve never experienced before like surviving a disaster, for example,” he comments. “The songs have ‘show,’ not ‘tell’ lyrics.”

McNamara concurs and notes that the writing is getting better and continuing to improve with time.

All three young men agree that they had the time of their lives on tour and that it was hard to come back to Woodinville. They got a taste of being on the road and it hooked them.

“We met a lot of cool people, who found our music relevant,” says Hook, “and that really boosted our confidence and gave us the push to continue to move forward.” He adds, “We never expected it to get to this point, but now that it has, we want to see how far it will go.”

With graduation on the horizon, the members of Third Attempt don’t know what the future will bring.

“We’re all applying to colleges,” adds McNamara, “and we have other plans, but we’ll just have to see what happens in the meantime.”

Penn says, “It’s undecided right now, but that’s okay. What’s great is that we can choose our own adventures.”

Local designer’s re-fashioned gowns to be featured

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Ruby RoomFor many underprivileged young women, The Ruby Room in Seattle is a godsend.

The nonprofit organization, which opened its doors in 2002, was founded on the belief that everyone should be able to attend their high school events, regardless of their ability to pay.

Throughout the year, volunteers collect donated dresses and accessories and then make them available in the spring to high school girls who are unable to purchase their own dance attire.

This is the tenth anniversary for the Seattle chapter of the organization, which has helped thousands of teens make prom memories.

Last year, it gave away 450 gowns and staffers anticipate another busy season this year.

To sustain itself, The Ruby Room holds an annual major fundraiser in October. It’s a fashion show and benefit auction where local designers create one-of-a-kind gowns from unwearable donations.

The dresses are then auctioned off live at the event.

Among the six designers for this year’s show is Tina Witherspoon of glam.spoon.

This is the second year the Mill Creek woman has participated in the event.

“I was approached last year, as they were looking for new designers and somehow found out about me,” says Witherspoon. “I immediately said ‘yes’ because I love giving back to the community. The charitable component is very important to me and I feel honored to be invited to do it again this year.”

The local woman has been a designer for six years. She specializes in making dresses and skirts out of recycled materials and describes her work as “bohemian romantic” in style.

Witherspoon has never really had any formal training in the field of fashion and design.

“My mom taught me home economics/creative arts when I was a young girl,” she explains. “She taught me how to sew and she introduced me to thrift stores. I remember getting one of my prom dresses from a thrift store because we just didn’t have a lot of money back then to buy one of those expensive new formals. I learned that thrift stores were full of wonderful treasures.”

After working in the theater and music industry for a number of years, Witherspoon began designing clothes, first for herself and then for others.

“I’ve always been a bit of a clotheshorse,” she admits. “I realized I had lots of dresses in my closet that I didn’t wear so I started going through everything. Some I gave away, but then others I refashioned using different pieces from various dresses.”

Eventually, Witherspoon sold some of her creations at a crafts fair, which initially surprised her as she didn’t think people would want to buy them.

Her business took off and soon her dresses were being sold in various boutiques around Seattle.

Today, they are only available exclusively at the Frock Shop.

“Designing clothes has become another creative endeavor for me,” comments Witherspoon. “I enjoy the artistic process and seeing how everything evolves.”

The local woman doesn’t sketch or plan her designs in advance. She has ideas in her head and gets inspiration from materials.

“I’m a bit different when it comes to my methods,” she says, “because I’m just not a planner. But, it’s the way it works for me.”

For the upcoming Ruby Room fashion show, Witherspoon will have six gowns on display. Though each will be unique in style and length, all will share the same color scheme — blue and silver.

Those who are familiar with Witherspoon’s work will immediately recognize her gowns because her signature style is very evident.

“I incorporate hand-pleated ruffles in my dresses,” she explains. People who’ve seen my stuff before will be able to spot them right away.”

Last year, Witherspoon’s six pieces went for a total of $1,500, with one of the gowns raising $350 alone.

“It was so exciting,” she says. “It felt like I was on a game show. And it was wonderful that the dresses raised that much money. It made me feel good that I was able to help The Ruby Room. It’s a very worthwhile organization.”

For more information about The Ruby Room and its upcoming October 13 “Fashion Faux Pas to Fashion Fabulous” Fashion Show and Benefit Auction:

Award-winning, kiddie language school comes to Woodinville

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Sponge School 007
Sponge School Spanish teacher Macarena Goldenberg with a Just Kids class at The Nest. Staff photo/Deborah Stone
Kids’ brains are amazing things. They’re primed to learn from the moment they enter the world.

Take language acquisition for example. Between 0 and 4 years of age, children focus first on sounds, then syntax and vocabulary.

It’s a natural process, which gives credence to the increasingly popular practice of exposing kids to a second language at the same time they are learning their native tongue.

“It’s never too early for second language learning,” says Jackie Friedman Mighdoll. “In fact, the earlier, the better.”

Mighdoll is the founder of Sponge School, an award-winning world languages program for children.

When the Seattle woman was pregnant with her first son, she read Dr. Lise Eliot’s book, What’s Going on in There?: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life.

In the process, she discovered the fascinating research on second language acquisition being done by Dr. Patricia Kuhl at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences.

Having spent a decade working internationally and cross-culturally, Mighdoll knew how important it was to her to raise globally-minded kids.

It became even clearer that starting young was the right time.

Eighteen months later, with the support of local parents and a core group of passionate teachers, she opened Sponge School in the fall of 2005.

It was the first language program of its kind on the West Coast.

Today, the school has centers in Seattle, Bellevue and now Woodinville, at The Nest, a drop-off play and learning center.

The program also runs before- and after-school classes at numerous elementary schools in the Greater Seattle area.

“There are so many benefits to learning a second language when you’re young,” comments Mighdoll. “A child benefits linguistically, academically and culturally when he/she has early exposure to the language. Even small amounts of exposure at the age of six months can change the brain. It keeps the pathways open.”

She adds, “For elementary school students, the research shows that those who have language instruction at this stage are 70 percent more likely to reach proficiency than those who don’t start until they reach high school. And they often have higher standardized test scores, demonstrate more creative thinking, do better in math and possess good communication skills. It also prepares them for learning third and fourth languages, too.”

As for the cultural benefits, Mighdoll remarks that kids who know more than one language understand communication and culture.

They’re exposed to different perspectives and different ways of doing things, such as celebrating holidays or greeting one another.

She explains that younger kids aren’t self-conscious and they don’t typically face the fears of being different that tend to come later once they reach middle school.

She says, “Around puberty, children are very aware of what’s different and they turn away from it. If we reach them before that time, we can help make languages, cultures and the world a part of their lives and raise them to be compassionate global citizens.”

Sponge School offers child and caregiver classes for newborn to 4 years old, Just Kids sessions for the 3 to 5 age group and an elementary program geared toward the K-5 level.

For the wee ones, classes are 55 minutes long and highly interactive. Child and caregiver learn together through play, music and movement.

At the Just Kids stage, where classes are 85 minutes long, participants are ready for independent learning and are mastering their native language.

They naturally apply the skills they are developing to the acquisition of the second language.

The curriculum focuses on practical everyday vocabulary with new, fun units every five weeks that involve games, singing and movement – all conducted in the target language to optimize learning.

The elementary school program has three goals: build communication skills, develop language-learning strategies and broaden students’ understanding of the world.

Sessions include a variety of activities such as games, drama, crafts and songs, which are all done in the target language.

“We focus on day-to-day language,” says Mighdoll. “We want to give the kids practical vocabulary they can use within situations and contexts they understand. This is very important. The language must have meaning they can relate to.”

Currently, Sponge School has classes in Spanish, French, Japanese and Mandarin.

The most popular languages are Spanish and Mandarin.

Parents enroll their kids in the program for a variety of reasons.

Some, according to Mighdoll, have a heritage connection to the language. Others see the economic possibilities that learning a second language can offer.

Then there are those who have had a meaningful experience with a second language and want the same for their children.

As for the school’s teachers, Mighdoll explains that they are a diverse group who come from all over the world.

Many have degrees in language and education and years of teaching experience.

A number of them are parents themselves and have personally experienced the joys and challenges of raising bilingual children.

All have a passion for sharing language and culture with kids and their families.

Macarena Goldenberg, for example, has been teaching Spanish for Sponge School for the past three years.

Her greatest enjoyment comes from the children.

“I love them,” she says. “I love seeing how they respond to the language and how they learn without knowing they’re learning. They pick up the vocabulary quickly. The younger they are, the faster they progress.”

She adds, “We have a lot of fun in class. It’s very high energy. Lots of repetition. Lots of activity.”

Jana Maas, co-owner of The Nest, is thrilled at the enrichment opportunities that Sponge School brings to her facility.

She sees the classes as a wonderful complement to the Kinder Music program that is also in residence.

“It’s great to be able to offer these opportunities to our clients,” she comments. “And what’s nice is that we can help each other.

“ If a parent has two children of different ages and wants one of them to take a Sponge School class, for example, then she can let the other one play at The Nest. Of if she wants to take a class with her little one, then she can let the older one play.”

Mighdoll is equally delighted with the partnership.

“I’ve always loved The Nest,” she says. “We’ve been looking for the opportunity to expand to Woodinville and The Nest is the ideal place for us.

“It’s such a great space – bright, cheery, warm – and there’s a lot of flexibility and benefits for parents with this arrangement. We look forward to becoming part of the community.”

For more information about Sponge School: (206) 227-7138 or

For more information about The Nest: (425) 415-6378 or

Up and coming vocalist touches audiences’ souls with her music

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Mairin Gorman one
Mairin Gorman
Local audiences are beginning to take notice of an exciting young vocalist, who’s a relative newcomer to the music scene.

She’s only 20, but Mairin Gorman is already gaining recognition for her sultry, emotive voice and her distinctively soulful style. What’s even more surprising is that the Woodinville woman has never had any formal training.

“My father really taught me everything,” explains Gorman. “He’s the one who got me into music. He’s been the most important music figure in my life.”

Gorman’s dad, Paul, is a singer, though not professional, who has been with a number of different bands over the years.

He also plays the keyboards and harmonica.

Music is in his DNA (and consequently in Gorman’s, too),  as he comes from a long line of musical performers.

“My dad would ask me to sing with him at his band practices when I was younger,” says Gorman, “and I remember how special that made me feel. I just wanted to keep singing.”

When she was 14, the Woodinville woman started doing karaoke and eventually entered kids’ karaoke contests in the area.

She did well, which gave her the fuel to continue pursuing her passion. Two years later, she courageously auditioned for “American Idol” and “X Factor.”

Though Gorman didn’t make it past the initial round for either show, the experience made her realize that she was nowhere near ready to give up her dream.

“Yes, I was a bit upset afterwards,” she admits, “but I think I also felt more determined. It put fire under me.”

The judges told Gorman that her voice wasn’t strong enough yet — a constructive criticism that she took to heart.

Since then, the young woman has worked consistently on improving her vocal technique and performance style.

“I see such a difference now, as compared to four years ago,” she comments. “My voice has really matured.”

This past summer, Gorman had her first paid gig, performing at the Beach Club Café in Kirkland with guitarist Rick Azim, who she met at her mom’s birthday party.

“My dad hired him to play at the party,” explains Gorman. “I got up and sang a bit and he really liked my voice. We started working together and now we’re an established duo.”

Azim is a veteran performer, teacher, producer and arranger, who has worked with a number of music industry giants including Ray Charles, Linda Hopkins and Joe Williams. He provides a well-crafted musical context for Gorman’s vocals, applying his talents to “marrying the vitality of Mairin’s youthful contemporary style with a classical jazz/R&B musical idiom with great results.”

The pair performs renditions of classics by such iconic artists as Norah Jones, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Alicia Keyes, Etta James, Tracy Chapman, Bonnie Raitt and Gorman’s favorite, Martina McBride.

One of the duo’s steady gigs is at Italianissimo Restaurant in Woodinville.

“We’re there performing in the bar most every Saturday night,” adds Gorman. “I love it! It’s so much fun and the audience is great. Everybody’s been so positive in their feedback.”

The young woman used to get nervous singing in front of a crowd, but not anymore.

She gets enormous satisfaction from being able to touch people’s souls with her voice and delights in any and all opportunities to perform.

“Singing is such a wonderful avenue of expression for me,” she says. “It gives me so much and I know it will always be a special part of my life.”

Though she is currently taking classes at Cascadia Community College, Gorman is devoting as much time as possible to advancing her musical career.

She emphasizes that she wants to see where this path will lead her to in the future, adding, “I want to go with this as far as it will take me.”