LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Kristin Merkel

Position: Counselor
School: Westwood Elementary School
School District: Alhambra Elementary School District
City, State: Phoenix, AZ

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Kristin Merkel was nominated by her principal, Theresa Killingsworth.

Ms. Merkel is a long-standing employee of Westwood Elementary School in the Alhambra Elementary School District. For the past twenty years, Ms. Merkel has been serving the children and families of Westwood in a way that reaches far beyond the walls of her school.

"As a relatively new administrator to Westwood, I was amazed and thrilled to see how far-reaching Ms. Merkel's influence on our families was," said Killingsworth. "We have generations of families who have worked with Ms. Merkel, as she serves the children of adults that she served when they were children.  Ms. Merkel is extremely involved in many social service agencies and knows exactly where to point our families when they are in need of outside services."

Ms. Merkel facilitates individual and small group counseling during the school day. Taking a team approach, she ensures all stakeholders are aware of student progress and what each individual can do to help the students be successful. She ensures that families in need go home with food boxes every Friday. Also, families who need bus passes in order to travel to and from work know they can come see Ms. Merkel if they get into a bind. 

Ms. Merkel has also written and won a grant to provide students with the Body Safety Box™ program.  The Body Safety Box™ is a research-based educational kit containing a collection of fun, engaging, kid-friendly learning projects created to help prevent child abuse and keep children safe. These students come from an area with the highest removal rate from DCS in Phoenix, AZ, so this initiative is life-changing for families.

Another initiative that Ms. Merkel is working on is the Suite 360 Social and Emotional learning program from Evolution Labs. This is a new program for her school, and Ms. Merkel is working closely with the administrative team to launch this program this year. Ms. Merkel has served as her district's lead counselor, guiding all school counselors on how to build a successful program like the one she has established at Westwood Elementary School. Ms. Merkel is highly-trained and highly-skilled in trauma informed care. She has trained staff on how to use trauma-informed care, and it's clear that this training has transferred into the school community as a whole. 

"Ms. Merkel is an invaluable member of our school community and Westwood Elementary School, our families and our community wouldn't be the same without her," said Killingsworth.

Comments (44)

Theresa Killingsworth Posted over a year ago

Kristin is invaluable to our school and community and is so deserving of this recognition.

Taber Landis Posted over a year ago

I have known Kristin Merkel now for 14 years. Ms. Merkel works tirelessly to support our students and their families. She is someone that you can count on to support you with your struggling students when you are at a loss. She is also amazing at making sure our kids feel the holiday magic. She was able to coordinate a pajama drive to enable all students to receive pajamas for our Polar Express Day. These are only a few of the many things Kristen does! She is AMAZING!

Carin Hart Posted over a year ago

Ms. Merkel is an amazing person inside and out. She works tirelessly to ensure that all of our students needs are met. She is there to help in any situation that requires a level-headed, compassionate individual. I have learned so much working a long side her. She is undoubtedly a life changer. Our community is filled with individuals (children, adults, pets, etc.) that are in need of a caring heart and listening ear and she is always there. Westwood would not be who we are without the presence of Ms. Merkel! She definitely deserves to receive the Life Changer of the Year title!

Theresa Killingsworth Posted over a year ago

THANK YOU! Ms. Merkel for spearheading a pajama drive that ensured that every one of our nearly 1,000 students received a brand new pair of pajamas to wear to our Polar Express Day this week. Ms. Merkel's efforts surpassed even her goals and she was able to provide pajamas to another district school as well. One of our students loved his pajamas so much, he has worn them to school every day this week since Wednesday! You truly care for our community and because of your devotion, kids win!!

Gloria Hardman Posted over a year ago

I have known Kristen for over 40 years. When she was a small child, age 7 she was so concerned about a needy child in her class in school, she asked me, a neighbor and friend, to bring some socks to her school for this child who was cold and needing care. I was so amazed at her heart even then. I told her Mom that someday she would be working with children. We are so proud of Sweet Kristen.

Josefina Sanchez Posted over a year ago

She's really good person and counselor I know her for many years She's helped me so much Thanks to Kristin marker My son has change

Peggy Willoby Posted over a year ago

I don't work with Kristin but she is a friend. She is always helpful, ready to pitch in, filled with creative ideas and goes out of her way to help others. I can only imagine how many lives she has helped change when they've needed it. You are lucky to have her on your team at your school.

Elisabeth Judd Posted over a year ago

Kristin is one of the most passionate and caring people I have ever met. Everything she does is to make someone else’s life better and to help someone else grow. I have known Kristin for 9 years. Kristin was my first supervisor at a City of Phoenix pool (where she still serves as a manager during the summer). Kristin supported me and helped me through countless things. She helped guide me in navigating life, but also in figuring out the professional world. Kristin took time outside of her scheduled work hours to care about me, and everyone else on our staff. Our staff became one of the strongest teams that I have ever been a part of. Her care extended further, beyond the summer and beyond the pool. Kristin has become my supporter, mentor, and friend. She has been someone I can go to with anything ever since the day we met. I would not be the person I am today without Kristin’s influence on my life. I have also seen Kristin’s care for the families of her school. Kristin changes the lives of her students every day, through countless acts of service. She is someone they can talk to who will listen. She is someone they can ask for help, who will do everything possible to give them what they need. Kristin serves each and every child and family selflessly and constantly. Kristin Merkel makes her school, district, surrounding community, and city a better place to live in because of the work that she does so lovingly.

Luis Moreno Posted over a year ago

Kristin is such an amazing person who will always help anyone in need. She has opened so many doors for me that I dont know what I'd be doing right now if it wasn't for her help. To me she's an angel and a second mother if anyone deserves this it is her.

Susana Huntley Posted over a year ago

Kristin Merkel has a sincere passion for supporting students and their families in the Alhambra community. She has an unwavering commitment to the students, families and her peers and consistently works to find resources for any and all needs. Ms. Merkel possesses a naturally collaborative manner and her contact with others is consistently handled with patience and tact. There isn’t a person more deserving of the Life Changer of the Year Award!!!!!

Stephanie Obolewicz Posted over a year ago

Every year My family adopts a family in need for Christmas instead of giving each other gifts. Kristen is a friend and I have shared this with her. She is in a position of knowing many families in need and could use a little Christmas miracle. My family has adopted multiple families In the West Woods School district with Kristen‘s help. One year she brought a family to me that was living in a shelter. They would sometimes takes three schoolbuses to get to school but every day those children were at school on time and learning! This project seemed way too big for just my family. We reached out to friends, co workers and anyone that would listen. The donations just poured in! Kristin and I were able to pick this family up from the shelter and drop them off at their apartment which was rented for six months. It was fully furnished, the refrigerator and pantry were completely stocked, each child and parent their own bed. There was a Christmas tree surrounded by hundreds of presents. A friend even donated a car which had been insured so they were able to get back-and-forth to school and work . There was even a little extra cash for them to get on their feet. That family never went back to the shelter.this is just one of the many miracles I can share! I’m not sure there’s enough room in the comments to share them all! Kristen does way more than what her her job requires! She knows and cares about each child. She knows their families and needs. She spends her personal time and money if she sees a need and can fill it. Kristen pours her heart into her job, these kids and their families. It’s fills my heart that she has been nominated for this award! I truly cannot think of anyone that deserves this more than Kristin ??

Shawntell Sanchez Posted over a year ago

It takes a special heart to do what Kristin does on a daily basis. She serves her community by pouring into children who have been impacted by so many of life’s biggest struggles. Kristin does this with such strength and love to which I admire dearly! She possibly could have chosen a school with less poverty, hardship and tragedy but I assure you that these kids are Kristin’s family. I had the priviedge of seeing Kristin in her element at Westwood during our Polar Express pajama drive last Christmas. The children look up to her with so much respect knowing that Kristin has made her mark at Westwood by being a pure light of goodness for that school. I only volunteered for less than an hour knowing those babies did not have finances for pajamas and Kristin selflessly touches the hearts of her students everyday and has for so many years. Uplifting and encouraging her students to be a light of the world, to stand strong, do what is right and most importantly to love. Kristin is for sure changing lives and this world, one student at a time! I am so proud to know this amazing woman!

Lani Anderson Posted over a year ago

Kristin has an amazing heart! She cares for every single one of her students. I love the idea of Pajama's for the students. So thoughtful! What a blessing she is to the students!

Amy Titze Posted over a year ago

Kristin is this amazing force that goes to great lengths to ensure her students and their families get the support they need and deserve. As a new resource teacher last year she has taught me so much about how to work with children with trauma effectively and with compassion. She truly puts her students first and deserves this award!

Benny Butt Posted over a year ago

I have known Kristen for 3 years. In the interim I have come to know her as a person (and educator) who deeply cares about families in disadvantaged & crisis situations. Although the passion for her work is not worn on her sleeve, it is more than evident whenever the subject or related topics come up. I have to say that Kristen embodies the commitment to social justice, compassion & equity that is so much more needed in each & every one of us. Kristen is truly a 'Lifechanger' & is so deserving of consideration of this award. For those of us who know her, Kristen will always be our number one Lifechanger.

Victoria R Posted over a year ago

Well loved by all. She has a great heart and you can see her passion in all she does for the school community!

Jen Sollee Posted over a year ago

Kristin is one of the first people I met after I moved here in 2006. She is one of the kindest, hardest working and caring people I know. She has a huge heart for people and animals. I even have one of her rescue kittens from the school. I have heard her stories of heartache, happy endings and have witnessed first hand the impact she has had on people's lives. I am so proud of her and proud to know her. She is so deserving of this honor.

Tiffany Hudson Posted over a year ago

Kristin is an amazing person, who gives so much of her time and effort into her school and students. Kristin always puts her students first, and to see how the students look up to her or go to her for advice on how to change their day around is inspiring to many! Kristin deserves this 100%

Kara Keithley Posted over a year ago

Kristin is such an inspiration to people. She is selfless, honest, and knowledgeable. Kristin truly cares about people and his/her mental health. Her passion is contagious. I have witnessed firsthand the impact she makes on peoples lives. Kristin deserves to be honored for all the tireless hours she has dedicated to make peoples lives better.

Tara Mitchell Posted over a year ago

An amazing person who works so hard and is so unselfish. She deserves this so much!

Lisa Loschetter Posted over a year ago

A great beacon of hope and resource of accomplishment, Kristin puts her heart and soul into her students' welfare. Recognition needs to come to those who are often overlooked. Kristen deserves to be honored for tireless years of hard work and for helping to transform lives for the better.

Jeri Bennett Posted over a year ago

Countless hours and devotion for her district & her kids & families. She deserves the win!

Erika Wimble Posted over a year ago

Kristin is an incredibly kind and compassionate person. She cares deeply about the welfare and happiness of her students. Kristin helps families who have fallen on hard times find a way to get back on their feet. From helping students with social/emotional problems to ensuring they have enough to eat on the weekend, Kristin does all she can to meet the needs of those she serves. I am constantly in awe of Kristin’s capacity to help children and families in need.

Shannon Willoby Posted over a year ago

I have known Kristin for 15 years and, in that time, I’ve seen firsthand how dedicated and passionate she is about helping the children – and families – she works with. She is often putting in 12-hour days, if not more, and is always willing to go above and beyond for her students. (Like the time when a student’s mom was killed in an accident on her way to pick up her children from school and Kristin spent the entire night with the family at the hospital trying to offer any comfort and support she could.) She is selfless this way and always looking out for her students, even if that means sacrificing her personal time, which it often does. During the holiday season, Kristin also finds individual and corporate sponsors for students and their families to ensure the kids have a gift to unwrap and food to eat. She is always the one helping deliver these gifts too. Kristin is truly a life-changer for the students she works with (not to mention the countless stray dogs and kitties she has found homes for after they wandered onto school grounds) and truly deserving of this recognition for the amazing work she does every day.

Brian Posted over a year ago

So awesome and much deserved recognition. I hope you win, Ms. Merkel!

Paige Bodam Posted over a year ago

Kristin Merkel is without a doubt one of the most loyal and heartfelt supporters of our families in our city. She works tirelessly to support our students with food, clothes, glasses, and transportation to name a few things. She helps ensure that families have clothing in the winter and food during the holidays. I have learned many things from Kristin, but the biggest thing I have learned from her is to never give up. She has never given up on a student or a family, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Tony Johnson, LAC Posted over a year ago

Kristin has been instrumental in reviving the counseling program in the Alhambra Elementary School District. She has been a great colleague as her experience with our student/family population continues to be an invaluable asset to our districts counseling team. Not only is she dedicated to her own schools students and family, she also extends her services and expertise to the other schools in the district. I am pleased and comforted to have her as a colleague and I look forward to many more year of her being a change agent in our district.

Alison Newell Posted over a year ago

Kristin’s dedication to the wellbeing & welfare of the children & families she works with is evident in her very day life. I’ve known Kristin as a friend & neighbor for many years & in that time she’s been known, on occasion, to be late or absent for dinners, evenings out etc.It’s not that she’s a tardy or irresponsible sort, in fact, quite the opposite. The times that has happened we have found out that she was delayed at school taking care of a situation with a child or parent. She always puts the children & families she works with first.

Melissa Caballero Posted over a year ago

Congratulations Ms. Merkel,You truly deserve this you are such an awesome person.And thank you for everything you have done for us.

Nicole Durazo Posted over a year ago

Not only is Kristin a life-changer, she is truly a life saver. After implementing a body safety program, numerous students have been saved and empowered to protect their bodies. The students then share their knowledge with their friends and family members creating a safe, caring network of support. Kristin also worked tirelessly to bring school-based counseling services to the district. She has established a strong partnership with a local behavioral health agency to provide additional counselors at each of our 14 schools to provide on-going mental health supports to our students and families. Kristin knows the importance of continued services during school holidays and ensures our family’s needs are meet over breaks and during the summer. Even if it means driving families to and from appointments herself, Kristin will do it with a smile on her face! Kristin cares deeply about the social-emotional wellbeing of all of her students and families. For these reasons and more- Kristin is not only a life changer- SHE IS A LIFE SAVER!

L A Wade M D Posted over a year ago

Kristin Markell is my friend. I enjoy her supportive personality and organized assistance to me and her other friends. As a psychiatrist trained in child care, I recognize the expertise she brings to her job. She seeks new knowledge to inform her work. And she shares generously all her accumulated abilities. Our community is better for it.

Ashley DeStefano Posted over a year ago

Ms. Merkle is an invaluable member of her team at WWP. She genuinely cares about her kids, the school and community. She goes above and beyond to provide assistance, resources and aid to the community, students and the teachers she works with. The relationships she builds, and impact she has one on one with students and families is amazing. She knows each and every one of her students and families personally and provides guidance and support to teachers on campus to better understand and work with their unique situations. Her door, arms and heart are always open!

Angelica Garcia Posted over a year ago

Ms. Merkel is always available to help teachers and students when needed. She has been there for my students when they needed extra support. This includes getting them the resources they need at home or meeting in groups to address students needs. She is always there whenever I need assistance and provides me with many strategies to use in class with my students! We are very lucky to have her at our school! Thank you for all you do!!

Deana Vickers Posted over a year ago

I met Kristen through friends when she rescued a dog that came to the school where she works. She is caring, compassionate and passionate about both the children she works with and the world around her.

Adrienne Stephenson Posted over a year ago

Ms. Kristin Merkel has a heart of gold for our students and families. She is always available for them no matter the day or time. She frequently talks to parents and students after hours and on weekends. She even works with families over the summer to ensure that they have their basic needs met. This is truly her calling in life. I have never met a more giving person who truly helps others with such genuine care and love. I am very thankful to work with and learn from Ms. Merkel. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you do. You are an invaluable lifeline in our community.

Erica Chavez Posted over a year ago

Kristin is such an advocate for the youth in her school. She consistently goes above and beyond to help them and get them the resources they need. She is truly committed to helping youth become healthier and happier. She is so generous with her time and just a joy to partner with. The community is better because of her work.

Lisa Kress Posted over a year ago

Kristin Merkel carefully observes children and can recognize when they need some extra help either at home or at school. Last year she mentioned to me that one of our 3rd grade boys was struggling, because his parents couldn't even keep the lights on at their house. I wrote a small grant for $100. Kristin did all the shopping, including putting money on SRP card for electricity. She bought him clothes, laundry detergent, and other things for him. She is a caring, generous counselor who always gives 110% to her school and our community.

Theresa L Killingsworth Posted over a year ago

Kristin is an invaluable member of our community. She truly has a heart for kids and families and is very knowledgeable in the ways to serve those who have experienced trauma.

Donna Killingsworth Posted over a year ago

I love hearing about wonderful people like Ms Merkel!

Mary Clouser Posted over a year ago

Kristin has not only been committed to making children’s lives better but also the lives of animals in our community. A giver of time and talent.

Lori Price Posted over a year ago

Kristen has worked her whole life doing for others. Whether it be in the pool system or at a public school she seeks out what the needs of the community are and helps fix the issues. She is so deserving of this award. She is not one that likes to be in the spotlight, so I’m glad it was noticed!!! #LCOY

Kerry Fitzmaurice Posted over a year ago

Ms. Merkes also has spent her summers working a second job in some of the same needed communities in the City of Phoenix and Glendale for almost 30 years. She has managed swimming pools providing a safe place for children to come and spend afternoons in a positive manner. She has worked diligently to bring swimming lessons to areas where many children do not know how to swim and them the skills through Junior lifeguardibg to possibly have a summer job in the community they work. Kristen’s passion is not to just do for others, but to assist them to better the community we all live in and build a positive life for themselves.

Stacie Bauer Posted over a year ago

I can attest to the far-reaching effects of Kristen’s commitment to service. I work with her as a pool manager and her insight into the minds of the teenagers we work with has definitely helped me be a better facilitator for their learning. She willingly shares her knowledge in our manager meetings. Not only has that helped me improve my managing style but also given me guidance with my own children.

Stephanie Obolewicz Posted over a year ago

Kristin Merkel has been such an inspiration to me! I have had the pleasure of helping out with the polar express pajama drive last year where I was able to watch Kristin one on one with the kids! She has a way of knowing hundreds of kids by name and making each child feel special! She constantly gives from her heart! ?? I am so excited that Kristin has been nominated and can’t think of anyone else that deserves this award more than Kristin!