This article can also be found in the May 2018 issue of Mercer Island Living Magazine.
Both Charlene and her husband Jeff Pimentel grew up in Seattle, but they found that Mercer Island offered a more supportive, family-oriented setting that they desired. Jeff and Charlene live on the Island with their son Jeffrey.
Jeff is a senior civil engineer at Seattle City Light, where lately he’s been working on the LED Streetlight Conversion Project.
He also volunteered full-time for the Seattle Police Department for 22 years in the gang unit. “Most people would think that it was really dangerous,” he said. “But it was fun – every night would be different.” He even got to know some of the gang members on a personal level and watched as many of them were able to turn their lives around.
Jeff met Charlene through his work with the SPD while patrolling the Bon Odori festival in the International District one year. He was performing a routine premise check in the beer garden when he saw Charlene for the first time. He told his squad members that he wanted to go talk to her, but they weren’t buying it. “Everybody in my squad laughed and said, ‘Jeff, you’re not going to do that,’” he joked. But after a while, he mustered up the courage to approach Charlene.
He eventually asked her out to lunch, and the rest is history.
It must’ve been destiny, because the two later found out that they had even lived very close to one another when they were in elementary school, without ever meeting. “We never knew of each other,” said Charlene.
Charlene currently works as a substitute teacher for the Mercer Island School District, teaching students anywhere from pre-k through the 12th grade, as well as special education. She received her teaching degree from the University of Washington and went on to earn a degree in special education in a Down syndrome program at Greenlake Elementary School.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with [children with special needs],” said Charlene.
As fate would have it, their son Jeffrey was born with developmental disabilities, but Charlene’s prior knowledge of special education made her well-equipped to bring him up in the world. “We knew exactly what to do with him. He’s our success story,” she said.
Jeffrey has social anxiety, so getting out of the house can be tricky for the Pimentel family at times. “A lot of our activities have evolved around Jeffrey,” Jeff said. The family occasionally enjoys going out to eat at Jeffrey’s favorite restaurants and familiar spots on the Island.
Education has always been of utmost importance to the Pimentel family. “We wanted a neighborhood where the schools were top-notch,” said Jeff on why they love living on the Island.
Jeffrey attends Mercer Island High School, which offers a special education program of the highest quality – every student in the program receives an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to ensure that they get the appropriate form of instruction. Goals are set on an individual basis depending on each student’s capabilities.
Jeffrey is one of 12 students in the Personal Learning Program at Mercer Island High School. Students learn life skills by taking field trips into the community by metro bus. They also practice ordering food in restaurants and managing their money.
Jeff and Charlene have been blown away by the progress Jeffrey has made in Mercer Island’s special education program. “He’s achieved more than we’ve ever expected,” said Charlene.
Jeffrey is currently a senior and is a leader on the Mercer Island High School Sparkle Squad – a cheer squad made up of students with and without disabilities. The program aims to boost students’ confidence and promote inclusivity. The Sparkle Squad cheers at high school sporting events and can even be found performing at Mercer Island’s Summer Celebration and the homecoming parade.
Jeff started volunteering as a coach for the Sparkle Squad two years ago but has been heavily involved in supporting the program since Jeffrey began cheering in the eighth grade. The students practice every Thursday after school.
For Jeff, the most rewarding part of coaching for the Sparkle Squad is seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces. “It takes a lot for some of these kids to learn the cheers,” he said.
Jeff and Charlene love just how inclusive Mercer Island is. “It’s a very caring community,” said Charlene. That sense of support and compassion, combined with high-quality education surely makes Mercer Island one of the best places to raise a family.