Meet Dr. Kristi Kiyonaga, Wonderland Board Member and Supporter
Dr. Kristi Kiyonaga, a pediatrician at The Everett Clinic in Shoreline, has deep ties to this town just north of Seattle. She attended Shoreline public schools, graduated from Shorewood High School, and worked at a local pediatric clinic as a resident physician.
It was her resident experience at Richmond Pediatrics that introduced her to Wonderland’s services in Shoreline and sparked her passion for child development. Now, as a Wonderland board member, she gets to see the impact of its work on her little patients and give back to her community.
Growing up, Kristi was inspired by her parents who instilled the love of learning, the importance of hard work, and the passion for serving the community. Her mother, an educator, spent many years as a community advocate and PTA volunteer and served as president of the board at Shoreline Public Schools Foundation. Her father, a dedicated family physician, served as a role model through his ability to develop relationships with families in his care. But he encouraged Kristi to find her own path outside of medicine, and she followed her interests. A talented dancer, she spent countless hours perfecting her technique at Pacific Northwest Ballet School and performing in every Nutcracker show until she graduated from high school.
Kristi studied psychology and biology at Tufts University and spent one year in France on a Fulbright scholarship researching second language acquisition. Deep in coding, data analysis, and paper publishing, Kristi was on a track for a successful career in neuroscience when she realized that this research life was not for her. She missed human connections, so she decided to go back to school and become a doctor.
In her third year of clinical rotations, Kristi discovered that just like her father, she enjoyed working with children and families. She shadowed two Wonderland therapists on a home visit during her residency at Richmond Pediatrics, and that experience left a lasting impression.
Today, as a pediatrician, she guides parents on how to raise healthy children. And when she notices a delay or sees a need for additional family support, Kristi urges parents to get a developmental evaluation at Wonderland. “One of my favorite things about Wonderland is seeing how quickly my patients get evaluated and enrolled in services. I know that when they can get quality therapy early, they may completely catch up and no longer need any help by the time they start school,” says Kristi. “I have seen clients who needed intense early-support services, and now they are seven or eight years old and thriving in school. It’s a testament to all the hard work of therapists at Wonderland.”
The social isolation of last year made Wonderland services even more critical. “Wonderland is able to offer enormous support to families, especially during the pandemic. I have heard from many of my families how much they appreciate that someone else is able to look after their child and provide a professional assessment of their development. They are home with their child all the time, and without normal interactions with friends and grandparents, they no longer know what’s normal. It’s so helpful to have someone evaluate their child and provide that additional guidance.”
Becoming a mother to little Kate made Kristi more aware of how important it is to develop the next generation of children to the best of their abilities. “Early-support services are so essential, as these children will eventually become teenagers and adults that participate fully in our community. They are our future, and so we have to really invest in them and help them become our future leaders.”
“I am incredibly proud to be part of Wonderland,” says Kristi. “Every single staff person and board member pours their heart and soul into the work of the agency. And while Wonderland is not the only early-support provider in the area, it’s been so innovative in dreaming up and launching Hope RISING Clinic. The clinic serving children with prenatal substance exposure fills such a critical need. This ‘silent epidemic’ is growing without much recognition, yet I see so many clients that desperately need help while on the waitlist for the clinic’s services. I hope that with enough support from donors and advocacy to raise awareness about the effects of prenatal substance exposure, Hope RISING Clinic will be able to grow and open the doors to many more families.”