Janet Trinkaus dies; started group for kids affected by AIDS
Janet Trinkaus launched and ran an organization to bring comfort to children affected by HIV/AIDS. In some cases, a close relative had been diagnosed; in others, the child. Ms. Trinkaus died July 12 at age 76.
Seattle Times staff reporter
In the late 1980s when gay men were dying of AIDS, Janet Trinkaus started an organization to bring comfort to less-visible victims of the disease — children either afflicted with it or living in a home where others were.
She had hit on the idea in 1988 after a personal retreat in the mountains to contemplate the next phase of her life.
“I can’t say she’d been talking anymore about AIDS and HIV than anyone else,” her son, Stephen Trinkaus, said.
“It was another thing my mom was going to do.”
Over the next 25 years, Rise n’ Shine, which recently changed its name to Inspire Youth Project, would become a pillar of support for more than 600 children infected or affected by HIV/AIDS and its founder, a surrogate parent and a lifeline for many of them.
Ms. Trinkaus, who lived in Bellingham, died July 12 after a three-year struggle with cancer. She was 76.
Those who knew her describe a woman — part Mother Teresa, part Hillary Rodham Clinton — perpetually in search of life’s next challenge, who used her business savvy to create an organization that brought stability to the lives of vulnerable children.
Marcus Thompson, 26, remembers how she helped him and his brother in the years after their mother was diagnosed with AIDS contracted from blood transfusion, and their father was juggling caring for a sick wife and working full time.
Thompson was only 6 months old at the time he enrolled — part of the program’s inaugural group — and through it, he and his brother came to realize they weren’t the only children facing this big problem.
Ms. Trinkaus would come to their Granite Falls home, he said, spread LEGO bricks on the floor and sit down to play with them.
“She’d show up around the holidays, her Honda filled with toys, dressed as an elf,” Thompson said.
“For a long time, my brother and I thought Janet was an elf.”
Settling on Bellevue
Janet Trinkaus grew up in East Stroudsburg, Pa., got married before graduating from Syracuse University and took a corporate job with PepsiCo headquarters in New York City.
At the same time, her son said, she became part of the beatnik culture in New York’s Greenwich Village, hanging out with hipsters of all races, newly out gays and straight folks.
After a divorce, she moved with her son to New Jersey, where she and a business partner operated a furniture-manufacturing company. After a few years, mother and son moved to Vermont, where she ran a restaurant.
When wanderlust struck years later, the two pulled out a map and pondered the nation’s landscape, eliminating those places where they knew they couldn’t live before settling on a city in a most distant state: Bellevue, Wash.
“My mom didn’t have a job, but she was the kind of person who could create a job wherever she went,” Stephen Trinkaus said. “One of her skills was walking into a business in turmoil and turning it around.”
In Bellevue, Ms. Trinkaus was a commercial real-estate consultant before she grew disillusioned and hiked off into the mountains to consider her next move.
Many of her earliest clients at Rise n’ Shine were the children of gay men and her focus then was to help them cope with grief and loss. To this day, the organization remains a place where children know they can talk openly about what they are feeling because everyone else is feeling the same thing, said Michael Dunlop, associate director for programs.
Inspire Youth Project, provides them mentoring and age-appropriate group support. Its centerpiece is a weeklong summer camp in Wenatchee that draws up to 130 clients, including former ones, like Thompson, who return to serve as counselors and volunteers.
As treatment discoveries for HIV/AIDS have allowed people to live longer and healthier lives, and as more mothers and women were being infected, the organization’s focus shifted.
“We found we were moving into more life skills and less grief and loss, teaching kids what they weren’t getting from their families,” Dunlop said
When Rise n’ Shine marked its 25th anniversary this year, it changed its name to Inspire Youth Project (IYP) to reflect a new component — therapeutic day care for children at risk.
A patron of the arts and a lover of music, Ms. Trinkaus has been widely recognized for her work.
She moved easily among both the well-heeled, who understood and funded the work she did, and the often-low income families that depended on that work.
“It was her business sense that kept us going through the financial crises we went through — after 9/11, other natural disasters, when we’d see a decrease in funding,” Dunlop said.
Successor to job
Karin Wu first met Ms. Trinkaus three years ago and was touched by the strength of her commitment to children.
Earlier this year, with cancer having spread from her breast to her brain to her bones and as she was working part time from her home in Bellingham, Ms. Trinkaus wanted to talk to Wu about a job.
“This was something she’d dedicated 25 years of her adult life to and she had a hard time passing it on,” Wu said.
“She was holding my hands real tight, looking me straight in the eyes, asking me to take care of her treasure.”
The plan was that Ms. Trinkaus would train Wu initially. But that was never to be.
She died in her son’s arms, just days after Wu began the job.
Besides her son, Ms. Trinkaus is survived by her daughter-in-law, Jillian Trinkaus and grandson, Cody Trinkaus, all of Bellingham; and a sister, Nancy Stratford, of Idaho.
A public memorial service is planned for 6 p.m. Thursday at Seattle’s Town Hall. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Inspire Youth Project via its website: inspireyouthproject.org.
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @turnbullL.