Kate Deiter-Maradei calls her approach to volunteering “frenetic,” as it includes a day of pro-bono legal work each month, a county government appointment, and periodic days helping at local organizations like the Salvation Army and Stop Hunger Now.
She also has started her own mediation business, and uses her flexible schedule to accommodate her family and service projects, while also working to help other women.
Frenetic, however, doesn’t mean less committed. As a young attorney who had been named partner in her firm, Deiter-Maradei scaled back her hours to make time for volunteer work, and encourages young professionals to carve out time for service.
She wants to instill the importance of service in her children, two of whom she and her husband adopted.
This week, the family is preparing for a day of service at their home that they’ve held the past five years, in which more than 50 people come to donate and pack food for Urban Ministries in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
“My parents really taught us to have a sense of gratitude and to give back to our community,” she says. “They worked to instill that in us, and now it comes naturally.”
Urban Ministries provides more than 8,000 pounds of food a week for 8,000 Wake County families. Business development head Carol Swartz says Deiter-Maradei’s focus on teaching young people about service is particularly important.
“She’s a very special woman to tackle all that she tackles with her family and career, and to still take time to encourage others to give back,” says Swartz, who worked with Deiter-Maradei to develop the annual program. “She’s getting children involved and teaching them that this is something they should be doing throughout their lives.”
From partner to peacemaker
Growing up in a suburb of Philadelphia, Deiter-Maradei was a frequent volunteer at a privately run shelter that served the homeless restaurant-style, at tables of four in a nicely appointed dining room.
“When the clients came in, they were treated with dignity,” she says. “We served them at the table, and it was a really good experience. I spent a good bit of time there growing up.”
She stayed in the area as she earned her bachelor’s degree, after which she and her husband moved to the Triangle. She earned her law degree at UNC-Chapel Hill, and he later earned his M.B.A. there.
Deiter-Maradei was a litigator for nearly 10 years, specializing in liability and malpractice and rising quickly to partner at the Raleigh law firm of Teague, Campbell, Dennis & Gorham.
But she felt her career was overshadowing her family and service time, so she negotiated a deal to work part time, and eventually left her position to start her own mediation firm.
“It allowed me to balance my career with my volunteer work in the community and still have time to be an active mom and involved in my kids’ lives.”
Mediation is a growing area of law that helps people settle legal disputes outside of the courtroom, cutting down on public and private expenses as well as wasted time.
Her focus is still on worker’s compensation and liability cases, though she also volunteers one day a month helping to resolve criminal cases through Carolina Dispute Settlement Services.
Linda Stephens, an appeals court judge and mentor to Deiter-Maradei, says she was impressed early on by her willingness to help in even the most difficult of situations – including a stint preparing child victims of sexual abuse emotionally for court.
Later, when she heard of three children who had been removed from their mother’s care and placed with an ailing aunt, Deiter-Maradei’s family started watching the children periodically.
“Over time I’ve learned how deeply committed she is to public service,” says Stephens. “It’s in her bones and in her cells.”
Connecting with needs
As her professional and community work progressed, her family was also growing. She and her husband, Nick, had their first child eight years ago. Since then, they’ve adopted two girls, now 4 and 6 months.
“We just felt that there are so many babies that need safe and healthy homes,” she says. “We were passionate about growing our family in that way.”
Her adopted children are African-American, and becoming a biracial family has posed some challenges, including perplexed stares and uncomfortable questions, sometimes from strangers.
But a big concern for Deiter-Maradei was that her adopted children know and understand the heritage they share. One of the ways she’s done that is through the Martin Luther King Jr. Day event.
“I want to create that balance of honoring their heritage, but in a natural way,” she says. “We’re not going to go around wearing dashikis.”
For the event, she gets 300 pounds of beans, and about 50 people gather to portion them into Ziploc bags of two cups each. The bags go to Urban Ministries.
Attendees bring peanut butter, and last year they donated several hundred pounds to the food pantry.
The event also gives her a chance to talk with the children about King and his legacy.
“It’s a good conversation starter with Jack and the girls,” she says. “They’re learning in school who MLK is, and we can talk about it at home, about the things that he did that impacted our lives and our family, things that he did that made our country a better place.”
She and her family are active with Hope Elementary School, a charter school that serves a large percentage of low-income children. She works on an annual program that provides clothing, backpacks and other supplies to more than 100 disadvantaged students; her mother tailors their uniforms so that they fit properly.
Deiter-Maradei serves as vice-chair of the Wake County Commission for Women, which works regularly with organizations such as Interact and Step Up Ministries to support struggling women as they try to build their lives.
She also regularly helps at the Salvation Army, where she helps pass out donated presents around Christmas most years.
Whenever possible, she involves her children. A few weeks ago, she and her older children did a service project packing rice for Stop Hunger Now.
After their event next weekend, the older children will go with her to deliver the donated food. Jack will help put the jars onto Urban Ministries’ shelves – a simple act that she hopes will help instill in him a lifelong commitment to service.
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Kathryn A. “Kate” Deiter-Maradei
Born: February 1978
Career: Mediator, Deiter Mediation
Awards: Citizen Lawyer Award, N.C. Bar Association, 2014
Education: B.A. Women’s Studies, minor in Spanish and International Studies, Pennsylvania State University; J.D. UNC-Chapel Hill
Family: Husband Nick; children Jack, Eleanor and Rose
Fun Fact: Deiter-Maradei is a major foodie, and a particular fan of the Splendid Table radio show.