Dr. Dina Shacknai is the founder, CEO, and Chairman of Maxie’s HOUSE, a non-profit organization committed to preserving the safety and well-being of children in blended family structures. The organization was formed in honor of her six-year-old son Maxfield “Maxie” Aaron Shacknai after his tragic death on July 16, 2011.Dr. Shacknai earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from San Francisco State University and a Doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology from Argosy University in Phoenix. A native of San Francisco, she worked in computer networking and medical sales prior to her move to the Phoenix area thirteen years ago.While volunteering at the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC), Dr. Shacknai organized and coordinated numerous successful projects. She was the volunteer Director of the SARRC Therapeutic Camp for Children with Autism and their families located at Whispering Hope Ranch (WHR). She was responsible for developing and writing the curricula as well as managing and facilitating the day-to-day operations of this program for two years, after which time SARRC and WHR hired a full-time Director. This unique volunteer opportunity served as a catalyst for Dr. Shacknai, as she realized her passion was inextricably tied to working with children. She subsequently returned to graduate school to pursue her doctorate in Clinical Psychology, with an emphasis in Developmental Psychology, completing two clinical rotations, a doctoral dissertation, and a requisite APA approved internship.Dr. Shacknai has years of specialized experience working with children and their families, and has worked extensively at the distinguished Melmed Center in Arizona, conducting evaluations, providing treatment for children and adolescents, writing curricula, and facilitating social skills groups for children with developmental disabilities.Maxie’s untimely death unfortunately necessitated an indefinite leave of absence from Dr. Shacknai’s established professional practice.Dr. Shacknai has consistently supported many local and national organizations, and is actively involved with the Sojourner Center, an organization for which she recently served as an Ambassador.Both personally and professionally, the most meaningful experiences in Dr. Shacknai’s life have revolved around children, and have included both her clinical interactions, and, most importantly, her profound decade-long relationships with her two former step-children, and the precious connection with her only (biological) son, Maxie.Of all her academic, personal, and professional endeavors, Dr. Shacknai attests that being a Mom was the most fulfilling, vital, all-encompassing, and rewarding “career” she could have ever imagined. As a Mom, she cherished going to PTA meetings, going on fieldtrips with Maxie and his classmates, volunteering in his classroom, cooking at home with him, and arranging play dates at their home which often evolved into virtual extravaganzas.She enjoyed taking Maxie to school at PCDS in the morning, watching him run towards his classroom carrying a backpack almost bigger than he, and at the end of the school day, she eagerly anticipated scooping him up for a special “Mommy hug.” She reveled in taking him to soccer practice, games, and tournaments, and she was proud of his intensity while playing soccer, while at the same time being fascinated by his habit of always looking to find her on the sidelines, flashing his beautiful smile at her, without ever missing a beat on the soccer field.She helped Maxie learn to read, write, and manage social and personal situations. Play is the work of children. As a Mom she was blessed with the opportunity to regularly play with Maxie, and to witness his personal development as it advanced day-by-day. She and Maxie enjoyed playing soccer, basketball, painting, dancing, singing at the top of their lungs, sharing jokes, reading, and engaging in imaginative games. She feels honored to have had the privilege to witness Maxie’s special brand of wit and wisdom as well as the unique pleasure of experiencing his awe-inspiring perspective of the world.Regardless of the horrific tragedy resulting in the searing loss of her precious son, she would not trade anything for the six amazing years she shared with Maxie. Dr. Shacknai truly believes that her role as a Mom has been the most satisfying experience in her life. She told Maxie each and every day that she loved him “more than anything in all the universes”, and that she thought she was the “luckiest Mommy in this world” because she had him. Through the unique lens from which a child views the world, a Mom is the most important career a woman might ever have.Dr. Shacknai thinks that Maxie’s Hebrew name, Matan, which means “gift” was unquestionably prescient as he was, and is, a most treasured gift to his family, his friends, and all those whose lives he touched during his short but extraordinary life. Through Maxie’s HOUSE, his beautiful and meaningful legacy will continue to positively affect the lives of countless children throughout the world.
Laurie D. Wray is the new Director of Development for Maxie’s H.O.U.S.E. and was previously the Director of Development for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in Arizona. She has also worked in development for the Arizona Kidney Foundation and AMC Cancer Research Center in Denver, Colorado. As a volunteer, Wray served on the Board of Trustees for Whispering Hope Ranch Foundation and Phoenix Country Day School where she chaired the Alumni Committee. She was the President of the Golden Gate Community Center Guild and has been involved in many other charities in Maine, Oregon, Colorado, and Connecticut where she previously lived.