New board member announced at Imagine

Kristen Sonnek-Schmelz

MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ — The Board of Trustees at Imagine, A Center for Coping with Loss, located in Mountainside and Newark, is welcoming Kristen Sonnek-Schmelz as its newest member. Sonnek-Schmelz studied biology and secondary education at James Madison University before returning to Westfield High School to teach biology from 2000 to 2006. In 2006, Sonnek-Schmelz moved to Philadelphia to pursue a dual master’s in educational leadership and biotechnology from the University of Pennsylvania.

On finishing her graduate degrees in 2008, Sonnek-Schmelz and her husband, Blake, welcomed their first child into the world, and so began Sonnek-Schmelz’s career of volunteering. She served on her children’s elementary school PTO from 2016 to 2019, where she was co-chairperson of two significant projects — the development of the school’s Food Allergy Awareness program and the recess enhancement project; the latter spanned two years and included raising the necessary funds for new schoolyard striping, recess equipment and the installation of a new playground obstacle structure.

In 2019, Sonnek-Schmelz’s family endured the unthinkable – her brother, Matthew Toriello, died from an opioid overdose. In an effort to honor Matthew’s legacy, Sonnek-Schmelz and her family founded the Matthew Thomas Toriello Memorial Fund. The fund supports programs focused on addiction education and prevention, recovery and helping youth.

In November 2021, Sonnek-Schmelz was elected to the Westfield Board of Education. Sonnek-Schmelz currently serves as the co-chairperson of the WBOE curriculum committee and as an alternate on the finance committee. Supporting the district’s administration in creating safe and inclusive learning environments where students feel challenged and encouraged to reach their fullest potential is Sonnek-Schmelz’s focus.

When asked why she is excited to join the Imagine Board, Sonnek-Schmelz said, “My husband lost his mother when we were seniors in high school. I will never forget that night; I can recall details as if it was yesterday. When I attended my first Seasons of Hope breakfast, I immediately thought, ‘Wow! I wish this type of community existed for Blake and his brother.’ We have been strong supporters ever since. I am honored to join the board and to take this next step. I am excited to help develop grief education curricula for schools to ensure schools can confidently and appropriately execute the new grief education state mandate.”

In welcoming Sonnek-Schmelz to Imagine’s board, Executive Director Lindsay Schambach said, “It is an honor to welcome to our board such a long-standing supporter as well as an amazing person who has had so many experiences with grief herself. Kristen exemplifies the values of our organization in her commitment to serving children and her understanding of our mission of ensuring that no child should have to grieve alone. We look forward to the difference that Kristen will make during her time of service here at Imagine and are honored to get to partner with her to live out our organizational mission each and every day.”

Photo Courtesy of Valerie Stierhoff