Karabelle Pizzigati was many things – a loving wife, mother and grandmother, a mentor, a proud supporter of the Terps’ basketball teams, a teacher, an eager traveler, and a tireless advocate.
Growing up in Harlem in the 1950s and ‘60s, she witnessed the challenges that communities face when social, health, and economic supports are lacking. It’s no surprise that throughout her nearly 40-year career, Karabelle woke up every day asking: What can I do today to make life better for children and their families?
Her impactful career reflects a very simple answer…everything she could.
A triple graduate of Cornell University, with master's and doctorate degrees in child development and family studies, Karabelle’s journey began as a developmental research psychologist at the National Institute of Mental Health. Not long after, a Congressional Science fellowship with the American Association for the Advancement of Science awakened her interest in public policy. From that point on, she followed a pathway that allowed her to bridge the worlds of science and policy together.
As the staff director of the U.S. House Select Committee for Children, Youth and Families, she tackled issues such as children's mental health, foster care, adolescent pregnancy and youth employment from 1993 to 2000. In this role, she led the charge on major legislative wins including the Multiethnic Placement Act (1994) and the Adoption and Safe Families Act (1997). She also played a leading role in the 1997 expansion of Title IV-B and the 1999 expansion of the Independent Living Program. Over the next seven years, as the public policy director for the Child Welfare League of America, she led national lobbying campaigns for the protection and support of abused and abandoned children. She served two terms on the Maryland State Board of Education, and led early childhood education efforts during her tenure as president of the National Association of State Boards of Education in 2008. Karabelle also served as national chair of Parents as Teachers from 2009 to 2013, guiding the organization in its mission to build strong communities, thriving families and children who are healthy, safe and ready to learn.
It’s hard to quantify the impact of Karabelle’s contributions and accomplishments, but what’s certain is that she helped transform and improve the lives of untold thousands of children. Yet how she went about her work is just as impressive as what she achieved. Karabelle was singular in her ability to bring warmth, passion, and kindness into every space she entered while maintaining a subtle fortitude and fearlessness. That unique combination of strength and softness is what made Karabelle such a prolific advocate. She fought for what was right with compassion and class, and never at the expense of her own values or someone else’s dignity.
This legacy is what drives the Karabelle Pizzigati Initiative in Advocacy for Children, Youth and Families. It’s an honor to cultivate and support a network of advocates who embody Karabelle’s tenacious spirit and selfless devotion, and we are grateful for the opportunity to do our part to make the world better for children, youth, and families.
- Social Policy