It was by a stroke of good fortune that Monique Kane, just named "Woman of the Year" by state Sen. Joe Simitian, is where she is today. The director of Community Health Awareness Council narrowly escaped death as a child escaping the Nazi invasion of France in World War II.
Kane, now in her early 70s, hardly looks her age. She was two years old in 1940 when the Nazis invaded France. Her mother, an American, fled and hitchhiked across France with three children in tow to catch the last civilian ship to the U.S. "We were pretty emaciated" by the time all four of them reached the ship, Kane said.
Things got worse when the ship encountered a German U-boat. Expecting the ship to explode, the passengers boarded lifeboats, Kane said.
"The captain of the German ship and captain of the American ship had a conversation," Kane recalled. "And the American captain talked the German captain out of bombing us."
The narrow escape had a lasting effect on the family and Kane, despite her young age.
"My parents remained separated for years," Kane said. Her mother, who had followed her marine engineer husband to France, "wouldn't go back and my father wouldn't come home. He finally did when I was 13. I grew up without a father.
"I think it also made me a pacifist," Kane said. "I saw how much my mother was traumatized by that experience. I think it really influenced me."
Serving the needy
Kane went on to be a teacher and a therapist, and has helped to provide mental health care to the city's most needy at CHAC since 1986. Kane was honored as "woman of the year" last week by state Sen. Joe Simitian, who bestows the award to one woman every year among his 931,349 constituents in his district's 13 towns and cities.
"I am so deeply honored to have been selected," said Kane. "It certainly is a reflection of our excellent staff. I started out years ago as a therapist, so I was always in this kind of work, but when I came to CHAC I was amazed at how many lives of children and teens that we touched and how we helped them grow emotionally and build good skills."
Kane has gained the respect of Dr. Barry Groves, superintendent of the Mountain View Los Altos High School District, among many others.
"Monique Kane has been the steadfast leader to ensure that we've had uninterrupted counseling service for over two decades in our community," Groves said. "Over the last decades our students are experiencing a great deal of stress in the classroom and at home. It's more important than ever that we provide these counseling services to our kids and their families."
"The work that Monique and CHAC do with troubled young people and their families is an extraordinary gift to the community," Simitian said. "Under Monique's leadership, CHAC helps people avoid self-destructive behavior and find the way to healthy lives and rewarding family relationships."
CHAC has expanded by leaps and bounds since Kane started, serving 11,917 clients last year in 31 local schools and in its clinic at 711 Church Street. It has become known as a leading training facility with as many as 80 student interns providing counseling services, seeing children at local schools and patients in the clinic who pay depending on their income. There were only 16 such interns in 1986. Kane says she still trains a few interns every year and also has a small private practice on the side.
She became a licensed therapist in 1976 and had no trouble finding patients, mostly children and couples, for a private practice she ran until she was hired by CHAC in 1986. She had been recommended by a colleague to then-CHAC director and co-founder Dodie Alexander. Kane asked for an interview, but Alexander said, "When can you start?"
Alexander explained later than she trusted her staff's assessment of Kane.
Two years after taking the clinical supervisor job at CHAC, Kane filled a vacant clinical director position at CHAC and in 2000 became executive director after filling in on an interim basis several times.
Kane is rather soft spoken and quiet for a leader of such a large organization. Kane says she leads in a "democratic" way, empowering her staff, and also has a "quiet determination" many don't see.
But even in college she says she was attracted to leadership positions, serving on the student council while earning her teaching degree at Salve Regina College in Rhode Island. Kane says she wasn't really sure what she wanted to do for a career, and nursing and teaching were the obvious choices for a woman in those years. But as a teacher in public elementary schools in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and, in 1968, in Menlo Park when her husband took a job with Raychem, Kane found that she had a talent for working with the most troubled kids. It eventually led her to become a licensed marriage and family therapist.
"Often schools were giving me kids who were having problems in other classes," Kane said. "I just did really well with those kids." She says it helps to have "a sense of humor, patience, empathy and understanding."
Kane had several kids of her own by the time she decided to go back to school to become a trained therapist, and said she was fortunate to find an independent study program based at Vermont's Goddard College that allowed her to study on her own time in California under qualified professionals of her choice. As a requirement of graduation, she gave a weekend workshop on a study she conducted about transgendered people.
Kane grew up among extended family in Rhode Island and attended Catholic schools. Her Catholic mother never remarried after fleeing France. "I don't think they did a lot of annulments then," Kane said.
Her mom's father, a physician, had previously moved the family from Canada to Rhode Island. Kane attributes her ability to be "diplomatic" to her mother, who stressed to Monique the manners of high society, and that it matters how you say something.
'Work that I love'
Kane is married to her second husband, Bill Heinz, with whom she has two-step sons. She leads a quiet life, hiking every day at Foothill Park in Palo Alto, where she now lives, and reads mystery novels. One of her three children, Susan, died from an illness 14 years ago at age 32, which still hurts, Kane said. She has a son who teaches at a Southern California community college and runs an organic avocado and mushroom farm with his wife. She has a close relationship with her other daughter, a hairdresser in Los Altos. She also has several grandchildren, one of whom is living with her while attending college. Her family keeps her "balanced," she said.
"I actually have worked as an adult doing work that I love," Kane said. "The secret in life is to do what you love and get paid for it."