It’s somewhat hard to believe that a couple of days ago, on May 2nd, I celebrated my 18th year anniversary as the Executive Director of Garden Center Services. To say that the decision to accept this position changed my life would be such a huge understatement! After a long career working in this field, beginning as a direct care staff over 45 years ago, I came to this agency hoping to support the adults with developmental disabilities in ways that would respect each person’s hopes and dreams and also focus on their strengths as well as their needs.
At the time of my arrival the agency consisted of the one Developmental Training Program on State Road, the Intermediate Care Facility, and two community-based group homes. This in itself was quite an achievement from what started as a classroom organized and overseen by a group of volunteers in a donated space above the garages at Reavis High School in 1956! I was able to implement some very basic changes that were helpful to the agency’s bottom line, but the actual elevating transformation slowly came about as we began supporting our individuals to live community-based lives of their choosing, influenced by the unique gifts, preferences, and needs of each person. Our staff began working in partnership not only with the person, but also with those who loved him or her, to move towards a life of connection, contribution, and meaning.
It was as the culture of the agency changed that more and more individuals and their families were choosing GCS to be their service provider. Over the years we have been approached by our state funders to take responsibility for several programs that were struggling, and this also added to our numbers. The result has been the addition of ten more community living arrangements and another day program/office location, as well as a revitalized volunteerism and community employment initiative. Prior to the spread of the Covid-19 virus, GCS was supporting about 140 individuals, with 75 of those persons living at one of our residential locations. This past year has been an unimaginable, very challenging year. I am so pleased to share that by taking incredible precautions, utilizing very creative staffing schedules, scrupulously gathering all the necessary Personal Protective Equipment, and educating our staff on the latest CDC guidance, we have been able to come this far with only a handful of active cases, two hospitalizations, and no fatalities! I cannot say enough about our employees, up and down the line, that have moved me by the care, kindness, and dedication they have demonstrated.
The joy and meaning that this position has brought into my life has been immeasurable. My life has been so enriched by the individuals we serve, by their families, by our supporters, and by the finest staff I have ever had the pleasure to work with. I am proud of what we have accomplished together so far, and am confident that we will continue to find ways to improve the quality of life for the persons we serve, and one another. I want to express my deepest gratitude to each of you and commit that I will strive to exhibit respect, empowerment, and compassion for you all as we continue on this journey together.