Expanding our Horizons

Month: March, 2015

The Steamboat Pentathlon: The Place to Race and Volunteer

It’s a calling for world-class athletes, seasoned ironman triathletes, adventure racing juggernauts and outdoor warriors. People say it’s not for the faint of heart.

The first Steamboat Pentathlon was held in 1992. It was an effort to invigorate late winter crowds and boost out of town visits. Since then, the one-of-a-kind Pentathlon has brought athletes from all around the state and all stretches of our local competitive landscape. Hardcore and quirky, the Pentathlon epitomizes what Steamboat’s all about.

The race features two courses. The standard course is a combination of a 500 vertical foot climb up Emerald followed by a ski down, a 2.4 mile snowshoe, a 5.6 mile Nordic ski, a 12.8 mile mountain bike ride and a 3.2 mile run. The short course is a 300 vertical foot climb up and ski down, 1.6 mile snowshoe, 1.9 mile Nordic ski, 7.4 mile mountain bike ride and 2 mile run.

But more and more, people are calling the Steamboat Pentathlon a community event. Even with its tangible intensity, competitive zeal, three month training schedules, transition area perfectionism, VO2 max calculations, electrolyte monitoring and carb consuming, it truly is about community. It’s about family and fun. It’s a day in the winter snow (hard ice pack or sugary slush) or spring sun (cloudless, boundless bluebird skies) where people show up to cheer, laugh, breathe and enjoy.

The Steamboat Pentathlon 2015 was a Coloradan bluebird day.

The Steamboat Pentathlon 2015 was a mild and sunny Coloradan bluebird day.

This year’s Pentathlon was the 24th annual. It was also the 4th consecutive year that Horizons has volunteered for the event. Led by Vocational Specialist Mike Dwire and Volunteer Coordinator Tommy Larson, people who work at Horizons and people who participate in the programs have come out to help.

Three of this year's volunteers: Jaimee, Tommy and Paula.

Three of this year’s volunteers: Jaimee, Tommy and Paula.

This year, their station was the midway point of the event’s first leg, the climb up, ski down. A quick ride on the Snowcat to the top of Emerald and the Horizons volunteer team was ready to monitor the station, point racers in the right direction, collect athletes’ clothing and bring it down to the bottom once the leg was finished. Back at the transition site, the team separated clothes and shoes, helping to restore order in an event made as much of gear as it is of grit.

Race coordinators attest to the fact that the Pentathlon cannot be done without volunteers. With Adult, Team, Duo, Youth, Standard and Short course categories, plus a new Adult Chariot Division, race numbers have swelled in recent years to 270 participants. Volunteers help racers on the course—handing out water and energy replacements, cheering them on, and perhaps most importantly, keeping them on the right course amidst the dynamic, spirited buzz of the energized, determined and charismatic racers.

Three-time volunteer Jaimee Purcell Sexton has a blast at the event. Tommy Larson calls her an old pro. “It’s a great opportunity to meet people you’ve never met before,” Jaimee says. “You get to cheer people on. It’s so much fun, I would recommend it to anyone.”

Having fun is just one of the perks of volunteering at the Pentathlon. Supported Living Services and Day Program counselor Paula Lotz helped out this year and says, “Most of the time at Horizons, we’re on the receiving end of giving. It was cool to be on the giving end this time.” It’s great to be able to give—that’s what the volunteer program is all about. It’s also about being part of a community, getting out into it and having a presence. According to Tommy, “Wherever we go, we try to be visible. We knew so many of the racers and we got to show them our support. There was a lot of clapping and a lot of enthusiasm. This year, it was sunscreen, lip balm and laughing.”

The Pentathlon has evolved into a harmonious balance of the red zone, adrenalin craving ultra athletes with family oriented and fun loving, (borderline) ridiculous mountain town fanatics (with team names like “The Heavy Equipment Operators,” “The Frozen Chosen,” “Miller Time,” and “Wizzpoppers”). It’s a community event for all, where people get to show their true colors, push to new limits, create adventurous memories and redefine typical.

The view from the climb up, ski down volunteer station on Emerald (before the mad rush of racers).

The view from the climb up, ski down volunteer station on Emerald (before the mad rush of racers).

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2015 DSP Finalist: Sylvia McFeaters

Anyone who knows her will say that Sylvia McFeaters is a ROCK. She has anchored the entire Supported Living Services program in Moffat County for years. She is hardworking and adaptable. She has the ability to step in and out of roles effortlessly. She knows how to see the bright side of people and situations.

Sylvia has been with Horizons for 17 years. She was a Team Coordinator at Duke House, a group home for three people. In 2004, she took over the Supported Living Services and Vocational programs in Moffat. She has been our only staff member agency wide trained as a SIS interviewer. This specific and critical skill gets overshadowed by all the other things she does once someone is assessed. After a recent SIS interview, an individual couldn’t stop talking about her plans once she started receiving support through Horizons. Sylvia really knows how to make a good first impression!

Sylvia and Susan Mizen at our Pick a Dish cooking contest fundraiser.

Sylvia and Susan Mizen at our Pick a Dish cooking contest fundraiser.

Sylvia works with the most challenging behavioral issues in our agency. She can figure out how to work with people so they can function and be part of our programs. She is successful with people with whom it is difficult to build a rapport. Sylvia inspires trust. She is consistent, has clear expectations, validates concerns and needs, and lets others know she is there to help. She is articulate about the plan–no energy is wasted in confusion.

Sylvia never thinks working with challenging behavior is too hard. She only comes to her supervisor with a problem if she has a solution as well. She is a can-do person willing to take on any challenge. “If there were anyone in this agency I had to lean on,” her supervisor said, “it would be Sylvia.” She tackles things head on with a positive attitude and produces amazing results.

In her work, Sylvia is professional. In addition to providing great services and supports, her reports on done on time. She is respectful of everyone and she interacts well with other agencies. Everything she does is with a sense of equality.

In Sylvia’s world, every opportunity is a great opportunity to meet the needs of the people she supports. We’re so excited that Sylvia was recognized for her skills, strengths and value at Alliance Colorado’s Awareness Day at the Capitol.

Sylvia and Service Coordinator Pauline Godfrey working the door at Pick a Dish.

Sylvia and Service Coordinator Pauline Godfrey working the door at Pick a Dish.

2015 DSP Finalist: Tommy Larson

Alliance Colorado held their annual Awareness Day at the Capitol on February 18th, 2015. Awareness Day helps state level elected officials understand the significance of supporting individuals with intellectual and developmental delays and disabilities. Alliance hosts a luncheon for its Community Centered Board and Program Approved Service Agency members and honors the top Direct Support Professionals from around the state. This year, Horizons was proud and excited to have two employees chosen as finalists for the award.

2015 DSP finalists Sylvia McFeaters and Tommy Larson. Matt Troeger led the Pledge.

2015 Alliance DSP Finalists Sylvia McFeaters and Tommy Larson. Matt Troeger led the pledge.

Tommy Larson, our Volunteer Coordinator and a Supported Living Services Counselor, has been with Horizons for eight years. He is one of those people every organization needs. On any given day, he goes above and beyond. Even when you tell him not to go above and beyond, he can’t help himself. That’s his natural state. He volunteers his time to create social opportunities for clients—whether it’s Guys’ Brunch, Spaghetti Night, 4th of July Fireworks, trips to Denver, Labor Day Air Show, or a Pie in the Sky party.

Guys' brunch at CMC

Guys’ Brunch at Colorado Mountain College. That’s a crew!

Tommy consistently addresses needs; the needs of the people he supports come first. When someone he works with injured himself at 9pm on a Sunday night, he called Tommy. Tommy stayed with him until he felt comfortable. This person had never wanted to reach out before, and he might not have called anyone else if Tommy wasn’t part of his life.

When it comes to teaching new skills, Tommy is creative. To work on reading comprehension, Tommy asked the family of a woman he works with to write notes to her. This way, her learning was integrated into her personal relationships and daily living. For individuals who are working on social skills, Tommy brainstorms fun activities in the community and actively encourages participation. Tommy helped Matt host a Midsummer Mixer for friends at a local brewery; the brewery has since offered Matt a job!

Tommy is a connector. He and Matt volunteer at Casey’s Pond retirement community. He involves Horizons in student activities at Colorado Mountain College. Tommy weaves together social circles and makes real, personal, deep connections for himself and others. He doesn’t just go through the motions or follow a program. Tommy lives in the moment and the moment belongs to him and the people with whom he’s working.

Tommy knows that finding natural supports is critical to helping people thrive. He goes the extra mile to connect with existing businesses and organizations to make ordinary days and events extraordinary. He put together a holiday party at Lake Catamount, coaxing a fellow counselor into wearing an elf costume! He organizes road trips to Hahn’s Peak Café to experience the live music of bands. When bands play at Carl’s Tavern, he’s there, too, for camaraderie and fun.

Tommy and his wife Sarah with Peter at a concert in Gondola Square

Tommy and his wife Sarah take in a concert at Gondola Square with Peter.

Tommy is a regular in almost all community events, from Steamboat’s Merry Main Street parade, the Pro Rodeo Series and the circus to the free summer concerts and Steamboat Springs Running Series. On holidays, Tommy invites the people he supports out so they don’t have to be alone. He improves people’s quality of life and he perfectly combines his two roles—advocating for people and advocating for volunteering. Ultimately, he makes the community better.

Merry Main Street parade

Merry Main Street Parade: it’s cold but full of holiday spirit!

Tommy’s humor makes people feel at ease and comfortable. He genuinely listens to people and he genuinely supports people. He is truly person centered. He is selfless but not a martyr. Tommy makes things happen.

Amanda Barnett, Tommy’s supervisor, sees clear program related results after Tommy is done working. She sees an improvement in individuals’ cooking skills, their ability to navigate the kitchen efficiently and use knives. “It’s the person who does the job and how he does it,” Amanda noted.

Professionally, Tommy is always willing to learn. He wants to improve and is open to feedback. He is humble enough to assume he’ll do better next time. Tommy enrolled in the Leadership Steamboat program and consequently expanded his network of community contacts. His participation in Leadership Steamboat led to his involvement with Colorado Gives Day. He created his own donor page and spent hours of time promoting Yampa Valley Gives. His band, Badunkafunk, played at a McKnight’s Irish Pub to promote Colorado Gives/Yampa Valley Gives Day. Badunkafunk never turns down an opportunity to play free for local nonprofits with worthy causes.

Matt easily sums up Tommy: “Tommy is really fun to hang out with. He totally cares about people.” And the mother of a woman in Horizons’ program likes to say: “When my daughter hears special needs, all she hears is special.” Tommy makes this true by providing her with so many opportunities to be special.

Tommy and Mark at Fish Creek Falls

Tommy and Mark enjoying Fish Creek Falls.