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.
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.
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 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.
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.