Expanding our Horizons

Category: Uncategorized

Routines are the Foundation for Early Childhood Mental Health

By Maegan Lokteff, PhD

Almost everyone likes to have a routine. Some people have an exercise routine, a morning routine, and a work routine. Routines create structure and help guide activities. They provide predictability and security.

For young children, routines provide the foundation for positive early childhood mental health. Routines ensure relationships. For young children, routines need to be facilitated by the adults in their lives. Routines also ensure repetition. Repetition helps babies and toddlers learn to connect their relationships to their experiences of safety and security. Routines play a major role in helping children develop social and emotional skills by providing safe and predictable experiences which allow them to develop and practice social and emotional understanding.

Routines and Self-Control

Routines help young children learn self-control by providing a sense of safety and security. When children feel safe in their day to day activities, they have more freedom to explore, play, and learn.

Routines Reduce Power Struggles

Mother_Scolding_Aspergers_Son-881x499Because they provide children with information about what will happen next, routines can reduce power struggles. Children feel more in control and have a greater sense of security regarding what’s happening to and around them. When children feel in control, they may be more likely to respond positively to requests.

Routines and Safety

bike-helmet-childWhile routines support young children’s sense of security, they can also support the health and safety of a young child. When health and safety practices like washing hands, sitting in a car seat, or wearing a helmet are expected routines, children are more likely to do them. This in turn supports their health, safety, and sense of responsibility.

Routines and Social Skills

Social interactions are a series of routines. As babies grow into toddlers, they learn how to respond to social cues from routines (they know to say hello when someone arrives and goodbye when someone leaves, for example). Social patterns and routines help young children understand turn taking in conversation and activities as well as problem solving with peers.

Routines and Transitions

toddler-tantrum-1024x682Routines can make transitions easier. Routines around transitions, such as bed time or going to day care, help children know what to expect next. This makes them feel secure and makes the change in activity or environment easier to process.

Routines are the foundation for promoting social and emotional health in young children. They offer opportunities for children to build self-confidence, curiosity, social skills, self-control, regulation, and communication skills.

Maegan Lokteff
Grand Beginnings, Executive Director; 970.725.3391; director@grandbeginnings.org

Maegan has spent almost 20 years working with children and families. After earning a BS in Child Development and Family Relations and a BS in Recreation at the University of Idaho, Maegan spent several years working in early care and education programs, after school programs, and summer day camps as both a teacher and administrator. She spent four years as a coordinator and advocate for families experiencing domestic violence. In 2014, Maegan completed her PhD in Family and Human Development with an emphasis in child development and early care and education at Utah State University.

The mission of Grand Beginnings is to promote a child-centered school readiness system that fosters early learning, facilitates healthy child development and promotes family success in Grand County.

More information can be found at Creating Routines for Love and Learning, Zero to Three, 2010.

The Daily Vroom App

Parents of kids age five and younger often find themselves juggling work and family, wondering if they’re doing enough of the important stuff kids need to learn and succeed. In our fast paced society, it’s easy to feel rushed, stressed, and overwhelmed. Daily Vroom, a mobile app created to be wherever parents and caregivers are, reminds us that we already have within us what it takes to help kids develop.

Vroom is based on the ideas that brain building moments are all around us and any moment can become a brain building moment. Some parents might benefit from using everyday moments a little differently while others may need new ideas to spark everyday learning.


In the first five years of life, a child’s brain makes more than 700 neural connections every second. These neural connections form the foundation for future learning. Since each experience and interaction shapes the growing brain, we’re teaching our kids whether we’re trying to or not. Daily Vroom helps parents understand what happens in children’s brains during these experiences and interactions.

Three scientific principles comprise the essence of Vroom. The first principle is that positive relationships with caring adults are essential for brain building. There is no healthy social, emotional, and cognitive development in the absence of relationships.

The second principle is that back and forth interaction between a child and adult—especially pre-language—is the root of relationships. When parents respond to children’s sounds, actions, and expressions, children learn that their sounds, actions, and expressions have meaning. With or without words, kids learn to initiate communication, pay attention, respond, express clarity, and change topics.

The third principle is that children are not born with executive functioning skills, but they are born with the capacity to develop them. Executive functioning skills include working memory, self-control, and mental flexibility. The interactions and experiences children have in early childhood can help them focus, adjust, resist temptations, and manage emotions. These skills are essential in getting along, achieving goals, and becoming part of a civil society.

The Daily Vroom app gives you access to over 1,000 tips appropriate for your child’s age as well as the brainy background (or science) behind the tips. For example, during bath time, give your two year old different size containers to scoop and pour water. Encourage her to explore and compare the containers and talk about what she’s doing. The app will point out that children learn best through hands-on exploration in playful, commonplace ways. When you help your child set up experiments to learn how the world works, she’ll employ math and science concepts and develop critical thinking skills as well.

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You can choose tips related to changing diapers, cleaning up, doing laundry, going to bed, or being in the car, on foot, or at the park. Brushing hair can become math, getting dressed can improve self-control, and eating peas can explain cause and effect. Your child’s development begins and grows with you.

5 Brain Building Basics

  • Look: make eye contact with your child.
  • Chat: talk about things you see, hear, and do. Explain what’s happening around you.
  • Follow: let your child lead. Respond to her sounds and actions. When she starts talking, ask questions like “What do you think caused that?” and “Why do you like that?”
  • Stretch: make interactions last longer by building on your child’s words and actions.
  • Take Turns: use sounds, words, facial expressions, and gestures to go back and forth to create games or conversations.

The Five Critical Needs of Children

By Jessica Smolleck, Pyramid Plus Teacher with Grand Beginnings

1) Every person, whether an adult or a child, needs to feel respected.

  • Examine whether you’re treating your children in a positive and respectful way or whether you’re treating them with rudeness by lying to them, demeaning them, or not listening to them. Before you respond to your child, ask yourself: “How would I respond if I was speaking to an adult?”


2) Children appreciate being made to feel important.

  • Children need to have a sense of value, control, and usefulness. They need to feel that they are somebody. Find a middle ground between being protective and allowing your child to explore the world. Be willing to listen and let them problem solve or make decisions. Let your children take responsibility for some things.

3) All kids desire and need to be accepted for who they are.

  • Children have a right to their own feelings, desires, and ideas and they deserve to be recognized. This doesn’t mean that you have to agree or disagree with everything, it simply means that you acknowledge them. Avoid overreacting, being overly critical, or encouraging kids to suppress their feelings. Instead, listen to them and praise the things you like.

acceptance of the child

4) Everyone likes to be included, but children especially need to feel included.

  • Children need to be brought in and made to feel a part of things. They need to feel included in family activities and events. Spend time each day sharing what each person in the family is doing, try to make the kids a part of decisions being made, and find activities that the whole family can do together.

5) Most importantly, children must feel secure.

  • Children need to be in an environment and have relationships that are consistent and caring. They need to know they are loved no matter what and that you have their best interests at heart. Keep this in mind with your interaction with your kids, your discipline, and your relationships with others.

Unconditional Love

Becoming a Student of My Own Behavior

self reflection

Self-reflection, self-improvement

  • Which of my action today were positive in regard to my child/children’s 5 critical needs?
  • Which of my actions today were negative in meeting the five critical needs of my child/children?
  • What does this tell me about myself
  • If I were doing today over again, what would I do differently?
  • What will I change or try to do tomorrow?


Be a Brain Builder

The first three years of life boast the most rapid and robust brain growth, when 85% of the physical brain develops. At birth, the brain has about all of the neurons it will ever have and can create synapses faster than it will ever be able to. Synapses between neurons are strengthened by use. Rarely used synapses become weak before being eliminated.


Synapse density over time.

Every day in the United States, one in 1,000 newborns is born profoundly deaf and another two to three out of 1,000 are born with partial hearing loss. Fluctuating hearing loss due to frequent ear infections could mean a young child is missing vital speech information.


Dr. Dana Suskind

Dr. Dana Suskind specializes in pediatric hearing loss and cochlea implantation at the University of Chicago and is the founder and director of the Thirty Million Words Initiative. With cochlear implant surgery, Dr. Suskind gave children the gift of sound, changing the trajectory of their lives in one day.

Suskind realized that surgery brought children closer to a new world, but the real change happened after surgery. Regarding development, the ability to hear is trivialized without a language rich environment. Hearing is a way for sounds to get into the brain for processing; we hear with our brains, not with our ears. Children’s brains need words to grow.

The Thirty Million Words Initiative refers to a 1990 study citing how many more words children from higher socioeconomic households were exposed to by age three compared to children from lower socioeconomic households. Those who grew up in word poor homes had smaller vocabularies, poorer grades, and lower IQs.

Thirty Million Words promotes baby talk (using rhythm, melodic pitch, and positive tone not fabricated words) and reading to babies. It encourages bilingual families to use mostly their native language and advocates for increased language exposure using the mantra, “Don’t just do it, talk them through it.” It promotes the Three T’s:

  • Tune in: notice what a child is focused on and talk about it. Respond when a child communicates in any way.
  • Talk more: narrate daily routines such as getting dressed and eating meals. Use description, detail, and variety.
  • Take turns: keep the conversation going. Respond to a child’s sounds, gestures, and words and allow plenty of time for the child to respond. Ask questions that compel more than yes or no answers.


Teri Kite, Teacher of Deaf and Hard of Hearing for Northwest Colorado BOCES and Horizons Specialized Services, says: “Anything we recommend to increase language acquisition for a child with hearing impairment is also good for a child with normal hearing. Enriching language is a universal need in our world that is increasingly electronic.” Teri has seen how making communication fun can ultimately make for families of good communicators. “It’s never too early to begin purposeful communication with your child. Babies’ minds are little sponges.”

In collaboration with Colorado Hands and Voices, Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind, and The Listen Foundation, Horizons and BOCES are hosting three presentations on March 11th for Early Childhood professionals, families of children with hearing loss, older children with hearing loss, and families and children of all hearing abilities interested in language acquisition (with Thirty Million Words). For more information, contact Susan Mizen (smizen@horizonsnwc.org) or Teri Kite (teri.kite@nwboces.org).

Excellence: DSPs at Work

All of us

The Capitol Gang: Michael Toothaker, Brittany Smale, Jana Hoffman, Representative Diane Mitsch Bush, Susan Mizen, Heather Gibbon, Yvonne Truelove

At Horizons, we envision a world where people with IDD live community-based lives of their choice supported by highly qualified DSPs. Alliance Colorado celebrated Awareness Day at the Capitol on February 17th, highlighting issues people with IDD face and the work DSPs do. From across the state, 30 DSPs were nominated for the 2016 DSP of the Year Award—all of whom have the knowledge, skills, and values needed to support people with IDD in achieving their life goals.

From Horizons, Jana Hoffman and Brittany Smale were recognized. Jana has worked at Horizons for eight years and Brittany for three. Both Jana and Brittany share a respect for the dignity and completeness of the people in Horizons’ programs.

In the dome

Horizons’ 2016 DSP nominees!

In her worldview, Jana is inherently person centered. She embraces person centered values and employs person centered techniques. When interacting with the people she supports, Jana recognizes their unique attributes and potential. She has exceptional skills and stealth approaches to working with people with IDD, along with the intuitive capacity to understand the person beneath the label.

Jana is respected and admired, quiet and confident, assertive and charismatic. She leads by example and compels others to be their best. Watching her work is like reading a “How To” book—she seamlessly incorporates ideas, strategies, and values to help people achieve their personal goals and greater autonomy. She does this with a gentle spirit and sense of ease: you don’t notice what she’s done until you see the end result. When the people she supports accomplish something you didn’t know they could, that’s when you realize: Jana made this happen.

Jana works well with people who have significant behavioral challenges, people who have extremely high needs, and people who struggle physically or socially. She treats people as individuals without categorizing them, and it works. She makes people feel good about themselves, and it works. Her positivity is contagious, infecting the people she supports and helping them succeed.

Jana with Alliance staff

Jana accepts her nomination as a DSP finalist from Alliance Colorado staff, Ellen Jensby and Josh Rael.

To come up with new ideas to improve people’s lives, Jana taps into her creativity. She discovers new recipes for dinner and unexplored areas of the community for activities. She presents new topics of conversation, unusual games, and unfamiliar faces. In her creativity, Jana is patient and generous. She leads people to new places and waits for them to adapt, accept, decline, or succeed. She wants people to experience life on their own terms, with their own perspective.

Brittany Smale, our other nominee, works weekend shifts at two of our most challenging homes. Residents have high medical and behavioral needs and, at times, Brittany is the only staff for the entire shift. She takes this in stride and no one misses a beat.

Working independently and efficiently, Brittany takes extraordinary care of the people in our programs, paying particular attention to their health. As an LPN, she comes into the office on her time off to talk to her supervisor or agency nurse, following up on health concerns experienced over the weekend. Brittany’s medical knowledge and expertise surpass what’s expected of a DSP and this brings comfort and relief.

Michael, Bob and Brittany

Michael Toothaker, Representative Bob Rankin, Brittany Smale

As a strong natural advocate, Brittany sees people’s strengths rather than their limitations. Her work is predicated on the belief that all people can learn, improve, succeed, and flourish. Her language is person centered and spoken without a trace of negativity, making her a solid support and a consistent leader.

Brittany and Michael

A good team.

Brittany’s actions and words are always a variation on the theme: what can we do to help the people we serve? Her gentle, calm demeanor puts people at ease. Her ability to manage everyone’s needs—the daily details and the big picture—keeps her in high regard among coworkers. She is reliable, dependable, and willing to excel.

When quality is defined at the point of interaction between the DSP and the person with a disability, we feel fortunate to have both Jana and Brittany to fulfill Horizons’ mission.

Stop Stress!

Children and adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities often experience stressful events and interactions and then use maladaptive strategies to manage these situations. In addition, the presence of behavior challenges in children is linked to elevated stress in parents. Stress is an epidemic in our western world. It’s implicated in 7-10 of the leading causes of death (heart disease, cancer, stroke, suicide, homicide) and indirectly linked to cancer, liver disease and emphysema. 75-90% of visits to primary health care doctors are for stress related concerns. Stress negatively impacts our physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing.

jim-porter_smallHaving recently attended Dr. James Porter’s presentation, “Stop Stress This Minute,” at the Yampa Valley Medical Center, we learned about the causes and effects of stress as well as effective management strategies to reduce its powerful impact.

What causes stress? Is it your job, finances, relationships, responsibilities? No, Dr. Porter says; it’s you! Stress is the result of you, or more specifically, your thinking. Stress is a word that stands for problems. But stress is your problem to solve. Taking responsibility for solving your problems doesn’t mean that you are to blame. It means that you are the one to solve the problem.

Stress is related to feelings of control (a concept so important for people within the I/DD world). People who feel in control of their lives are invigorated and challenged by busy schedules. They believe there’s a solution to every problem. People who don’t feel in control of their lives are overwhelmed. They tend to see problems as unsolvable. In order to feel in control, we need to believe we’re in control. Control begins in our minds.

Stress is the body’s response to demands placed on it. It’s different for everyone; what stresses you out is different than what stresses your coworker or roommate out. Your signs and symptoms are specific to you. Stress is not what happens to you, but how you respond to it.

While today’s stressors have evolved from those of the caveman 25,000 years ago, the physiological reaction is the same. We inherited the Fight or Flight response from our ancestors. When we feel threatened and can’t escape (a predator attacking its prey), our bodies activate a supercharged, high octane response. The hypothalamus sends a message to the adrenal glands. The heart pumps 2-3 times faster, sending nutrient rich blood to major muscles. Capillaries close down and blood pressure rises. Eyes dilate and bodily functions associated with long term survival shut down (digestion and sexual function stop, the immune system shuts down, and excess waste is eliminated). Fight or Flight is short term for survival.

Physical signs of stress can include a pounding heart, upset stomach, dry mouth, rapid pulse, skin rash, perspiration, sleeplessness, diarrhea, recurrent colds, headache, fatigue, weight loss or gain, frequent urination, unexplained or frequent “allergy” attacks, gritting or grinding teeth, neck ache, back pain and muscle spasms. Emotional signs can include anger, frustration, worry, fear, panic, anxiety, feelings of loneliness or worthlessness, and overreaction to petty annoyances. Psychological signs can include crying spells or suicidal thoughts, depression, frequent or wild mood swings, obsessive or compulsive behavior, lies or excuses to cover up poor work, and difficulty in making decisions.

Today, most people manage stress by smoking, eating, drinking, spending money or using drugs. Stress is a ubiquitous and dominating lifestyle factor. So why don’t we manage it? Dr. Porter suggests that our culture promotes stress like a badge of honor—it’s synonymous with the American work ethic. We’ve cultivated a mindset against managing stress. Doctors receive little or no training about its impact on health. As a result, we don’t know how stressed out we are.

Stress is cumulative and our levels vary throughout the day. If something small bothers you, your stress levels have accumulated and you need to hit the reset button. It takes 1-2 hours for stress chemicals (adrenaline and cortisol) to come down to baseline. Dr. Porter encourages us to know our stress number: 0 = no stress and 10 = a panic attack. If we’re at 5 or above, we need to use a strategy to bring it down.

One strategy is Cognitive Restructuring. It’s based on the equation: A (activating event) + B (belief) = C (consequence). Cognitive Restructuring means changing your thinking and it requires a commitment to transformation. It challenges us to get rid of negative self-talk. For example, when we get a flat tire on the way to work (A), we tend to get stressed (C). Most people believe that A = C, when it’s actually our beliefs about the flat tire (B) that determine the consequence. Cognitive Restructuring implies that if we change our thinking (B), we can change the outcome of a stressful event. Instead of responding to A by thinking, “Why does this kind of stuff always happen to me?!”, choose to accept what can’t be changed and stop passing judgment. We can’t change events, but we can change the way we view them. The only thing standing between us and our new behavior is a single thought (B).

Another strategy is to Self-Regulate. This includes deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness and meditation. Deep breathing opens the capillaries that close during fight or flight. Progressive muscle relaxation relaxes the muscles and lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration. It’s simply the tensing and then relaxing of each muscle group of the body, one group at a time. Mindfulness is all about being in the present moment. In today’s society, we tend to do things mindlessly, or we let our minds wander into the future and feel anxiety or reflect into the past and feel anger. In meditation, we notice the in breath, the out breath and the gap in between. Meditation trains the mind to identify thoughts without judging them or becoming them. Meditation allows us to notice what goes on in the present (where life happens) and breathing is how we bring ourselves into the present.

We’re all somewhat addicted to stress. It’s a buzz; it makes us efficient! It can be the spice of life, but it can also be the kiss of death. So when you decide what it is you want to change—which events or situations cause toxic stress—start small. Make one change at a time and practice it for weeks, if not months, before adding in additional layers of change. First, become aware of the need to change, learn why you should change and consider how you want to change. Once you take action, focus on maintaining your healthy behaviors.

A Time Management Matrix can help you decide which behaviors you want to change.

A Time Management Matrix can help you decide which behaviors you want to change.

And for those of us who know, work or live with people with I/DD or children with behavioral challenges, Dr. Porter’s work reminds us to be curious about how stress presents itself and knowledgeable about strategies to manage it. While stress is a natural human state calling us to pay attention, it can also be identified and nurtured to work for us rather than against us.

There's a relationship between increasing levels of stress and optimal performance--but only to a certain point.

There’s a relationship between increasing levels of stress and optimal performance–but only to a certain point.

Dr. James Porter has presented seminars on stress management at West Point and for The FBI, The Navy, The Department of Homeland Security, The American Heart Association, The International Stress Management Association and at Time Life Headquarters in NYC. His work has been reported on in a wide variety of national media including Good Morning America, PM Magazine, Ladies Home Journal, The Daily News, The Dallas Morning News and in such medical Journals as The Journal of Bio-communication and the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and The Journal of Family Practice. He is currently a fellow of The American Institute of Stress.

See more at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAqoKGy9zHM

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).

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.

Horizons Annual Plan Update: Executive Summary April 2014

When I look back on 2013, I will think of it as the year of construction. In 2012 Horizons was awarded a $1.27 million grant from HUD to build an 8 unit apartment building to provide supportive housing for 7 clients. We broke ground in June 2013 and took possession of an amazing new apartment building on March 5, 2014. It opened as a licensed, 7 bed group home on April 26th.

Board President Bob Grover, resident Don Pearce, Adult Program Director Tatum Heath

Board President Bob Grover, resident Don Pearce, Adult Program Director Tatum Heath

While the HUD project has been the most time consuming of our accomplishments, we have achieved many other important things:

  1. Fourteen employees were trained in Person Centered Thinking in Glenwood Springs in October. Ten more will be trained in Montrose in August.
  2. We are maintaining financial sustainability by limiting growth in agency expenses and increasing revenue.
  3. We developed systems to maximize our use of the funding hierarchy for Early Intervention services.
  4. Nine individuals are being served in an SLS model using Routt County mill levy funds.
  5. Two new individuals were enrolled in CES. This was a major accomplishment since we did not previously offer CES services.
  6. Horizons is utilizing more strategies for promoting local service options such as events (Little Points of Light Home Tour in Rio Blanco County to promote Early Intervention; Pick a Dish in Craig to promote vocational opportunities for adults) and new awareness activities (Light it Up Blue in collaboration with the Yampa Valley Autism Program; Disability Awareness in the schools).
  7. We have 20 one to one mentors for the adults in our programs. These partnerships do a variety of things: attend fundraisers for other non-profits, go skiing, go out for coffee, go for walks, go out for meals, and go to local restaurants for Happy Hour.
  8. We held our second annual Pick a Dish event in Moffat County in April. Interested individuals in Horizons’ adult programs were paired with chefs from local restaurants. Together they prepared a dish to share at the event. About 200 people attended and voted on their favorites. The primary goal of the event was to develop relationships between our chefs and the restaurant chefs that would result in employment. No job offers yet…
  9. Cathryn Marie, who works in our residential program in Steamboat Springs, was honored as the Direct Support Professional of the Year by Alliance at Awareness Day at the Capitol.

We have maintained many important things:

  1. The president of the board of directors is a liaison between the Grand County Advisory Board and Horizons’ board. A meeting of the GCAB served as our public forum on January 21, 2014.
  2. We are maintaining our collaborations with Aging Well and the Council on Aging.
  3. We work closely with Behavior Services of the Rockies and with Mindsprings Health. An employee of Horizons is becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.
  4. We have maintained a high level of supported employment in Routt County.
The Ace job crew

The Ace Hardware job crew

Our priorities for 2014 include:

  1. Opening the Soda Creek Apartments as a 7 bed group home.
  2. Identifying needed growth in infrastructure in response to an additional 15 SLS resources, and potential growth in CES and comprehensive programs.
  3. Training 30% of our employees in Person Centered Thinking.
  4. Upgrading our vehicles with $81,400 in funding from the Colorado Department of Transportation.
  5. Updating and/or creating policies and procedures.
  6. Improving our system for monitoring agency performance.
  7. Improving our use of technology by replacing aging computers and addressing file sharing and security.
  8. Development and implementation of an ongoing training plan for current employees.
  9. Defining our relationship with the local autism program.
  10. Identifying social emotional providers for Early Intervention in each county.
  11. Fully implementing the Early Intervention funding hierarchy.
  12. Continuing to monitor our budget to ensure that we are limiting growth in expenses and maximizing revenue.