Wednesday, May 8, 2013

50 Years, 50 Stories – Jan Rasmussen

Today’s “50 Years, 50 Stories” comes from Imagine!’s second longest tenured employee, Jan Rasmussen. Jan is resigning from Imagine! at the end of June, so I thought this would be a good time to share her story. Jan has contributed greatly to this organization and to our community, and I thank her for all she has done. She will be missed.

Never Deprive Someone of Hope
By Jan Rasmussen
Jan Rasmussen in the 1980s
One of my mantras is “Never deprive someone of hope,” and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work in an organization where I never have needed to waver from that view. Families hoping for something better than life in an institution for their children is what got the whole business started to begin with. Since 1979, I have been lucky to travel a large circle through the organization, starting as a Preschool Case Manager, moving to Early Intervention, family services, adult services, and back to Early Intervention and Family Support, watching hope in action. I’ve had the opportunity to follow along with many families working for something good for their children and to participate in the birth of supports for them: Early Intervention, Family Support Services, autism services, family directed services.

One fond memory is the Red Balloon Preschool, Imagine!’s wonderful, short-lived excursion into the daycare business with its innovative business plan of integrating children with special needs and typical children. Parents of children with special needs had the same day care requirements as other parents but, at the time, there was nothing available for them. One of the great things we learned from the Red Balloon was that children are unconcerned about disabilities. They see every child as a playmate and joyfully help a child move puzzle pieces, clap to a song, or even eat their lunch. I am pleased to say we continued our innovation and provided supportive services to local preschools/daycares so that they would begin to welcome children with disabilities into their preschools/daycares. We were so successful that we were able to disband the Red Balloon, successfully integrating children with disabilities into other community settings.

Another striking memory involves a summer when my oldest son (now 21, then 17) worked with Out & About’s summer camp program for kids with developmental disabilities. He could be a challenging young man and, as a parent, I hoped and feared for him on many levels. We were driving home from work together one day, and he turned to me and said; “Now I understand why you get so mad when people use the word “retard” as a casual insult. It’s so unfair and wrong.” I was so struck by his revelation and so pleased and proud that I had to pull the car over for a minute. I firmly believe my son’s experience with individuals with developmental disabilities helped shape who he is, and I could not be happier about how he turned out!

People’s persistence and resilience is astonishing. The thread that stitches together my 34 years and the thousands of families navigating the various incarnations of Imagine! is how privileged I feel to walk along with them and witness their perseverance and determination to do their best for a loved one with a developmental disability. It isn’t that everything is positive. Sad things happen, and sometimes I can’t do anything to help except listen, encourage, support, and make sure families know they are not alone. It helps to remember the wise words of one of my mentors, Lee Coffee, who used to say, “Just because I can’t do anything doesn’t mean I don’t care.” I feel privileged to have grown up with Imagine!, and to have had so many opportunities to intersect and collaborate with such incredible people – individuals with disabilities and their families, Imagine! staff, other organizations, and community members. Happy 50th anniversary Imagine!.

Are you interested in sharing your story for “50 Years, 50 Stories?” If so, contact Caroline Siegfried at or 303-926-6405. We’d love to hear from you!

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