Wednesday, January 16, 2013

50 Years, 50 Stories – John Taylor

This week’s “50 Years, 50 Stories” is another story from a former Imagine! Executive Director: John Taylor, who served as Executive Director from 1983 to 2008.

John was my predecessor, and I am eternally grateful for the guidance and assistance he gave me when I took over his job, and continues to give me today. John left me with some very big shoes to fill, and I can only hope that my tenure as Executive Director will prove to be as successful and impactful as his was.

Please enjoy John’s memories below. I find the story of how we came to be called “Imagine!” (including the exclamation point) both fascinating and revealing.
How Imagine! Got Its Name
by John Taylor
Former Imagine! Executive Director
John Taylor (left) with his good friend Richard

Imagine! , if you can, the perplexity you would experience if asked to share one story or several “reminiscences” of the past 50 years of your life in 500-700 words. Quite a challenge to pick a few memories out of the myriad of events and people that filled my life during my tenure at Imagine!. But I persevered, and here are a few that seem to bubble to the top of my memory soup.

Richard T., and his unbelievable memory and grasp of sports trivia, and how he so impressed a visiting delegation from Holland with his knowledge of international football (soccer) and the performance of their own national team.

The many families that were started and which grew here at Imagine!. I have, perhaps, no fonder recollection of my time at Imagine! than those of the marriages of staff to staff that occurred, and the number of their children that we all had the pleasure of watching grow into wonderful young men and women.

Sitting on the rim of Bryce Canyon in the early 90’s, trying to combine a vacation while working with Sarah Clark on the annual budget. Technology came to the rescue. The ability to connect my then bulky Toshiba laptop to my almost as bulky cell phone let us develop the first “long distance” budget for the “DDC”.

Names-how many were there? Let’s see: I believe the first was the “Boulder County Interagency Coordinating Council for Mental Health and Mental Retardation”-quite a mouthful. Then, when I was hired in 1983, we were known as the “Boulder County Board for Developmental Disabilities”, frequently shortened to BCBDD—but still enough to choke you when answering the phone. But then came the shortened version, the “Developmental Disabilities Center” (“center” was big in naming non-profits at that time).

But when we ran our successful mil-levy campaign in 2002 with the superb assistance of Pete Burridge and Greenhouse Partners, it became evident that, for the following reasons, we needed to look for a new name.
  • The future of the organization will serve those with challenges other than developmental disabilities such as senior dementia and other challenges associated with aging, physical challenges (e.g. blind, paraplegic, deaf, etc.), and young children with developmental delays), etc. The “Developmental” and “Disabilities” in the name are limiting.
  • The DDC is often confused with the Center For Disabilities, another Boulder organization.
  • The DDC lacks emotional appeal and understanding.
  • The name is long, cumbersome and difficult to say and remember.
  • Because of the word “Disability,” some people associated with the DDC and/or their sub brands avoid highlighting their association with the DDC.
The criteria that we specified in this naming odyssey was detailed in a 2002 memo to all staff: “One word if at all possible; easy to say (rolls off your tongue well); evokes positive emotions; easy for consumers to say and remember; not overly used already; could be a “made up” word; doesn’t include “Boulder”; 3 syllables or less if possible; fits our “personality”; etc.” Through the use of focus groups, name searches, and brainstorming, we narrowed our choices down to 4 possibilities: Innovista, Dimensions, Innovita, and Imagine. I think we chose well.

But how did we end up with the name, Imagine!? Unfortunately, the name “imagine” was already registered in Colorado and the company that owned it was reluctant to part with it. Eric Love, then on the Imagine! Board of Directors, had learned that punctuation was permitted in a name for the first time. So with a lot of hustle and through the use of couriers to beat a deadline, the brilliant thought of adding the exclamation point! came to fruition. Now you all know the story.

The first staff/Board retreat, probably around 1985 or 86. We held it at the Double JK ranch (I think that is right) up near Estes Park. There were only about 40 staff members in the entire organization, and probably around seven Board members. Our main task at the retreat was to choose our very first computer system (we only had one computer when I arrived in 1983, and we all fought for it!). We had a presentation by Unisys, and went with them, which worked for us briefly. But we rapidly outgrew its capabilities. How times have changed.

The building of our main offices at 1400 Dixon in Lafayette was the result of cramped space for both the DDC and the Mental Health Center. At the time, we enjoyed the “rights” to a 50-year lease in the building in Boulder that housed our offices as a result of the funding sources that paid for the original construction of the building. But we were growing, and space was expensive. Though a wonderful bit of serendipity, the then-director of the Mental Health Center (Phoebe Norton) and I were able to work out an arrangement with the Boulder County Commissioners that provided much needed space for the Mental Health Center, helped Boulder County proceed with plans to relocate Human Services to the Iris and Broadway location, and let us trade our “rights” to the space for much needed funding to pay for the construction of our new home. As a result, we are known as a quality not-for-profit, not a department of the government, are located centrally for our service area (Boulder and Broomfield Counties), and are able to attract staff from a much larger geographic area. And it is OUR home!

My trek down memory lane would be incomplete (well, it is anyhow!) without acknowledging the many friends and colleagues (and their families) that left their imprint in my heart and mind: staff, consumers, Board members, Foundation Board members, legislators, business leaders, State staff, and the many community supporters. They made all the memories possible and worthwhile. Thanks!

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