“Rather than seeing Autism as a disability, I prefer to see it as a different ability,” said Lisa Lorenz, Executive Director of the Yampa Valley Autism Program (“YVAP”).
Lorenz’s involvement with Autism came from having an autistic son, now 23, who went through the Steamboat Springs, Colorado school district from kindergarten through 12th grade. Lorenz was a 7th-grade science teacher for twenty years and the consummate activist for her son and others with autism to ensure they received the educational opportunities that would support them in reaching their goals.
Lorenz said it was a preschool teacher at Northwest Colorado BOCES who encouraged several of the mothers with autistic children to get together for support and brainstorming on how to be the best advocates for their children in the Steamboat Springs school system. In 2002, the group formed the Yampa Valley Autism Program, a non-profit 501 (c)(3) corporation.
In 2009 YVAP offered their first program, the Community Cultivation Program, which provides opportunities for the children to gain a sense of independence and confidence by working in an operating garden, growing and harvesting flowers, herbs, and vegetables, said Lorenz.
“In addition to the Community Cultivation Program, we offer Extracurricular Activity Support, Education Resources, Social Cognition Therapy, Respite Services for the families, and Support Group Meetings. We are also able to provide emergency financial, and family support as we recognize that the strain on families can be overwhelming,” said Lorenz.
Lorenz said having resources for the family is a critical component of the YVAP mission.
“Our goal is to have a healthy family. For a child to be successful, the family has to be healthy,” she said.
Lorenz said that advocacy and public awareness also serve as critical components of the Program, both concerning the individual autistic child and as to the families impacted.
“Autism impacts the whole family emotionally because autism is such an intensive disorder. It can be difficult to control, and there are so many unknowns. Will my child drive? Will my child work? Will my child go to college? Often the answer is ‘I don’t know,'” said Lorenz.
Babette Dixon, one of the founders of YVAP with Lorenz, said her son James, now 20, is independent and thriving in the Steamboat community, which Dixon credits to YVAP and its programs.
“James is an artist and has an electric bike which allows him to get to his studio on his own. His verbal skills exploded with the help of YVAP programs. He has the confidence to get around in the community by himself. My dream is that every community could have such a program in place. The work is amazing. James would not be where he is without YVAP,” said Dixon.
Wendy Puckett, the owner of Steamboat Pilates Yoga & Fitness, Steamboat Springs, Colorado for 16 years, provides an environment of inspiration, healing, motivation, and connection to the studio patrons. Her bright blue eyes emanate a deep caring for each person that walks through the studio door. When teaching or training, her voice offers encouragement to her clients and students to push through the hard parts and embrace the breaks. Puckett’s goal for the studio patrons is to help them find their mind-body connection.
“The common theme in everything we do is we want to be the people that help them connect in and give them their strength. What they do with that strength is their purpose, but we can help light that internal fire,” she said.
Puckett sees a wide variety of people come into the studio. She says each one comes with their own goals, struggles, and passions.
“The range of clients we have come in is huge,” said Puckett. “Our clients range from young kids to professional athletes, to Olympians, and people coming back from injuries, all just trying to connect with their bodies and move into life. I have a client who is 87 years old who is trying to keep his quality of life going and stay healthy,” she said.
Puckett said regardless of a person’s fitness level, the most important thing to her is for that person to show up that day, that moment, and be present. She acknowledged for some the biggest challenge is just coming through the door, and for others, it is pushing through a challenging workout.
“I love knowing that no matter what the day brings, you can just show up in all your vulnerability, your strength and just be who you are and put your whole heart into whatever you are doing,” said Puckett.
In addition to her internal studio goals, Puckett also sees outreach to the Steamboat community as a priority.
“We as a group can give externally to the community, so we offer community donation-based classes with the proceeds going toward a different cause every month. We spend a lot of time with young athletes, really helping them get back on track,” said Puckett. “Contributing to the community is an important piece of who we are,” she said.
Until recently, Boomer and his handler, Routt County Deputy Sheriff Ed Hendricks were the only K-9 team with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office. When interviewed in March of this year, Hendricks said his partner, Deputy Sheriff Jake Doolin and Murray, the new K-9, were then at a six-week training course with the Jefferson County, Colorado Sheriff’s Office in Golden, Colorado.
Following the completion of their training, Doolin and Murray joined the Routt County Sheriff’s Office as the second K-9 team, alternating schedules with Hendricks and Boomer.
“I am excited for Murray and Doolin to come on board,” said Hendricks.
Doolin said Murray is adapting well to his new role as Deputy Sheriff. “He is famous. He gets along really well with everyone, and everyone wants to see him,” said Doolin. Murray is social and gets around to meet everyone he said. “He is fantastic. He loves his job,” said Doolin.
Smell That Bread Bakery in Steamboat Springs, Colorado recently expanded to add new retail space along with a breakfast and lunch café to meet growing customer demand. Smell That Bread Bakery opened in April 2014 as a wholesale bakery, selling its products to local restaurants according to Juli Gordon, co-owner of the bakery with her husband, Sam Gordon. She said it was not until July 2015 that Smell That Bread offered its products to retail customers. They initially sold their retail products through a small yellow side Dutch door which became their trademark, said Juli Gordon.
“The pack walks just came into full swing this week,” said Alexis Pagoulatos, Executive Director of Routt County Humane Society (“RCHS”) located in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. “We have tried to prepare for them, trying a few things to see how they would work with our dogs and how we could manage it safely that worked with our dog walkers and benefitted our dogs,” said Pagoulatos.