Lu Etta Loeber, center, executive director of the Yampa Valley Autism Program, poses with donors Charla and Bob Valusek at the program’s new facility on Eighth Street on Thursday. The new facility will provide new programs and therapy sessions for children with developmental disorders and their families.

Photo by Scott Franz

Lu Etta Loeber, center, executive director of the Yampa Valley Autism Program, poses with donors Charla and Bob Valusek at the program’s new facility on Eighth Street on Thursday. The new facility will provide new programs and therapy sessions for children with developmental disorders and their families.

Yampa Valley Autism Program in Steamboat celebrates new home

Steamboat Springs nonprofit group to offer new programs and therapy sessions for growing client base

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Lu Etta Loeber, executive director of the Yampa Valley Autism Program, cuts the ribbon to the program’s new home on Eighth Street. The facility will provide programs and therapy sessions for children with developmental disorders and their families.

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For more information about the Yampa Valley Autism Program and its offerings, call 970-870-4263 or visit www.yampavalleyau....

— At the end of a 14-hour workday, Lu Etta Loeber knows exactly where to find proof that every minute of her time has been well-spent. She plucks a card adorned with a watercolor painting from a drawer in her desk and knows instantly her day’s work has changed a life.

“When you get something like this at the end of a long week, then you understand what you’re doing really has meaning,” she said after reading a thank you note she received from a parent of one of the children she works with through the Yampa Valley Autism Program. “This is what keeps me going.”

Loeber, executive director of the local autism program, has expanded program services during the past year as its client base continues to grow, and the nonprofit organization’s programs soon will represent Routt and Moffat counties. She said an increasing number of autism diagnoses in Colorado has made her work even more important as parents search for a place they can take their children to receive help and therapy for autism spectrum disorders.

Small community meetings three years ago turned into therapy sessions, and therapy sessions soon will evolve into dinner parties and global warming prevention clubs coordinated by the children in the program.

The new programs, and a growing community of families needing a group that could help support them as they raise children with autism spectrum disorders, increased the need for the Yampa Valley Autism Program to find a larger meeting place.

On Thursday, Loeber cut the ribbon to the organization’s new home in downtown Steamboat Springs, 512 Eighth St.

“This will be a new gathering place for our community,” Loeber said. “Bouncing around different locations to hold our programs has been hard on the kids. The stable location provides predictability for them and eliminates the anxiety that comes with them having to move new places.”

The program previously shared the Little House, a child-friendly building on the Yampa Valley Medical Center campus, with the hospital’s pediatric therapy services. Despite the autism program’s move, the medical center will continue to support and collaborate with it.

The new home allows the autism program and Community Cultivation, a social development program for individuals with disabilities and at-risk youths that merged with the Yampa Valley Autism Program in January, to help their clients interact socially in a home environment and develop new programs. Individual rooms will be used for therapy as well as for group activities.

“We used to have to figure out where we were going to hold each of our programs every week, and that was hard on us and the kids,” said Beth Davison, co-director of Community Cultivation. “Merg­­­ing with the autism program and expanding our services has been very beneficial for everyone, and this new space provides the stability we need.”

The vegetables haven’t yet sprung from the new soil in the garden, and the stain applied by Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crews on the decks hasn’t dried, but the new home on Eighth Street already has exceeded its tenant’s expectations.

Janna Marxuach, whose 13-year-old son has been in the autism program since it was founded, said the program’s new space fulfills a dream she had five years ago.

“A donor for the program sat me down and asked me what I dreamed of for this program for the future,” she said. “I told them I wanted to open a center for the kids.”

Sitting on a couch in the new home for the autism program, Marxuach reflected on what the program has meant for her and her son.

“I can’t believe how far he’s come,” she said. “All of these programs he has been a part of help him fulfill basic needs that can be difficult for a child with autism.”

New funding from the Steam­boat-based Craig-Scheck­man Family Foundation will help the autism program obtain and train a new applied behavioral therapist, something the group has been working toward for several years. The autism program also will launch a new website in the coming months.

Sara Craig-Scheckman, the foundation’s executive director, said the new home for the program was the result of years of community and family support.

“Standing in here you can see the fruition of years of work,” she said. “It took them a while to get off the ground, but it’s great to see their growth and this dream finally come true.”

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