Steamboat Springs Jamie Kaminski’s nails are painted the bright blue of her eyes. She has short black hair gathered into a blue elastic band, and she occasionally bursts into powerful bouts of laughter, especially when talking to her mother, Nancy Kaminski.
Jamie doesn’t remember much about the therapies she underwent when she was young, after being diagnosed with a 13Q chromosomal deletion when she was 1.
But her mother remembers every bit of her daughter’s journey with a developmental disability.
“I thought that she was going to be the biggest challenge in my life,” Nancy Kaminski said. “But it didn’t turn out that way at all.”
Jamie, now 26, has been receiving help from Horizons Specialized Services since she was a 6-month-old baby who had been born with dislocated hips.
Her early intervention decades ago was managed by Sue Mizen, who now is Horizons’ executive director and entering her third decade with the organization.
Today, Jamie receives services from Horizons like vocational counseling, housing services and access to programs like the Special Olympics, bowling sessions, and adaptive skiing and swimming programs.
Horizons employs more than 70 full-time workers who help about 75 developmentally disabled clients in Jackson, Grand, Rio Blanco, Moffat and Routt counties. Jamie is one of about 45 clients in Steamboat Springs.
Clients range from high-functioning cases like Jamie’s, to nonverbal, wheelchair-bound clients.
The organization recently celebrated its 35th anniversary serving the area, and throughout March, it is celebrating national Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, hoping to keep the community educated and informed about families like the Kaminskis.
On Friday afternoon, Jamie had just returned from a yoga class at the Horizons day program. She had about an hour to sit down with her mother for tea before she had to head to work at Ace Hardware, one of the two jobs she holds. She works about 15 hours a week.
“When you tell Jamie she’s ‘special needs,’ I think all she hears is the word ‘special,’” Nancy said. “I don’t feel like she’s ever felt …”
“Different,” Jamie interjected.
“She’s never felt sad about it,” Nancy added.
But there were times when it was difficult raising a daughter with a developmental disability.
It wasn’t difficult for Jamie, who said she hardly remembers being made fun of or teased. The hardships about her condition just seem to roll off her, not surprising considering the easy-going demeanor her mother claims she’s always had.
But Nancy’s eyes welled up with tears as she recalled how much it hurt to see her daughter and son — Kerry, now 24 — hear the way people talked about Jamie.
“One of the hardest things was having to explain to her brother why the kids at the bus stop were saying things like, ‘Your sister’s a retard,’” Nancy said. “That was so brutal.
“I think that’s why this awareness is so important to me, this acceptance. Seeing other people that didn’t accept her, like when they had a birthday party and didn’t invite her because of how they would appear to others, that was hard to see.”
‘Greatest people in town’
To help provide services ranging from mental health counseling to grocery shopping assistance, Horizons depends on the support of the local community in addition to government funds.
A county property tax approved by voters in 2005 helps supplement the dwindling government funding, but the organization hopes to sustain its current programs and services by trying to combine services where possible.
Even as government funding is being cut every year, Nancy said Jamie has received the best possible services living in Steamboat, with help from Horizons and the Steamboat Springs School District.
She can’t imagine Jamie living anywhere else.
Nancy now works for Horizons in the billing department, fulfilling her desire to be involved with the program and its other clients.
She hopes everyone in the community has the chance to get a hug from Sue at City Market or a smile from Donnie on the street.
“I think it’s good to be showcasing them a little bit so that people know they’re out there in the community; they’re everywhere,” Nancy said. “And when you take the chance to get to know them, they are some of the greatest people in town.”
Jamie said all of the other clients at Horizons are “awesome people,” and she had no real explanation for the culture of empathy and caring among the clients in the Steamboat program.
She just casts her eyes down with a smile, shrugged and said quietly, “I guess we’re grateful for other people.”
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com