Alyessa Yeagher makes some smooth turns on the slopes of the Steamboat Ski Area with a little help from Cheyna Swartz under a bluebird sky earlier this winter. Horizons and STARS have teamed up to offer clients the chance to get on the mountain and ski in the winter.

Photo by John F. Russell

Alyessa Yeagher makes some smooth turns on the slopes of the Steamboat Ski Area with a little help from Cheyna Swartz under a bluebird sky earlier this winter. Horizons and STARS have teamed up to offer clients the chance to get on the mountain and ski in the winter.

A New Horizon: The staff of Horizons Specialized Services is embracing change in 2014

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— Life in Northwest Colorado presents an ever-changing mix of lifestyle rewards and challenges. And the nonprofit that looks after the needs of some of the region’s most challenged residents reflects that fact of life here on the western edge of the Colorado Rockies.

By the numbers

Horizons Specialized Services serves people in Routt, Rio Blanco, Moffat, Grand and Jackson counties.

Horizons serves 44 adults in Routt County, and of the total, 11 are funded by the 1-mill property tax approved by voters in 2005.

Total employees both full and part time: 117. Total full and part-time employees in Routt County: 70.

In Routt County, at least 90 percent of Horizons’ clients are at least nominally employed, and some hold down more than one job.

Routt County budget: $3,052,000. Routt County cost for personnel: $2,289,000. Even with the mill levy, which raises just more than $1 million annually, 31 people are on the waiting list. However, that number can be a little misleading. People cannot receive services from Horizons until they turn 18, but Routt County residents may add their names to the list when they turn 14. Of the people on the waiting list, 18 are underage.

Of the 31, eight have immediate need for additional support, but only one of them is not receiving any services at all.

Outreach: It’s never too soon to contact Horizons about a child. Although full services are for adults, Horizons reaches out to families with infants age birth to 3 with its early intervention and support for families with infants and toddlers

Counselors start at $12 per hour, and some work 2.5 consecutive days of work (sleeping in a group home) to make room for additional employment. They are paid for the normally non-waking hours only if their sleep is interrupted by a client.

Learn more at www.horizonsnwc.o...

As 2014 unfolds, the staff and leadership of Horizons Specialized Services are coming to terms with the likelihood that the numbers of people they serve and the range of disabilities they deal with on a daily basis are poised to grow dramatically.

A rule change in Colorado will allow Horizons, for the first time, to serve certain individuals who have adaptive disabilities — those who have early-onset multiple sclerosis or a teen who became paralyzed in an accident, for example — but do not have cognitive disabilities. In the context of this change, Horizons also expects to grow closer to the Yampa Valley Autism Program.

Previously, prospective clients, who must be at least 18 years old to obtain adult services, had to have both cognitive and adaptive disabilities.

“This will have a major impact on who Horizons is, the services we offer and the people we help,” Horizons Executive Director Susan Mizen said this month.

Horizons Director of Service Coordination Amy Ibarra said the range of services her organization will need to provide in the future has yet to come into focus.

“We’re not exactly sure what it’s going to look like,” Ibarra said. “It could be a star athlete who was in a car accident at age 18,” for example. “These people are going to be very different from those we’re serving currently.”

Horizons Board President Bob Grover called the change a seismic shift in terms of the range of people the nonprofit serves, but one that is exciting.

“The number of people we serve will expand drastically,” Grover said. “That’s a huge challenge.”

But that’s not the only change coming — Colorado also is on the verge of passing a one-year funding bill that could prove to be the first in a series of five annual funding measures intended to eliminate the lengthy waiting lists of people across the state seeking services from organizations that share a similar mission with Horizons.

If that funding bill is passed by both houses of the Legislature and signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, it too will increase the number of people receiving services by Horizons.

Mizen said it’s probable the developmental disabilities system in Colorado will receive millions of dollars more in the fiscal year ahead. If the funding measure is approved by the Joint Budget Committee of the Colorado Legislature and signed by the governor, more than 2,000 new clients statewide will be funded through Medicaid waivers.

Within Horizons’ five-county area, that could translate to 17 new clients.

“We expect as many as eight of those will be in Routt County,” Mizen said.

Horizons serves 44 adults in Routt County, and of that total, 11 are funded by the 1 mill of property tax approved by voters in 2005.

Should the new funding become reality, Horizons would shift some of the 11 clients being served with local mill levy funds to Medicaid, freeing up funds to serve people on Horizons’ waiting list, which has 31 people. But of that total, 18 are not yet 18 years old and so are not eligible for services. The new state funding would be applied to reduce the list of 13 adults waiting for services.

Because the Horizons property tax is generated by a flat mill levy, it does not adjust to inflation and has declined with the county’s total drop in assessed valuation in recent years.

Horizons Chief Financial Officer Amy Bowers told Routt County commissioners this winter that the 2014 budget, which goes into effect July 1, anticipates about a 10 percent drop in mill levy revenues to $1.09 million.

Horizons also receives considerable income from Medicaid contracts with the state of Colorado.

Bowers said that with the awareness that property tax revenues might fluctuate, her organization consistently has budgeted to build up a reserve fund throughout the past decade.

Revenues increased in the middle of the previous decade as real estate prices steeply climbed, along with the county’s valuation for property taxes.

“As valuations were increased, so did our mill levy, but we refrained from spending at that level,” Bowers said. “One of the big reasons is that when we bring someone off the waiting list, we’re obligated to provide services as long as they live here.”

She said Horizons came out of the 2013 fiscal year with a surplus fund balance of more than $1.2 million.

There is a more immediately tangible change at Horizons this spring, and it’s one that is cause for celebration.

In the midst of the challenges ahead, Horizons is preparing to open the brand-new Soda Creek Apartments, providing eight private apartments on Eighth Street in the heart of Old Town Steamboat Springs. Built with the help of a $1.27 million federal grant, it will present seven young adults the opportunity to have a private living space, complete with kitchen and laundry while having access to 24-hour supervision when they need a helping hand.

More significant than the privacy the new residents of Soda Creek will enjoy for the first time, Mizen said, is that the access to transitional living helps them make the leap from a more structured group home to an apartment of their own some day.

“Moving from a group home to an apartment somewhere in Routt County is a big step for our clients,” Mizen said. “Now, in between those two options, we have these new units where they can practice their skills” and still have support available 24 hours a day.

Each of the seven residents has the option of being as self sufficient as they want. But a Horizons counselor will be in residence in the counselor’s own apartment around the clock. And the residents always can migrate to the community room for a shared meal or to watch a favorite television program.

Horizons Specialized Services historically has served the needs of adults who are challenged by both cognitive and adaptive disabilities by broadening their opportunities to lead enriched lives.

Now, the organization that received a big hug from the community in 2005 when the voters approved the property tax to fund its work, is preparing to see increases in the numbers and kinds of clients at serves.

Call it a new Horizon line.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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