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Two Sunflower employees chosen for special leadership academy
COURTESY PHOTO Lacie Gibson and Cody Harris have been selected to attend the Grassroots Advocacy Leadership Academy as representatives of Sunflower Diversified Services.

Only 14 people have been selected as candidates for a special statewide leadership event and two of those are Sunflower Diversified Services employees.

Lacie Gibson and Cody Harris will participate in the Grassroots Advocacy Leadership Academy (GALA) April 11-12 in Topeka. They were nominated by their colleagues at Sunflower, a non-profit agency that serves children and adults with intellectual disabilities and delays.

Amanda Urban, director of adult services, nominated Gibson, training/advocacy manager.

“Before coming to Sunflower, Lacie had limited contact with people with disabilities,” Urban said. “She didn’t know if she could do this type of work but was willing to try.

“Since that time two years ago, Lacie has flourished and found her life’s calling. She handles multiple responsibilities as she focuses on the people we serve. She is the epitome of a team player and her heart for the work shines through every day.”

Gibson started her Sunflower career as a direct-care staff member and was promoted to training/advocacy manager. She coordinates the agency’s Aktion Club whose members provide community service and advocate for others.

In addition, Gibson teaches many courses designed for staff members. Her courses that are geared to clients include rights and responsibilities, grief and loss, and many others.

Sarah Krom, chief operating officer, nominated Harris, community employment specialist, for GALA.

“Cody is passionate about providing services that offer the best possible outcomes for the folks he represents and cares about,” Krom said. “When you visit with Cody you quickly notice his determination to continue enhancing his skills. The leadership academy will provide additional skills, connections around the state and confidence to continue developing a powerful voice for people with developmental disabilities.

“Team members frequently seek Cody out for advice on how to achieve the best results for clients, as well as the community surrounding them.”

Harris has coordinated the local Disability Mentoring Day activities for the last three years and was recently selected as the Kansas state coordinator for the annual event. He also helps Families Together by providing training in western Kansas.

In addition, Harris is a Great Bend Chamber of Commerce Ambassador and a member of Barton County Young Professionals. In both positions, he advocates for clients at Sunflower.

Harris also assists with client education and personal-development services, as well as serving as the primary provider of community-employment opportunities. He is a member of Sunflower’s leadership team and supervises and mentors more than 20 staff members who provide day services.

“Cody is determined to continue building his skills to represent people on the local, state and national levels,” Krom said. “As I discussed this leadership opportunity with him, he immediately was interested and indicated he wants to ‘work in this field for a long time to come.’”

Urban noted that Gibson and Harris are the “up and coming leaders at Sunflower. Both have made a commitment to Sunflower and they are always focused on the people we serve; clients are the top priority.

“Lacie and Cody bring a fire to advocating for people, and this leadership academy will take them to the next level,” Urban continued. “They will learn even more about legislative activity and develop contacts for networking throughout the state.”

Krom pointed out that staff networking is important for clients at Sunflower. “Since our staff connects with lawmakers, clients are kept informed about what is happening in the Legislature. Lacie and Cody will be able to further engage the people we serve in advocating for themselves too.”

InterHab, the Kansas organization that supports Sunflower and similar agencies, sponsors GALA. Participants will learn from legislators, policy makers, media professionals and advocates. Topics include: building legislative relationships; building a grassroots advocacy network; utilizing the media for advocacy efforts; formulating advocacy messages; catching a legislator’s attention; and planning advocacy events.

Sunflower serves infants, toddlers and adults in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties. It is in its 53rd year.