Little did Sarah Krom know that her attendance at a youth camp in Estes Park, Co., would have far-reaching effects on her personally and professionally.
She met a fellow camper who had a developmental disability and helped him get through some challenging activities. Today, she views that partnership as the basis for her 31 years of serving people with delays and disabilities at Sunflower Diversified Services.
“I think he sparked my interest in helping folks make the most of their abilities,” Krom said. “At the same time, it just so happened I was looking for a night job that would allow me to minimize child-care hours. Sunflower was just starting its residential program and my mother suggested I check into it.”
Krom, a 1975 Great Bend High School graduate, followed her mom’s advice and became a residential trainer working nights. Other titles have been residential assistant manager, case manager, employment manager and transportation manager.
Today, Krom is community supports coordinator – a position that involves transportation, employment, recycling, sales and production. She also helps with job coaching and provides guidance to Sunflower clients about how to budget their income.
“I assist in how to pay their bills as we set goals on improving personal finances through wise spending habits and/or increased income,” she said. “True independence means accepting the responsibility to manage expenses for bills and lifestyle choices.”
While Krom recalls that first spark of interest, she also knows what keeps her motivated after more than three decades of service.
“It is a passion, a drive to see that opportunities continue to exist for people with delays and disabilities,” she explained. “These opportunities allow folks to maximize their personal potential.
“The smallest things I can do make monumental differences in the lives of others,” she continued. “Sunflower truly believes people have a right to make decisions about their lives and to assume the responsibilities that go along with those decisions.”
Even though Krom’s day-to-day duties make for a hectic schedule, she realizes Sunflower must reach out to local communities and the state to advocate for services that allow people to reach their potential.
For example, she is past president of the Kansas Organization of Recyclers and a member of the Barton County Solid Waste Planning Committee. “In these positions, I am able to represent recyclers on state and local levels,” she said. “We can make an impact on health and environmental concerns.”
Krom also is treasurer of the Kansas Public Transit Association and chairperson of the Kansas Coordinated Transit District Council, as well as an officer in the local coordinated transit district and a member of the Barton County Local Emergency Planning group.
“I represent local and state transportation providers and riders in these positions,” she noted. “Sunflower’s General Public Transportation (GPT) system, which is available to anyone, makes an impact on citizen mobility. This affects personal productivity, health and socialization.
“Whether or not a person has a disability,” she added, “transportation provides the building block that allows folks to fully access the opportunities available to them.”
The build-up of the GPT fleet and the exponential growth of the non-profit agency’s recycling operation are especially gratifying to Krom. GPT now operates seven days a week and recycling now includes pick-up routes for hundreds of businesses.
Throughout the years, Krom has earned a number of professional certificates and awards for herself and the agency.
Not only has she relied on her Sunflower colleagues for these successes, she also has leaned on family for support. “My sister, husband, children and grandchildren have been along for the ride and supported the crazy hours,” Krom said. “There are extra events and duties I volunteer for, but I couldn’t do any of it without their help.”
When those rare moments of leisure roll around, Krom spends time with her extended family, and reads and dabbles in needlework.