When Debbie Reynolds took her first tour of Sunflower Diversified Services, she noticed a big plus right off the bat.
Reynolds is the new executive director at Sunflower; Tuesday was her first day at the non-profit agency that serves infants, toddlers and adults with developmental disabilities and delays.
“As I took the tour that day, it was obvious the staff was happy and engaged with the people they serve,” Reynolds said, noting most people didn’t know she was applying for the job at the time. “Our staff works tirelessly to meet the needs of our clients.
“It was heartwarming to see this,” she added. “And I have been astounded at the number of people who have been here for more than 30 years. That is almost unheard of today.”
Reynolds had been eager to get back into the career that has been a decades-long passion. She took a four-year detour and recently was general manager of the Golf Club at Southwind in Garden City.
For 13 years before that, she was executive director of Mosaic in Garden City, another non-profit agency supporting people with disabilities.
“During my tenure there, Mosaic was transformed into a vibrant 21stCentury organization sharply focused on person-centered planning,” she noted. “I devised and implemented improvements in all performance areas.”
In addition, Reynolds developed a tailor-made fundraising model that generated more than $112,000 in donations during 2012. The annual Signature Event netted $100,000 from 2008-11.
“These experiences, as well as those in the private sector, will serve me well at Sunflower,” she said. “They provide a solid background in managing budgets and personnel, while building relationships throughout the community.”
One relationship Reynolds holds dear is the camaraderie between people providing support and Sunflower clients who rely on that support.
“The direct-support associates are the unsung heroes of what we do,” Reynolds explained. “I will do all I can to make their lives better, which will result in enhanced services for our clients.”
Sunflower services will continue to include as many options as possible for independent living. “It is all about choices,” Reynolds said. “Everyone has the right to decide where they want to live and work.”
She plans to collaborate with staff and families to help adults reach their lifestyle and employment goals, while also providing vital early intervention and preschool services for children.
“I have compassion and respect for families that have been dealt a hand they didn’t expect,” Reynolds said. “I hope they take advantage of my open-door policy for questions about anything from early childhood on up through retirement concerns.”
Reynolds also is eager to become involved in the central Kansas community, while getting to know local residents and state officials. “These relationships are critical,” she said. “I want to explain Sunflower’s needs to as many people as I can.”
Originally from Tennessee, Reynolds began her career in 1981 as a direct-care service provider to people with disabilities. She also held a live-in position in a group setting at Cincinnati, Ohio, where she moved at a young age.
Other former positions include director of Education and Vocational Service for the Logan County (Ohio) Board of Mental Retardation & Developmental Disabilities; and behavioral specialist for the University of Cincinnati. She also has served people with disabilities in South Africa, Brazil and the United Kingdom.
“Each position has been a building block,” she said. “The behavior specialist job was especially valuable because it allowed me to understand the mental-health component of what we do.”
Reynolds earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in liberal sciences, with a concentration in organizational leadership from Fort Hays State University.
She is replacing Jim Johnson who has retired after 42 years of service.
“Jim’s legacy is long and rich,” she commented. “I look at this as Jim handing the baton off to me. He is a rare gem and his dedication to Sunflower is to be commended and celebrated.
“This type of legacy can certainly be daunting but I am excited for the opportunity,” she continued. “I am thankful Jim is not moving from Great Bend. You can bet I will count on him to help me navigate my new journey.”
Travis Thompson, Sunflower board president, said he and his peers are excited to have found someone of Reynolds’ caliber. “Debbie brings great experience and a passion for helping people with disabilities live up to their full potential,” Thompson said. “Jim has left a legacy of caring and fighting for people and we will continue the fight with Debbie.”