Grateful for former leader’s work, Yampa Valley Autism Program names new executive director
We cannot thank Lisa Lorenz enough, board member says
In the early 2000s, Lisa Lorenz and five other mothers turned what was once a get together for parents with children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder into a thriving nonprofit.
Now Lorenz, the last of the six co-founders involved with the organization, has retired as executive director of Yampa Valley Autism Program.
Lorenz leaves behind a more than 20-year legacy of filling the gaps of much-needed resources available to families across Routt County since Yampa Valley Autism Program officially opened its doors in 2002. She passed the torch to Heidi Mendisco, former director of operations, who assumed the executive director’s duties on April 1.
Yampa Valley Autism became an organization with board governance in 2004 with Lorenz’s help. Later in 2007, the organization obtained its nonprofit designation.
As Mendisco and the crew at Yampa Valley Autism look to expand on Lorenz’s work by paving new pathways for the organization, they are grateful for her impact on the organization and the community at large.
“Lisa recognized the challenges of raising a child that is a square peg that society is trying to fit in a round hole, and created this entity where our kids are getting the services they need,” said Roseanne Iverson, chair of Yampa Valley Autism Program board. “There’s not enough thank you we can give.”
Iverson described Lorenz as someone with a vision and a passion who garnered the support and resources necessary to develop a robust nonprofit that the community desperately needed.
Iverson recalled the early stage of developing the organization and the ways in which Lorenz stepped up to secure the funding necessary to get the nonprofit off the ground.
“None of us had a clue about how grants worked, never mind what grant writing entailed,” Iverson said. “Lisa, who had no experience with this, stepped up and began grant writing. We have grants thanks to her.”
Mendisco said she was grateful to have worked alongside Lorenz and learned from her, and Medisco looks forward to continuing to carry out the organization’s mission. Heading into her first year as executive director, she already has identified her top two priorities: Clearing the waitlist for therapy programs and putting together a diagnostic team.
She noted the importance of ensuring children across the Yampa Valley can access necessary services locally versus having to travel for them. Mendisco also seeks to provide behavioral, social cognition and occupational support when and where families need it. This especially includes diagnostic services, which currently have lengthy waitlists in Colorado.
“One of the closest places to get an autism diagnosis is the children’s hospital near Denver,” Mendisco said. “It is about an 18-month waitlist.”
Mendisco said the team at Yampa Valley Autism Program has been in talks with various providers to look at different avenues that can be taken to achieve these goals.
Kit Geary is the county, public safety and education reporter. To reach her, call 970-871-4229 or email her at kgeary@SteamboatPilot.com.
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