Hometown boy takes over helm at Horizons
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Tatum Heath brings a wealth of life experiences with him as he begins his journey as the new executive director of Horizons Specialized Services. He also will carry the lessons taught to him by his older brother, Shannon.
“My involvement with Horizons stemmed from a variety of factors. First and foremost, my older brother Shannon was a very outgoing and social individual with autism who received services from Horizons for a period of time in the 1990s,” said Heath, whose brother died from a rare form of nerve sheath cancer in 2016. “Growing up with Shannon, combined with experiences living in Latin American cultures, created a drive to affect positive change in my own community.
“In many ways, Horizons fosters this worldview,” Heath continued. “The work we do is purposeful. Historically speaking, the population of people we serve has been marginalized, segregated and exploited. Finding creative ways to support the amazing, unique people who live in our communities live a life full of new opportunities hits home for me, literally.”
Heath grew up on his family’s ranch in the lower Elk River Valley with what he calls incredibly supportive and loving parents who always included Shannon in everything.
“Shannon was always part of everyday life … His positive attitude and excitement were infectious,” Heath said. “In so many ways, he was a teacher, reminding us that happiness is a choice, that kindness is a choice —that no matter the challenges, the circumstances or perceived limitations, life is to be met with love and exuberance that is found only through action.”
Heath is a 1993 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School and attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, where he played Division III basketball. He graduated in 1996 with a major in English and a minor in archeology.
After college, Heath headed to Nicaragua where he was one of a group of six archaeologists in a project run in collaboration with the Nicaraguan National Museum to assist in building a sense of cultural patronage by spotlighting the country’s indigenous cultures. He and the other Americans had to leave Nicaragua before the work was completed as a result of threats from the Sandinistas.
Heath said this is where he learned the important link between advocacy and education.
“It is one thing to identify social injustice and the need for change,” Heath said. “But forging a path toward self-determination and advocacy starts with a working understanding of the socio-political constructs surrounding it, and that understanding only comes through education.”
Heath came back to the United States and worked on an organic farm near Coeur d’Alene in Idaho for several years. He returned home in 2002 and took a position as a case manager at Horizons. In that role, Heath said he wanted to advocate for the people Horizons serves by leveraging available resources, protecting individual rights and finding creative ways to enhance the quality of life.
It was the beginning of a journey for Heath. In 2008, he became the adult program director administering services for adults in Horizons’ five-county area, and this year, he was promoted to executive director, replacing Susan Mizen, who retired at the end of January after serving in the position for nearly 40 years.
Mizen may be gone, but Heath said he wants to continue with the sense of teamwork that she built, the partnerships Horizons has been able to develop with other community organizations and the success of projects like the Soda Creek Apartments, which were built in 2011.
He is also proud of the growth Horizons has experienced since 2002. That year, Horizons served 197 individuals and families across northwest Colorado. Since then, Horizons has grown by 86%, doubling its operating budget and serving 366 individuals and families in 2019.
“Over the past 18 years, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with amazing people who share a common mission,” Health said. “We work as a team to find creative solutions to complex challenges. Everything we accomplish is a collective effort and never the result of any one person.”
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