SIDNEY — After a career spanning almost four decades, Julie Winner, of Troy, will retire from the Shelby County Board of Developmental Disabilities at the end of February.
An open house in her honor is planned for Feb. 9 from 4 to 6:30 p.m. in the SCBDD offices, 1200 S. Children’s Home Road.
The service and support administrator began her work with the developmentally disabled population when she was still a teenager, living in Dayton. She volunteered at the Stillwater Health Center. Later, she volunteered at summer camps and for Special Olympics.
“I was always someone who sided with the underdog, always someone who appreciated each person’s uniqueness,” Winner said, recently.
She earned an Associate of Applied Science in mental health technology from Sinclair Community College and a Bachelor of Science in rehabiliation counseling from Wright State University. In the beginning, she had thought she would become a special education teacher, but, just out of curiosity, she attended an adult program.
“I loved it,” she said. Her life’s direction changed right then.
”My first professional job was at Montgomery County Board of Developmental Disabilities in 1981. I worked as a habilitation specialist in the community employment program. I had to teach people how to ride the RTA bus, and I didn’t know myself. I had to go do that,” she added.
In 1984, she was hired by the Shelby County board to be the habilitation specialist at S&H Products.
“They almost didn’t hire me, because I was from Dayton, and they were afraid I wouldn’t stay,” she laughed, 34 years later. She wrote plans to teach mobility, communication and functional academics skills, “to help bring people further along,” she said. They learned about money, cooking, telling time and reading.
Back then, services were provided from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. There were no residential services and the number of people S&H Products served was about 50. Winner has been involved with the great growth that has occurred since that time.
She started a recreation program that created after-hours fellowship opportunities for S&H clients.
“We were one of the first in the state to have one,” she said. “We would send out a newsletter (listing recreational) opportunities, and people would sign up. People wanted to stay connected to their peers.”
Winner developed a respite home that is still in use.
“I had three teen boys with high-need autism. During the summer, their parents needed respite. We had a home; we got funds for the boys to use it during the day. It allowed for respite outside of home,” she said.
She also helped to get some summer camps started for the developmentally disabled.
“I like the way things have grown,” she said. “There are more opportunites for people we serve. That part I love. The part that has gotten worse is all the paperwork and the government funding. We used to do what makes sense. Now we have to jump through hoops.”
What used to be a day program for adults has grown into an agency that provides services to people of all ages, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“The funding stream changed,” Winner said, of how the change came about. Authorities decided that the best way to help people was not to house them in large institutions, but to return them to their communities. Those communities opened group homes, but in more recent years, waiver programs have directed funding to individuals who can contract with whomever they like for services.
“I also obtained the first home- and community-based waiver for Shelby County in 2000, and now there over 150 waivers be utilized for residential supports,” Winner noted.
She admitted that her favorite part of the job is finding solutions.
“Creative problem-solving and developing new programs is what energizes me, as I have always welcomed a challenge. There is a satisfaction in educating and empowering parents to become advocates for their kids and helping connect them to available resources. I get interns. I always tell them, ‘You have to keep your eye on the prize. What do you want for that individual?’” she said.
Her title has changed many times in the last 34 years, but her passion for finding ways to “help bring people along” never waned. She keeps two objects on her desk, always in view, to remind her how to approach the work: “A kaleidescope, in case you have to look at the world a little bit differently, and a sifter, because you have to sift through what’s important and what’s not,” she said.
In the last three years, she has worked with adults, then teens and now, pre-schoolers.
Krista Oldiges, director of SCBDD support services and Winner’s supervisor, said the organization will miss Winner’s wealth of knowledge.
“It will definitely be a loss to us,” Oldiges said. “She has a great memory and knows so many people. She will absolutely go the extra mile. She’s a great out-of-the-box thinker. She’s a brain-stormer.”
Winner plans to spend time with her three grandchildren and to travel in retirment, but she admitted that it might be hard to turn down opportunities to help out now and then.
Oldiges is ready for that.
“I think we’ll have her on speed dial,” Oldiges laughed.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.