Communities help Sarah Zagone reach independence

Photo by Kim Cameron | Carlos Santos, of the Northwest Colorado Council for Independence, poses with Sarah Zagone at an outing at the Silverthorne Recreation Center. Santos also helps Zagone with work skills.
Photo by Kim Cameron | Carlos Santos, of the Northwest Colorado Council for Independence, poses with Sarah Zagone at an outing at the Silverthorne Recreation Center. Santos also helps Zagone with work skills.

“Thankfulness begins with humbleness and seeing how God works within our family and our community,” said Shelly Zagone of her journey with their daughter Sarah.

Twenty years ago, Sarah blessed the life of her parents Ted and Shelly. She is their second child and is sandwiched between her older brother Chris and younger sister Hannah.

As Sarah grew, her parents and extended family noticed developmental differences. However, it was Sarah’s aunt who first reached out to Horizons Specialized Services for help. Shortly after, the former Director of Horizons in Grand County, Roberta Hovermale, visited the Zagone family and confirmed the suspected delays.

Horizons was the first organization to work with the family providing services and support through the preschool and home visits.

As Hovermale provided support, the family sought answers from Children’s Hospital. Tests were inconclusive and provided no official diagnosis for Sarah’s delays. So without definitive results, Shelly began her role of advocate for her beloved daughter who she affectionately refers to as Beautiful Sarah, who unconditionally bestows kindness to those around her.

Shelly has been Sarah’s advocate throughout her school years, and after Sarah’s graduation from West Grand last year, Shelly’s role changed to advocating for an adult and helping Sarah to navigate for herself.
Technically, Sarah could still be a student of West Grand until she is 21 years of age, however, after an unsuccessful transitioning program her mother sought other options.

The hardest piece for Shelly has been the labyrinth of agencies to navigate for Sarah’s services. As with any individual – employment, transportation, housing, medical and social opportunities are all paramount.

“They are all equally important aspects of her development,” Shelly notes. “They are all needed for Sarah to eventually live independently and they are a safety net for her.”

“The fragmentation of our services is challenging to navigate,” said Shelly who credits Carlos Santos, of the Northwest Colorado Council for Independence, as a huge help to navigate the programs and advocate for Sarah.

Sarah is now working for City Market in Summit County, but began her employment in Granby. Training at City Market provided its own struggles for Sarah whose orientation required her to read from the computer screen. The management eventually allowed her mom to proctor the orientation for Sarah so that she could be successful. job as courtesy clerk. One day, Sarah accidentally smashed bread and broke eggs in a customer’s bag at City Market. As her moniker suggests, Beautiful Sarah wanted to pay for the bread and eggs from her paycheck she was so upset. Sarah now receives compliments on her bagging and one customer response officially noted the improvement.

“We had to do things in steps,” said Shelly who noted that after getting her job the family’s focus turned to housing.

Amidst a housing shortage, the family successfully found housing for Sarah in an apartment that provided assisted living and helped teach life skills.
Through the Developmental Disability Resource Center (DDRC), Sarah has help to meal plan, grocery shop, and navigate Summit’s bus transportation system.

Shelly explains, “They check on Sarah and her roommate. They even check to make sure they are cleaning properly and using the dishwasher correctly. Right now they are not allowed to use the dishwasher because they weren’t scraping their dishes. They also check to make sure they are following their meal plan.”

The move to Summit also provided other benefits with opportunities for Sarah to socialize with peers, use the recreation center for only $24 a month as a resident, and gave her easier access to healthcare with the Community Cares Clinic. She is on the Special Olympics bowling team and went to the State Finals where she placed 5th.

Sarah is also learning to advocate for herself. At one point, she was admittedly distracted, and got on the wrong bus and ended up at Walmart instead of City Market. She was able to discuss her situation with the bus driver and get a ride back to work. She even made it to work on time.
Shelly explains that Sarah wears a bracelet with DDRC contact information. If Sarah had not been able to problem solve for herself, DDRC would have helped.

Even though, Ted and Shelly remain Sarah’s official guardians for financial and medical issues, Sarah’s independence is important to them.
Sarah’s oldest brother was an exchange student in Italy and is currently in the Navy. Sarah’s younger sister is a junior in high school and is currently an exchange student in Germany.

“Kremmling gave us a very secure base to raise our family, but we need to push to explore. Everyone needs to get out on their own and explore the world,” says Shelly of her children. “Everyone finds their own society. This is important for mental health.”

“We are also getting older and want Sarah to have independence,” said Ted.
As for Sarah, she is a typical young adult, who texts, uses social media and says of her newly found independence, “I don’t have to worry about my parents as much now. I use to worry about them lots.”

As for Shelly and Ted, they will continue to advocate for those with disabilities. Shelly is currently working on more housing opportunities for those with disabilites. According to Shelly, if you help one individual, you are helping everyone.