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A New Chapter

posted by Chris Sparks on Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Many years ago now (actually from 1988 to 1991) I was the Executive Director of a small organization that served people with developmental disabilities in northwest Missouri. It was a great organization, in fact I got my start in disabilities services a few years earlier in this same organization working with my wife as live-in houseparents. As a relatively young person I had many aspirations; I wanted to work in a larger organization, I longed to be a part of the activity of a national organization (and I was familiar with ANCOR’s predecessor organization), and my family and I had long planned to move back home to Iowa.

Imagine my excitement in early 1991 when I saw an advertisement for an Assistant Director for EPI. I applied, interviewed in May of 1991, was hired, and started at EPI on October 1, 1991. Over the next few years I had the opportunity to work with J. Gary Mattson, a giant in the field and one of the strongest people I have ever met. I heard stories of William E. Brown, the founding director of EPI and had the opportunity to meet him. His organizational genius and his ability to bring people together and motivate them to coalesce around a challenge is the thing of legends. Elizabeth Curren, the Residential Services Director, and an incredible leader, and many others – inside and outside of the organization.

I have had the opportunity to work with some of the finest people in the country, and I am fortunate to still call some of them colleagues here at EPI. I became the ED on January 1, 1998 and the last twenty-four years have been filled with rich and fulfilling experiences that I could never have even imagined. To say I have been fortunate is an understatement, but it’s the best I can do.

A few years ago, I got my Master’s degree in Social Work, became a licensed therapist, and began working as a clinician part-time at the Black Hawk Grundy Mental Health Center. And I started to envision the culmination of my career arc, to end in a full-time clinical position. That time has come and I have announced my resignation from EPI effective April 8, 2022. This change has long been planned and I have been talking to our leadership staff here, and the EPI Board of Directors about it over the last few years.

EPI is in an incredibly strong position for this leadership transition. We are financially and programmatically stable, we have talented and experienced leadership and service leadership staff in place, and our board is engaged and experienced. The EPI Executive Committee is considering proposals from qualified search firms and will soon begin the process of securing the next ED – only the fourth in EPI’s 65 years. After my departure Katie Slade will serve as the Interim ED and those of you that know her are aware that she is a terrific choice. She has been working alongside myself as a vital part of EPI's success for nearly 14 years.  She is experienced, deeply dedicated to the organization, and I trust her without reservation – take it easy on her though.

We know that in this life nothing lasts forever and if we’re smart and lucky we work to be a part of good things and we enjoy the ride. For a small-town Iowa kid like me to have had the experiences and opportunities that I have been afforded here, well it’s just nothing short of incredible. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your lives, and a part of this extraordinary organization. I am and shall remain overcome with gratitude

About The Author

Chris Sparks has been working in the field of disability services for over 35 years – beginning his career as a Direct Support Professional. As Executive Director of Exceptional Persons, Inc. (EPI) he focuses on the EPI mission to connect people to their communities, create opportunities, a ... read more