Schreiber, Maren Amber (Usinowicz)
(1968 - )
From Coopersburg, PA. Graduated from the University of Northern Colorado where she had a scholarship for cross country and track. Moved to the Evergreen area in 1996.
Soon after starting a job at the Evergreen Park and Recreation District (EPRD) as a swim coach and personal trainer in 1997, the parent of a special needs child approached her and asked Maren about working with the special needs population.
At that time there were no programs specifically for those with special needs, but EPRD did work with teacher Dick Reed of Evergreen High School to offer aquatics programs. The Wulf Rec Center was also the county site for the annual Special Olympics swim meet.
Changes in legislation in 1975 to provide free and appropriate education in the public school systems caused disabled children to be mainstreamed in some manners, but providing additional services such as recreation took years to catch up.
Typically, there is a relatively small number of children and adults who make up that population within a recreation district such as Evergreen's. Because the the logistics of such a program for the special needs population require a great deal of supervision, there is a much higher ratio of adults to kids – 1:1 or 1:4 vs. the usual 1:10 – the cost of such a program is extremely high. Wheelchair-bound children need at least one person assigned to help them, for instance, but need more than one to assist with transporting in and out of the wheelchair to dress/undress for swimming and to get in and out of a pool.
Jane Dahlstrom-Quinn, the parent who approached Maren, appealed to the district to provide some programs. EPRD administration recognized the needs and worked to find ways to meet those needs in a way that was fair to taxpayers supporting the entire population. Private fundraising became a necessity.
Maren had a degree in Exercise and Sport Science with a minor in Wellness Management and Adaptive PE. She recalled not especially looking forward to her first class in Adaptive PE but admitted to being hooked the first time she got to see the big grins on the faces of the children she worked with.
Maren began building a program for the Special Needs Population in 1997 and has been called upon to do fundraising to sustain the program ever since. Self-described as "super shy," she has had to work at overcoming that characteristic to be able to speak to groups and make appeals on behalf of the Special Needs Program, which is more commonly referred to as "Maren's kids" around the community.
The program encompasses a 12-week summer camp as well as shorter camps during winter and spring breaks. The camps involve attending special events such as Nuggets games, movies, plays, and dinners out.
Coordinating and collaborating with other organizations is key to the success of the program.
Adaptive Adventures, a national organization based in Evergreen that provides recreational activities for the disabled across the country, provides a day of kayaking and hand-cycling for "Maren's kids." The Division of Wildlife provides a (well-supervised) day of archery and shooting.
Participants are able to take advantage of a ropes course at the Easter Seals Camp in Empire. The Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center enables even wheelchair-bound youngsters to learn to ski with sit-ski equipment.
Clear Creek Rafting works with participants to experience the exhilleration of the current flowing past Idaho Springs while floating in a rubber raft. Working with experts in therapeutic horse therapy offers still another opportunity, as is bowling.
Evergreen Golf Course provides lessons to the disabled. Special Olympics has arranged for golf pros and a variety of golf courses in the Denver area to also give lessons to the EPRD program. Even track activities are provided by the Special Olympics organization at Evergreen High School.
Dances at the Clements Community Center in Lakewood are geared to those 16 and older. "It's like the Little Bear without the booze," Maren comments. Approximately 100 disabled people come from all over the metro area every third Friday of the month during the school year.
A unified basketball team combines the typical player with Special Olympics athletes. The entree program – swimming – continues after all these years.
On her own, one of the participants – Kristina Halstead – even participates in the Evergreen Lake Plunge on New Year's Day. She also secures donations in support of the program that is a beneficiary of the event, along with Drive Smart Evergreen-Conifer.
Some of the challenges that go with working with the Special Needs Population include accommodating their bathroom needs. This includes changing of diapers on as many as 17. Another 5 are on G (feeding) tubes. Changing them into bathing suits and back into street clothing requires extra staff and volunteers. Maren depends on six additional counselors to help intermittently.
Although some of the services are donated, there are always additional costs involved. Prizes, ribbons, and food are part of many events. Maren raises tens of thousands of dollars to subsidize the money provided by EPRD. "We start operating in the red about 1 1/2 hours into a day," she explains.
Although she's paid to work a 40-hour week, she can often be seen selling tickets to one event or another that benefits her programs – i.e., the Ice Golf Tournament sponsored by Blue Spruce Kiwanis or the Ice Melt Contest (when the barrel will drop through the ice) – on her own time. The Evergreen Recreation and Parks Foundation supports the program by fundraising through Oktoberfest.
Transporting the disabled is done in two buses specially equipped for wheelchairs, one of which was paid for in part by the Mountain Foothills Rotary when Rotarian Al Himmelman took it upon himself to spearhead the project to replace an old van that broke down repeatedly.
"The community is very supportive," Maren points out. "I'm always amazed at how often small businesses give," she says, citing Tuscany Tavern and Baskin Robbins as two prime examples. She's always encouraging others in the community to patronize the businesses that support the Special Needs programs.
Singer John Erlundson provides entertainment for concerts at the Ice House, the proceeds from which support the program. According to Maren, he has a sister with disabilities, so it's a cause near and dear to his heart, but only about half the supporters actually know someone with a disability.
The modest program that began in 1996 has about 90 participants in 2012, with many traveling a distance to take advantage of the programs for the disabled. Some come from Idaho Springs, Bailey, Conifer, Lakewood, Green Mountain, and Genesee. They range in age from 5 to 57. Those from outside the district pay out-of-district fees.
While EPRD provides an extensive menu of recreational and leisure services, other organizations offer services that the district doesn't provide. Because of the extraordinary expense of providing services to the special needs population, entities work to avoid the duplication of efforts and the overlap of services to specific age groups.
Other services for the disabled in the community include: Adaptive Adventures; Extension Living Services (for adults with disabilities) at Church of the Hills provided through the Seniors' Resource Center; a support group called the Community Roundtable; grocery store employment; and AKTION Club, a community service club for adults with disabilities, sponsored by the Blue Spruce Kiwanis Club. Intermountain YoungLife, a Christian group for teens, is starting a group especially for those with disabilities.
The Developmental Disabilites Resource Center (DDRC) based in Lakewood, works with the disabled to find them jobs and provides job coaching for individuals.
"People now are more comfortable around people with disabilities," Maren says, pleased with the progress she's helped to create over the past 15 years.
Maren has caused that to be the case in our community.
Source: Maren Schreiber
UPDATE 3-6-23: Maren celebrated 25 years working FT coordinating the program catering to the Special Needs population (she'd worked 3-4 years PT prior to that). The program has grown from 5 to 114. Hers is the only group required to raise funds to help support a program -- $60,000/year. Now known as the Inspire program, it currently helps people between 5 and 50 years of age. Disabilities include those with Cerebral Palsy, seizures, epilepsy, Downes Syndrome, Trisomy 18, autism. Activities include Special Olympics, rafting, fishing, hiking, golf, basketball, bowling, swimming, ropes courses, zipline, archery, rifle shooting, crafts, team-building activities, concerts, theatre performances, adaptive theatre, dances. Maren has seemingly done everything for this program -- from changing diapers on adults to transferring wheelchair-bound participants, feeding through tubs, administering medications, handling hygien issues, and regularly driving the 24-passenger van. The program has earned a reputation for being outstanding in offering such a wide variety of activities for such a small community. The program averages 1 employee for every 2 participants compared to other programs that average 1 employee for every 10 participants. Maren has been honored as Heroine of Evergreen and Rotarian of the Year by Mountain Foothills Rotary.