Zabawa, John

Written by Linda Kirkpatrick on .





John Zabawa

(1950 - )

From Logansport, Indiana.  John and his wife, Linda, ventured west of the Mississippi River for the first time after graduating college and marrying in 1972.  John had always had a fascination of the Native American culture, so they traveled through the Southwest visiting several Indian reservations where he applied for jobs.  It was the majestic peaks of Colorado that got their attention once they'd passed through the Four Corners area and headed for Denver.

Together John and Linda became the first group home parents for Adams County Social Services, creating a homelike environment for seven delinquent boys (ages 14-18) who were wards of the court.  Although the effort to integrate these boys into the community as a last chance to be emancipated was not successful in all cases, John recalls an instance of one boy who'd been diagnosed as suicidal/schizophrenic, never making eye or physical contact. Eventually the boy allowed Linda to cut his hair.  Twenty years later he would track down the Zabawas to express his appreciation.

The Zabawas relocated to the Evergreen area in 1974.  By 1981 John was heading up a social service program called Mountain Services, with offices in both the Conifer Community Church and the first floor of Green Ridge Meadow Apartments.  Because Mountain Services had played a role in helping with the application process when the subsidized-housing unit was built, it was given office space on the ground floor at Green Ridge Meadow.

With a vision for creating a focal point for people from throughout the mountain community to come for information, programs and service, John held a town hall meeting in 1984.  The meeting, attended by 165 residents and 3 county commissioners, was to discuss the possibiity of creating a senior community center.  With $30,000 in seed money from the county, Zabawa set out to find a property conducive to such a concept.  As a result, the former Pearl Jarvis residence – fondly referred to as the "Yellow House" – along Highway 73, a mile south of the intersection of Highways 73 and 74 at Main Street, was acquired in 1985 and renovated.  At a later point, the facility was enlarged through a capital campaign.

John had always been drawn to older adults and had a comfort level with them.  As a youngster he'd mowed the lawns of elderly neighbors.  When he moved to the Evergreen area, he worked for a woman in her mid-80s south of Buffalo Creek, cutting her firewood, hauling her water from a spring, and in the winter, plowing a path to the outhouse with a wooden wedge and a horse.  She'd been married to a man from Venezuela and had visitors from all over the globe, and her stories intrigued John.  From those experiences he learned to support older adults so that they might be able to stay independent for longer periods of time, preventing or at least delaying their being institutionalized.

As a charter member of the Evergreen Rotary Club in 1985, the same year as the acquisition of the Yellow House, John was instrumental in getting the club to be intimately involved in his grand project in Evergreen.  It became the signature project of the club, and members were very "hands-on" – cutting, splitting, and delivering firewood to seniors who used wood as a primary heat source.  John served as the club president in 1991.

Thirty-one years later, John Zabawa is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Seniors' Resource Center, which serves the aging population of 10 counties (Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Denver, Dogulas, Gilpin, Jefferson, and Park).  It is the outgrowth of Mountain Services.  The Yellow House is just one of several facilities throughout the service area, an extension of the services provided in the metro area but with programs such as Meals on Wheels tailoring it to the mountains.  The newest facility is a 17,000-square-foot $8.7 million adult day complex in Wheat Ridge, which opened in 2011.

"The SRC is unique," John explains, "because it brings so many different services under one umbrella, coordinating a variety of services and providing a comprehensive approach....  It is forcused on the individual ... a person-centered approach to service delivery."

In 2005 John served as a delegate, appointed by the president of the Colorado State Senate, representing Colorado at the White House Conference on Aging.  He is a leader in its ongoing Silverprint Colorado initiative to create a statewide strategic plan for aging services.  Also in 2005, John was appointed by the Senate to serve on the SB-173 Legislative Committee to address the long-term care system in Colorado.

John is a past-president of LeadingAge Colorado, which represented the first time that post was held by a leader of a community-based services provider.  He is also serving on LeadingAge's newly formed Policy Congress, which sets policy on a national level.  He is chairman emeritus of the board of directors for the Jefferson Center for Mental Health, past excecutive committee member of the Tri-County Workforce Development Board, and has been an active member of the Jefferson County Council on the Aging for more than two decades.  John is currently serving on the State Long Term Care Advisory Committee, the Board for the Corporation for Long Term Care Certification, and the Governor's Interagency Coordinating Council for Transportation Access and Mobility.

In 2009 John was selected by City & Mountain Views magazine as one of Jeffco's 150 Most Contributing Citizens.  In 2010, he received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Leadership Jefferson County.

In 2011, the Seniors' Resource Center received the 2011 Outstanding Advocacy Award from LeadingAge, a national organization based in Washington, DC.  This award was given in recognition of SRC's exemplary grassroots advocacy at the local, state and national levels on behalf of older adults.

Source:  Interview with John Zabawa