35 Years of Passion, Humor & Progress
June 23, 2020
Foothills Gateway bids Debbie Lapp a fond farewell.
It’s safe to say that Debbie Lapp is a well-known name around Foothills Gateway. Her role as Chief Operating Officer of Case Management gave her the opportunity to touch many lives and push for progress in the ways we provide support for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Her staff see her as a force of nature who closes loops and ensures the work gets done. But the individuals who Debbie has supported through the years, see her as a dear friend and steadfast advocate.
Deep roots in the IDD field
With 44 years of experience in the IDD field, and 35 of those years spent at Foothills Gateway, Debbie has built strong, lasting relationships with organizations and legislators across the state. This gave her the ability to collaborate whenever necessary and be a catalyst for change in how we support people.
Debbie first came to Foothills Gateway in 1985, after serving as a Case Manager in Sterling, Colo. for nine years. She was hired as the Residential Director for what was then an extremely limited program. Colorado was just beginning the process of deinstitutionalization, and Debbie described one month early in her employment when they moved 17 people back into the Larimer County community. Building a full-fledged residential program back then was no small endeavor, but Debbie took on the challenge and never looked back.
Pushing for Progress
“In addition to developing our residential program, Debbie also encouraged other program approved service agencies to come to Larimer County to provide residential services to individuals who had been deinstitutionalized from the regional centers. Over the years, she was involved in implementing other state pilot initiatives such as CSLA (Consumer Supported Living Arrangements) which eventually evolved into the SLS (Supported Living Services) program,” Erin Eulenfeld, Chief Operating Officer of Services, explained.
“She was also instrumental in negotiating and developing agreements with our local mental health agency to provide mental health services (psychiatric services and therapies) to individuals with IDD. At that time in our history, it was very unusual for mental health centers to provide these much-needed services to individuals.”
Ten years into Debbie’s work at FGI, Personal Care Alternatives and Group Homes were the new normal for residential supports, and the agency was beginning to separate direct services and case management. In 1995, Debbie became the Resource Coordination & Development Director, overseeing case management and several support programs. She held that title until 2015, when the Executive Director left FGI and the Chief Officer roles were created; Debbie served as Chief Operating Officer of Case Management on the FGI Executive Team for the last five years.
When asked about why she stayed at Foothills Gateway all these years, Debbie explained, “The people in services, the people I work with, the person-centeredness, and the mission, vision and principles; I never wanted to work in a corporate environment.”
She specifically praised the staff she supervises directly, Pat Carney, Marla Maxey, Amy Baca, Laura Veradt, Deanna Schoeninger, and Reneé Walker, saying, “They are all top notch and made my job so much easier!”
“I also had the ability to influence decisions and use best practices (for the people we serve). I was able to be a catalyst for change, pilots, new programs, and increased quality of care.” Debbie continued, “It was never just a job. If it was, I probably wouldn’t have stayed at FGI. The job is sometimes stressful, it varies all the time, and you can’t guarantee anything… but it is important work, and FGI does it best!”
Similar to many Foothills Gateway staff, Debbie has formed and maintained friendships with individuals she has supported throughout the years. For her, the standout is Barney. “The one person that was a constant for me, from the time I came to FGI, was Barney. We became friends and would go out to lunch on a monthly basis with Diana Foland. My family and I took him to the parade in Estes Park every year on the day after Thanksgiving. And my daughter and I even took him to Disneyland once,” Debbie shared. “Everyone knew him, and he knew everyone! He knew my whole family, and he would look forward to going to Gunther Toody’s with us. When he passed away, they had a memorial in Library Park. Diana, Erin and I did part of the eulogy because he had been such a part of our lives.”
A Sentimental Retirement
Retirement will most definitely be strange for Debbie as she steps away from the people she has bonded with. “(I will miss) the people that I work with and the relationships that we’ve built,” she said. “It’s kind of weird, leaving this agency and the people here… I think I’m more sentimental than I thought!”
But she has plenty to look forward to as well, like Florida beaches, time with her daughters and grandson, traveling, and doing whatever she wants, whenever she wants. And even though her daughters and grandson won’t be here to celebrate her retirement like they had planned, they will likely have a party on the beach when she and her husband, Kerry, travel down to Florida in the fall.
As Debbie prepared for her last day, she had advice for the Foothills Gateway staff, “Balance work and home. Remember why you do what you do. Ask for support when you need it. And take care of yourself and each other.”
It’s been a wild ride
Without a doubt, Debbie Lapp has left her mark on Foothills Gateway. “Debbie’s breadth of knowledge and history regarding the IDD system are almost unparalleled.” Erin shared. “Her sense of humor and her recollections and stories about the wonderful people who have been part of her journey over so many years will be missed!”
“I feel extremely fortunate to have been on this journey at Foothills Gateway,” Debbie said as the conversation neared its end. “It’s been a wild ride at times, but we work with good people. Whatever comes our way, we see it as an opportunity and figure it out.”