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Modeling Collaboration in Disability Services: A Conversation with Easterseals CO’s Roman Krafczyk

Hear Roman's story, his vision for Easterseals, and his insights on leadership and the importance of collaboration.

Anthony Verducci
April 20th, 2024
A headshot of Roman Krafzcyk, CEO of Easterseals Colorado.

Roman Krafczyk is an advisor for Wayfinder, and has served as the President & CEO of Easterseals Colorado since 2018. He first connected with Wayfinder when our founder, Anthony, worked with Roman’s son at Rocky Mountain Village Camp (RMV)— Easterseals Colorado’s camp for children and adults with disabilities. Roman sat down with us to share his experience and perspective on topics related to Colorado’s disability community.

Roman’s Story

How did you get involved in serving the disability community?

One summer when I was young, I was staying with a friend in Boulder. His sister was working at Rocky Mountain Village Camp, and one afternoon they needed a few extra hands. My friend and I were asked to drive up and help for an hour or two. I had never really worked with people with disabilities before, so I was scared. We tried to get out of going, but my friend’s mom wouldn’t let us — and looking back, I’m so glad for that! About two hours into the day, I loved it so much that I decided to stay for the rest of the summer. In later years, I would fly back every summer from high school in Germany just to work at the camp.

What changed from that initial fear that you felt?

That first week I was at camp, it was controlled chaos — and it was joy. It was the first time I really saw people with disabilities not as a certain group of people, but just as people. The magic I felt is a testament to why the camp has been running for 73 years. I don't think you can work there without being changed in some way.

What do you find fulfilling in your work with Easterseals Colorado?

Many individuals we serve have never had a job before, and after we've supported them, they begin working full time. Beyond just a “job,” we're really encouraging them to look long-term at careers! And in our rehabilitation center, we've seen people come in with significant limitations and then be able to graduate and lead very independent lives.

Future Landscape of the Disability Services

Can you tell us about the disability services network you’re building?

I was meeting with a friend — he worked with me at camp in the ‘80s — who shared about the burnout he was feeling after working in disability services for 25 years. One of his greatest pain points was that he felt crushed by administrative work. I told him Easterseals could help with that. That was the birth of a network — the Easterseals Colorado Affiliate Network (ESCAN).

Colorado has so many nonprofits that are doing amazing work, but they're like islands. ESCAN is bringing together more than 35 associated partner organizations, almost all of which are involved in the disability space. We believe this is a replicable model for other states — as evidenced by the fact that our Easterseals national office recently invited us to present about the network to other Easterseals affiliates around the country.

How have you seen the landscape of disability services change over the years in Colorado?

One way I’ve seen it change is that people are looking more at employment. In the past, I think there was a stereotype that if you have a developmental disability, you’re working at King Soopers bagging or you're doing dishes. Especially since the pandemic, I think that has really expanded as the labor force has changed. That has opened up more opportunities for so many individuals.

How do you see emerging technology impacting the disability community in the future?

I think overall technology is going to allow individuals a lot more independence, freedom, and connectedness within their community. But there are also new variables to navigate. Part of our whole push for decades was to get individuals with disabilities out of their house and into the community. Now we have a lot of people who are working remotely, so the focus has changed. We’re pivoting to teaching about what’s appropriate in online settings while still helping people maintain healthy social connections.

Leadership and Support in the Disability Community

What advice do you have for rising leaders eager to serve the disability community?

I think it's really easy for younger people who are just coming in to look at the systems and want to change everything. I would encourage people to learn as much as they can from those who have come before them, and then look at the systems and find new ways to make them more useful.

How can organizations better support the disability community?

I think organizations and agencies do their best to get people with disabilities together for community events like dances or picnics. That’s not a bad thing, but these events can keep the disability community isolated. What I’d really like to see is community events where it’s not just the disability or non-disability community — it’s just community. Organic communities like this are starting up, and I think they can be highlighted with technology.

What can readers do to promote equity for people with disabilities?

It starts with each person making the most of their own sphere of influence. It’s about creating ripple effects. Our camp is a good example of that. RMV exists to serve people with disabilities and give them an imaginative and magical time. Our counselors — who are from all over the world — take that magic from camp and bring it to their community.

Do you have any words of encouragement for those serving the disability community?

Hold on to the small victories and cherish them. Also, make sure that you're taking time to refresh yourself so you don't get burned out. If a saw isn't sharpened, it won't work. For me, sharpening myself means spending time with my family and fly fishing. When I need to be refreshed but can't get away from work, I'll go up and spend the day at camp.

What inspires you to serve as an advisor for Wayfinder?

I think Wayfinder is on the right path to breaking down barriers that families are facing. There are lots of resource websites out there, but the technology and connections Wayfinder is building are helpful and usable. I think that's the way Colorado can move forward with providing help and services for the disability community.