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The Changing Season: Transition at PEAK
The Changing Season: Transition at PEAK
By Leann Springer / September 21, 2020
A change of season is upon us. Crisp cool mornings have made their way into the forecast. One of the earliest snowstorms in state history has passed. The more tolerable temperatures of fall are finally here. Can you hear the aspen leaves quaking in the breeze? Can you see the magnificent autumnal palette that will soon adorn our colorful Colorado landscape?
The season at PEAK Parent Center is also changing. Barbara Buswell, PEAK’s co-founder and longtime Executive Director, is taking a different role in our organization. For many, it’s hard to imagine PEAK without Barb’s leadership, but this legacy is built on a strong foundation. PEAK’s core values remain the same, and we expect them to grow deeper roots and strengthen as the passing of the baton occurs. We are excited to announce Michele Williers’ appointment as our new Executive Director!
In 1986, Barb followed her heart to not only fight for what was right for her child but create a system of support that allows the rest of us to do the same. Like many, I am grateful to be a part of the work she has created. To work alongside her and Beth and Shirley and all of the other longstanding PEAK staff who molded me and countless others in our own personal journeys is truly an honor. They have blazed the trail on this road as we continue to do for those who follow behind us in the next generation.
Barb has led this ship for 34 years and her impact has been felt far and wide. PEAK has become known as a national leader for its work in inclusion, and the Conference on Inclusive Education has drawn international attendance. For Barb and our great staff, this work is the work of our hearts. It is the lighting of a flame every time an individual, a parent, or a professional in the disability community is touched by what we do. It is progress each time we show a parent a new way to look at their child and give them hope for a future filled with possibilities. PEAK is the lighting of an ever-growing fire. PEAK is the community of people in Colorado and beyond who yearn for better opportunities, equity, and inclusion.
Barb will continue her commitment to our organization and our community as she retains her role in the Region D Parent Technical Assistance Center, in which PEAK works with 26 other Parent Training and Information Centers and Community Parent Resource Centers in the western United States.
Enter Michele. Michele comes to us from New Jersey. Yes, she’s uprooting her son and husband and venturing across the country to jump aboard PEAK in the middle of a pandemic! If that doesn’t demonstrate enthusiasm and commitment to you, I’m not sure what to say! Like Barb, Michele is now merging her professional experience with her personal life. Michele has served in the non-profit industry her entire career and is thrilled to be at a juncture where her professional and personal life have joined on this path she has found at PEAK.
Who is Michele Williers? Michele is wife to Bryan and mom to Beck, 17, who experiences both vision and hearing loss as a result of being a super preemie born at only 23 weeks gestation. The arduous months spent in the NICU were further magnified by the loss of Beck’s identical twin, Bryan Alexander, who did not survive. Like many of us, Michele is not new to the world of navigating both medical and educational systems to ensure a better life for her child. I have seen firsthand the warmth and patience Michele has as a parent. Beck has appeared in a Zoom meeting or two (one of which was one of Michele’s interviews at PEAK!). In a situation that would have caused me to panic and become flustered, Michele reacted with calm, easy transparency that showed each of us in that meeting how she approaches unexpected and often stressful aspects of life. Michele overflows with kindness that speaks to her focus on strengths and what is right in the world. In a recent staff email, Thankful Thursday was the theme, she expressed sincere gratitude for each of us on the team noting that “good energy begets more good energy.” We certainly have much good energy to compound!
What does Michele bring to PEAK? PEAK is gaining a leader with a career of 28 years in management and administration in community development and youth service agencies, 22 of which were with the Big Brothers Big Sisters network of America (BBBS). During her tenure with BBBS, she expanded the agency from a one to a three-county area and within 12 years it went from the smallest agency in New Jersey to the largest; a growth from 100 youth to over 4,100 youth. Additionally, during her time of BBBS leadership, the agency revenue grew from $600,000 to $2.4 million capitalizing on partnerships from churches, community-based organizations, universities, and corporations. She also led several cross-sector grant-funded programs and research in workforce development and juvenile justice prevention.
Outside of her work with BBBS, Michele has an impressive list of achievements. She is currently co-authoring a study on the impact of mentoring on childhood trauma with Rutgers professor, Dr. Paul Boxer. Among other topics, she has lectured on education, corporate social responsibility, social entrepreneurialism, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Also notable, she has led press conferences with U.S. Senator Cory Booker and NBC’s Kate Snow. Just this summer Michele was featured in a CNN story “Parents of teens with special needs find themselves alone in COVID-19 lockdown” and in 2011 she was a featured guest at the Newark Peace Summit that was headlined by the Dalai Lama. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. If you’re really curious, you can check out Michele’s full bio here. We are confident that her talent and experience will push our work at PEAK to new heights.
While these have been difficult times in the world, PEAK is focused on pivoting towards the light and what is right. We know there is much good that remains, and while it is easy to get caught up in today’s headlines, take solace in knowing that there are like-minded people who are still fighting the good fight. PEAK is steadfast in drawing on our strengths and experiences and growing this work to ensure the rights of individuals and families for generations to come. Thank you for the part you play in our community and fanning the flames of opportunity, equity, and inclusion. As we transition into fall and transition leadership at PEAK, we can’t wait to see what changes all of us together will bring!
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