I pay pretty close attention to politics for a couple of reasons: first of all, democracy requires an informed electorate, and I personally see it as a civic responsibility; and secondly, in my position at Community Options, it is extremely important that I develop and maintain positive relationships with local and statewide elected officials who have a direct impact on our funding and our statutory and regulatory environment. As much as I try to pay attention however, every so often I get a big surprise, and that happened recently.
Community Options is a member of Alliance, an organization of community centered boards and service provider agencies, and every year that organization holds a large conference attended by about 300 people. That conference was held June 12-14 in Breckenridge, and I was privileged to attend. During an awards luncheon at the conference, Alliance awarded our Legislator of the Year to Senator Rachel Zenzinger, who played a major role in our system being allocated resources to bring 550 people off of the waiting list into services this coming year. I knew that she serves as the State Senator from Arvada and is a member of the powerful Joint Budget Committee, but I had never met her and didn’t know much else about her.
In Senator Zenzinger’s acceptance speech (which was terrific by the way), she thanked her mother for coming all the way from Montrose for the luncheon, which obviously peaked my interest. She introduced her mom as “AJ”, and I quickly recognized her as AJ Smith, who my wife and I know from musical connections with her husband Norman, and many of you probably know from her many years of teaching school.
After the luncheon I went up and said hi to AJ and then introduced myself to Senator Zenzinger. I told her I had no idea she was from Montrose, and that ironically enough, I had taken the opposite path, having grown up in Arvada and now living in Montrose. I went on to tell her about Community Options and invited her to come and tour our programs sometime when she is “home”. It was obvious that she is passionate and knowledgeable about services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and it was a pleasure to meet her.
So I guess my question is this: who among us knew that AJ and Norman Smith have a daughter who is a State Senator and a member of the Joint Budget Committee, or that this young woman who grew up in our town is now proudly representing our state in such a powerful position? I sure didn’t. I love good surprises and small-world stories. This was both.
Tom Turner is executive director of Community Options Inc. in Montrose.