Agency that helps children with special needs has looming funding needs |

Agency that helps children with special needs has looming funding needs

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News
Grand County, CO Colorado
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News | Sky-Hi Daily News

Max Heckerson is like any other 18-month-old toddler.

He likes to spin in his Johnny Jump Up; he likes to explore and open drawers, especially the ones off limits to babies; and he loves to practice walking.

Max also knows as many as 16 sign-language signs.

For Max, school started early, and not just because his mom is the director of a day care center.

Just two weeks after he was born, the baby started what would become a weekly schedule of physical, speech and occupational therapies.

He was born with down syndrome and a heart condition that required surgery.

His mother and father, Dale and Shelly Heckerson, had found out while still pregnant.

“I found out to inform my family and friends and to be more prepared,” Shelly said.

At three months, Max underwent the surgery that successfully repaired his heart, and the community helped the Heckersons by holding a fundraiser.

But Max’s world remains filled with developmental challenges that crave help from professionals.

Therapists descended on the Heckerson family through Horizons, the multi-county organization that provides therapy services to children birth to 3 years of age at no cost to families.

Directed by Roberta Hovermale in Grand County, Horizons Speech Therapist Devin Williamson, Physical Therapist JoAnn Robert and Occupational Therapist Shay Markle each meet with Max once a week.

The nonprofit organization provided financial help for hospital trips to Denver and also put Max’s parents in contact with another mother whose infant had heart surgery, which Shelly said had helped her to better understand what to expect.

Care in all shapes and sizes

Shelly has been the director of the Grand Kids childcare center in Fraser for five years.

The attention given to Max, she said, has not only enriched his life, but has enriched lives at the center.

“It’s really given me insight how to teach the other kids here,” Shelly said.

Teachers are better informed, and children at the center are learning valuable lessons about acceptance and tolerance.

“All the kids are so great with Max,” Shelly said. “They talk to him, they play with him, they are very gentle with him. The girls are very nurturing, but some of the boys are too. It’s almost as if they sense they need to take care of him.”

“He’s just an incredible, amazing child,” she continued.

“My family and I would not change anything about him even if we were able to.”

Last year, Horizons provided early intervention to 75 children with developmental delays, about two-thirds of whom live in Grand County. But the organization only received funding from the state for 26.

The organization’s largest fundraiser is the annual Points of Light campaign that takes place over the holidays. Last year, Horizons raised $15,000 through Points of Light.

But according to Director Kay Borvansky, state budget cuts to the Department of Developmental Disabilities may mean a $40,000 shortfall to Horizons in 2010.

“We’re borrowing from Peter to pay Paul,” Borvansky said.

“But we can’t let these kids go without help.”

Horizons literature claims that studies prove every $1 spent early in a child’s development can save $7 in future services.

The investment certainly has paid personal dividends in the case of Max.

“He’s just taught me so much about life,” Shelly said of Max.

“How to appreciate the simple things in life, and how not to take children’s development and growth for granted.”

– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail

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