Developmental Pathways celebrates 50th year

Organization serves those with developmental disabilities


Developmental Pathways celebrates its 50 anniversary this year, and will do so under the leadership of former Douglas County commissioner Melanie Worley.

The agency services Arapahoe and Douglas Counties, as well as a portion of Adams County, providing birth to end of life care for individuals with developmental disabilities. The agency is invested in both locating and helping children with disabilities.

“The sooner we can find them, the better off they are and the quicker we can mainstream them, if that’s possible,” Worley said.

She estimates about one-third of the children Developmental Pathways works with can be incorporated into mainstream society if they receive proper early attention and are given the help they need.

“We can train parents to work with their child and hopefully lessen their burden,” she said.

Beyond early intervention and support for children, Developmental Pathways provides diverse services for disabled individuals of all ages. The agency owns 10 group homes with 24/7 care for individuals with high needs, as well as apartment complexes with staff on hand for those who wish to live independently.

Furthermore, Developmental Pathways provides pre-vocational training, job coaching and volunteer opportunities for the individuals it services.

The portion of the state that Developmental Pathways covers contains more children under 3 with disabilities than anywhere else in Colorado. The anticipation is that those numbers will grow by 10 percent in the coming years, Worley said.

To prepare the organization for the growing needs, Worley has instituted an extensive investigation and restructuring of the agency. One of her most dramatic changes was to separate Developmental Pathways into four distinct nonprofits.

One effect of this reorganization is to prevent conflict of interest, she says. One nonprofit will aid families and individuals in selecting providers, while another will provide those services and coordinate other providers.

“This prevents conflict of interest so families have choice, and know they’re making the decision for their own lives,” Worley said.

Another new nonprofit, the Sun Foundation, will focus on raising funds to help those whose government waivers cannot meet their needs.

“We want to help as many as are on the waiting list,” Worley said.

In her efforts to reorganize the organization, she was able to find another $1 million that Developmental Pathways was able to put back into the community. And over two more years, another $4 million in extra funds soon followed.

Worley also seeks to change the culture of Developmental Pathways.

“We had fallen away from looking at what we can do for everyone, looking instead at what we can do within the funding stream,” she said. “If someone comes forward, we should find a way to help them.

“Shame on us if we tell them no.”

A key component of helping others, she said is allowing her staff to feel empowered and giving them the ability to be creative. She said she makes it a point of telling her staff, “You are empowered, look for a funding source and get creative. It’s a new day. I want them to feel good and impart that to the individuals we help.”

“We still have a long way to go, especially in vocational efforts,” Worley said when asked what changes she would like to see in the coming years.

“I firmly believe that individuals with disabilities can own their own businesses and own their own homes. There needs to be acceptance of their abilities, a true community and a true integration. (People need to) stop thinking of their disabilities and think instead of their abilities.”

For more information on Developmental Pathways, please visit


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