Paraprofessional Leslie Padilla works with student Damian Hazlip on his sensory skills Friday, May 5, 2023, at Roundup Fellowship’s school in Colorado Springs. The nonprofit organization works with children ages kindergarten through age 21 who have intellectual and developmental disabilities and associated behavior problems. Round Fellowship is celebrating 50 years of service. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

A nonprofit that helps improve the lives of intellectually and developmentally disabled kids and grownups in Colorado Springs and Denver turns 50 this year with an eye toward expansion as its candle-blowing wish.

Following years of leadership turnover and organizational restructuring, Roundup Fellowship wants to whittle its waiting list by adding space for its Colorado Springs programs and spending more on employee recruitment and retention.

To do that, it needs $50,000 and is looking for community assistance to raise the money, says CEO Donna Thurston.

“The vision is the same, but we keep adapting to what the community need is, and we’re trying to match up with that now, especially in Colorado Springs,” she said.

With 68 employees, the Colorado Springs office is larger than Denver's, which has 31 staff members, Thurston said.

The Colorado Springs location includes a school for disabled and severely disabled children through age 21, many whose lives are "highly impacted" by their condition, said Principal Kathy Stults.

Students are usually recommended by traditional public schools, Thurston said, because Roundup School specializes in working with behavior problems associated with intellectual and developmental disabilities in an individualized therapeutic setting and a team approach.

“We have limited space right now, and part of the expansion would be to remodel the school and move and expand adult programs,” she said. “We want to improve what we have going and also offer advancement opportunities within the agency.”

Currently, Roundup School and Day Treatment accommodates up to 30 children. A day program for 25 adults shares the same building as the school at 2115 E. LaSalle St.

Most children are autistic and have low cognitive function, Stults said. Some are nonverbal, some have violent tendencies and others are high functioning.

On Friday in the "Swing Room," named for two giant swings suspended from the ceiling, whimsical songs played loudly while kids worked on sensory exercises, took the microphone for karaoke, moved their bodies to the beat and played with tambourines and drums.

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All students learn academic standards-based curriculum, whether it's during a trip to the zoo, through music or on a computer in class.

Jacob Thompson, 19, was excited after finding out he had just been offered his first paying job as a park trail greeter and walker, which he starts later this month.

He's in the school's transition program for graduates ages 18 through 21, which teaches life skills. He said he's enjoyed the school because "the staff are really good and help you when you need it."

Roundup School opened in 1995 inside a local church and in 1996 moved to the second floor of Poor Richard's restaurant downtown before relocating to its current location in 2008.

Today, the office fields four to five requests for new placements each week, Thurston said, and cannot meet the high demand with its existing facilities. 

The Colorado Springs site also runs a group home for 10 children, a program for family caregivers who are paid to support their loved ones and receive training and guidance from Roundup on how to do that, and a residential companion program, an adult foster care model in which mature clients live with providers in their homes in the community.

After lengthy discussion and research, a small group of Dutch Reformed Church members started Roundup Fellowship in 1973 in Denver.

Although the nonprofit organization was founded on Christian principles, it is no longer affiliated with the church and does not profess any specific faith, Thurston said.

“You don’t have to be a Christian to work here or participate in the programs,” she said.

While the agency receives funding from Medicaid, county and state governments, Community Centered Boards, school districts and private insurance, the 50th anniversary fundraising campaign is a departure from the norm and necessary to meet increased requests for assistance, Thurston said.

“We’ve done no fundraising recently,” she said. “We’re trying to rejuvenate this small nonprofit and build awareness that we’ve been around for a long time, but people still seem to not know about us.”

The campaign kicked off this week and runs through the end of the year. Donations may be made at http://www.rup.org/donate.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.