December 14, 2021
Patricia Yeager: Sparking Change
Sometimes there’s a spark that changes everything.
The spark could be a chance meeting or an exceptional teacher or just a different route home. Whatever it is, once the spark is lit, your life takes a new direction.
For Patricia Yeager, the spark that ultimately led her to become CEO of The Independence Center was a conversation with an acquaintance.
“I lost a good part of my hearing at the age of two-and-a-half when I was given the antibiotic Terramycin,” she says. “He knew I had a disability, so he told me that West Virginia University had scholarships for people with disabilities to go through the vocational rehabilitation program and become rehab counselors.”
It was the mid-1970s and although she had earned a bachelor’s degree, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. When she learned about WVU’s program, she thought, “Well, it’s free. I should go look at it.”
“That decision changed my life,” she says.
The program was based in counseling, with a medical rehabilitation component. The counseling piece of it resonated deeply with Patricia.
“It gave me a foundation of why people behave the way they do and how to help change that,” she remembers. “It was fun! I really enjoyed it.”
From West Virginia to the West
After earning a Master of Science degree in rehabilitation counseling, her first job was with Disabled Student Services at the Community College of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Two years later, a position working with students with disabilities at the Auraria Higher Education Center took her to Denver, Colorado.
From there, she became an appointee of then-Mayor Federico Peña as Director of the Commission on People with Disabilities for the City and County of Denver.
Patricia then stepped into the world of nonprofits, working to enhance the effectiveness of Centers for Independent Living (CILs), eventually running the state association of CILs in California for eight years.
“I loved the people I was working with, but the job was a little like herding cats,” she jokes. So, she decided to come back to Colorado and pursue her Ph.D. at the University of Northern Colorado.
Around the time she was defending her dissertation, another spark changed everything.
Colorado Springs Calls
“I’m sitting in my condo in Greeley and I’m thinking about ‘what do I want’? I want a job where I can be helpful, my skills can be useful, and where people are fun,” she recalls.
Right on cue, the phone rang. On the other end was Pat Going, a board member for The Independence Center of Colorado Springs. The IC was looking for a new CEO to replace its founder, Vicki Skoog, who was retiring. Was she interested? When she told him no, he said, “Well, just come down and talk to us.”
This meeting led to a job offer, which she promptly declined, offering consulting services instead. Thanks to Skoog’s vision and leadership, The IC had grown rapidly into what was primarily a home health agency. It was well-funded and had around 160 employees. However, its infrastructure, operations, and programs were sorely in need of revitalization. Most importantly, it needed a strong vision for the future.
Patricia put together a to-do list of sorts, both for herself and for the next CEO. However, within about six months, she realized that the job she had envisioned in her condo was right in front of her. She became CEO of The IC in October 2011.
Sparking Change in the Pikes Peak Region and Beyond
Over the next 10 years, Patricia not only completed that initial to-do list, she helped change the physical and social landscape
for people with disabilities in the Pikes Peak Region.
Under her leadership, The IC has grown into a trusted community resource and a national model for Centers for Independent Living. Thousands of individuals have received information, resources and support to help them live, work, play, and participate fully in their community. Many others have been able to remain in their homes with assistance through The IC’s Home Health and Veteran in Charge programs.
More broadly, Patricia’s passion for advocacy has helped empower people with disabilities to use their voices. After all, change can’t happen unless they are included in conversations about accessible housing, employment, transportation, health care, parking lots, emergency planning, and more.
Even she seems amazed at what The IC has become and what the staff has accomplished during her tenure.
“I really couldn’t have thought that this is what The IC would look like in 10 years. This is way bigger than anything I imagined.”
The Next Chapter
Recently, another spark led to yet more change. While on vacation, her traveling partner broke her hip in a fall. At that moment, Patricia realized she was ready to retire. “Life is short and there are other things I’d like to experience while I can,” she says.
Although she will miss the day-to-day challenges and joys that come with being CEO, she is excited to see where new CEO, Indy Frazee, takes the organization next.
“Indy will empower people in a more sophisticated way,” Patricia says. “She has a vision for how to create social capital for people with disabilities so that they can leverage their unique abilities in all parts of our community and be part of everything.”
In other words, she’ll create a spark.