A GoodLife Board Member’s Perspective: Meet Ellen

A GoodLife Board Member’s Perspective: Meet Ellen

You can’t miss it, with its abstract brushstrokes and vibrant colors. The artwork that hangs on the wall in her lake home is an easy conversation starter. 

“What a cool painting! Where did you get that?” guests ask.

“Let me tell you about Delbert,” answers Ellen with a sparkle in her eye. Ellen lives for this kind of moment—an opportunity to share about Delbert and her work with GoodLife.  

Ellen Spake, PT, PhD, met Delbert, the artist behind the painting, when she was his physical therapist. A GoodLife resident, Delbert was a gentle man who, despite incredible mobility challenges, always wore a warm and welcoming smile. Delbert and the many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) Ellen has served over her career are the reason why she’s a GoodLife board member. 

A career serving the special needs community

Ellen began her physical therapy career by working with children with I/DD. She then co-founded the Physical Therapy Education Department for Rockhurst University.  For 20 years, from 1983 until 2003, she served as the Director of the Physical Therapy Education Program. Her vision and leadership skills led the department’s curricular evolution from a bachelor’s degree, through a masters’ program, and into the present Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. 

Ellen joined the GoodLife family in 1984 (then CLO) as a physical therapy consultant, conducting annual resident assessments and working with nursing staff to develop and optimize programming. She retired from clinical work in 2011 and has served in various roles on the GoodLife board ever since. 

“There is a certain kind of person that is drawn to working with individuals with special needs—it is an honor and privilege to spend time with this special community,” shares Ellen. “I continue to dedicate time to GoodLife because improving life for this community is at the core of everything we do.”

Shifting the paradigm of care

Being with GoodLife as long as she has has given Ellen a front-row view to the evolution of the organization’s model. “The breadth and depth of GoodLife’s programs and services—from serving children at NorthStar Academy, to work programs, and professional neighbors—truly shift the paradigm of care across the full spectrum of life. GoodLife is moving forward and diversifying in a time when both services and finances for individuals with I/DD continue to be cut back.”

Most organizations focus on one area, a dot on a line in the life of a senior or a child with special needs. GoodLife looks at the full spectrum of life. “We ask how,” says Ellen. “How do you change and create systems along the continuum to empower folks to function at their maximum and get the greatest joy out of life?”

Life-changing conversations

Ellen’s smile reaches ear to ear as she explains how every lake house conversation is different. “GoodLife has so much to offer that what I talk about changes based on who I’m with,” she says. “One weekend, I told a dear friend about NorthStar Academy because her grandson is on the autism spectrum. Another time, I shared the Neighborhood Network with a guest that would benefit from knowing about senior living. I tell tech-lovers about how iLink supports people to live independently.”

“GoodLife has big dreams for what we want to accomplish, but the ongoing challenge is finding the funding since state and federal funds continue to get reduced,” says Ellen. “Unless you have a loved one that requires the special services we provide, we’re likely not on your radar.” 

Ellen has a passion for GoodLife to be universally known and supported, and she starts with a conversation about a painting and its artist. 

“The work we do is unique, and it’s a gift to watch and be a part of.” 

Join the GoodLife conversation. Get in touch and connect with us today.  We look forward to sharing more about GoodLife.

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