GoodLife’s dedicated staff are the backbone of our organization so we love highlighting their stories and sharing their passions. This month we were excited to connect with Ivo Ivanov, a valuable member of our marketing team and GoodLife’s go-to for all things multimedia.
Ivo, how long have you been with GoodLife, and how did you come to join the team?
I joined GoodLife (then CLO) in February, 1993 while working on my Master’s degree at the University of Kansas. At the time, the organization was much smaller and focused almost entirely on more traditional residential services. My first encounter with the organization was at the Checker’s grocery store where I saw a small group of shoppers served by GoodLife. I was immediately impressed by how independent, confident, and happy they were. As I waited in the checkout line I struck up a conversation with their teacher and she gave me a quick overview of how the organization works to achieve its mission. Right then and there I realized how closely GoodLife’s philosophy is aligned with my personal values. A week later I applied for a direct support professional (DSP) position and became part of the team. On day one, I knew I had found not just a job and not just a career, but a life path and a family.
Tell us a bit about your previous work experience. What drew you from your previous passions to GoodLife?
Before starting at GoodLife, I had been mostly a college student. I played basketball in college and, before arriving in the United States, I also had experience coaching basketball. My work experience was as a journalist in television and print media. I wrote articles for several popular east-european newspapers and magazines in my home-country of Bulgaria. I also had two years of service in the military, which at the time was mandatory. In the army I was a medic, which required one year of intensive and very demanding training.
In 1999, my background in sports, technology, and non-linear video editing led me to a company called ARK Digital Technologies. In 2000-2001, I helped them create video and multimedia content, which was commissioned by the sports apparel giant Wilson.
While working with GoodLife, I continued to produce media content and advanced my parallel career in journalism in Bulgaria. Occasionally, I published pieces in the Kansas City Star. In 2008 I participated in an essay contest which granted me a year-long column in the KC Star. For 10 years I had a regular radio segment each Saturday on KLWN. In addition, I have coached high school basketball and for the last 16 years I’ve also been the head soccer coach at Bishop Seabury Academy High School.
In the last two decades I’ve published three bestselling books in Bulgaria. I also have a segment on a popular Bulgarian TV show called “120 Minutes”.
Many of my stories are informed by my experiences at GoodLife and frankly a lot of my successes as an author are due to a philosophy shaped by being around the incredible people of this organization.
Being a direct service provider was the most meaningful work of my life.
You’ve been such an important figure at GoodLife for so many years and in many different positions. What has kept you working with GoodLife?
For the first seven years of my employment at GoodLife, I was a DSP. This was an extremely rewarding experience and, to this day, I believe being a direct service provider was the most meaningful work of my life. I feel a profound, organic connection with the men and women served by GoodLife and truly, everything else I do is illuminated by this bond.
Throughout the years, I’ve tried to help the organization in any way I could. I started the marketing department, managed our public relations, wrote various grants, raised funds, designed brochures, posters, flyers, billboards, benches, logos, newsletters, vehicle wraps, and other publications. I also organized campaigns and celebrations, created our first websites, and developed our social media presence, advertisement, and recruitment. In addition, I started our email campaigns, did radio and television promotions, and engaged coverage of our mission by print media such as KC Star and the Lawrence Journal World. In 2002, I began producing GoodLife videos and before the age of online streaming, we authored and proliferated thousands of GoodLife DVDs across the country. Since the very beginning, photography has been an important part of my job description and I have compiled a vast library of images to support our advertising efforts and provide us with a permanent visual narrative of our impressive history.
Working at GoodLife has become my life’s mission and my most important legacy. It has given me the opportunity to be creative, apply my skills to actually help people, and contribute in a tangible manner to a better society.
Tell us a bit about your position now. What are you working on?
Currently, I am mostly involved with producing video content, which is an area that has grown and become extremely important to our marketing and outreach efforts. We are in the midst of expanding our services and evolving our models. In the digital age, we cannot achieve our ambitious and much-needed goals without high-quality video materials, interviews, animations, etc. There are multiple projects I am working on right now with the help of our marketing team, which I’m glad to say has grown. I am also continuing to expand our photo library and I am helping whenever needed with multimedia, web-content, and collateral.
What do you enjoy most about your work with GoodLife?
The highlight of my work is being around the men and women served by GoodLife. Capturing their smiles, their successes, their growth with my camera is a privilege and an endless source of pure joy.
What impact have GoodLife’s programs and initiatives had on your life and those in your family?
My life has been influenced in so many ways by GoodLife. I have decades-long friendships both with GoodLife colleagues and with the people we serve. The Douglas County Neighborhood Network is close to my home and I often visit some of my friends living there. This place is in a way an extension of my home. I sometimes spend time with a couple of friends at Neighborhood Network watching sports, talking, and hanging out. This has become an important stress-relief routine for me. My children are now adults but they grew up around the men and women of GoodLife. Today they are smart, kind, sensitive, and caring human beings and attribute a lot of those character traits to the culture of inclusion and compassion that is built into the very foundation of GoodLife. My brother-in-law is a Shared Living provider and, when he had to spend months in the hospital, we stepped in to provide natural support and replace him as a Shared Living family. These were incredibly important months as they strengthened our family and gave us and our kids invaluable experiences and lessons in life.
What is unique about working with GoodLife?
I’ve visited and spent time with other programs around the country but nothing is quite like GoodLife. Of course, there are many unique features of the organization, but I believe the one thing that sets it apart is our constant movement forward. GoodLife is never static – never happy with the status quo. The engine of GoodLife is an insatiable desire for service improvement, refinement, and growth and this velocity towards progress is so powerful that it has made “GoodLife Innovations” one-of-a-kind.
I believe that for many years, GoodLife has been writing the roadmap for everybody else.
Why are GoodLife’s outreach initiatives important?
Technology has transformed the world but most organizations providing services to people with disabilities have been slow to follow. In a changing and turbulent world, shaken by inflation, pandemics, stagnant funding, and volatility, innovation becomes imperative. When many service providers around the country struggle and lower their standards, GoodLife actually improves the lives of residents and employees by confronting challenges with new approaches and imagination. When traveling in a new world, one is bound to lose their way without a roadmap. I believe that for many years, GoodLife has been writing the roadmap for everybody else.
What are you looking forward to in the coming months?
I am looking forward to interviewing employees and clients of GoodLife and learning more of their amazing stories. There are several exciting projects on my schedule and I cannot wait to tackle them! Technology is moving forward and there are new iLink features that I am excited about. In addition, I am looking forward to the new home for offices and technology in Lenexa, which should better accommodate our evolving mission.
Be sure to stay up to date with all that GoodLife has going on by subscribing to our monthly e-newsletter and if you’re looking for an opportunity to join our team, we’d love to hear from you. We’d be happy to help you find a career path at GoodLife that fits your individual interests and passions—just like Ivo did.