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Excellence in Healthcare Recognition: Wichita Business Journal

Lynlea Southards

Published Friday, July 24, 2020, Wichita Business Journal

Lynlea Southards
Family Support Services Coordinator, Rainbows United Inc.

Why did you choose a career in health care? I have a cousin named Wendy who has Down Syndrome. She is a non-verbal, deaf and has low vision. Being around Wendy and seeing how she enjoys life and impacts those around her has had a huge impact on me growing up and choosing a career of helping others. The dedication and care by my aunt allowed me to see up close how much joy one person could bring to inspire others. 

What is your greatest professional achievement? During the current pandemic situation, it has been vital to provide care for the school-aged children and youth and their families we serve. For many years, Rainbows’ families have relied on a center-based care for their child with special needs during the summer. It is called Camp Woodchuck. Unfortunately, we were not able to bring the kids together in the center for Camp this year due to health concerns and gathering restrictions. 

As an agency, we decided to do in-home services with a Camp focus. It was a big challenge, and a big change for everyone. But we developed the necessary tools for our staff and have been able to provide the kids with a fun, Camp-like experience in their own homes. This arrangement started for many families when school went online and kids began school at home. Having care for a child with special needs is essential and allows parents to work at home and outside the home. It has been a huge achievement to see the needs of families met in a way that allows them to thrive in a safe environment.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career? Providing safe care for the children and families we serve due the Covid-19 pandemic has been my biggest challenge. Summer services include virtual field trips, Skype calls with friends, crafts, outdoor play, walks and more. Making the change to in-home services when plans for a center-based Camp experience were nearly in place took a lot of creative thinking about what families and staff needed and how we could develop solutions to provide safe, quality care. I am proud to say that we have been able to provide a fun, safe Camp-like experience to 58 children and youth (ages 6-21) through the dedication and flexibility of 85 staff members. When families tell me how much it means to them to have a Rainbows’ direct care professional in their home keeping their child safe with fun summer activities, I know it has been worth it and we are all stronger for the experience.

What was the best career decision you ever made? My best career decision is taking the Family Support Services Coordinator position at Rainbows United. Rainbows is an organization that makes a difference for families who have a child with special needs. It is amazing how the services help and impact the whole family. Every day I see or hear how a child was successful in trying something new or accomplishing a goal. We get to celebrate with families when their teenager dances in their wheelchair, learns to shake hands instead of hug everyone (before Covid-19), as well as make friends their own age. It’s a joy when a child learns to advocate and express their own needs, learn a new song from the radio or tell a new joke. I’m also blown away when one of my staff members discovers their passion for the special education field and pursues a career. 

Who was your most important mentor? Debbie Mai, Vice President of Programs and Services, Rainbows United, Inc. She has given me guidance and support to grow as a leader in the Rainbows’ organization. Debbie challenges and supports me in a way that allows me to grow and develop. She supports my ideas and helps shape them to make them better in the end. She asks thoughtful, insightful questions that help me be a better supervisor.

What is the best advice you would give to someone considering a career in health care? Follow your heart and take care of yourself. When you take care of yourself, it will give you the strength to care for others with all your heart.

Are you involved in the community? My passion is the special needs community. I enjoy being a part of Special Olympics. Watching the kids and youth grow, achieve and inspire others is life changing.

What do you like to do in your spare time? In my spare time, I spend time with my family. We enjoying playing board games and going to sporting events together.