‘A Little While’ Becomes 40-Year Career
When Sally Montgomery, Executive Director of Mosaic in Northern Colorado, first came to work at Mosaic (then known as Martin Luther Homes), the mother of a 10-year-old boy she supported in a group home contacted her regularly.
“She was one of those moms who schooled me early on,” Sally said. “She would be so candid with me about what it was like to be a mom of a kid with a disability.”
Now, 40 years later, Sally still hears from that mom.
“I just adore hearing her voice when she calls. I have watched her son grow up from a goofy 10-year-old into the man he is today.”
In that same timeframe, Sally went from being a recent college graduate to becoming a seasoned leader. She went from being somewhat new to the field of working to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to being someone who shapes the future of how those supports can change to better serve people.
Her career began August 17, 1982 at a group home in Fort Collins, Colorado that served eight young children. A few years earlier Martin Luther Homes had been invited to open homes in Colorado as deinstitutionalization of people with IDD began across the nation.
Sally has a degree in social work, and she had followed her sister to Colorado from their native Illinois. What she found was a “town full of social workers,” so she wasn’t able to get the job she wanted working with teenagers. After about eight months, she instead took a job with Martin Luther Homes.
“When I came to work, I thought, ‘I’ll just do it for a little while,’” she said.
Even new to the job, Sally felt they could do better than following a medical model of service for the children. So, she found ways she could change things–something she has continued throughout her career.
“It was very different back then,” she said. “We had to wear smocks, and they had little pockets in them for a pen and paper, etc. I hated the smocks and would never wear them. I got written up quite a bit for that.” Instead of the orthopedic shoes she was told to purchase for children, she would buy the kind of shoes kids wanted to wear instead.
Then, as today, Sally was “always thinking about how we get to that next piece” to serve people in better ways.
Like most people who spend 40 years at the same organization, Sally has sat in different “seats on the bus,” but she says the Executive Director position is where she excels.
“It is my favorite seat in the organization,” she said. “I feel it is a real gift to be a leader at the agency level. Somedays, it feels like you don’t have a lot of choice in the direction that Mosaic goes, but you have a lot of choice in how you implement it and lead it and make it come to life.”
She’s used her leadership skills to get some teams through tough times. Sally has been a “go-to” for Mosaic to serve as an interim Executive Director in locations across the country. While it can be exhausting, she said, it is alway quite satisfying to help a team figure out what the problems are and find a way to move forward. In one out-of-state location, Sally traveled back and forth from her home for seven months until a new leader was in place. She’s also been a mentor, coaching new leaders in different Mosaic locations.
But the two things most gratifying in her career, she said, revolve around people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and the services they receive. One was the “impactful” decision to close the Mosaic group homes in Northern Colorado and move all residential services to the shared living (host home) model.
More recently, she’s been pleased to see legislative changes laying the foundation for a better future for services in the state. Those were the outcome of a statewide project about systems change Sally led for Colorado’s disability services provider network, Alliance of Colorado. Through numerous focus groups, she was “blown away” by what she heard.
“It gave me such a better understanding of why families can be combative,” she said. “They have to fight to get what they need for their family member.”
Key for Sally’s leadership and the way she works with others is her belief in being encouraging.
“If I could choose a title, I’d be the encouragement director. You really get like 110% or 150% when you recognize their strengths and give them a chance to use them,” Sally said. “I am always amazed at what hard work and encouragement can do for the people we support, the staff and for me.