Most of us address developmental, intellectual, and mental challenges within the family as they come along, and that's why most of us are unaware of what to do until it's too late. Therefore, Katie Burpo dedicates herself and her team at Goldstar Learning Options to offer the most effective life intervention programs from childhood all the way to adulthood. She joins Bob Roark and cohost Jaime Zawmon in sharing the story of how her company started because of a small childhood dream and how they connect with the varying needs of every client, particularly in this challenging time of the pandemic.
We have Jaime Zawmon. She is the Founder and President of TITAN CEO. She is co-hosting on this special series where we interview the TITAN 100. We have as our guest, Katie Burpo. She is the CEO and Founder of GoldStar Learning Options. Jaime and Katie, thanks for taking the time. Katie, we’ll jump straight into it. Tell us a bit about your business and who you serve.
GoldStar Learning Options is an agency for individuals with developmental, intellectual, and mental health needs. What that means is we have a multitude of services and what makes GoldStar a little bit unique is we offer lifespan services. That's from birth through adulthood and that's for families to be able to access through all transitions of life, intervention for behavior, educational, academic, social, emotional support, community intervention, vocational training, and finding a purpose in life for all these kids and adults.
All I can think of is from here to here, that's like an 80-year time span or it can be. I think about the challenge of families that are faced with developmental issues and how they find resources and informed experts to help them on their journey. That’s fascinating because what I usually hear about is specific applications on narrow sectors have a learning disability, you have this, you have that, they serve that part and they don't do the lifespan issues. Well done.
I know that she mentioned to me that they hired one of their students.
He was the first individual who inspired me to add services where they're needed and how they need to be delivered. We have many different examples of individuals, but one powerful moment is when I received a job application from one of our participants in our program, and it has been inspiring and a true demonstration of what real services look like to excel in life and find purpose throughout the life.
I think about drinking your own Kool-Aid and you have a student that comes out of what you do and says, not only that, but they're employed here too. We walk the talk and that’s incredibly important.
[bctt tweet=”Success requires you to keep moving forward and dedicated to your passion and mission.” via=”no”]
It's a great testament to what you do. That's why I wanted to brag on you.
We're going to find it's easy to brag on you. We'll embarrass you if we can. Jaime, she's a TITAN 100.
She is a 2020 TITAN 100. We are excited to include Katie in this list. I've got a copy of the TITAN 100 book here, which I am showcasing. Katie is featured inside this book, recognizing Colorado's Top 100 CEOs and C-level Executives 100 TITANS of Industry. Katie is doing amazing things in her industry, which makes her a TITAN. Katie, as we kick off things, I always like to ask every TITAN 100 that comes on to this show, what characteristics do you believe it takes to be considered a TITAN of the industry?
I'm truly honored to be included in this group and inspired by how you have supported a lot of the Titans that I have come to pass, and to be included in that group does make you reflect. I love when you ask this question because every time it makes you dive into yourself and look at the people that surround you. Passion and vision stand out so huge with the Titans that everyone has a story and being able to drive that forward and keeping that sense of self to keep that passion. There's a reason why we're here.
Dedication and determination are necessary to be a TITAN. You have to keep moving forward and dedicated to what that passion is, what your mission is, why you're still here. Adaptability is a big theme. A lot of Titans have commented on being flexible, adaptable, and that has to happen in business altogether. Especially in 2020, it's more important now than ever. It truly resonates with the Titans on how they've implemented that. One huge thing, especially to Jaime’s credit, keep growing, surround yourself with the people that are going to help you grow, and give yourself a chance. When you surround yourself with those people, you reignite the fire and that's what Titan does.
Jaime, we were talking about rekindling the fire before the episode. The fire's burning down a little bit. We’ve got to figure out how to stoke the fire a little bit. Katie, one of the things always fascinating is the story, how did you get from there to here? What drove you or motivated you to take in and start the GoldStar Learning Options company?
[caption id="attachment_5707" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Life Intervention: It's not your responsibility to fix everything. It's your responsibility to help identify what the vision is.[/caption]
I don't deviate when I get an idea, I don't move away from it. In second grade, my sister who has Angelman syndrome. She has highly impacted developmental disabilities. It was interesting for my family. She didn't have a diagnosis. It’s just global developmental delay, it might be autism, it might not be autism. It's not autism. We're not quite sure where to help her. In second grade, she had some troubles accessing her speech therapy without me. I would go with her and that's when I decided I will be a speech therapist, “This is what I want to do. I love the language. That's what I'm going to do.” Everything that I did, moving forward, was helping my sister. She truly was my inspiration to even start out. Going to school in college, I continued on my path, continued on my journey all the while working with my sister, Missy.
She is now almost 32 years old. She has many quirky little behaviors and has truly led me to that it's not an option to ever fail. I can never fail her. There were no options for my family. Our therapy looked like the dining room table on Sundays and going through our schedules, “Who's going to care for her? Who's going to help her? Why does she say things this way? Why does it take three hours to go to bed?” We identified that she doesn't use her tongue. That was fun balancing out. Those were our conversations growing up and it was all about Missy. She was the center, she was our world and she had to be. We had to pull together. For families to not have any resources or options, it was a struggle and we made it work.
We have a fantastic family. Missy is unbelievably awesome. As I finished college, I started working in the behavioral field that was through college. As I graduated and thinking about how closely related communication, functional communication, and speech therapy were related to the behavior world. Several years going through that, I entered the school districts to become a speech therapist and it doesn't look like it does in my head. It was a lot of paperwork. You would see kiddos 20 or 15 minutes here or whatever's in their IEP, there was a lot of restriction and limitations on communication with the families and how you can support the families and how excited you are to tell the family something about some success, but you have to wait for the appropriate meeting to do so. You have emails to and from, but I wanted to be with the kids. I wanted to make a difference.
Speech therapy didn't look like it did in my head in second grade. It was glorified. I went back to private practice and looking at home-based speech therapy. That was working with individuals. Behavior is such a huge component. I moved away from the home services because I can see one kid here is about 5 to 7 kiddos, a day, a lot of driving. It was a lot of help with the parents on, “How am I going to do this? How am I going to get them to OT?” The OT won't come here anymore, “Will the ABA therapist going to come? They have to switch their days.” It was a lot of helping the families through it. As individuals are aging out and we saw this personally with my family, when they're turning 15 or 16, where are they going to go? Parents are starting all over again. We keep moving.
I worked as a director of a behavior agency, and it still wasn't hitting the mark. There were a lot of pediatrics and kids had to transition out as they were going into adolescence. It leaves us to how do we help our families, and bringing them to the clinic wasn't working. I started GoldStar Learning Options to try to address the problem. What's the problem? How are we going to fix it? I was going to start with a small caseload for me and my family so I could get back to my passion and make a difference. I'm only one person and the way that therapy started being talked about, it was working, it was extremely beneficial and supportive to families. It was bringing moms and dads back to work again because they had support, intervention and their kids were growing, and here we are now.
I think about all the things that weren't said as you were going through that, the 504 issues, the mainstreaming in schools, parents do oftentimes have to work for a living, oddly enough, the change of the regulations mid stream that used to work in 2019. It doesn't work in 2020. You're at your limit in 2020 and on and on. I think about trying to take and get these kids the help that they require to make a difference in their lives, let them live up to their potential. All of those things that you talk about in your journey, and a lot of the things that you don't talk about, people that haven't traveled that path, it's hard for them to understand the challenges and interruptions. The kids over here going, I don't understand. It’s tough stuff.
[bctt tweet="It's okay if things don't go the way they're supposed to. Expect everything to fail." via="no"]
I'm blessed that it didn't look like you thought it did in your head, because if it had, we wouldn't have GoldStar Learning Options which you found it in 2011. You told us about how you founded it and why, the passion and everything that drove you, but the employee base that you have now, the number of families that you serve, paint a picture for the readers of what you've been able to build GoldStar.
Being in every role that I can think of that impacts this group, it is part of adding individuals across the spectrum. Some of those in-between kids that maybe don't qualify for the IEP, but you get the 504. It's the fighting and working towards some of the things that are going to help your kid when you don't know all the options that are out there. Being a sister and a family member, moving into clinics, seeing the behavior world, being part of the parent group now. My son has a sensory processing disorder and anxiety disorder. Now I'm added with the parents that can't find the balance of, “It's not severe enough to qualify for X, Y, Z.”
How do you get all of these individuals’ help? We have individuals with ADHD, high impacted autism. We have a dual diagnosis, mental health, dual diagnosis mental health, deaf program. We have our little learner’s program which has changed exponentially what school looks like for kids going into kindergarten with a true behavior-based and communication-based, little learner program and all the way through our adult program where we have our vocational route, our volunteer route, and our community purpose route, and our adult program is called Living With Purpose.
How many families do you serve across the state?
We have 153. Several on the waitlist and we serve from Longmont to Castle Rock. We have families all over. We have employees all over, passionate employees that are here for a reason and across the spectrum of disabilities needs, wants, and schedules.
You've learned a lot along the way as you've navigated things and more than most businesses have to learn to navigate. If you could go back ten plus years at this point of experience and offer your less-experienced self advice about leading or building GoldStar Learning Options, what advice would you offer yourself and why?
[caption id="attachment_5708" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Life Intervention: Working on yourself and your business is so important rather than just working in it day to day.[/caption]
That it's okay when everything doesn't look like it's supposed to the premise and expects. Expect things to go arrive, to go wrong. Expect to fail. I think that not taking it in word and getting to an obsessive place of, “How am I going to fix this? I'm going to fix everything.” It's become more of a, “That didn't work,” situation. Building and leading the team, it's not up to me to fix everything. It's about guiding, supporting, and empowering your team because that's how you get your mission and your vision forward that when they feel confident, when they know what to do, when you can empower your team to help you, everybody works towards the same goal.
It's not my responsibility to fix everything. It's my responsibility to help identify what the vision is, why maybe something failed and it's okay that it failed because failure only happens when you completely give up. That's not an option for me. It's become not an option for my team and that has proven time and time again, through 2020 on their perseverance and dedication to what we do, who we serve, and why to keep going forward. Don't take the time to try to make something how it should look or what your expectation. Expect it not to look right.
I think about the iterative lesson when you work with a kid that comes in and the people go, “We don't know, but this is what we see.” You go, “We may have seen this and that. You may get like a new variable.” We go, “We thought it was this, but after iterating and working with this kid, now we see that there's a dose of salt over here, a little bit of pepper over here, a little different recipe for this kid.” You iterate your regimen for this kid based on observation and adjustment.
The kid seems to blossom under this particular issue or protocol. For the business, I'm going to shift a little bit from one of the things I wanted to ask you is, in 2020 with all of the COVID issues, it seems like it's been an accelerant for adjustment to whatever this might be is the new normal. Would you like to comment on what you guys are doing given you've been issued the variable COVID restrictions and capabilities for your team and how you serve?
The biggest thing is we had many conversations and gaining questions. I asked many employees because I, myself needed to help guide around what's essential, who is essential, who gets that golden ticket. That was painful for my entire staff and for myself because the answer is they all are, everyone needs help. Everyone needs services and going through and thinking about how many families are not going to have options when everybody's pulled home. These family members are not used to spending the day in, day out with their kids. Some of them are highly impacted. School support now were limited on being able to have home visits. Trying to follow that along and adding individuals, but we have such an incredible innovative team that resonated with their passion. We have created outdoor programs, especially in the summertime.
That's the biggest time where we almost double in our family supports in terms of clientele. Summer was canceled and we had to pivot a little bit. We had front yard activities. We have some of our employees who created social groups and social games, via Telehealth. We had a lot of families thinking, “That's not going to work. The computer is not going to work. Telehealth is not going to work. You're not going to make progress.” What we have discovered is that interesting environment, we have some individuals that their entire program changed and they're thriving. This new platform is working for them. We wouldn't have known that if it wasn't for COVID, but we had to look at the entire caseload, all of our families and there were individuals who were essential if we did not provide in-person services, the physical impact on families would have been dire.
[bctt tweet="Failure only happens when you completely give up." via="no"]
We had a 25% capacity of people coming to the office and clinic space. We had our little learner program because those are little bitty guys that you interrupt those services, then it's going to be a challenge. We had some of our adults who either their caregivers were essential themselves and they have to have somewhere to go, or if they didn't have continued consistency, it would be dire for their caregivers. Balancing out who's essential and who is not is painful. The entire GoldStar team inspired me as well. I spent a lot of my time empowering them and helping to remind them that this is not forever. “This is today. We'll get through it. Let's control what we can control and we will get through this,” and keeping them motivated.
A lot of learning through adversity, you are a positive beacon for you and your team. It's incredible to hear all of the positives that you're mentioning as a result of all the adversity that you've continued to face, which is inspirational. How do you find the motivation to stay positive? Is there a quote that you find meaningful or something that you use to channel positivity?
It doesn't necessarily channel the positivity, but it inspires for the now. It has been interesting where the now comes in, that many things have been left on done. To your credit, Jaime, it's working on yourself and working on the business is important rather than working in it day-to-day. That's something that's huge. One big thing that showed up through COVID is a quote by George Herbert, which is a poet in the 1600s. He has a lot of good little gems. One is, “Do not wait. The time will never be right. Start where you stand and work with whatever tools you may have at your command and better tools will be found as you go along.” Working with that is inspirational that the theme is, “Act now. Now is the time.” You can hem and haw over it and you can leave it in the discussion world for however long but, “The time is now. Rip the Band-aid off. We got to do it now. Take action.” That's something that keeps things moving forward.
There are a lot of Band-aids being replaced in this environment for sure. How do people find you on social media?
On social media we are @GoldStarLearningOptions and I am @KatieSvihlikBurpo on Facebook. We have @GoldStarLearn at Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. We work alongside a foundation to help us get a permanent facility called Infinity Foundations. Our links can be found on Infinity Foundation also, and that's InfinityColorado.org and the GoldStar is GSLOInc.com.
At some point in time, we're going to iterate past what we've been issued with COVID. What do you see in the future for GoldStar and going forward from here?
[caption id="attachment_5709" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Life Intervention: Always empower your people. Let them know you can overcome any challenge.[/caption]
It is important and it has shown up loud and proud now how important it is to gain a functional and accessible facility for our participants, for GoldStar, for our families, to be able to access a multitude of services. We have limited and restricted in our space. With our partnership with Infinity Foundation, we are looking to gain a permanent facility that we can adapt and create our programs without the limitations of the warehouse environment and feel that where we are right now and having an outdoor space. It is important, even if our new normal is COVID, we were still limited on what we could provide families and some families needed their kiddos out of the house where we take them, how we can help serve them is huge.
Being able to other interventionists come in and work with GoldStar and be a team. We need a permanent facility that we are not moving from every other year. In ten years, we've moved five times to larger spaces, and it's not functional. It's not handicap accessible. It's hard on our employees and on our kiddos. Our big hopes, our big dream is to gain a community setting that is a permanent setting for everybody, so that we can expand and make this program what it's meant to do. Hopefully, we have big dreams, big hopes with Infinity Foundation to help us get there and make it happen.
You will get there. I'm excited that we'll do another show in some time and all of this future talk will now be past tense. We'll be talking about all the big successes that GoldStar has had.
Congrats on being a TITAN 100. It’s clear, Jaime, as to why. I get it. I love the passion and commitment to providing solutions to these families and these kiddos. It's inspiring to see. Thank you for taking time out to visit with us and tell us about your company and your efforts. Jaime, you’ve got anything to close with?
If you want to learn more about Katie and the rest of our Titans, you can visit www.Titan100.biz. You can read more about Katie’s story in her profile right on our website. You can also download a copy of the book and see the entire electronic version online. It's free to download and read more stories from all of our inspirational Titans here in the Colorado Metropolitan Area. Katie, thank you for being here with us. You're awesome. I love what you do. You are an inspiration to everyone in this community and we're excited to champion what you do and where you're taking GoldStar Learning Options.
Thank you, Bob and Jaime. This has been great and I'm inspired by both of you. Thank you for your time.
TITAN (definition) A titan is an extremely important person. Albert Einstein was a titan in the world of science. The noun titan comes from Greek mythology, in which the Titans were a race of gods. Today, a titan is someone who is powerful and influential in a certain field. Shakespeare was a titan of literature, Wayne Gretzky was a titan of hockey, and The Beatles were titans of music. Titan CEO brings CEO's together through private events and round-tables. Through our community, we aim to work with CEO's to help them grow to be the Titan's of their industry. We work with CEO's in the Greater Denver metro in a variety of industries
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