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Seniors Resource Center

Seniors’ Resource Center leader retires from post

John Zabawa leaves agency after 36 fulfilling years


A couple of morning hours spent watching birds in a nearby city park. Gardening in the afternoon. A brief conversation in the evening to hear about one’s day.

“The small things in life can provide much enjoyment,” said John Zabawa. “As you get older, your world can shrink. Providing even a little bit of support can go a long way.”

Zabawa, 66, is retiring from his role as president and CEO of the Seniors’ Resource Center on Aug. 31.

Monica Roers, with more than 20 years of experience in leadership roles with nonprofit organizations, assumed Zabawa’s position on July 11.

“I’m proud to be a part of the growth and development of this organization,” Zabawa said, adding the collaborative efforts of staff, the board, volunteers and senior clients has provided him with a sense of fulfillment. “Together, we have an impact on thousands of lives.”

The Seniors’ Resource Center is a nonprofit provider of information, services and advocacy for seniors. Its programs and services, which are designed to help seniors remain independent and living in their own homes, extend to 10 counties in the Denver metro area.

“I don’t think John will ever stop advocating, guiding and advising on senior issues,” said Lynn Johnson, the executive director of Jefferson County Human Services. “He knows that there is still a huge unmet need. His heart and his wisdom guide his actions and he is truly a servant for this population.”

The Seniors’ Resource Center is governed by a volunteer board of directors, and its staff and hundreds of community volunteers work with seniors on everything from transportation to home repair to simply being a friend to an aging adult.

Zabawa “has been the head of this family for so long,” said Kathleen Stapleton, former chair and current board member.

He empowered people, she added.

There have been times when a volunteer or staff member approached her and mentioned they didn’t feel they were qualified to do the task they were given, Stapleton said.

“But he (Zabawa) always believed in them,” Stapleton said. “That’s very important in life. Many times, we don’t recognize our attributes. But John is very capable of seeing them in others.”

Zabawa plans on traveling, spending time with friends and family and reconnecting with the Evergreen community, he said, where he and his wife of 45 years, Linda, raised three daughters in their home that sits on a couple of acres. Zabawa and Linda were high school sweethearts, and the two moved to Colorado from Indiana in the fall of 1972 — a few months after they married.

“Because of her support, I’ve been able to do my life’s passion,” Zabawa said of his wife. “Chances are, I’ll be around supporting the organization in any way that I can. After 36 years, it will be hard to stay away.”

Zabawa started with the Seniors’ Resource Center as a program coordinator in June 1981 at the center’s Evergreen location. He was later offered a director position with a focus on operations for that location, then, in 1986, he became its director of development. In 1990, he assumed the role of president and CEO, and oversaw all four Seniors’ Resource Center locations — Evergreen, Wheat Ridge, The Starr Center in Lakewood and the southwest location in south Jeffco west of Littleton.

“He’s a visionary who cares,” said Harriet Hall, the CEO for the Jefferson Center for Mental Health. “He’s a well-rounded person who cares about the things that make life special. It’s in every fiber of his being that he will continue to contribute to the community.”

Zabawa’s strength of vision for how and why to serve seniors is his strongest personal and professional asset, said Deborah Brackney, chair of the Seniors’ Resource Center’s board of directors.

“He knows that seniors need a variety of services, so he set about leading an organization that could offer a continuum of services,” Brackney said. “And when the Seniors’ Resource Center didn’t offer a service, (Zabawa) partnered with another organization to make sure the whole need of the senior’s issue was addressed.”

One example, Brackney said, is a new program called A Perfect Homecoming, which is a partnership between the Seniors’ Resource Center and Exempla Lutheran Medical Center. With this program, the hospital alerts the center about a senior being discharged, then the Seniors’ Resource Center steps in to help the senior in whatever way he or she may need.

The purpose is to prevent re-admittance to the hospital, Brackney said.

But “the reason it’s such a big win is because it helps hospitals and individuals save money, and allows seniors to stay healthy and in their homes,” she said.

Grant Wicklund, the president and CEO of Lutheran Medical Center, says that under Zabawa’s leadership the partnership with the Seniors’ Resource Center has helped Exempla Lutheran Medical Center better serve the healthcare needs of Jefferson County’s senior residents.

“It’s been an honor to partner with the Seniors’ Resource Center over the years. Together, we’ve implemented some resourceful and successful programs,” Wicklund said, “setting the standard for how to care for vulnerable seniors.”

Zabawa has been a driving force for the growth of the Seniors’ Resource Center, said Rita Peterson who has served on the board since 1982, but even past his retirement, there’s no doubt he will continue making a difference for the senior community.

“Because of his vision and caring for seniors, plus his expertise,” Peterson said, “I’m sure he will be called on in the future.”

In fact, in April, Zabawa was appointed to the governor’s Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging — a volunteer position — and he will stay in this role until the term ends in August 2018.

“I’ve always loved seniors,” Zabawa said. “I’ve just always been fascinated with the stories they have to tell.”

Zabawa grew up in Indiana, and was raised in a neighborhood with a lot of seniors. He enjoyed spending time with his senior neighbors, he said, and would often help them run errands to the grocery store, mow their lawns or spend the afternoon playing cards with them.

Through his life’s work with seniors, Zabawa has seen thousands of friendships being formed, and has had the opportunity to meet a lot of seniors who inspired him, he said.

“They’ve kept a positive outlook on life to experience another day,” Zabawa said. “Getting older is not for the faint of heart. But a secret is to have the ability to face life’s challenges, and get up with a positive attitude and look forward to new adventures.”


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