July 18, 2019

Valiant Living looks within for executive director - Daily Leader Extra : Top Stories

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Valiant Living looks within for executive director

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Posted: Friday, May 3, 2019 3:19 pm

Sometimes icy roads are simply a nightmare. At other times, they are -- indirectly -- an avenue for a new career.

For Donna Uthe, the latter proved to be the case more than 20 years ago. She was working in Sioux Falls, commuting from Madison and leaving her husband with their children's morning routine.

"I was missing out on so much with our kids," Uthe recalled.

Then poor road conditions intervened. She slid into the ditch and took off the rest of the day to do some job hunting. That experience was the incentive she needed to make a change.

Uthe accepted a position with the organization now known as Valiant Living. She started at the front desk, moved up to business office assistant and then to the position of office manager before taking over as director of operations.

At the beginning of April, after more than 20 years with the organization, she took over the reins as executive director. Prior to that, she had been serving on an interim basis, because the previous director, Jennifer Larson, had resigned.

Like former Executive Director Vicki Kommes, who also worked her way up through the ranks and retired last year, Uthe is committed to the organization.

"I'm not planning on going anywhere," she said.

Uthe said she has always enjoyed working with people with disabilities.

"You can be having the most horrible day and they just put a smile on your face," she said. "They brighten my life."

Uthe believes most people have in their lives someone with a disability. She, personally, lost a sister who was born with cerebral palsy. Her understanding that each client is part of a family shapes her vision of the organization's mission.

"I want what is best for the people we support," she explained.

Valiant Living is a nonprofit committed to helping people with developmental disabilities share their talents, skills and dreams with the Madison community. The organization's services include employment training and independent and supported living.

"We want people to blend into the community," Uthe said.

Currently, the organization supports 60 clients with a staff of 70. One of the greatest challenges faced by Valiant Living is one shared by other employers in the Madison community: finding workers. Uthe said they need staff with a heart for working with the developmentally disabled.

"We need staff who are going to take the best care of them and assist them in their daily lives," she explained.

Uthe said she didn't apply for the position of executive director when Kommes retired. At that time, she didn't feel she was the appropriate person for the position.

"There's no way I could have filled her shoes," Uthe said. "There was never a greater advocate for the people supported."

However, a year later, she sees the move as "the next and last step" in her career. Having served as director of operations, she has both supervised staff and represented the organization.

"In that position, you deal with the public a lot. You represent Valiant Living," Uthe said.

She does not anticipate making any major changes. She believes she is "surrounded by good people."

No major building projects are planned. The nonprofit's contract with the city for recycling will continue to provide both revenue for the organization and employment for clients.

She does, however, anticipate one change in her own schedule with her new position.

"I'm looking forward to spending more time with the people we support and to looking out for them," she said.

Uthe's husband Keith also works in Madison. They have two grown daughters and three grandchildren.

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