Happy retirement, Julie Fodor!

Happy retirement, Julie Fodor!

Happy retirement, Julie Fodor!

This June, we’re bidding farewell to CDHD Director, Dr Julie Fodor as she embarks on her retirement. Julie’s last day is June 21, and after 31 years of dedicated and outstanding service, we think she’s earned it!

Julie started her time at the CDHD in 1993 as the Interdisciplinary Training Coordinator. She finishes as a regarded, awarded and respected leader within the field – both in Idaho and nationally.

Before her final day, we sat down together to reflect on her time and the many successes of the Center.

Thank you for your time, Julie. We’ll jump right into the questions. What year did you start at the CDHD?

Julie: It was the end of August 1993. I was hired as the Interdisciplinary Training Coordinator. Since I wasn’t really sure what the Interdisciplinary Training Coordinator did … what seemed to be most important was to stimulate growth at the Center.

During my first year I sat in what was called the ‘bull pen’ in a windowless office and wrote grants. That is how we funded the first Idaho Positive Behavioral Supports Project and the Family Support Project. Both turned into longstanding state initiatives.

I also wrote an initial career award research grant on treating aggression in young children as a follow-up to my dissertation, which we ran for three years.

What drew you to the CDHD, or the position at the CDHD?

Julie:  During my master’s and doctoral experiences at Utah State University, I was a student trainee at the UCEDD there. After my doctorate, I joined the faculty at the  University of Nevada UCEDD.  When my husband was hired as faculty in the College of Education, I was given the position in the Idaho UCEDD as a spousal accommodation.  

The Interdisciplinary Training Coordinator position?

Julie: Yes, as the Interdisciplinary Training Coordinator. A year later, I applied for  a tenure track faculty position at the university in Flagstaff. It was a joint position in the UCEDD there and the early childhood program in the College of Education. I was offered the position, but eventually turned it down because Dale Gentry, the University of Idaho College of Education Dean at the time, and Lee Parks, the Idaho UCEDD Director, offered me the Associate Director position at the CDHD. At the time, with our two young children we felt like the move was just too much, so we stayed.

What year did you become the Director of the CDHD?

Julie: Unofficially, I think it was in 1997 or 98 when Lee Parks left the position. And then, after two failed searches, I finally applied for it on the third search. I was the candidate of choice, which was nice. It was important, I think to go through the search process and compete for the position.

Oh! It’s always so interesting to hear the history of how these things come about.

Julie: Yes, it is interesting how it came about. I certainly was not trained to be an administrator. I was trained to be a researcher.  I think because I was trained at a UCEDD, I valued the varied role. I understood that a tenure track faculty position was where most people wanted to go, but I loved the notion of being able to work in the world and support people with disabilities – to do training and outreach in the state as well participating as a faculty member on campus. So, for me, working at the UCEDD offered the best of both worlds.

It was a perfect opportunity! And what was your vision for the CDHD?

Julie:  When I applied for this position, I thought long and hard about what the purpose of UCEDDs is. I used that framework to set up my vision for the Center.

My vision was of the  UCEDD acronym:

The U was for “useful”. Initially, I saw a lot of division between the College and Center. I tried to turn that around by asking, “how can we  be useful to the College, the University, the state, nation, and ultimately to the population of people we served?  I  wanted the UCEDD to be useful in providing training, research and service around the disability community, their families and other underrepresented populations. I wanted to be useful to the College by offering to teach classes as part of our UCEDD role. Similarly, I wanted to be useful to the University, through building a meaningful statewide and national reputation.

The C was for “Collaboration”  and “Caring”.  In being useful, we had to also be a caring community of people who understood the lives of people with disabilities and their families. We were therefore trying to impact change (in that way) through partnerships and collaboration with other faculty, state entities and our national association and other organizations.

The E was for “evidence-based”. It was important to work less from an emotional place and more from an evidence-based place. To be useful to the state, all of our services, outreach training, technical assistance, teaching and research  had to be informed through research evidence. That was the promise.

The first D was for “data-driven” and the final D was for “we’re all about disabilities”. That’s who we serve. The reason UCEDDs exist is to help people with disabilities, families and people at risk to “live the lives they choose” . We should continually view our work through that lens by asking, “Are we serving people with disabilities and their families? Are they at the forefront of decisions? Are people with disabilities at the table when we make organizational decisions?”.

That’s what my vision for the UCEDD was, which remains today. Although I used it much more frequently in the early years.

And do you think you achieved that vision?

Julie: Looking back at a long history, there’s so many things that I could have done better.  There are so many more things we could have done. But there are only so many hours in a day. Still,  I think we got there halfway, maybe more! This is a never-ending journey.

Everything we have accomplished  has been done with partners. The people that I congratulate are the coordinators, the other directors, staff and students.  It’s people with  boots on the ground that do all the hard work.  It’s the people with disabilities who gave us advice and testimony about what it is that they needed in their lives, who told us how we could help. All the  heroes in the state who were so outspoken. There are so many

I think we all continue to learn from those voices. It helps to direct where we go next as well as bringing to the table that evidence-based piece that’s so important.

Yes, that’s absolutely true. And how have you seen the CDHD change over that time?

Julie: We went from a $1 to 2 million per year grant organization to pretty quickly bringing in $4 million, $5 million, $8 million... I think until COVID hit, $9 to $10 million was the most funding we received. And then we got some big bumps for COVID relief.

Although, the funding wasn’t the biggest part of the change. It’s not the most important part. Increased projects and funding were certainly instrumental in helping us do a lot of things. We did grow a lot when I became Director. It was no fault to anyone before me. It was just the right time.

I went out into the state and said, “Ok, we’re here. What do you want us to do?” And I drummed up a lot of business! We worked with the infant toddler program, with the DD Council, the State Department of Education. We grew the Positive Behavioral Support and the Autism Project that finally ended up as SESTA.

We worked a lot with Health and Welfare in the early days, building programs and helping with training of direct care providers. I drummed up a lot of business to do work that the state needed done.

What has been your favorite thing about working at the CDHD?

Julie: The people. I have to say when I talk about my successes, it is about the successes of many people here.

I think the vastness of the job is incredibly enriching and stimulating. There was never a dull moment.

Brainstorming and continually having new ideas about where we could go, where we could take our programs. It’s rewarding to think about ways to create meaningful change. As an example, the Self-Advocates of Moscow (SAM) program. We brought the SAM program under the CDHD umbrella as a way to provide on-going support for the community and training for UI students. It is fun and exciting to do something very meaningful in the local community by supporting that program.

The Interdisciplinary Trainee Program – seeing that grow and stimulating that growth through ideas was really enriching for me.

Launching our clinical services program was another way we served the community for 15 or more years. Thanks to the dedication of Dr Rand Walker and ultimately Dr Gwen Mitchell, we developed a fee for services and Medicaid billable assessment clinic. I hope someday we can bring that back.

I think our work in Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports and Autism Supports was really quite invigorating for many years. We have really good partners that help sustain those activities. And SESTA is going gang busters implementing school-wide support systems across the entire state. I have to say I am proud to be the initiator of the Positive Behavioral Support Initiative and the Autism Supports Initiative in the state… along with other people like Dr Mary Bostick, Mary Jones, Renee Minor, Judy Hall and many more.

Early on, we created the  Blended Early Childhood Certificate Program with our state partners. We had Health and Welfare involved, the Infant Toddler Program, State Department of Education, Head Start, and the three of the main universities – ISU, BSU and U of I.

We called ourselves the ‘consortium for early childhood professionals’. We put together a certificate program and all universities were involved. That’s how the Early Childhood Blended Certificate came about, which was a really exciting time for the Center. We were part and parcel in the development of that along with Janice Fletcher and many other key players in the state.

Kind of in the same line – what has been your greatest achievement during your time as Director?

Julie: There were several really. One early on was family support legislation. Our family support project (that we wrote in that first year) really launched into a full-blown family support tract for the Center. Ultimately with the DD Council, Marilyn Sword in particular, we drafted  family support legislation that allowed families to apply for respite care funding through the Department of Health and Welfare. They were also able to apply for other goods and services that could help them care for a family member with disabilities.

Another one was a master’s degree program that we ran for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). We worked with all the tribal communities in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. We had students from all over and travelled to the tribal communities. That was a big deal and a really big success. It was in partnership with Lee Parks. He had a lot to do with that, so I can’t say that it was mine alone – none of these are mine alone!

Starting the positive behavioral supports project, moving that to the autism support project and the eventuality of blending them with the Idaho Training Clearinghouse and assistive technology to make SESTA was a big achievement. We’ve had ongoing sustainable funding through the State Department since 1995.

I think another big achievement was the Early Childhood Blended Certificate.

And we also had a huge impact on direct care providers through training we developed that was instituted as part of Medicaid Children’s Redesign. Mike Day and Robin Greenfield were key partners in the development of those programs.

In 2012, with College faculty Dr Alex Hollingshead, we instituted a new special education doctoral program focused on Autism Spectrum and Related Disabilities. We link the program to Utah Regional Leadership In Neural Developmental Disabilities (URLEND).

In 1999 and 2000, I was introduced to Karen Mason, the director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children. We quickly became fast and dedicated partners as we launched the IdahoSTARS project in 2003. I am thankful for Karen and the early work we did together that set the stage for a stellar system of professional development for early care and education professionals. Thanks to Janice Guier and then Melissa Crist for directing the program into what it is today.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

Julie: Many things… I don’t know. I could have been more patient. Listened more. Worked more closely or created a relationship with WWAMI… One of the things that has been on my plate for a long time was to develop an advisory group through the University to have more influx of knowledge into the Center from other faculty across campus. I would definitely make that a priority now.

This might be a bit of a hard one, but do you have a favorite memory?

Julie: There are so many memories of really great moments. One in particular is when we were working on the BIA program. We were on the Washington coast with the Puyallup tribe. Their boats had just come back from a journey. We were standing on the shore, and it was just … we were welcomed in to partake in a tribal tradition that was meaningful and heartfelt. It stuck with me. It was an amazing training session with the tribal community and an amazing time that was shared with Lee Parks, Katherine Sterling, Olivia Lebens and other people who were there to support the work.

There are many, many other times things like that. Working with Janice Fletcher on the Blended Certificate and our trips to North Carolina … there are so many. Working on self-determination legislation with the DD Council and creating the Support Broker training. The celebrations of successes over the years, teaching and working with students, developing the Autism Summit and working with the Oberleitner family, Abhilash Desai, Richelle Tierney.

Nationally, a favorite time was sitting on the board of directors for AUCD and then my year as president and visiting the Whitehouse were memorable moments.

I could go on. There so many more.

What do you hope to see in the future for the CDHD and staff?

Julie: I hope to see that collaboration continues to be key component. Collaboration and partnership are how we get things done.

I also hope to see the Center continue to be flexible with our employees because I think we’ve maintained a great staff due largely to the flexibility we provide. When we ask for excellence, we get excellence when we’re flexible with people – so they can balance out their lives, their families and their work. To me that makes a stronger staff.

I’m looking forward to Cari’s organizational abilities as Director. She’s much more organized – obviously – than I am. She’s very careful and thoughtful leader. Everyone is looking forward to following her lead and helping us become even greater.

I also hope to see a bigger integration with the University, more research orientation. For everyone to understand the importance of research and scholarship in carrying the work that we do moving forward.  And growing our faculty.

Mostly, I would love for the CDHD to continue to first serve people with disabilities and their families, and for that to be at the forefront of all discussions.

Do you have any parting words or advice for everyone you’ve worked with over the years?

Julie: “Do good. Be Kind”. Work hard, play hard. Take care of your families. Take care of yourselves. Be healthy. Move. And finally: Be Useful, Collaborative and Caring, Evidence-based, Data Driven, and aligned with the Disability community. 

And last but not least, what’s next? What’s on the cards for retirement?

Julie: I don’t think anyone can say that. I mean, maybe some people are more oriented toward knowing what’s next than I am. I’ve worked since I was 14. Not working is something I don’t know how to do.

I think I’m going to be in the process of learning a new way of being. That’s what’s next. Learning a new way of being and where I might achieve some satisfaction in terms of where else I can provide my time and energy in a way that’s giving to the community or making other people’s lives more enriched by my presence. Those are the things I’d like to do. Be helpful, useful, supportive!

Please join us in congratulating Julie on her retirement and 31 years of incredible work, achievements and service. Thank you, Julie, for everything.