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Growth, Leadership, Succession, and Success

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Growth, Leadership, Succession, and Success

Chris Sparks, ANCOR President
Chris Sparks

At the beginning of my senior year of high school I decided to put my name in for consideration as a captain of our football team. I am still mystified as to what possessed me to do so. My candidacy was nearly short lived when I learned I would have to give a speech to my teammates on why I should be considered a good choice for such a role. My hesitancy and ill-formed public speaking skills aside, I was elected one of the captains that year and learned a lot about the value of teamwork and working very hard to accomplish your goals.

I promised myself I would never run for another elected office. In the many years since that time, I have been nearly true to that commitment, until I became involved with ANCOR. The opportunity to be a part of something so important exerted a strong pull and overcame my acquired discomfort of running for an elected position. Again, I have been impressed with what can be accomplished as like-minded people combine their efforts.

A true master of working with teams, North Carolina State basketball coach Jimmy Valvano famously suggested that we needed to do something every day that caused us to laugh, to think, and to be moved to tears. If we accomplished that, he argued, we would be assured of having every day be a pretty good day. He challenged everyone around him to be involved in worthwhile efforts and to spend their entire energy, every day, working to make a positive difference in their corner of the world.

At ANCOR over the last several years we have been working to make the world a better place. We’ve done so by endeavoring to make our communities more welcoming to people of all abilities and specifically helping organizations that provide community services to people with disabilities. I have had the privilege of being a member of the board of directors for a number of years, and had the honor of being the board president for the last two years.

We have been committed to assuring that our association was a place where organizations who provide community services for people with disabilities could come, learn, and have a coordinated voice in important public policy decisions. The very first thing I had an opportunity to do as president was to work with Barbara Merrill as the newly appointed CEO of ANCOR. Barbara replaced Renee Pietrangelo who was much loved and deeply respected after her years at ANCOR. Barbara embraced her new role, set about accomplishing an aggressive list of priorities, and built an incredibly talented and successful staff. I want to acknowledge and thank Barbara for her vision, energy, and passion, and for an eventful and professionally rewarding two years. At the same time, I’d like to express my admiration for all ANCOR staff.

While on the board I had the opportunity to serve with a talented and committed board of directors. All ANCOR members should be assured that you are well represented by this elected group. Many have become friends and I have the deepest respect for their commitment, intellect, and the passion with which they approached opportunities and challenges alike. This group dared to think and dream big and we are a better association for their efforts. I followed Dave Toeniskoetter as President whose talents are remarkable. Now, I pass the leadership baton to Angela King whose experience, perspective, and good humor will assure she is a successful and respected president.

I am not exactly going away as I will be serving as Past President of the ANCOR Board. As we work to finish a number of critical tasks, I am certainly grateful for this time. Those of us who work in community services for people with disabilities find ourselves in one of the most dynamic environments imaginable. Factors such as dramatically changing customer preferences, evolving regulatory guidance, the influence of managed care and other payment changes, and critical staff shortages have made our business increasingly complex and challenging.

Our work is increasingly complex and it has never been more important. Organizations continue to be one conduit through which people with disabilities create real lives in their communities and ANCOR helps organizations to be successful. ANCOR continues to be the vehicle that provides a community of practice for people to compare notes, education on emerging trends, and a cohesive voice in public policy. I encourage all members to take full advantage of these opportunities and recruit others to join our movement.


Chris Sparks is Executive Director of Exceptional Persons, Inc and ANCOR's Board President. He can be reached at [email protected].