Ann Graff recently marked her first year as the executive director and CEO of the Center for Human Services in Sedalia, but her ties with the organization that helps people with disabilities go all the way back to the early 1980s.
The Center for Human Services is an agency that serves hundreds of children and adults with disabilities throughout central Missouri through a variety of developmental, housing and employment programs.
Graff said her relationship with the agency started when she and her husband of 37 years, Steve, became house parents in 1981, something the couple was involved in for about eight years, she said. After that, Graff spent the next 12 years managing the housing program for the center before moving into the position of human resources director and later, director of field operations.
Graff took a break from the organization for six years when she took a position with the Missouri Valley Community Action Agency, but returned to the Center for Human Services about two years ago.
“I’ve been here most of my adult career,” Graff said.
Graff said her interest in helping those with disabilities began in her teen years.
“My journey started in high school. I had a friend who was a chairperson for March of Dimes. ... And it started getting in my blood.”
Graff went on to college and eventually earned degrees in special education, management and human resources.
“Working with people with disabilities has been a lifelong passion,” she said.
When she returned to the center after her time with the MVCAA, Graff said she worked closely with Roger Garlich, the former executive director who dedicated much of his life to helping those with disabilities and spent 48 years at the center before retiring.
Looking back at her first year in the position, Graff said she was proud of what the organization accomplished, namely the completion and opening of the Garlich Activity Center and another new activity center in Saline County, as well as having a “very successful year in our work programs.”
“We secured a contract to do aprons for the Navy for torpedo loaders,” she said.
In addition, Graff said starting the recycling center “has been a big accomplishment for the agency.”
The center reached an agreement with the city at the end of 2009 to be a partner in the operation of a recycling center.
Under the agreement, the center agreed to provide the existing facility and labor for the recycling program while the city will supply equipment and funding to support the efforts.
Other accomplishments, Graff said, include increasing case management services in Saline County and securing contracts in regions six and nine for Missouri First Steps — a program that provides case management for children up to 3 years old who have disabilities.
Looking forward, Graff said one of her biggest goals is to secure more and better work for the people the center serves.
“We’re looking to expand our capabilities and looking at getting jobs, better jobs, for people out in the community.”
Another goal Graff has is to come up with a name for the agency that clearly defines everything the center does.
“We’re known by a lot of different names and we’re looking to streamline that,” she said.
Graff said she enjoys “the whole job” and credits much of the success of the center to those she works with.
“I work with a top-notch leadership team. They’re just an exceptional group of people,” she said.
She also enjoys just walking around and visiting with the people the center serves and is moved by “the attitudes and the courage that people facing some pretty severe disabilities have,” she said.
Graff also applauds the pioneering board members of the center who had a vision of cohesiveness for the agency. It’s a vision that has carried through for 55 years, she said.
“I am constantly amazed at how the center is set up,” Graff said. “Way back then they had a vision for a cooperative model and what’s been formed here is that cooperative model.”