Even though Sarah Krom recently retired from Sunflower Diversified Services, she is comforted to know that the non-profit agency and the people it serves will remain a big part of her life.
Krom has devoted almost 36 years to people with intellectual disabilities and delays while serving in numerous positions at Sunflower. Her most recent title was chief operating officer.
“I don’t intend to just walk away,” Krom said. “Sunflower can count on me as an advisor. And I am already on the list for a number of volunteer opportunities.”
As Krom reflected on her decades at Sunflower, she emphasized the countless ways the agency has evolved over the years. This evolution, she said, has allowed for incredible improvements in people’s lives.
“It is truly amazing how much has changed,” she said. “Fortunately, the changes have entailed recognizing the rights of people with disabilities, self-advocacy and the vital importance of community inclusion.
“People came to us from institutionalized settings but today we continue to seek new avenues to personal independence,” Krom commented. “There are more clients and more needs, with many more state and federal regulations.”
Each of these factors contributed to the evolution of an agency that employed about 30 people in the late 1960s to employing about 160 today.
Krom was first attracted to Sunflower by her mother “who dreamed about more independence and inclusion. But she would be amazed at how far we have come.”
Krom, a Great Bend High School graduate, held managerial positions in residential, transportation, employment, community habilitation, production, recycling, human resources and medical supports. She also worked in production sales, community employment, case management and strategic planning.
“But there comes a time when you need new blood, new energy and new out-of-the-box ideas,” Krom noted. “That time is now. It is time for the next generation.
“The good news is many up-and-coming leaders are already here. We have a great crew of young people who have already proven themselves in leadership roles. I am confident they have what it takes to carry Sunflower forward.”
Krom’s confidence in the current staff is based on one thing: the passion to serve people with special needs.
“You either have a passion for it, or you don’t. If you have it, you will succeed. Many current department heads and other employees demonstrate this passion every day. And I know more are out there.”
Krom is aware the job can be overwhelming at times. But she knows the staff can handle it because they understand the basics.
“We always go back to one thing – focus on the clients. Put them first. If you listen to what people want and need, you will make the right decision to help them become more independent. This applies to issues in residential, transportation, employment, behaviors and every other area.”
In addition to her local responsibilities, Krom has served on boards at the state level in areas such as transportation and recycling.
“I have been graced with the opportunity to serve on state boards and we have made great strides. That will continue,” she noted.
Jon Prescott, Sunflower executive director, said he and his colleagues will miss Krom’s day-to-day service at the agency.
“For more than 35 years, Sarah has been an amazing leader,” Prescott said. “From day one, she has always put clients first to deliver quality service and support.
“I so appreciate her willingness to help us with this transition from chief operating officer to invaluable advisor,” he continued. “She has so much knowledge about Sunflower and the people we serve. We need her valuable insight.”
Jim Johnson, who served the agency for 42 years, noted that Krom was one of the first employees hired to staff the residential program established in the early 1980s.
“Over all these years, Sarah consistently played an important role in Sunflower’s growth, while ensuring quality service for persons served,” said Johnson, who became executive director in 1980 and retired in 2016. “She is always focused on creating opportunities for each individual, which is Sunflower’s mission.”
Sunflower serves infants, toddlers and adults in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties. It is in its 54th year.