Looking Back On A Remarkable Career
After 34 remarkable years of service to TECH, Brenda Maxey, President/CEO of TECH, will retire on June 30, 2022. Maxey became the second President/CEO in TECH’s 49-year history in 1999 and led the agency through many incredible accomplishments during her tenure.
Through the Years
Maxey started her career with TECH in 1988 as a Residential Coordinator for the agency after working as a Direct Support Staff in Colorado while attending college. Since then, she has had an opportunity to sit in nearly every seat of the organization, offering her a unique perspective as a leader and CEO. In 1999, Maxey became the second President/CEO in TECH’s history, behind her long-time mentor, the late Maurice Cummings. During her time as CEO, Maxey said she has experienced many great accomplishments as well as unexpected challenges.
Maxey says, “Assuming the CEO position at TECH has been one of my greatest honors. It has been challenging, rewarding, frustrating, and satisfying all at the same time but one of the best things I have ever done!”
During Maxey’s tenure, she has guided the organization through several significant projects. She has also been very active at the State and National levels, holding officer positions with both the State and National Associations, while advocating on behalf of people with disabilities.
As she looks back on her time with TECH, she recalls some of her fondest memories including watching the people we serve advocate for themselves at our State Capital, moving the ALS, the move of the administrative offices and opening the TECH Art Gallery at the Wiley Building and so many more memories!
Maxey leaves the organization in solid financial standing with a team that she has the utmost confidence in. “I still plan to be involved in the organization, certainly as a supporter, but will continue my advocacy roles at the local, state and national levels because advocating for people with disabilities is and always will be a passion of mine,” says Maxey. “While I plan to sit back, take a breath and see what my next chapter looks like, I know that TECH will always be a part of my life.”
Highlights from Maxey's Long Career with TECH
1999 - Became the Second President/CEO of TECH
It was such an honor to follow Maurice Cummings, a long-time mentor of mine, as I was named as the 2nd CEO of TECH. I had been with the organization for 10 years and had worked alongside Maurice most of those 10 years. When the call came from the TECH Board Chairperson offering me the position, I was overjoyed and enthusiastically accepted! When they called concluded, I was overcome with emotion and the tears flowed, and I had to ask myself, “what have I done? I am not ready to lead this organization”. I remember calling Maurice and telling him I wasn’t sure I could do the job. He, of course, assured me that I was more than capable, and he had all the confidence in the world in me.
I never intended to fill Maurice’s shoes as the CEO. My goal was to match his stride and continue to make advancements for people with disabilities in our community. Being named the 2nd CEO of an organization that has a 50-year history of serving people with disabilities speaks volumes for the organization, the people we serve, our staff, the Boards of Directors and our community. Accepting the CEO position has been one of my greatest honors, and also has been one of my greatest challenges.
Early 2000's - Start of TECH's Retirement Program
Years ago, people with disabilities were not expected to retire, nor were they expected to live well into their 70’s 80’s or even 90’s. If a person with a disability became too medically frail or began to experience early onset Dementia or Alzheimer’s, they went to live in a nursing home.
In the early 2000’s, TECH decided we should find a way to support the people we serve throughout their entire life journey, including end of life. TECH wanted to assure the people we served and their family that we would be here for the lifetime. We needed to build the supports that were necessary to accomplish this lifetime of support, and that started with having a retirement option for the people we served. We began with one location, serving folks that needed a less hectic lifestyle, wanted to work just 1 or 2 days a week if they desired, or folks that may be more medically fragile. We also wanted folks to have other valued activities offered on site that they could choose to participate in should they desire. The program has been a huge success! People with disabilities can retire with dignity, staying as active as the choose to be. They also have comfort in knowing that when end of life transition is nearing, their TECH family will be with them every step of the way.
2008 - Push Day and Continued Advocacy for People with Disabilities
One of the greatest joys in my career at TECH has been watching the people we serve advocate for themselves. Sharing their personal life journey with legislators and the impact organizations like TECH have had on improving the quality of their lives.
Advocacy can be a challenging task, as it really is like chipping away at a rock a little at a time to make large scale changes. I experienced these challenges firsthand during my time at TECH. Starting in the mid 90’s, we attempted to improve the IDD system, and reshape how the system ran. The passage of the DD Reform Act in 1997 was a huge accomplishment of the advocacy system. Certainly, the DD Reform Act did not fix or improve everything that needed modernized, it did start us down a path of system improvement.
It seems like much of our advocacy efforts stemmed around increased funding and bringing people in from the long waiting list of folks in need of services. Most years, our funding remained stagnant but was better than the years we saw a reduction in our state funding for the IDD System. As advocates, we continued to chip away at the very large rock, despite the lack of recognition of our efforts, until 2021.
At the end of the 2021 legislative session, the IDD system saw the largest single increase, 7%, in IDD funding levels since 1998! We were overjoyed! What a success for the IDD system, however, the increase still fell far short of what was truly needed.
2022 saw us back chipping away at the rock once again…..maybe, just maybe, we could make another small dent in this massive rock. In April 2022, we saw our advocacy efforts pay off as this massive rock we had been picking away at for my 34 years at TECH finally gave way. The Legislature approved, and the Governor signed a budget bill that included a 25% increase in funding for the IDD system! The changes in our system that will result from this type of funding increase are almost unimaginable!
To be able to see the results of years of advocacy efforts pay off in my final months at TECH cannot be describe as anything less than phenomenal! I am so proud to have been a part of the grass roots advocacy system, including the people served by TECH, the statewide focus of providers within the I/DD system, and a group of very persistent advocates that hammered away at this massive rock that laid in our path on the road to success. A great ending to my career at TECH, but my advocacy efforts will not stop when I retire. The passion I have for people with disabilities and the services they need is not related solely to my career but burns from a passion within that just does not stop.
2009 - Creation of TECH's e-Cycle Program
The TECH e-Cycle Program began as a very small project with the intent to keep e-waste out of the landfill. Little did we know what a huge need existed in the community for this type of service. TECH obtained special licensing and certification from KDHE as an e-Cycle Center, allowing us to receive many different types of e-Waste. The e-Cycle program also offered employment opportunities for several of the folks served by TECH. The people we served became wizards at taking apart computers, sorting the recyclable parts and non-recyclable parts into different bins.
The TECH e-Cycle program helped keep hundreds of thousands of pounds of e-waste out of the landfill. We had partnerships with several surrounding counties’ landfills to process their e-waste. TECH also processed e-waste for area businesses and many local area companies.
2010 - Creation of the TECH Art Program
After purchasing a scarf from Opportunity Village in Las Vegas, NV, an organization similar to TECH, I knew I wanted to figure out how to bring a similar program back to TECH and the people we serve. I reached out to the TECH Board of Directors for assistance with our vision. The response from the board was overwhelmingly positive, and many spent hours doing research on the art of painting silk and setting dyes, leading us to experiment with the TECH participants in the Adult Life Skills (ALS) program.
With the help of grant money and TECH funds, equipment was purchased, and we all learned together how to paint silk scarves and ties. We also added classes where basic art skills were taught and developed. Local artist, Julie Black, began volunteering her time each week, teaching classes on painting. This time of week quickly became known as “TECH Tuesday” to many of those on social media. People looked to see what was happening with the TECH clients. Our clients LOVED it!
From there, the TECH Art Program took off! It was so rewarding to see the ownership and creativity from the TECH artists because of this program. Quickly, the program expanded to include other mediums, mainly acrylic painting. Many of our artists quickly learned salesmanship and presentation skills because of the opportunity for them to sell their artwork. Thanks to a gift in 2017, we were able to accelerate the build of our TECH Art Studio in the back of our Adult Life Skills building – something I had envisioned shortly after we started the TECH Art Program. And shortly after, in 2018, we opened the TECH Art Gallery, a retail space where the artists could display and sell their work.
2016 - Opening of the TECH Art Studio
The opening of the TECH Art Studio was one of the highlights during my career at TECH. We knew what we wanted for a studio but lacked the available resources to make it come together. It was a long-term plan to obtain the financial resources for the studio. TECH held one fundraiser with proceeds dedicated to the art studio. It was small, but it was a start!
Thanks to an unexpected gift, our dream of a working art studio came to reality much sooner than expected. TECH was the recipient of the Bobby Megli Estate, and Bobby’s family came to TECH to learn more about the organization. The family was very impressed with the art being created by the people served by TECH and we had the opportunity to share our vision of the TECH Art Studio with the family and they loved it! Almost immediately after our meeting with Bobby’s family, construction on the studio began. We have a gallery wall inside of the art studio today that is dedicated to Bobby. Without the gift from his estate, I am unsure the studio would have come to be the working art studio it is today.
2017 - Opening of the TECH Art Gallery and Administrative Offices
As the TECH Art Program continued to grow and work of the artists went from good to great, the need to formally display the artwork in a professional gallery became a priority! After a couple of years of looking for space near downtown Hutchinson to open a retail art gallery and house the TECH administrative offices, I had the privilege of meeting Jack and Jay Manske. Manske and Associates had restored the entire Wiley Building into apartments and retail space and when I met the Manske’s they were looking for a tenant to fill the retail portion of the Wiley Building – what a perfect match!
The Wiley space was designed around the vision of the TECH Art Gallery. First and foremost, we wanted the TECH Art Gallery to be center stage of the space TECH would occupy. We wanted to be able to publicly display the incredible talent of the TECH Artists and allow the each of them to be able to sell their work.
Shortly after moving into the Wiley Building, The TECH Art Gallery hosted their first show, featuring 36 original pieces of artwork created by people with disabilities served by TECH. This was one of my favorite events! The awe of the guests in attendance as they admired the art, the pride beaming from the artists who heard nothing but glowing reviews of their work, it’s something I’ll never forget. By the end of the evening, every single piece of art had a sold sign on it.
2019 - Opening of The Link, a 29-unit apartment complex in Downtown Hutchinson
The Link project was one of the most fun projects I did during my career at TECH. Partnering, once again, with Manske and Associates, we watched a vacant lot transform into a modern 29-unit apartment complex. This modern apartment complex is now a home for many Hutchinson residents who needed affordable and accessible housing.
We listened to folks to learn what they wanted and needed in apartment living, and then we built it! Folks wanted the option of 1- and 2-bedroom units, they wanted washers and dryers inside each unit, and a saferoom for tornados. They also wanted community space, so we built a community room and a roof top deck with green space for gathering.
The Link embodies what TECH is all about; connecting people with people and developing a community that is accepting and supportive of all.