Home > Uncategorized > Colleen Lutkevich retires after 35 years with COFAR

Colleen Lutkevich retires after 35 years with COFAR

Colleen M. Lutkevich, who advocated for 35 years on behalf of COFAR and served as its unpaid executive director for more than two decades, officially retired this month from the organization.

When she was 25 years old and pregnant with her first child in 1985, she first went to work part-time as a secretary for COFAR, which had only been established a couple of years earlier.

“People organized COFAR for the sad reason of having a loved one with an intellectual disability,” Colleen said in a farewell message to the Board this past week. “But they channeled their sadness into advocacy and made a real difference in people’s lives, and in the DDS system.

“I feel good about this decision (to retire) and I know that no one is irreplaceable!” Colleen’s message continued. “I remain willing to offer help and advice as needed and I wish all of you the very best in continuing  your work with COFAR.” She is continuing to serve as president of the Wrentham Family Association, an affiliated organization to COFAR.

She also is continuing to work as a high school guidance counselor in the Easton public school system, and raised three children with her husband, Paul.

colleen-family-photo

Colleen Lutkevich (2nd from right) with members of her family at a Wrentham Developmental Center holiday party in 2012. With her are (from left) her father, John Sullivan; mother, Gladys Sullivan; and sisters, Laura Bradley, Jean Sullivan, and Joyce Wise.

Colleen followed in the footsteps of her father, John Sullivan, and her mother, Gladys, in advocating for better care for her sister, Jean, who has an intellectual disability. Jean has lived at the Wrentham Developmental Center for more than 60 years. 

John Sullivan, who was one of the founders of COFAR, was among the plaintiffs in Ricci v. Okin, the landmark federal lawsuit in the 1970s that led to major upgrades in care in the state facilities. John died in 2017 and Gladys died in 2016.

Johanna Smith, COFAR vice president, responded to Colleen, saying, “I am in awe of your wealth of knowledge and experience in this area, and your kind and patient wisdom in helping people deal with so many difficult and emotional situations.  You say that no one is irreplaceable, but you have been a wonderful and unique resource to so many people and I’m sure they would agree that your help was irreplaceable in their lives.” 

Anne Paulsen, a Board member and former member of the state Legislature from Belmont, wrote, “In the short time I have been associated with COFAR, I have learned that you are the linchpin of the organization.”

Joe Corrigan, a Board member, said, “COFAR is losing a lioness.” He said his sister Pat and late brother Jack “benefitted from Colleen’s devotion.” 

Wrote Board member Deb Cooksey, “You have dedicated countless years of your life to this cause, and I’m so grateful for your leadership. So many families with loved ones with ID are better off because of you.” 

Advocacy efforts began in the Ricci era

In recounting her start in working on behalf of the developmentally disabled, Colleen listed names of people, in addition to her parents, who were instrumental in the early days of COFAR and the Ricci case. She mentioned Phil Corrigan (Joe Corrigan’s father), Louise Johnson, Charlie Hart, Mary McTernan, George Mavridis, Richard Krant, Ed Orzechowski, Frank Every, and Ed Stefaniak, among others. 

It was those people, she said, who taught her how to navigate what is now the DDS system, and how to make the case for better care for its clients.

She said her father, in particular, served as an inspiration to her in her advocacy. “My dad worked and fought his whole life to make the system work for the least fortunate among us,” she said. “His advice was always, ‘never be afraid.’”

In the early 1980s, she said, everyone belonged to the Arc of Massachusetts, which her father had also helped to found.

But at the height of the Ricci litigation, a split developed in the Arc organization between those who wanted to close all congregate care facilities such as the former Fernald Center, and those, like Sullivan, Corrigan, and others, who believed the facilities should remain as an option for those needing the intensive care and services they provided.

In 1983, the pro-facility contingent broke away from the Arc and formed COFAR. Colleen later took the secretary job, but the organization was experiencing financial problems and was unable to pay even her nominal salary of about $7,500 a year.  So she continued to work without pay in the same position until 1995.

Although she ostensibly quit COFAR in 1995, Colleen came back to fill the then vacant executive director position in 1998. Once again, she accepted the position without pay, and continued to work as a volunteer executive director ever since.

Worked to stop involuntary placements

Colleen recalled that among the highlights of her work for COFAR were successful advocacy drives to prevent involuntary placements of persons with intellectual disabilities (ID) in mental health facilities and nursing homes in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In the first case, she said, COFAR worked with legislators to pass a guardianship transfer statute, which stopped transfers of individuals with ID to mental health facilities against their families‘ will. The law required that an individual’s primary diagnosis be an intellectual disability if the individual was “dual-diagnosed” with both ID and a mental illness.

In the second case, Colleen worked with the then Governor’s Commission on Mental Retardation to prevent inappropriate placements of persons with ID in nursing homes. “We found that residents from facilities were being sent to nursing homes as community placements,” Colleen said. With the help of the Governor’s Commission, COFAR and other advocates “blew it wide open,” she said.

A subsequent lawsuit, which became known as Rolland v. Patrick, led to the cessation of the placements in nursing homes, and earned a number of residents the right to return to the Wrentham Developmental Center. Colleen said she was especially gratified when she found that one person, who had been moved back to Wrentham, started talking again, and was able to visit with his three brothers, all with intellectual disabilities and living in different DDS placements.

Process became more adversarial

In the past 10 to 15 years, Colleen said, she found that COFAR’s relationship with DDS and successive administrations changed. That change, from a relatively cooperative relationship to a more adversarial one, came as those administrations began closing Fernald and other remaining Intermediate Care Facilities (ICFs).

While six ICFs still remained in the state as of 2008, only two remain today – the Wrentham Developmental Center and the Hogan Regional Center.

More and more, Colleen said, she found herself fielding calls from family members living in the community-based group home system looking for help in dealing with problems of neglect and abuse. “We became more of a watchdog organization,” she said.

While DDS commissioners and other administration officials would, in the past, often attend COFAR meetings and gatherings, “we now get the runaround and few replies,” she said.

Through it all,  Colleen said, her personal mission remained unchanged.  “My view is that’s why we’re here. Let me help that family.”

  1. June 7, 2021 at 10:24 am

    I just wanted to thank Colleen for all her years of support. She has been such a wonderful advocate throughout the years.

    Like

  2. Gloria Medeiros and Kristine Medeiros
    June 7, 2021 at 11:36 am

    I too, want to thank Colleen for all her years of advocacy and support. My daughter Kristine and I have benefitted immensely from Colleen’s and other’s help through the years. I pray that that these programs will continue–COFAR was brought into life when some people cared and did something about it. Or families are blessed for your help in making it possible for our special kids receiving the care, education, and love in their growing experiences.

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  3. Deborah Lockard
    June 7, 2021 at 11:50 am

    Best wishes to Colleen in her retirement. I can’t thank you enough for the tireless compassion, devotion, and advice that you provided throughout my guardianship process.
    Best regards.

    Like

    • Lynn Royal
      June 7, 2021 at 1:01 pm

      Just want to tell you how well I am doing at W.D.C. It is the best placement I have had in the 45 years of services from D.M.R. I get to go swimming, shoot hoops, walk outside, attend various programs on campus, even learned to ride a 3-wheel bike, much to my mom’s amazement. I love the outdoors and to swing and there is a swing in my side yard. Mom and I make use of it when she visits.
      I no longer harm myself, damage property, hit other clients, raid heir bedroom, need to change yet another location. I no longer am being told by staff “that is not appropriate” when I attempt to tap them on the arm or shoulders. I no longer need to wait hours for my dinner, when there is an almost empty frig in the community residences. I no longer have a rotating door for staff and house managers.
      I now have consistency, structure, acceptance of who I am and feel valued. Every day is a new day and I am grateful to be here. They even found something I could do and signed me up for the annual Olympics. I won a medal last year. .
      My mom wrote this on my behalf. She will read it to me at her next visit. I know I will have no issue with it as she knows how much I have improved. I still do some yelling and skin-picking, but they have decreased. I am ambulatory; non-verbal and severely impaired with I/DD. But here at W.D.C I do not feel different from others as they are just like me. I feel at home.
      Thanks Colleen for helping my mom.
      Love, David Labbe.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. robdein
    June 7, 2021 at 12:35 pm

    Colleen stated that no one is irreplaceable, but the devotion, commitment, knowledge and advocacy Colleen has brought to COFAR is definitely irreplaceable. Some people may say they care, but Colleen REALLY CARES. COFAR has lost a treasure with the retirement of Colleen. Best wishes to her, and I know she will never stop caring for everyone with intellectual disabilities.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lynn Royal
    June 7, 2021 at 12:43 pm

    Oh Colleen: This is a bitter-sweet announcement. While I am truly happy for you and wish you well in your retirement — I think of all the lives you have touched in so many ways. I for one, am eternally grateful for your guidance and assurances for my son to gain admission to Wrentham Developmental Center in 2014. You will be missed greatly indeed. Your open heart and soul speak volumes about you and your parents and the many families who have been crucial to continuing COFAR for so many years. But they have dwindled some and you have taken on the additional scope of services. Thank you Colleen from the bottom of my heart right up to the top of it. Love you bunches. Lynn Royal and David Labbe

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Marion julian
    June 7, 2021 at 1:55 pm

    How do you thank someone that had given so selflessly to so many. There are no words that can express the gratitude for all you have achieved.
    You have kept choice alive, facilities opened allowing that to be one of the choices, allowed for various needs to be met, and comfort to those who have needed you guidance and support.

    A most sincere thank you,
    Marion Julian

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Mary Frain Johnston
    June 7, 2021 at 5:18 pm

    Thanks for all your years of advocacy and outreach, Colleen. It is appreciated more than you know. I still hope to meet you in person sometime.
    Best wishes for your future!
    Mary Frain Johnston

    Like

  8. lsullivanbradley
    June 7, 2021 at 5:38 pm

    Our family is so proud of my sister Colleen, for all of her years in this crusade to help the developmentally disabled. As she said, she learned from the best, most importantly our father, John L. Sullivan, but also the many dedicated and fearless family members who faught for the rights of their loved ones. Even though she is retiring from her position with COFAR, I know she will continue to be very involved with this cause for years to come. Well done, we are proud and grateful for your service.

    Like

  9. June 7, 2021 at 7:54 pm

    Thank you so much, Colleen, from the myriad of families whom your efforts, knowledge, and caring has assisted, educated, and supported!

    Like

  10. janet MARCUS
    June 19, 2021 at 5:02 pm

    Best wishes on your retirement from COFAR. It should provide you some extra time to enjoy your family. You have been a remarkable asset in helping those with developmental disabilities. Advocacy is always important for those in need, & you are to be much admired for the work you have done. All the very best for the future!

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