Board Member Spotlight: Tara Zahner

“Being the mother to a little boy with a disability has changed my life.”


Tara, welcome to the Open Options Board of Directors! Why did you initially become interested in joining us?

I became interested in Open Options when our son was diagnosed with a rare genetic syndrome called 5q14.3 Chromosome Deletion Syndrome in October 2015.  One of the symptoms of his diagnosis is Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy he also has many other intellectual and physical disabilities.  As I was researching resources, I found the United Cerebral Palsy organization in Kansas City.  After many years as UCP, they had switched names to Open Options.  This name change was so they could encompass more than just people with CP. I LOVED IT! They want to help everyone that may have a disability.  It sounded like a perfect fit for our family.  I researched them for several months in an attempt to learn more about their cause and how we could help them.  I met with their CEO, Vincent, and was very impressed.  Vincent isn’t just an executive moving from nonprofit to nonprofit.  He actually built his way up.  Finding out that he was once an actual care assistant, showed me his true dedication to this mission.  Eventually I saw a spot open on their board and the rest they say, is history.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a native to Kansas City, growing up and residing still, in Brookside.  I am married to Andrew Zahner and we have a 2 year old, Andrew James Zahner (AJ for short). We have a 2 year old dog named Bonnie, a 9′ red tail boa named Annabelle and a Beta named Azul. We refer to our home as, The Zahner Zoo. I have worked in the fitness industry for 17 years working my way up from an early entry level position to corporate management. I am now in nonprofit as the Community Engagement Coordinator at The Jewish Community Center. As of next week, I will be a Missouri Partners in Policymaking 2016 graduate. I have a huge passion for advocacy work in our community. I serve on the Rare KC Committee in an effort to spread awareness of Rare Diseases and working to build a Center of Excellence for Rare Disease in Kansas City. Rare KC just won an award for Collaboration in Advocacy from Global Genes. I serve on the Books and Boutiques Committee for Saint Luke’s South helping to raise funds for the hospital. Last year we raised over $200,000. I serve on The Mid America Regional Council’s Head Start Parent Leadership Committee helping to build resources and training programs for Head Start families. I serve on The Family Conservancy’s Policy Committee working to support equal education opportunities for all. I am an idealist. I am also a problem solving and solutions kind of gal. I really like to come up with ideal visions to organizational/community issues. I am passionate about networking and connecting people and resources.

What excites you most about the mission of Open Options?

I am so excited about the Open Options mission because it is so open minded. Just the idea that they changed their name to expand their reach makes me smile. After seeing the success my son has had from having the right resources and services lead me to realize everyone should be able to work towards their full potential. Open Options shares that belief. When a doctor tells a family a diagnosis, that family may feel defeated and want to give up. At Open Options, they help every person in their network, live to their best ability. Their mission in connecting people with resources is a shared passion. Serving on their board allows me to apply one of my passions on a much larger scale. One of Open Options core values is, Respecting the dignity of every person and every role. I am so excited to serve with a team that respects the moral vision of society.

What do you wish other people knew about developmental and intellectual disabilities?

There are so many things that I wish people knew about developmental and intellectual disabilities. The main thing would be that a person with a developmental or intellectual disability is still a person.  With a “typical person”, a lot of personal skills come instinctively however, we still need lots of assistance. For example, we need lights to see. That is considered assistive technology but many people don’t think of it that way. For someone who has ID or DD, these actions or skills may have to be worked on for weeks, months or even years before they are able to accomplish them. In addition, a person with ID or DD will need supports in place to assist them in achieving these goals. While one may assume that these supports are easy to access or that they need to be provided by specific organizations, I wish more people in the community knew it is up to all of us to provide these supports. We as employers, parents, neighbors and community members need to work together and make sure everyone has access to community support. I wish more people knew that.

How rewarding is it to know someone with a disability?

Being the mother to a little boy with a disability has changed my life. My son, with all 6 of his disabilities, has made me a better person. Prior to my son getting diagnosed, I was guilty of being judgmental and making assumptions of people. I would see people on the streets and I would assume they made bad choices that lead them there. Choices like not going to school, not following rules and not trying their hardest. I never used to think, “I wonder if that person had a learning disability that was never picked up on. Since we received AJ’s diagnosis, I now think, “What if that person has a disability, a disease or a syndrome that has led them here. What if they had a parent that took care of them. What if their parent passed away and they haven’t had their medicine or services looked after.” I wonder about people’s story’s. It has made me more sensitive to others in general. I wish more people were considerate of others. You never know how much work they might have had to put in, to get to where they are. How they have a story, an important story, just like anyone else. Taking the time to get to know someone, even if they are different from you, can enlighten your life.

We hear you’re already hat shopping for Hats Off to Mothers! What sort of hat best represents your personal style?

I am so excited for Hats Off to Mothers. This will be my first fundraiser with Open Options and the most meaningful, as I hope to one day make the list with these remarkable women. In the meantime, I am eager to be a part of the committee that helps make the magic happen. This fashionable event is to recognize mothers who have demonstrated the ability to balance family, work and community. Prior to my relationship with Open Options, I didn’t even know there was an opportunity for mothers to get acknowledged. While I haven’t found my perfect hat yet, I have been looking. I love big Kentucky Derby style hats and I love pink. I am hopeful to find the perfect combination in time for Hats Off to Mothers in 2017.