In 2021, Rainbow Acres celebrates Gary Wagner’s 25th Anniversary year as President and CEO. Gary’s vision and leadership have enabled Rainbow Acres to steadily improve the quality of life for adults with developmental disabilities.
Reflecting on the last quarter century, Gary Wagner takes a rare moment to sit down and reflect on his 25 years in service to Rainbow Acres…For the Ranchers!
What excited you about taking the CEO role with Rainbow Acres 25 years ago?
I was so thrilled to join the Ranchers for lunch on my first day. Rancher Bill Downs thrived on being the first to see or know something no one else knew. He recognized me and was so excited to shout my arrival. I motioned for Bill to use his inside voice, so Bill announced the news in his loudest whisper, “The new President is here!”
Over the years, you’ve developed so many friendships with donors and supporters to advance the mission of Rainbow Acres. Please share a few relationships that have really made an impact in the growth of Rainbow Acres.
Every individual donor is important! Churches, Sunday school classes, businesses, foundations or corporations are led and comprised of individuals!
Kent S. was a Rancher with Cerebral Palsy from birth. He had an innocent, childlike, joyful personality. When he heard about the Building Homes with Heart Campaign, he wanted to be a part of building new homes. When Kent saw me at lunch or a Ranch activity, he would grab my arm and press coins into my hand that totaled $17.68 over time and he said… “for the new houses.” In return, I wrote him a Thank You letter as his little gifts gave so much!
Several dedicated donors made generous contributions over the years to building homes and special spaces for the Ranchers. The Dakin and Van Dyck families each built a new Rancher home; a speech pathologist, Virginia Palmer, who worked tirelessly in life for children with developmental disabilities; the Nash Family; the Hoovers; the Barkers; the American Baptist Churches of Los Angeles, Southwest and Hawaii; and many more all embraced the opportunity to build new homes and facilities for the Ranchers. I’m so grateful to all!
Volunteers have been the lifeblood of Rainbow Acres for so many years. Please share a few projects that volunteers really moved forward to benefit the Ranchers.
Mission Volunteers, youth from 4th grade to college ages, intergenerational groups and adult groups have all made a difference in the lives of the Ranchers. It hasn’t always been about the projects but rather Volunteer connections to the Ranchers to help them feel important in the Kingdom of God. Jeff Wagner grew up at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Santa Anna, visited on a Mission Team throughout his youth and college years, now he leads youth groups to Rainbow from the same Church a relationship over 30 years.
John and Mary Chandler led intergenerational groups from Hillside Community Church in Rancho Cucamonga for 17 years and passed that leadership to others. One of their many projects was installing the beautiful white fence around the Ranch. In addition to helping at Family and Friends Weekend, they were famous for hosting events for the Ranchers…a Prom, a Beach Boy Ocean Party and a Disney Party!
In 1990, Kirk of the Hills sent Erwin King and a small volunteer group to experience Rainbow Acres and the Ranchers. It was the beginning of a 30-year relationship. Erwin was nearly 90 years old on his last trip but still shared in fellowship with the Ranchers.
What is your proudest achievement (s) at Rainbow Acres and why?
My education and professional training may not be the traditional pedagogy in working with disabilities but that gave me freedom to approach the Ranchers in a new way. The Ranchers have always appreciated being treated as adults with clear expectations and they rise up every time! Also, I’m especially proud of working with team members to create a holistic approach to providing Rancher care, programs and activities while building new homes that offer the comforts of home for our residents. Over the years, we have continued to raise the bar on professional qualifications of our leaders across the Ranch.
You’ve shown unwavering dedication for your Rainbow Acres work family. Given such all-encompassing workdays, how has your personal family on the home front been engaged in Rainbow Acres over the years?
I have tried to live by a “work hard, play hard” lifestyle so vacations and holidays were devoted to family time. Jussara is an awesome Mom and incredible wife. She sets the tone for our children Isaac and Abigail. We are a tight knit family and treasure the time we are together.
You keep the Ranchers front and center in daily endeavors. What does your personal slogan, “For the Ranchers” mean to you?
“For the Ranchers” is my way of keeping all who love Rainbow Acres focused on the Ranchers. It is not about an institution but more about the vision we have for the people we serve. When one catches the vision and feels a personal connection with those we serve, they want to become involved.