Snowflakes gala 1

Stephanie Harris, left, and Krissy Crites, right, present Winter Hardin with a Volunteer of the Year Award during the annual Red River Valley Down Syndrome Society Snowflakes and Diamonds Gala on Saturday night at the Love Civic Center.

For years, the Red River Valley Down Syndrome Society and the REACH Center in Paris has provided vital services to Lamar County residents with disabilities and their families. At the organization’s helm is Krissy Crites.

Crites, who has served as the Down Syndrome Society’s executive director since 2012, first became involved in helping people with disabilities after her daughter Katelyn was born with neurological disorders.

“When she started school, I decided to go back to school myself for special education,” Crites said.

Crites eventually became a special education teacher for Paris ISD, and worked at Justiss Elementary School, Givens Elementary School and Lamar County Head Start.

Crites said she found teaching special ed to be extremely rewarding, and she loved her work. After the birth of her third child, however, she decided to leave the profession to become a stay-at-home-mom.

In 2005, she found out about the Down Syndrome Society through its Buddy Baseball program, and she felt compelled to get involved. Shortly thereafter, she started regularly volunteering with the local nonprofit.

“I was moved by how this group was impacting so many people’s lives, and I wanted to be a part of that,” Crites said.

As a volunteer, Crites did a little of everything, from writing grants, to planning fundraising events, to assisting with various events and functions and more.

In 2009, Crites joined the organization’s Board of Directors, and three short years later, she was named executive director.

“I was doing so much, and we didn’t have an executive director for about a year after the previous one retired, so they named me the new executive director,” Crites said.

As executive director, it is Crites’ duty to make sure the day-to-day operations of the organization are running smoothly, write grants and plan future events and additions to the program.

Crites is quick to deflect recognition to her fellow team members, though there are things the foundation has done under her watch that she’s especially proud of.

“I don’t like talking about myself or saying ‘I did this,’” Crites said. “It’s not just me. So many people are involved that are vital to our mission, and we wouldn’t be able to succeed without every one of them.”

One of the things Crites is most proud of is the new REACH Center building, which the Down Syndrome Society obtained shortly after she took over as executive director in 2012.

Before that, she said, the center was located in a small building in a Reno shopping center.

Other additions under her watch she’s proud of include the introduction of afterschool and summer programs for children three-years-old and up.

“Usually daycare programs cut off at 13 but a lot of children with disabilities aren’t able to be left home alone, so we stretch it out past that,” Crites said.

Currently, the REACH Center and the Down Syndrome Society sees 21 kids Monday through Friday as part of the program.

Other services provided by the organization include support groups for family members, behavioral workshops and more.

“We believe in helping not just the kids with disabilities, but their families too,” she said.

Crites said she has several plans for ways the organization can grow and improve in the future. Among them, she said they are currently renovating the REACH Center’s kitchen to provide cooking classes.

“We’re always working on something,” Crites said.

While Crites is at the head of the Down Syndrome Society, she’s involved with several other community groups and organizations, including the New Hope Center of Paris and the local Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops.

“I’m just so thankful for everyone who supports us and the other nonprofits. This is such a giving community and we’re glad to be a part of it.”

Tommy Culkin is a staff writer for The Paris News. He can be reached at 903-785-6972 or at tommy.culkin@theparisnews.com.

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