Laradon’s Mission is to be an organization of excellence that provides superior services to children and adults with developmental disabilities and other special needs to help them realize their full potential and maximize self-sufficiency.
In 1948, at a time when the public school system denied an education to their two sons because they were “mentally retarded,” Joseph and Elizabeth Calabrese invested their life savings into the creation of a very special school-Laradon. Named after their two sons, Larry and Don, Laradon was the first charitable organization in the Rocky Mountain region to offer support, education and training to children with developmental disabilities.
News of this much needed school spread quickly and within two years, Laradon was filled to capacity. At a time when few other services were available to children with disabilities, Laradon was a blessing for the many parents who were concerned about their children’s futures.
Within a short time, Laradon gained national recognition as an innovator of education and training services for people with special needs. As referrals dramatically increased, the need for a larger facility, additional staff, and financial support became apparent. In 1950, Laradon moved to its current facility at 5100 Lincoln Street in northwest Denver, where services continue to expand and enrollments continue to rise.
In partnership with parents, professionals, philanthropic organizations and generous community members, Joseph and Elizabeth Calabrese created a training center for people seeking the opportunity to expand their work skills, a school for children with special needs and housing for people in need of a home.The Calabrese’s knew that when provided with the proper education, training and support, people with disabilities could realize their full potential, contribute to the community and become valued members of society.
That vision still exists today. It is manifested in Laradon’s culture and operating philosophy; it is embodied in its mission statement and is seen on the faces of the children and adults who are experiencing a life of inclusion, independence and success.
For more information about Laradon’s history, read Garden of Hope: Laradon Hall
Laradon Board of Directors
Bill Mitchell, Chairperson
Highlands Ranch, CO
Frank Sommer, Vice Chair
Jason Adams, Treasurer
Nancy Hodges, Secretary
Emily McKissick Diaz
Laradon Foundation Board of Directors
Mike Burns, Chairperson
George Uhland, Vice Chair
Suzanne Bradeen, Treasurer
Malcom Freeberg, Secretary
Commerce City, CO
Ft. Morgan, CO
Bill Mitchell, Laradon Chairperson
Highlands Ranch, CO
Tilman Adair, Executive Director
Executive Leadership Team
Chief Executive Officer
Director of Community and Employment Services
Director of Children’s Services
Director of Adult Residential Services
Director of Quality Assurance and Human Resources
Director of General Services
Director of Finance Management and Information Technology
Director of Day Habilitation Services
Laradon benefits from the support of its community. The grant funding Laradon receives gives us the ability to further enhance and expand programs and services. Laradon receives community funding for individual programs and general operating expenses to support Laradon overall.
Laradon is generously supported by the following funders:
- Autism Speaks
- BabiesNow! Foundation
- BNSF Railway Foundation
- Boeing Employees Community Fund
- Colorado State Bank and Trust
- Constance Cornelius Trust
- Daniel Gordon Family Foundation
- Daniels Fund
- E-470 Safety Foundation
- Elks National Foundation
- El Pomar Foundation
- Foundations Church
- Herbert Parker Charitable Trust
- Jackson National Community Fund
- John G. Duncan Charitable Trust
- Harry W. & Louis L. Vicksman Trust
- Louis & Harold Price Foundation
- Maximus Foundation
- Professional Association of Colorado Educators
- Safeway Foundation
- Stone Family Foundation
- The Anschutz Foundation
- The Denver Foundation
- The Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Colorado
- USTA Colorado Youth Tennis Foundation
- Virginia W. Hill Foundation
- Walter & Elizabeth Lipe Charitable Trust
Colorado Elks Association
In 1948, Denver postman Joseph V. Calabrese could not find a school that would teach his developmentally disabled children. Joe exclaimed, “By golly, if there’s no place for my kids, I’ll start a school of my own for them and other youngsters like them. ”For two years, Mr. and Mrs. Calabrese carried most of the financial load, using their $10,000 life savings to convert a house into Colorado’s only school for developmentally disabled children.
In 1950, the Colorado Elks Association voted to adopt Laradon as its State Major Project. The Elks purchased the abandoned Globeville neighborhood school from the City and County of Denver for $25,000.The Elks’ generosity turned the Calabreses’ dream, to open a special education and training center for children with developmental disabilities, into a reality. Laradon was the first private, non-profit organization in the Rocky Mountain Region to provide intellectually and developmentally disabled children individualized services and programming.
“The torch has been lit, let’s keep it burning.
A great work is well on its way.
Let’s see that it continues so that in years to come
[Laradon] will spread like the branches of a tree
and continue to grow and grow and grow!”
Jacob “Mr. Elk of Colorado” Sherman
at the Dedication of the new Laradon School building
February 18, 1951.
Through relentless dedication, the prediction Mr. Sherman made six decades ago has become a reality. As Laradon has grown in the number of clients and services offered, the Colorado Elks have never left Laradon’s side. Since 1950, Elks financial support has been significant. Over the past 25 years, contributions that have been made directly through various Elks organizations totals nearly $4 million.
Funding comes from a number of sources including an annual statewide drawing, benefit dinners at lodges, special fundraising events, personal donations by Elks Lodge members, bequests from the estates of recently-passed Elks members, large charitable grants from the Colorado and National Elks associations, and in-kind donations of craft supplies for the adult programs and paper goods for our school lunch program.
For more information on the Colorado Elks Association’s active support of Laradon, please visit