Linda Ellegard turned personal struggle into professional triumph — and has helped countless Colorado Springs families along the way.

A social worker, Ellegard watched special-needs children placed into foster care for a single reason: Parents were too exhausted and stressed out to do the best for their children.

“It wasn’t neglect or abuse,” said the single mom of three kids. “It was just being too overwhelmed and not having any options.”

Ellegard understood the intense pressure. She worked full time while taking care of her son, Joey, a child with special-needs. When Joey died at the age of 15, she cofounded Special Kids/Special Families with another mother who also had a special-needs son, named Zach, who also died young. Together, they developed the nonprofit group that provides adult daycare, respite care and child daycare for people with special needs, giving families a safe place for their kids. The two boys’ legacies live on through Joey’s Place and Zach’s Place, programs at the center.

Ellegard grew the nonprofit from the ground up, says Jan Issacs Henry, executive director of nonprofit KidPower, who nominated Ellegard for the Women of Influence award.

“Linda is one of the most passionate, focused, dedicated, selfless, unstoppable people I know,” she said. “She created this nonprofit to fill a gap that she knew about from her own personal experience. And she’s made it what it is today.”

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Joey’s Place focuses on daycare so parents can work, while Zach’s Place is the overnight respite care center.

“You just watch these families, and you know they’re going through so much,” Ellegard said. “Often, it’s the promise of that break, knowing they’ll get to rest, that really keeps them healthy. And it’s not institutional or scary. We create a homey atmosphere in a wonderful neighborhood.”

Ellegard loves watching families and children at the nonprofit.

“The kids love to come here,” she said. “And I love to see the joy, the changes, the growth. It’s rewarding to see how they do in the community. We go swimming; we go bowling. It’s great to see them blossom in that environment. They light up when they come here — and their parents, you can just see some of the burden lifted.”

Ellegard puts her focus on the work, the children and their families.

“Really, I’m just pleased I can help,” she said. “I understand that sometimes, this is the only place they can turn. Families say without this program, they don’t know what they’d do. With it, they can work, keep the family together and keep moving forward. That’s the most rewarding thing to me.”

Issacs Henry said she can think of no one more deserving of recognition.

“I’m just so pleased that she is being honored,” she said. “She simply works day in, day out — and many nights. She gives it her all. And she’s totally about the families, the community.”

— Amy Gillentine