Debbie Laird loves it when a disabled client comes to her office door in the morning and asks her how many meetings she has for the day. Or when a client wants to know how she spent the night before work. Or when a client smiles, waves and asks for a hug as Laird walks through her office building.
The senior vice president of development at Janus Developmental Services said it’s these rewards that money cannot buy.?The Noblesville resident, who went to work at Janus eight years ago, quickly fell in love with the nonprofit’s clients made up of disabled adults who come to work there daily.?“These are the truly genuine people of the world who have no pretenses, who say ‘I love you, Debbie,’ because they really do.  I will never forget this amazing population of people and how they have challenged me and helped me to grow over the last eight years,” said Laird, who retires today from the Noblesville nonprofit which this year celebrates 41 years of serving adults with disabilities. Janus is known for its sheltered workshop program where clients work at Janus for companies to earn wages. ?Laird has been the face that I’ve put with Janus since she’s been there. She leads the fundraising. She plans the breakfasts and luncheons. She sends out the newsletters, annual reports and press releases of all things Janus.
“When I first began to work at Janus, there were many people who did not know what Janus did for the community. There were many times when I told people where I worked, the reaction was one of puzzlement and curiosity. By working with a team of enthusiastic staff and board members, the Janus name has become one that people understand and respect,” Laird said. “Janus is known for the compassion provided to our clients through a variety of services that enables adults with disabilities to develop to their fullest potential.”
She first became acquainted with Janus in 2011 and decided she wanted to become a part of that successful team. So she interviewed for the position of vice president of transportation and development in 2012, “and got the job.”?As Janus’ Hamilton County Express (a public transportation service) and the Development Department grew, a transportation director was hired and Laird was promoted to senior vice president of development.?During her leadership, Laird is most proud of Janus’ steady growth, Janus’ Community Luncheon and Janus’ annual fundraiser breakfast.
Janus continues to grow at approximately 10 percent a year, she said. “Steady growth comes from superior programs and services that are unique to Janus. In part, Janus is successful because they cater to the individual with personalized services. Staff understand that the dreams and goals of individuals with disabilities are as varied as our own and work diligently to assist each client to be successful.”?Janus’ Community Luncheon each month provides community members with a tour of the Janus facility, an overview of programs and services and a luncheon that is prepared and served by Janus clients. This complimentary event welcomes 20-30 guests who are amazed at not only the variety of services provided, but the quality of care provided to clients. This luncheon also serves to provide Janus with people interested in volunteering and/or providing financial support. 
“I am pleased with the amount of support the community provides Janus in the form of donations at the annual Janus Create, Connect and Commit Fundraising Breakfast and other times throughout the year,” Laird said. The dollars donated at the Janus Breakfast has increased by 444 percent in the last eight years since Laird has been in the position. “The growth of the breakfast comes from creating an event that encompasses the successes of our clients in their homes and in the community,” she said. The Janus breakfast is an hour-long event where community leaders, business owners, families and clients “come together to celebrate and provide examples of what can happen when caring staff, working with excellent programs team up with a community to create independence for an individual with a disability.”?Janus, located at 1555 Westfield Road, provides many services that benefit the community. ?In 2016, Janus purchased adjacent property that included Noblesville Golf & Batting Center, from Sid Davis, who had owned and operated the center with his mom, Phyllis Davis, for 23 years before that. The Center provides employment opportunities for Janus clients. Also, with the continued increase in clients, consideration of a new building is being discussed for the property. Janus also provides employment for clients in a café in the lower level of the Hamilton County Government & Judicial Center.  The Hamilton County Express public transportation has provided rides to work, shopping and other places, for 40 years, and all of those years, the service has been managed by Elaine McGuire.
Working at Janus, Laird’s experience has been memorable. “Janus has had a positive impact on me personally. I have a deep commitment to those who are disadvantaged or disabled and who need a little extra assistance and understanding to be successful. I have been fortunate to be able to share that passion with the community, which benefits our clients,” she said.
On Jan. 23, Laird sent out an email announcing that she would retire today. That was long before the COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease) pandemic.
“The COVID-19 virus and the sheltering in place recommendation has been difficult for our clients, who look forward to coming to Janus each day,” she said. Currently, Janus is using technology and providing virtual services -- games, fitness, cooking, art projects and science experiments (including using paint on hands to demonstrate how germs transfer from hands to other surfaces) -- to its clients through Zoom video conference meetings. ?Today’s sendoff won’t be quite the same as if all of her clients were there. But she is ready for retirement.?She said, “I am looking forward to retirement and the time I will have to explore new opportunities to serve the community through volunteer work.” She plans to increase the time that she currently spends as a mentor for the Westfield Youth Assistance Program and will assist her husband, Mike, with The Jake Laird Foundation, which provides funding to police and fire departments for new equipment, programs and financial assistance for officers injured in the line of duty. The Foundation was established in memory of their son, Jake Laird, an Indianapolis Police Department officer who was killed in the line of duty in 2004.
She and her husband, Mike, moved to Noblesville from Indianapolis’ Eastside and built the house they still call home in 1994. They have two other adult sons, Chris, a Marion County Sheriff’s Deputy; and Gaben, a 20-year, retired Army Veteran who is currently a project manager for Kellogg, Brown and Root, in California.
Any other plans for retirement? Laird said, “I look forward to having more time for reading, gardening, bicycle riding, kayaking and spending time with my family.”

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.