Doing for others

May 2018 View more

The Ray Graham Association is dedicated to helping adults and children with disabilities feel safe and happy so they can live their best lives. What started as a couple of families working together in the 1950s has grown into a large nonprofit serving more than 2,000 children and adults annually in nearly 40 locations. At the helm of this vital organization is President and CEO Kim Zoeller.

Zoeller began working at the association 23 years ago as an employment specialist. Though she only planned on staying a few years, Zoeller found herself eagerly taking on more responsibilities. “Serving people with disabilities quickly became a passion for me,” she explains. “As doors opened around here, I jumped at new opportunities. Before I knew it, I had played just about every role on the programming side of things. So when our CEO retired seven years ago, I threw my hat in the ring, and here I am today.”

Zoeller’s efforts to help others are unyielding. “When I take a step back and look at the impact we are making in people’s lives, I’m motivated to keep going and help even more people. Every time I turn around I feel like there is more to do,” she says. Zoeller is equally passionate about supporting her staff. “I’m so fortunate to have this team of 400 fabulous people that come to work everyday, truly wanting to make a difference in people’s lives,” she states. “No one is ever going to make a lot of money doing the work we do, particularly the direct support personnel. I want to make sure they know how valued they are. Without them we would be nothing.”

Empowering people with disabilities
The association is named in honor of the late Ray Graham, a pioneer in disability advocacy and Illinois’s first director of special education. In addition to employment services, the organization helps people develop life and independent living skills at its Community Learning Centers. It also hosts day camps as well as educational and recreational programs through the Gateway Special Recreation Association. “We also have a phenomenal therapeutic horsemanship program on our 12-acre site in Burr Ridge. We have 20 horses of our own and offer riding lessons six days a week at our indoor riding facility, outdoor arena and trails. We even have a Special Olympics equestrian team,” Zoeller says.

Ray Graham also operates more than 20 community-based group homes, two of which are in Naperville. Residential support services range from independent living assistance to a 24-hour nursing facility in Addison. They are one of the few organizations in the state offering overnight respite services. The nonprofit even acts as a case manager helping families navigate available state services and maximize funding assistance.

In order to maintain these services, Zoeller is tasked with raising $1.8 million each year. One of the association’s major annual fundraisers is the Robert F. Spahn Memorial Golf Classic on May 21 in Elmhurst (

A commitment to the greater good
Serving on numerous national and statewide organizations, Zoeller’s impact extends well beyond the DuPage County lines. She often travels to help other nonprofits employ best practices. “There is a tremendous amount of work that consistently needs to be done to ensure people have everything they need and want,” Zoeller explains. “Families trust us with so much. Even though we are a large organization, we are like a family to them—and you don’t let your family down.”