In Memory of Ryan Colburn and Polly Arango

In Memory of Ryan Colburn and Polly Arango

By Ruth Walden
Family Specialist, New York Department of Health, Children with Special Health Care Needs Unit, Chair of the AMCHP Family & Youth Leadership Committee and President, Family Voices Board of Directors 

Tragedy struck twice in June claiming two very vocal advocates for children and youth with special health care needs (CYSHCN):  Ryan S. Colburn and Polly Arango.   

Ryan Colburn touched the lives of all who knew him. He attended numerous AMCHP Annual Meetings where he made many friends. Ryan loved sports and was an avid Auburn fan. Ryan believed in Auburn and truly loved it. He was also a huge fan of the Atlanta Braves. He played the outfield in Miracle League Baseball.   

As he reached young adulthood he demonstrated his ability to address a crowd by speaking at conferences about “Growing Up With a Disability and Living Life to Its Fullest.” Although Ryan was never a youth scholar at AMCHP, he embodied the spirit, values and beliefs of what a true advocate for youth should be. He greeted people with a sense of dignity and confidence and his powerful sense of humor was always present. 

Ryan was an active participant in the Children’s Ministry and the Student Ministry of Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church. Ryan enjoyed music and singing; he sang with the Frazer Youth Worship Arts Choir and toured a different part of the United States each summer with the Choir.   

After graduation from Jefferson Davis High School in 2005, Ryan worked for the Southeast YMCA. In high school he was a member of the Key Club and Yearbook staff. He was the 1989 Montgomery United Way Ambassador. 

Contributions can be made in Ryan's name to one of the following:

The Frazer Youth Worship Arts Program at Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church, 6000 Atlanta Highway, Montgomery, AL 36117 or the
Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs, Ryan Colburn Youth Scholarship Fund, 2030 M Street NW, Suite 350, Washington, DC 20036. 

Children and youth with special health care needs in New Mexico, across the United States and throughout the world lost a caring and expert voice with the freak accidental death of Polly Arango. Families everywhere with CYSHCN lost a mentor, leader, advocate, a supportive voice and a friend. Polly believed that everyone, including the most vulnerable, deserved the best care. Polly began her life’s work of advocacy when she and her husband adopted their son, Nicholas, who has a genetic muscular disorder. In her early medical and educational experiences with Nick, she was driven to take action. She realized that there were many others who experienced the same or similar treatment and didn’t or couldn’t speak up for themselves and their children. 

Polly was co-founder and Executive Director of Family Voices, an Albuquerque-based national nonprofit organization dedicated to family-centered care (FCC) for CYSHCN. She also helped to establish Parents Reaching Out, a nonprofit that assisted with education and advocacy for New Mexico parents of children with a disability. 

Polly served on the boards of New Mexico Voices for Children, The New Mexico Development Disabilities Planning Council, and the New Mexico Medicaid Advisory Committee, the National Childhood Disability Commission and the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care and other groups. She spoke and wrote extensively on CYSHCN. Her pursuit of the adoption of FCC for CYSHCN took her to Russia and Norway where she spoke passionately about the need. 

The family has asked that in lieu of flowers contributions be made to Family Voices or New Mexico Voices for Children. 

Both of these leaders have journeyed on but their voices will be forever remembered.