2011 Award Winner - Bangsberg embodies spirit of service

Jeff Bangsberg is a man who gets things done for Minnesota’s disability community. His long record of service, dedication and commitment earned his multiple nominations for the 2011 Access Press Charlie Smith Award. The Access Press Board of Directors chose Bangsberg from a very crowded field of nominees.

“I recall asking Charlie Smith once, years ago ‘who is that guy’ and Charlie said ‘that’s Jeff Bangsberg, do yourself a favor and follow him. He knows little bit about everything in the community” said Tim Benjamin, the hand-picked successor to Charlie Smith Jr. The award, given to a Minnesota individual or group who provides outstanding service to people with disabilities, is given in memory of Access Press founding editor and activist Charlie Smith Jr. The award is presented at the newspaper’s annual banquet, which will be held Nov. 4 in Bloomington. Contact the newspaper at 651-644-2133 or www.accesspress.org to purchase tickets or get other information.

Two past Charlie Smith Award winners were among those asking that Bangsberg receive recognition. “I have known and worked with Jeff since the early 1990s when we both were involved in the newly organized Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD),” said Anne L. Henry of the Minnesota Disability Law Center. “At that time, Jeff was a prominent activist with the State Vocational Rehabilitation Council and other state task forces and advisory groups. He was appointed to a number of health reform groups, including the Universal Benefit Set group.”

In addition to taking on leadership roles on employment of persons with disabilities, independent living and health care reform, Bangsberg has been a steadfast advocate/vigorous protector of personal care assistant (PCA) services for more than two decades.

Henry said that Bangsberg exemplified Smith’s values by doing several things. Bangsberg provides solid information so that persons with disabilities can become active and work for the change needed in their lives.

He shares his own personal situation on many, many occasions at the Legislature, rallies, forums and at state agency meetings. He also takes on new challenges as service cuts and benefit limits were proposed.

He was an early proponent of unifying the various disability advocacy groups which existed
in the early 1990’s. He had a clear vision of the power of unifying the many groups to work for overarching goals such as community living, employment and access to health care. The strength and unity of the disability community today, exemplified by the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, owes much to Bangsberg for his vision, countless hours of volunteer organizing, analysis and policy advocacy as well as perpetually cheerful cheerleading, Henry added.

“I’ve had the opportunity to know Jeff for over 30 years,” said Steve Kuntz, who has worked with Bangsberg in many capacities. “In that time I have witnessed his passion for getting things done for the broad spectrum of the disability community. His relentless energy, quick wit and ability to develop relationships and partnerships across a spectrum of different ideas and philosophies have been remarkable. His fingerprints are on so many of the cornerstones of what makes Minnesota a place where individuals with disabilities want to live.”

Bangsberg served as government relations director for the Minnesota HomeCare Association (MHCA) until his retirement. His duties at MHCA included supporting home care services for seniors and persons with disabilities at the local, state and federal levels in public policy.

Before working at the MN HomeCare Association, he worked at Becklund Home Health Care as director of public policy. Prior to that, he helped organize and served as Coordinator to the Twin Cities Area Labor Management Council.

Bangsberg’s spinal cord injury resulted from a diving accident when he was 16 years old. He didn’t let that stop him from graduating from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree.

Kuntz said, “Due to his disability, Jeff brings personal experience to the development of public policies for people with disabilities. In the 1970s, he was a member of the Metropolitan Handicapped Coalition, which promoted early legislation related to personal care assistance and accessible transportation.

In 1991, Jeff worked on legislative and regulatory issues related to Medical Assistance, Medicare, private health insurance and employment. In 1999, he played a key role in securing federal and state legislation on work incentives for people with disabilities, including the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act and Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities (MAEPD).”

He currently is a consultant to the Minnesota Department of Health and chairs the State Rehabilitation Council, which oversees State Vocational Rehabilitation Services. He serves on the Minnesota Health Care Home Consumer and Family Council, as well Courage Center’s Quality Assurance Committee and the Living Works Board of Directors.

“When I think of what the Charlie Smith award is about and the passion and seeing that individuals with disabilities are included in the mainstream of society I truly think of Jeff Bangsberg,” Kuntz added. Even though Bangsberg officially retired in 2007, “I don’t know if Jeff quite understands the definition of retirement because he seems as involved as ever,” said Kuntz.

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2 Comments

  1. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of the Charlie Smith award than Jeff, although I know how much he must be blushing to know he is geing recognized. I have had the pleasure to work with Jeff on significant policy changes when I worked at the Department of Human Services and then I had the distinct pleasure of sharing an office with him at Becklund Home Health Care. Three cheers to you Jeff! Cathy Griffin

  2. Congratulations to Jeff for receiving the Charlie Smith award. I have had the pleasure of working with Jeff while on the State Rehabilitation Council. His years of service gives him a deep knowledge of many subjects, but it’s his courage to ask the tough questions that makes him an effective advocate. He has fought hard for the disability community, making him extremely deserving of this honor. Sean Roy

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