A couple whose legal action changed state policy and a troop of Girl Scouts are among the winners of The Arc Greater Twin Cities’ 2011 Changemaker Awards. The awards recognize individuals or organizations for making a difference for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. The awards were presented May 5 at The Arc’s Annual Meeting and Volunteer Celebration at Midland Hills Country Club in Roseville.
The Changing Attitudes category recognizes those who change public perceptions of people with disabilities. Katie McDermott, North St. Paul is a person with a disability understands the power of perception of disabilities. Building her own advocacy skills, she also created her own position working with and mentoring self-advocates at Merrick, Inc. She also created her own mentoring business.
McDermott is committed to fighting abuse of people with disabilities and has played an important volunteer role in The Arc Greater Twin Cities’ abuse prevention initiative. She is active in Advocating Change Together and Self-Advocates Become Empowered. She completed the Partners in Policymaking program of the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities and is on the Ramsey County Citizen Action Committee.
“Katie is an extraordinary force for positive change in the way the world perceives people with disabilities,” said Kim Keprios, chief executive officer of The Arc Greater Twin Cities. “She has the courage to use her voice and the passion to help others take the journey as self-advocates.”
Claire Hinrichs, Edina, volunteers with G. Alumni, retiree volunteers affiliated with General Mills. They assist with The Arc’s mailings that are crucial community connections.
Hinrichs distinguished herself by her dedication, energy and can-do spirit. She organizes and oversees group projects for The Arc. Even recuperating from surgery, Hinrichs helped lead until she returned.
Michele McAlister, Woodbury is dedicated to improving the way people with developmental disabilities are perceived and treated. The mother of a child with autism, she facilitates a parent networking group for The Arc in Woodbury and is a lifeline for parents who have children with autism. She helps parents connect for support and advice, obtain resources and learn to advocate for children. She allows college students to observe the group and learn about issues families face.
McAlister has served as a presenter and representative of The Arc Greater Twin Cities at events.
Changing Policies awards honored persons whose efforts have resulted in systems and policy changes that benefit individuals with disabilities and their families.
Chloette Haley, Stillwater, is the driving force behind Stepping Up Moving Forward, a Stillwater-based network for systems change and community-building for people with I/DD. Stepping Up Moving Forward works to effect change on many fronts, including a website resource; support of the Artworks! Opportunity for adults with disabilities to express their creativity and parent events that help families connect. Stepping Up Moving Forward works with existing resources to expand opportunities for people with I/DD to be more active in community life.
“Chloette is a person who makes things happen, and Stepping Up Moving Forward is an exceptional achievement,” said Keprios. “Many people have been important to its success, but the heart of this remarkable grassroots network is Chloette. Her vision, passion and leadership make her a true changemaker, and lives are better because of her.”
Roberta Blomster, Vadnais Heights, is a powerful public policy advocate, working to ensure that legislators understand issues that affect people with disabilities. She first became involved in public policy in 2005, working to remove the “R” word from legislation.
In 2009 she participated in the Capitol Fellowship Program and interned with Sen. David Tomassoni, (DFL-Chisholm). She is now fighting Minnesota’s proposed constitutional amendment to require voter ID. She attended The Arc’s national Disability Policy Seminar in Washington, D.C. in 2010 and 2012.
Pia Prenevost of Coon Rapids and Sheri Radoux of Blaine are mothers of children with autism. They work tirelessly to rally other parents to support legislation to secure intensive early intervention and ensure that these services are part of Minnesota’s essential benefits.
After being flooded with calls from parents mustered by Prenevost and Radoux, the Director of Health Services for Children at the Department of Human Services announced a listening session to hear parents’ concerns. They also partnered to create a rally that drew more than 100 participants to the state capitol in February.
Changing Lives awards salute long-term or intensive efforts that positively affect the lives of people with disabilities.
Jim and Lorie Jensen, Little Canada, improved conditions for all residents of Minnesota’s state-run mental health institutions by seeking better treatment for their son Brad. He was placed in Minnesota Extended Treatment Options (METO) and was subjected many times to improper restraint involving metal handcuffs and leg hobbles. Their story triggered a state investigation. METO closed in 2010.
They were lead plaintiffs in Jensen vs. Minnesota Department of Human Services, a class action suit representing about 300 former METO residents. The settlement was notable for curbing the state’s use of handcuffs and other restraints to deal with behavior challenges, and mandating staff training.
“Jim and Lorie Jensen are like the pebble that starts an avalanche of change,” said Keprios. “They truly changed the system through their courage, perseverance and love for their son, and they made a profound impact on both policy and lives. Because the Jensens spoke out, thousands of Minnesotans with disabilities now have a definitive right to more humane and respectful treatment.”
Nicole Limper, Rochester, came to The Arc in 2011 as a student intern. She initially tracked legislation about the abuse of people with I/DD and shared her knowledge with policymakers and classmates. She created a comprehensive abuse prevention information resource, which is available to the public. She co-facilitated abuse prevention trainings for women with I/DD.
Six girls from River Valleys Girl Scout Troop 51429, Woodbury, worked on a community service project to benefit The Arc and earn the Girl Scouts bronze award. They organized a donation drive for Arc’s Value Village Thrift Stores and Donation Centers and collected nearly 600 pounds of clothing and toys. A rainy collection day didn’t dampen their enthusiasm.
They proved that one is never too young to make a difference.
Laurel Hirt, Katie Peacock, Monica Siems and staff of the Community Service Learning Center (CSLC) at the U of M work to connects The Arc with U of M students seeking internships that provide learning experiences. Interns offer valuable assistance with programs and services. They gain skills and knowledge in their chosen fields. Student projects include creating abuse prevention resources, updating PowerPoint presentations, providing childcare to parent networking groups and compiling evaluation results.
The Corporate Partnership Award went to United Health Group and Dorsey & Whitney, LLP. They conducted a free review of The Arc Greater Twin Cities’ policies and procedures in 2011. Eric Brotten of OptumHealth, a UnitedHealth business, coordinated the project.
Jerry Wobschall, a Golden Valley resident won the Value Village Volunteer of the Year award. Wobschall was honored as a member of the Arc’s Value Village 300 Club, for giving 300 hours of service or more a year. He focuses on testing and rearing donated electronics and has become the store’s “go-to guy” for electronics. In addition he removes hazardous parts before disposing of them.
The Thrift Business Partner of the Year is Blu Dot. The modern home furnishings company was selected for its support of Arc’s Value Village Thrift Stores. In recent years, the company has donated new merchandise valued at more than $41,000. Blu Dot founder Maurice Blanks has also supported The Arc’s marketing and business development efforts with business advice and expertise.