Day and employment service providers win 2024 MOHR Choice awards

Six organizations that go above and beyond in providing services to Minnesotans with disabilities are being honored by the Minnesota […]

Dragonfly Coffee employee standing in front a Dragonfly Coffee sign that has their Spring drinks on it.

Six organizations that go above and beyond in providing services to Minnesotans with disabilities are being honored by the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR). 

The six are recipients of the annual MOHR Choice Award recipients. The honorees are chosen from large and small day and employment services organizations from all corners of the state. The commonality is that they have all created exceptional programs which ensure that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are uplifted, celebrated and given the opportunity to use their skills to add value to their communities. 

“Every year, the Choice Awards highlight exceptional programs offered by MOHR members,” said Robin Harkonen, president of MOHR. “The programs are truly life-enriching for the individuals who participate in them.” 

This year’s winners include businesses operated by people with disabilities, programs designed to break down barriers to disability employment, opportunities for people with disabilities to learn non-traditional skills, and initiatives that foster community engagement through the arts. 

Participants in the PAI program on stage running through a script for a play

The winners are: 

Udac, Duluth—Exploring Community and Careers 
The Exploring Community and Careers program focuses on expanding opportunities for individuals with disabilities and advancing inclusive opportunities in employment practices, opening doors to roles and jobs that have not been previously considered for individuals with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities are given hands-on experiences to develop knowledge of roles and jobs within a wide variety of businesses. Meanwhile, businesses that participate in Exploring Community and Careers are engaged in seeing people with disabilities as part of their organization, becoming more familiar with them, and often more willing to hire them to become part of their workforce. The partnership involves the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, the school system and 11 diverse local businesses including Jamar Company, Essentia Health, YMCA, SCS Interiors, Duluth International Airport, Lake Superior College Aviation, Grandma’s, Krause Anderson, Duluth Entertainment & Convention Center, Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, University of Minnesota Duluth and the Duluth Transit Authority. Since 2022, the program has been offered three times, serving 19 individuals. 

Hubbard County Developmental Achievement Center, Park Rapids -The Depot and Heartland Art Studio 
The Depot program focuses on teaching individuals with disabilities skills that they have previously been told were too dangerous. The program starts with basic tools like hammers and screwdrivers and works up to woodworking with table saws, grinding equipment, sanding equipment and more. It also includes basic car repair like oil changes, checking fluids, and tire rotations; a welding program that starts with basic skills and works up to welding for repair and artistic creation, gardening, and basic animal care with chickens. In the future, the Depot will also work on a community project with Hubbard County Soil and Water to create a food forest that will become a park for the community, and a pollinator garden. 

Itasca Life Options, Grand Rapids-Dragonfly Coffee
Dragonfly Coffee is a social enterprise created by Itasca Life Options to provide empowering inclusion and community through the employment of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program provides paid pre- vocational job training as well as a sense of community and pride for the individuals served by Itasca Life Options. While some individuals may never have the opportunity to hold a job in the greater community, Dragonfly Coffee strives to find a spot for each person. To date, 20 individuals have been employed by Dragonfly Coffee, discovering and strengthening their skills in customer service, baking and barista work. 

Rise, Coon Rapids-Rise with Y 
The Rise with the Y program was born from an idea to connect YMCA members with the individuals with disabilities served by Rise at the YMCA to increase social connectedness, creating a higher quality of life, and therefore improved health outcomes. It began in the fall of 2023  and is focused on three pillars: Visibility, Variety and Connection. 

The program initially began with lobby mixers, allowing both groups to meet each other. People began talking about life enrichment activities along with opportunities to connect. Since then, Rise has held many activities with members, including YMCA sponsored fitness classes, social events, arts and cultural programs, volunteering opportunities, community outings, and special events including a holiday party lunch. Rise regularly serves 30 people through its YMCA Life Enrichment Program. The events and activities also drew more than 40 YMCA members.  Additionally, after learning more about the program, 42 YMCA members signed up to connect with the Life Enrichment Program through special group activities like Zumba, coloring club, music therapy and community outings to places like the Pavek Museum of Electronic Communication and a bottling tour of Blue Sun Soda. 

Options, Inc., Big Lake – Blackbird Coffee Company 
Blackbird Coffee Company, owned, operated, and powered by Options, Inc., operates a coffee kiosk in the main lobby of Sherburne County Government Center in Elk River. The company was created to help people with disabilities develop and enrich valuable work skills including customer service, operating a point of sale system and creating custom drinks. 

People served by Options, Inc. operate the kiosk every step of the way, from taking in-person and online orders to making the drink. Behind the scenes, they process orders, manage inventory and sales, and ship bulk coffee, t-shirts and mugs. The kiosk opened for business on May 1, 2023 and has seen a steady following from customers ever since. 

PAI , White Bear Lake – Community Engagement and Inclusivity through Performing Arts 
In 2023, Lakeshore Players Theatre connected with PAI to provide sensory and employment tours of their home venue, the Hanifl Performing Arts Center in White Bear Lake. This provided a unique opportunity for PAI program participants. 

The Lakeshore Players also produced a short play in March, featuring participants from PAI. 

The tours were a regular occurrence throughout last fall, and play practices are being held twice a week until the date of the show. Lakeshore Players also partnered with PAI’s employment placement team to facilitate a job tryout. The tours, play and employment connections all boost confidence, increase skills, foster community inclusion and provide an opportunity for meaningful employment for community members with disabilities. 

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