Helping people with disabilities find meaningful work is Kuntz's goal

Helping people with disabilities find meaningful work is Kuntz's goal

A man who has helped countless Minnesotans with disabilities find meaningful work is eyeing the end of his own long career. Steve Kuntz is retiring in early 2020, and to say that he will be missed is an understatement. 

Kuntz is the 2010 Access Press Charlie Smith Award winner, for outstanding service to Minnesota’s disability community. For several decades Kuntz has been a tireless advocate for people with disabilities, beginning as direct care staff at Courage Center and progressing into positions in which he has always worked to improve the lives of those of people with disabilities. 

He has worked at Goodwill/Easter Seals and TBI Metro Services (for what is now Opportunity Partners). He is currently a program specialist in rehabilitation services in the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), working out of the North Minneapolis office. 

Kuntz and the late Charlie Smith were very good friends, and Kuntz served on the Access Press Board for a time. 

Kuntz’s success has attracted the attention of the federal government. When unemployment in the disability community is very high, Kuntz has a placement rate of well above the norm. Yet his clients’ and supporters note that he does his work quietly and without taking credit for himself. 

Kuntz is praised for challenging assumptions about people with disabilities and the work they can do. He also has worked since 2006 to make the state and state agencies into model employers for people with disabilities, through various programs including Pathways to Employment, a multi-agency program. 

One of Kuntz’s many workplace accomplishments is to get people with disabilities working in workforce resource center rooms, to help job seekers. That began with 12 youth interns in 2007 and became so successful, it has been expanded to include adults. That program became a steppingstone for other jobs. 

Another accomplishment is launching an employment program for people with disabilities at the Minnesota Department of Transportation. 

Kuntz said in a 2010 interview that he believes that people with disabilities deserve a chance to have meaningful work. “People with disabilities inspire me every day,” he said. “I admire their resilience and their wanting opportunities and the American Dream. People want to work, to find transportation and to live independently, and I want to be part of that. The people I work with are truly incredible people and they have taught me so much.” 

Kuntz has many stories about clients who have inspired him. He is also committed to community services, serving on groups including the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Development Disabilities (MNCDD), the Americorps Advisory Committee and the employer focus group of the Anoka Workforce Center. He also helps people in his free time and stays in touch with friends, helping them in their time of need. One activity he enjoys is making sure friends with disabilities can enjoy Minnesota Twins baseball games. 

Kuntz is a native of Dickinson, North Dakota. He is a graduate of Normandale Community College and the University of Minnesota. He and his wife Wendy have two children, Alyssa and Anthony. They live in Crystal. 

In his MNCDD biography, Kuntz said, “I truly have been fortunate of working with so many individuals with disabilities that have taught me so much about the important things in life. It is about helping actualize respect and dignity for all individuals and giving them the opportunity to be self-determining regarding where they work, where they live and where they play. It is being a good steward of taxpayer dollars to ensure that individuals receive the services that are going to maximize their independence while being respectful of their individuality and self-determination.” 

His work will be celebrated 1-4 p.m. Tuesday, March 3 at CareerForce Minneapolis North, 800 W. Broadway Ave., Minneapolis. A program is planned at 2 p.m. All are welcome. FFI: Chris McVey, chris.mcvery@state.mn.us