People and Places – June 2009

Mai Thor, a voting outreach advocate was honored in May by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. Thor was honored […]

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Mai Thor, a voting outreach advocate was honored in May by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. Thor was honored for her work in helping make sure all Minnesotans have an opportunity to vote.

Until recently Thor worked for the Minnesota Disability Law Center in Minneapolis. She worked on voter outreach, voter registration and concentrating on voter outreach, education and registration, particularly in the disability community. She recently had a baby and documented her pregnancy in the Access Press. Ritchie said Thor has been an aggressive advocate for disability voters and has appeared in videos and commercials urging people to vote. The award, from the National Association of Secretaries of State, came with a plaque that said: “For making sure every Minnesotan can vote.”


Hearing and Service Dogs of Minnesota trains and provides service dogs for persons with disabilities. The organization before has signed a purchase agreement for a four acre property in New Hope. The property includes a 21,000 square foot industrial building. The organization is currently based in south Minneapolis. The HSDM will announce a separate capital campaign to help pay for the new facility. If all goes as planned, the organization will be able to take ownership of the property this summer. The move will give the organization more needed office and training space, an isolation kennel to allow the group to continue adopting shelter dogs and new indoor-outdoor kennel runs. Up to 40 dogs-in-training could be housed at the facility.

The organization won the 2008 Distinguished Community Service award from The Arc of Minnesota, for its autism assist dogs program.


Ellie Sevdy retired last month from State Services for the Blind, she came to the Communication Center in 1970, fresh out of college. Most recently was supervisor of the audio services unit. Sevdy began as an audio tape librarian and, over the years, worked in several different areas of the Communication Center. She has been instrumental in many improvements made in the center over the years, including the recent shift in the recording process from analog to digital.

When Sevdy began in 1970, all records of customers and audio-books were kept in a card file. Recordings were done on reel-to-reel equipment. Since 2000, the pace of adapting to the digital world has increased greatly, and a major impetus for that has been to make the audio textbooks more useful for today’s students. Last year the audio textbook section began producing textbooks in DAISY format, to be usable by digital readers and that was largely because of her input. .


Members of Arc Greater Twin Cities elected four persons to the board of directors at the organization’s annual meeting held at the WilderFoundation in St. Paul May 19. Three of the directors are new to Arc’s board. Amy Dawson, Minneapolis, is an attorney with Thiel, Campbell, Gunderson and Anderson, P.L.L.P., specializing in estate planning for families of children with disabilities and insurance issues. She brings experience in public policy and fundraising and has done volunteer work with organizations including the Minnesota Senate Autism Task Force, the Minnesota Autism Medical Home team, and the National Medical Home Autism Initiative. Lynn Nelson, Minneapolis, is an adjunct profession of public relations at the University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism. She has volunteered with Arc’s Marketing Committee for five years, providing media relations and crisis communications counsel. She served from 1998-2004 as the director of public education for the Institute of Race and Poverty at the U of M LawSchool and now owns and operates LIN+ Public Relations. Shawn Monaghan, Minneapolis, is vice president international for Medtronic’s cardiovascular division. Before joining Medtronic in 1990, he held a number of financial marketing and operation roles at Arthur Anderson and Deloitte. He recently became a volunteer member of Arc’s Finance Committee and Thrift Business Development Committee.

Returning to Arc’s board for a second three-year term is Troy Auth, Golden Valley, owner of Auth Outdoors, LLC. Auth was first elected to Arc’s board in 2007. Officers of Arc’s board of directors for 2009 – 2010 are Steve Hayes, chair; Peggy Smith, first vice chair; Deborah Harris, second vice chair; Amy Hewitt, secretary and Eduardi Montes, treasurer. Tom Judd is immediate past chair.


Bob Stimson of Bloomington was selected by the Muscular Dystrophy Association to be featured in its national campaign promoting awareness of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) or Lou Gehrig’s disease. May marked the 18th annual National ALS Awareness Month. Stimson was one of 31 people featured, one per day throughout May, in the MDA online series “ALS: Anyone’s Life Story.” Individuals highlighted in the series talked about what it’s like to have ALS, and how they’ve learned to survive – and thrive– despite the deadly, paralyzing condition. Stimson, 66, received a diagnosis of ALS in September 2004. His photo and profile appeared May 28, on MDA’s ALS Web site

Before his diagnosis Stimson owned a specialized table manufacturing company, designed computer-based inventory control software, lived in five countries over a period of 30 years, biked an average 2,000 miles per season for more than 19 years, raced on a Masters mountain bike team, produced and directed industrial business films and videos (with David Frost), and performed in musical groups in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. He stays ahead of the disease by seeking out and using assistive technology and equipment, such as the revolutionary iBOT wheelchair, and says his favorite quote is, “Play for more than you can afford to lose and you will learn the game.”


Two athletes from the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf were honored by the National Deaf Interscholastic Athletics Council (NDIAC) in its national winter sports honors. NDIAC named Kirsten Pudas to the second team for girls’ basketball and Zachary Ulrich to the third team for boys’ basketball. Both athletes are seniors at the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault.


The Minnesota State High School League’s spring bowling tournaments were held May 15 at Brusnwick Zone in Eden Prairie. In all of the singles, doubles and team events, new champions were crowned. The Monticello Magic won their first team championship in the physical impairment (PI) category. Juniors Danielle Bardell and Brandon Dohrwardt, sophomore Matthew Bouma, and ninth-grader Kim Niskanen,combined for 1,560 pins and upset the two-time defending champions from Wayzata/ Minnetonka. St. Paul Humboldt and Wayzata/Minnetonka tied for runner-up honors. A second team from Wayzata/Minnetonka earned third-place honors.

Lauren Warzecha, a ninthgrader at St. Peter, took top honors in the girls’ single competition. Ninth-grader Chrissy Schermerhorn was a close second, and sophomore Victoria Price of Andover rounded out the top three finishers.

In boys’ singles, ninthgrader Domonic Slattery of Cambridge-Isanti claimed his first title. St. Michael-Albertville senior Dan Hlad, who took top honors in 2006, was second. Po Vang, an eighth-grader from St. Paul Humboldt placed third.

Junior Brittany Herbeck and eighth-grader Steven Fletcher of Wayzata/Minnetonka won their first doubles competition. Coon Rapids seniors Scott Clark and Corey Kuphal earned runner-up honors, and Andover sophomores Victoria Price and Emily Raffensparger placed third.

In the cognitive impairment or CI division, North/Tartan, which won its only other team title in 2007, returned to the championship podium this year. The team of senior John Boland and sophomores Andrew Trepanier, Alex Odegard, and Chris Brandt, combined for 1,796 pins to upset the defending champions from Alexandria. The Cardinals of Alexandria were second and the Tigers of Lake City placed third. Spring Lake Park sophomore Beth Lewis-Miles won her first championship in the girls’ singles competition. Jasmine Gomez, an eighth-grader at Coon Rapids, earned runnerup honors, and Mankato East senior Jessica Zernechel placed third.

In the boys’ singles event, St. Paul Johnson sophomore John Hollerbach claimed his first championship. Cambridge-Isanti ninth-grader Austin Sprandal was second. North/Tartan ninth-grader Joe Grandell rounded out the top three finishers.

Sophomore Drew Winter and ninth-grader Gideon Hartsell of Alexandria emerged as the top doubles team. It was the first title for both of them. Junior Jamar Stone and ninth-grader Darius Laney of Minneapolis North Community placed second, and eighth-graders Brandon Melchert and Kendall Olson of St. Peter were third.

The fourth and final adapted sports tournament for 2008- 2009 is softball, with champions crowned May 30. Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound -Westonka team rallied to beat its nemesis Dakota United in the adapted softball state PI championship game, 17-3. The Robins (13-0) closed out a third undefeated sports season and became the third program to sweep PI state titles. Almost every athlete contributed to all the softball, soccer and floor hockey teams. The win avenged a championship loss last year to Dakota United, which is a perennial sports powerhouse.

In the CI division, Osseo (16-2) went beat previously undefeated Dakota United 12-1 in five innings, winning its third consecutive state title and eighth this decade.


We Can Ride has named Brad Thorsen as its new executive director. Thorsen is an attorney with a background in running horse shows, owning and showing horses, coaching the Special Olympics and involvement in Bar Association activities,. He is a past winner of the Hennepin County Bar Association’s Distinguished Service Award for Pro Bono Activities.


Hearing and Service Dogsof Minnesota recently held its volunteer recognition event at Midland Hills County Club. The Special Recognition Award recipient for this year is Sandy Pidde. The Puppy Raisers of the Year are Pat, DeeDee, Sam and Katherine Heffernan. Volunteer of the Year is Leslie Flowers.


The Commission for Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans held its annual award ceremony this spring at the state capitol rotunda in St. Paul.

Marty Barnum received the group’s Lifetime Achievement and Leadership Award. Al Franken was honored for Most Accessible campaign of 2008, for his U.S. Senate campaign.


The Holland Center is a supplemental education program providing therapy and dietary interventions designed to improve a child’s ability to learn. The program was an extension of the in-home therapy Jennifer Larson was doing for her son, and was originally for children ages 2-8. The program is being expanded for children through age 12, she said. In addition Holland Center has added services, such as speech and occupational therapy, for the children enrolled in its program. The combination of those factors forced Holland Center to seek a larger facility, Larson explained.

The school will vacate the city-owned building where the Holland Center opened its doors in 2004. “We love our building and we love Excelsior,” Larson said. But attempting to convert lower level space in its leased building was impractical, prompting the move.

The Holland Center program for autistic children will bemoving this summer, according to Minnesota Sun Publications. The program will move from Excelsior to a Minnetonka location.

Its intended destination, near the junction of Interstate 494 and Highway 62, is pending a conditional use permit from Minnetonka, Larson noted.

The Holland Center was named after the poem “Welcome to Holland,” which compares life with a special needs child to that of a traveler arriving in a different country than originally planned. More information about Holland Center is available online at


Two-time “Dancing with the Stars” champion and Mercury Nashville recording artist Julianne Hough has partnered up with KaBOOM!, a national non-profit, to map and rate play spaces everywhere online. Once it has this comprehensive user-generated playground audit, KaBOOM! will know which areas of the country have a great place for kids to play every day and which areas fall short. Hough will donate $1 to select charities every time someone uploads a new place to play, up to $100,000).

The challenge runs June 30, or until Hough gives away $100,000 to national non-profits that have teamed up with KaBOOM! for this project: YMCA of the USA, National Wildlife Federation, Shaping America’s Health, Jumpstart, America’s Promise Alliance and First Book. To participate, users go online to the KaBOOM! Playspace Finder ( picks a great charity to earn money for, then post a picture they took of a place to play, and rate it. Hough will then give the non-profit they selected $1 each time they load a new play space to the map. In addition to benefiting charity, every play space loaded counts as an entry in a sweepstakes to meet Hough or win autographed merchandise. By using online technology to\ activate and engage individuals, the 100,000 Play spaces in 100 Days Campaign will alert communities of the importance of play, and motivate individuals to start taking action.

The KaBOOM! Playspace Finder is a Google-based map that currently shows more than 16,000 user-generated entries with photos, amenities, and ratings of places kids play. The KaBOOM! Playspace Finder includes all different sorts of places to play: playgrounds, athletic fields, ice rinks, basketball courts, skate parks, and swimming pools, even nature trails and community gardens.

Since 1995, KaBOOM! has constructed almost 1,600 playgrounds, skate parks, sports fields and ice rinks across North America. KaBOOM! also created the KaBOOM! National Campaign for Play.

  • Work with your care provider to stay healthy. Protect yourself. Vaccines are your best protection against being sick.
  • Wash your hands! Hands that look can still have icky germs!

You are not alone. Minnesota Autism Resource Portal.