Many Talents Shown – Meet the other 2013 Charlie Smith Award nominees

HANDI MEDICAL SUPPLY Mary Benhardus took her experiences as a personal care attendant (PCA) and her business skills, and turned […]

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Mary BernhardusMary Benhardus took her experiences as a personal care attendant (PCA) and her business skills, and turned them into a thriving home medical supply business. Benhardus founded Handi Medical Supply in 1988, with the vision of properly serving consumers who require medical equipment and supplies. The vision for the company began when she was working as a PCA for a quadriplegic friend who had trouble finding needed medical items.

In the late 1980s home medical services for people with disabilities were very poor. People would call a medical supplier, only to often wait for weeks for their medical equipment and supplies to be delivered. Suppliers had no organized way to track prior order information, which made the ordering process very time-consuming for consumers and their health care professionals. After-hours emergency medical equipment services were unheard of.

Benhardus believes that people with disabilities deserve more caring consideration than what she had experienced with her friend. She made changes in how orders are tracked and clients are cared for. She developed a personalized after-hour service. Benhardus made it Handi Medical Supply’s mission to enrich lives and find quality products and equipment for people with disabilities.

Under her leadership, Handi continues to be dedicated to the people who need medical supplies and equipment for independence and mobility. She is the driving force in the organization and challenges team members to provide high-quality service, care and commitment. Her nominator and co-worker Mike Bailey stated, “Humanity as always been and will continue to be an essential part of Mary Benhardus and Handi’s business plan.”

In 2012 Handi Medical Supply was recognized as the Home Medical Equipment Provider of the Year by HME News. The company also won the Better Business Bureau Integrity Award.

In 1997 Handi began providing an annual education and equipment referral conference. It now draws more than 700 attendees. Medical professionals, case managers and others can continue their medical education and learn about the latest medical supplies and equipment.




Can Do CaninesCan-Do Canines has a long tradition of service to people with disabilities. The New Hope-based nonprofit raises, trains and places specially trained dogs with people who need them. The dogs are trained to provide specific types of assistance, tailored for the client. Dogs provide assistance for people with hearing impairments, mobility issues, seizure disorders and diabetes. Children with autism also benefit from the assistance of a service dog.

Can-Do Canines dogs help people achieve greater freedom, independence and peace of mind. Matching specially trained dogs to a client’s personal assistance needs creates a mutually beneficial partnership. The dogs are raised from birth with loving care and are specially trained before going to a client. Can-Do Canines staff and volunteers envision a future in which every person who needs and wants an assistance dog will have one.

“They are helping people who need help,” said nominator Claudia Fuglie. She noted that the independence people have thanks to a service animal is important to Minnesota’s disability community and is worthy of consideration for the Charlie Smith Award.

The nonprofit now serves Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota, and Iowa, with a few placements in Missouri and Illinois and added new services, providing assistance dogs to people with seizure disorders, children with autism, and people with diabetes complicated by hypoglycemia awareness. Because the previous name no longer reflected what the nonprofit had become, in 2009 Hearing and Service Dogs of Minnesota became Can-Do Canines.

All assistance dogs are provided to clients at no charge, thanks to generous donations and the hard work of fundraising that Can-Do Canines takes on. Start to finish, $25,000 typically sponsors an assistance dog team. The actual cost to train one team can be even higher.

Can-Do Canines has 14 full-time employees; six part-time employees and 20 field trainers. There are 10 board members. But it is largely a volunteer-driven group and they deserve much recognition. The 200-plus volunteers include 100 puppy raisers.



Tom FogartyFor almost 50 years, Tom Fogarty has helped Minnesotans with disabilities enjoy the great outdoors independently. In December 2012 he retired as director of camping services for Camp Courage and Courage North. Fogarty’s work will benefit campers for years to come. “As a person with a significant hearing impairment, Tom has been a superb role model for people who are deaf and hard of hearing,” said nominators Jeff Bangsberg and Anita Boucher. “He has worked quietly behind the scenes in developing and implementing innovative recreational opportunities for people with a wide range of physical, sensory, cognitive and other types of disabilities.”

Fogarty is known for his personal warmth and humor, and for giving everyone a chance to be successful. Many campers considered him to be a father figure and a mentor.

In 1964 Fogarty attended the first experimental program for deaf/hard of hearing children at Camp Courage.  Two years later he returned to the Maple Lake camp for a kitchen job. He later was a camp crafter, riding instructor and maintenance supervisor.

Fogarty attended St. Cloud State University, earning a degree in special education in 1975. For two semesters he and Access Press founding editor Charlie Smith were roommates. They became good friend and Fogarty was Smith’s personal care attendant.

Fogarty became camp director of Courage North near Park Rapids in 1985. Under his direction the camp expanded programs and facilities. The camp offered sessions for deaf/hard of hearing children and teens, adults with physical disabilities and the Courage Handi-Ham Radio Camp. Programs for children with Asperger’s syndrome and hemophilia were added. He also coordinated staffing and logistics for the California Radio Camp held each winter. He helped the camp develop partnerships with Mayo Clinic, the Autism Society of Minnesota and Minneapolis Children’s Hospital.

In 2005 Fogarty became director of camping services for both Camp Courage and Courage North. He received the Spirit of Courage award from Courage Center in 2008.




Luther GranquistFor many years, Luther A. Granquist was a key figure at the Minnesota Disability Law Center/Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid. In his 36-year career, he brought independence and dignity to the lives of countless people with disabilities. He was involved in several landmark cases that greatly improved the lives of Minnesotans. His legal expertise, determination, work ethic and commitment to everyone’s dignity and rights resulted in changed laws, policies and practices.

“He was the face of the Minnesota Disability Law Center and Legal Aid,” said nominator Mary Lou Doll. “Luther’s work in Minnesota set an example for other states.” Doll said that many families wouldn’t have received the help they needed if not for Granquist.

Granquist was a leader in efforts to close state hospitals in the 1970s, in the Welsch V. Minnesota case. He and others worked closely with families whose loved ones were in state institutions.

Granquist and the legal team documented horrible conditions that people lived in. People were living without having even their basic care and medical needs met. Many lacked proper medical equipment. The lawsuit helped start the movement of people with developmental and physical disabilities from institutions into the community.

Through the Disability Law Center, ranquist helped many people obtain their legal rights.

For many years he wrote the Access Press “History Note” column. His work did much to add to the written history of Minnesotans with disabilities. He also gathered and organized historical documents for the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities’ website. He continues to assemble material for a book he is writing on the history of disability in Minnesota.

Granquist also was a strong presence at the state capitol and was well-known among members of the Minnesota Legislature, self-advocates and disability advocacy groups.

The Arc Minnesota has named its annual systems change award after Granquist, to recognize his decades of work for people with disabilities. In 2012 Granquist was given a lifetime achievement award by The Arc Minnesota.




Sam JasmineSam Jasmine has devoted years to helping people with disabilities have access to media. She volunteers for the weekly radio show Disabled and Proud on KFAI radio station, 90.3 FM Minneapolis and 106.7 FM St. Paul.

Jasmine has been an engineer for the program 19 years and has been primary host for nine years. She has interviewed hundreds of people on topics that bring people insights and ideas about disability. As a radio host she is facilitator for countless discussions about disability.

“As the host of Disabled and Proud on KFAI, she has brought attention to hundreds of relevant topics concerning the integration of people into the mainstream community through activism, giving a venue for open dialogue concerns the disability community,” stated nominator Martha H. Hage. “I believe that Disabled and Proud on KFAI would not have continued if it were not for Sam Jasmine taking over upon my retirement from the program.”

Jasmine is a talented actress and won an award for Outstanding Achievement in Acting from the Minnesota Association of Community Theatres. She is a board member and past president of the Twin Cities Audio Dart League. She was instrumental in manufacturing he only accessible dartboard on the market. The dartboard “speaks” in her voice and describes the location of the board to the player, announces the scores and offers instructions and the rules for each game.

She has been a teacher to newly visually disabled individuals and children with visual impairments. She gives presentations about visual disabilities, use of Braille and accessibility for people with disabilities in schools.

She also volunteers in University of Minnesota experiments on visual perception and navigation. Hage noted that Jasmine is not only active in media, the arts and recreation, she also is a very effective self-advocate. “Sam has successfully prosecuted a cab driver for refusing to let her guide dog in has cab.

This has brought attention to cab companies that refusal under these circumstances is unlawful.



Diana KommerOn the opening night of the Courage Kenny International Art Show for People with Disabilities, the happy faces of the artists say it all. The person who makes that possible is Diana Kommer. She has led efforts to stage the show for the past three years.

Kommer has worked for Allina Health for more than a decade. Her primary job is as administrative assistant with Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Associates in the outpatient clinic. she is also coordinator of the annual art show. For 11 months out of the year she volunteers her personal time for the show.

“The work is barely out the door before she begins to prepare for the next year’s show,” said Kommer’s nominator Elizabeth Rosalind Young. Kommer is well-known for making the show an enjoyable experience for all who participate, including artists, their family members, visitors and what is now the Courage Kenny staff. More than 360 pieces of art arrived for the 2013 show. Art that isn’t sold is returned to the artists. When a piece is sold, the artist receives 75 percent and 25 percent goes to support Courage Kenny. Artists receive monetary prizes in six categories.

“Diana works tirelessly to get the art show on its feet and running without a hitch,” Young wrote. “It’s almost too smooth. Few people have any idea of the tremendous amount of work and energy it takes to make this show happen.” The show is in May. But the work to organize it starts the September before, with outreach to find artists and their work.

For two months after the show Kommer returns artwork and closes the event books. One facet to her work is asking employees of Courage Kenny to donate Encouragement Awards of cash to various artists in the show. The awards give the artists a boost as well as needed resources to buy more supplies and possibly enter other exhibits and contests.

Kommer more than doubled the amount of awards this year by offering incentives and her own contributions, without reimbursement. Her son Alex has also volunteered as a co-coordinator.



June LaceyJune Lacey has volunteered countless hours of community work every week for more than 75 years.

Daughter, Joyce Lacey, calls her mother “a remarkable woman.”

June Lacey co-founded Project Bear Hugs, which provides stuffed animals to nursing homes, children’s and veterans’ hospitals, shelters and disaster scenes. “June saw a need for an outreach to give love, hope and companionship to those individuals in hospital beds, those facing hardships, those who had no one else to turn to, and who were all alone,” said Joyce Lacey. “Since you can’t always get a real pet, the next best thing is a stuffed animal to hug, hold and tell your troubles to.”

Of Project Bear Hugs, Joyce Lacey said, “What a difference it has made! Nurses, doctors and family members have shared hundreds of stories on how much happier, less fearful and more receptive their patients and loved ones have become. The stuffed animals give them someone to love and they know that someone loves them.”

June Lacey has been a leader with the Midwest Walk and Roll for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. She volunteers with the MS Walk, 150 Bike Ride, MS Tram, MS Root Beer Float Days, Community MS Booths, 30/60 MS Bike Ride and Challenge Walk. She served on the steering committee for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Race for the Cure. Her other cancer-related volunteer work includes American Cancer Association Relay for Life, Golf for the Cure, Bike for the Cure and Shop for the Cure. She also helps with the Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon. She serves meals at the Salvation Army and Union Gospel Mission, and helps with the annual Thanksgiving baskets and Christmas gifts. She is a Salvation Army bell ringer and knits scarves for the homeless.

June Lacey does volunteer work despite dealing with lifelong disabilities. Severe arthritis, scoliosis, heart issues, loss of vision and a seizure disorder caused by a head injury haven’t ever slowed her down.




Margaret PerrymanDuring her 25 years as the Chief Executive Officer and President of Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare Margaret Perryman has advocated for public policies that meet the unique medical needs of persons with disabilities. She is retiring soon.

She has raised awareness of the unique medical problems faced by children and adults with disabilities, the range of health services needed to meet those needs, and the crucial importance making health services available regardless of income. Anita Schermer, Luther Granquist and Deb Holtz nominated Perryman. Margaret Perryman deserves to receive the Charlie Smith Award because of the simple idea that she has always seen people with disabilities as people. That sounds so basic, but most professionals do not understand that,” said Holtz. She has a daughter with disabilities.

Schermer and Granquist said Perryman should be honored for her leadership in making Gillette more accessible to children and adults. “In 1986 the future of the hospital was in doubt,” they wrote. Budget deficit and staff cuts had leaders considering affiliation with another hospital. But in her job interview, Perryman told hospital leadership she didn’t want to be a mortician for the organization, but wanted to help Gillette grow and expand. She led Gillette to profitability and major facilities expansion. For Perryman and for Gillette, the bottom line was not just a positive operating margin but also provision of needed services to meet unique needs.

Gillette has one of the nation’s largest groups of pediatric orthopedic surgeons and the region’s largest group of pediatric rehabilitation medicine physicians. It has a mobile outreach clinic, clinics around Minnesota and a partner in Chile.

Perryman recognized that when children reached adulthood they still need the specialized services provided by Gillette. In 2001 she helped establish Gillette Lifetime Specialty Healthcare to meet needs of teenagers and adults with childhood onset disabilities.

Last summer Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare joined United Cerebral Palsy as an affiliate organization, the first children’s hospital to do so.




Cliff PoetzFor more than 40 years, Cliff Poetz has been one of Minnesota’s leading champions of human rights and social justice for people with developmental disabilities. He is a founder of the self-advocacy movement, giving people with disabilities a voice in decisions that affect their lives.

One defining moment in Poetz’s calling as an advocate came in 1972. He spoke to the directors of what was then the Minneapolis Association of Retarded Citizens (now The Arc Greater Twin Cities). He explained the imperative for people with developmental disabilities to control their own lives, the absolute necessity for equal pay for work and the need for giving due respect as an equal. That was a real groundbreaking concept then. His requests were groundbreaking demands from someone with a developmental disability.

His nomination from The Arc Greater Twin Cities stated, “Disability rights and self-advocacy are ideas whose time would have probably come eventually but they came sooner and with greater impact because of CliffPoetz.” He has helped shape legislation and policies that have literally changed the world for people with developmental disabilities. He has proven to leaders at all levels of government that people with disabilities have valuable contributions to make to the community.

Poetz is believed to be the first person with a developmental disability to testify at a Congressional hearing, in 1973. His many accomplishments including being a founder and former president of the self-advocacy group People First Minnesota. He was a member of the Community Advisory Council for the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration for 15 years and now works there. What makes his work so remarkable is that he has accomplished so much in light of the barriers he has faced in his lifetime. He grew up at a time when people with developmental disabilities were separated from society. Many of his peers lived their entire lives in institutions. Public education for people with disabilities wasn’t mandated during his childhood.



Jim ThayerJim Thayer goes the extra mile for people with spina bifida and their families. He is the volunteer executive director and treasurer of the Minnesota Spina Bifida Association. He is also a member of the St. Paul Mayor’s Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities.

Started in 1973, the Minnesota Spina Bifida Association is a non-profit organization run entirely by volunteers. The association’s mission is to increase awareness about spina bifida and enhance the lives of those affected.

Spina bifida is a birth defect that occurs during pregnancy. The baby’s spinal column doesn’t close completely. It is the most common disabling birth defect in the United States.

Without Thayer and his fellow volunteers, Minnesotans with spina bifida and their families wouldn’t have needed resources. “Jim does so much,” said fellow board member and nominator Claudia Fuglie. “Without his efforts, many people with spina bifida would really struggle. He provides help for so many people and their families.”

Thayer has a family member with spina bifida so the association and the people it serves are very important to him, Fuglie said. One of the biggest events is the annual Run, Walk and Roll, a fundraiser held every August.

This year’s event was at Wolfe Park in St. Louis Park. Participants collect pledges and help raise funds needed for the Minnesota Spina Bifida Association. Thayer helps to organize the event, appearing last year on KARE-11 TV to promote the event and work on the Minnesota Spina Bifida Association.

Another important event Thayer works on year-round is the pre-Christmas silent auction and holiday gathering. He and other volunteers gather a wide variety of items year-round, which are then put up for bids as a fundraiser.

Thayer works professionally in financial planning. As a volunteer he helps people with spina bifida with financial planning, trusts and wills. Fuglie said that type of assistance is very important and is something people with disabilities might not be able to afford.




Ruth UlvogTenacity, an ability to see projects through and a commitment to community are what make Maple Grove area resident Ruth Ulvog stand out as a volunteer. Ulvog’s effort to force the City of Anoka to provide more parking spaces for people with disabilities on its Main Street prompted a nomination from Kris Orluck.

“She made life more accessible and thus easier for many individuals with limited mobility,” Orluck said. “If you have mobility difficulty there was no accessible parking.”

Ulvog, Orluck and others shop at Grass Roots Co-Op, an Anoka grocery store, and other businesses. Ulvog noticed there were very few signs posted for parking for people who have disability placards in their vehicles. Ulvog worked with an Anoka parking advisory committee, the city manager, the chief of police, Anoka City Council and Minnesota State Council on Disabilities for nine months to get additional accessible parking spaces. The state council provided technical assistance and was able to help Ulvog document the problems she had found.

Ulvog and others contended that the lack of accessible parking is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Although the ramp predates current parking requirements, Ulvog contended that wasn’t a reason to not add accessible parking.

Although it was a long and sometimes frustrating effort, Ulvog prevailed and got city officials to agree to add the spaces in the ramp. “Ruth worked hard to break barriers and to assure that all people would have access to Anoka Main Street shops and parking. She brought the city ramp into compliance with state and federal law.”

Ulvog is a volunteer with AARP/Community Action Network of Maple Grove and Mature Voices Minnesota –Northwest. The latter organization works to promote an informed and active electorate and to influence public policy through education and grassroots advocacy. It is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that doesn’t endorse candidates it does provide voter education and information.




Joani WernerJoani Werner is the Area Work Incentive Coordinator for the Social Security Administration in Minnesota, Northern Wisconsin and Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She helps people with disabilities retain their jobs or find new employment.

Werner has worked for SSA for more than 28 years and is known for her passion and expertise in helping people return to work. Nominator Linda Wolford said, “Joani nearly single-handedly has created awareness about these work incentives for not only Minnesota, but also for people in Wisconsin and Michigan as her territory includes much of the Midwest.”

“Joani has the ability to look at the big picture of people going back to work,” said nominator Steve Kuntz. “Her passion for maximizing every individual’s opportunity to regain their participation back in society by working is incredible. Her legacy and contribution to the disability community is that she gets involved.”

She participates in countless events throughout the state to encourage disabled individuals to return to work and explain the myriad of Social Security’s work incentives. She has served on many boards and maintains close ties to advocacy groups, government work incentive partners, vocational rehabilitation agencies, employment networks and tribal support entities.

Werner is well-known for her work with the Plan to Achieve Self Support (PASS) cases and for raising awareness of PASS. Her hard work and dedication has increased the use of the Ticket program and substantially increased the knowledge of individuals, agencies and partners on Social Security’s work incentive efforts. “For those of us with disabilities having a job means having a life,” Wolford said. Without Werner many people would be sitting at home.

Last winter Werner was diagnosed with a neurological disorder. Her concern for her clients meant she was back at work in a few short weeks. Wolford noted “She is not afraid to live life with a disability as she knows that many of her friends, including me, do this on a daily basis.”

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