Meet the 2016 Charlie Smith Award nominees

  TRAIL blazes transportation path Accessible transportation is crucial to independence and life in the greater community. Eden Prairie-based Transportation Resource […]

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TRAIL blazes transportation path

TRAILAccessible transportation is crucial to independence and life in the greater community. Eden Prairie-based Transportation Resource to Aid Independent Living, Inc. or TRAIL, has provided much-needed transportation services for adults for 25 years.

TRAIL’s mission is to provide transportation for adults with developmental disabilities in the Bloomington, Eden Prairie, Edina and Richfield areas. This needed transportation allows adults with disabilities to attend recreation and leisure programs offered by the Adaptive Recreation and Learning Exchange (AR&LE). AR&LE is a cooperative of the four cities and the school districts that serve them.

The program includes bowling, golf, softball, water aerobics, dance, art classes and cooking classes. Many of the classes and programs wouldn’t meet their minimum participant number without TRAIL transportation.

TRAIL riders live independently or semi-independently. They rely on TRAIL to attend the programs. Passengers pay a modest fee of $3 per program, receiving door-to-door service to and from each event.

In 2015 TRAIL provided a record-setting 1,504 rides to AR&LE events. That year two TRAIL riders each attended 110 events. Rides are provided thanks to a partnership with Transit Team, a local Twin Cities transportation company. Transit Team provides the TRAIL drivers and buses.

Regular fundraising events help TRAIL sustainable and affordable, including “Give to the Max” Day and an annual “Bowling for Buses” event. Donations and sponsorships also supplement participation fees. The fundraising helps TRAIL subsidize 77 percent of every rider’s fare. Fares have not gone up in more than five years.

TRAIL is led by a volunteer board of directors, with members who are very dedicated to transportation issues. The board includes two riders’ representatives, giving riders a voice in operations and an active role in leadership.

Ann Jindra, recreation supervisor for the City of Richfield, nominated TRAIL. “Transportation is a service that is often overlooked and underserved to this population,” she said. “As a member of the AR&LE cooperative, I see how important transportation is in the lives of those we serve. Many of our participants live in group homes and they have staff and resources to get them to where they need to go. However, many who live independently don’t have those resources. That is why TRAIL is so important. It ensures that our participants have a safe ride to and from our programs, at an affordable price.” Jindra noted that TRAIL has been providing rides long before any other paratransit resources were available in the communities. TRAIL makes it possible for adults with disabilities to be more social, independent and active. “Our riders feel empowered to attend more events and be more active in the community,” said Jindra. She said the ability to take transportation brings confidence, and pride in being TRAIL riders.

“Because all of our TRAIL riders live independently or semi-independently, they often lack efficient and reliable transportation resources,” said Jindra. “Because of TRAIL, those riders know that they will have a safe ride to and from the program at an affordable price.” Without TRAIL, AR&LE participants would have to rely on family, friends or Metro Mobility for rides. “For some riders without family or friends nearby, they simply wouldn’t have the social life or education opportunities that they do with access to TRAIL.”



Schmitt is champion for mentally ill 

Grace Tangjerd SchmittGrace Tangjerd Schmitt has served as president of Guild Incorporated since the organization’s founding in 1990. Guild is a not-for-profit group with a mission of helping people with mental illness lead quality lives. In addition to leading the team, Schmitt is active in the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – Minnesota, the Mental Health Legislative Network and the Minnesota Association of Community Mental Health Programs. She has also served on a number of advisory task forces to the Department of Human Services. She is a founding member and chair of the Board of Minnesota Community Healthcare Network, a specialty provider network of collaborating community mental health providers.

Schmitt has devoted her career to developing quality, integrated services based on clients’ desires and goals. She has a reputation for listening – to consumers and families, to the community, to other providers, and to stakeholders. “If someone wasn’t having a good experience at Guild – it might not be anyone’s fault – Grace has always listened,” said SueAbderholden, executive director of NAMI Minnesota. “She was never defensive. She wanted people to have the best experience and provide excellent services.”

Schmitt’s early career included work as a mental health counselor and social worker in the psychiatric unit at Brainerd State Hospital and county social services. Those experiences created the foundation for her strong belief in providing community-based services focused on individuals’ preferences. She’s used that belief for decisions about organizational strategy including service
offerings, approach to marketing, and the pursuit of partnerships and collaborations.

Under her leadership, Guild Incorporated implemented significant changes in mental health care, Guild shifted from an institutional to a “housing first” approach in the early 1990s, at a time when people with mental illness were often “placed” in institutions and hospitals as the only available options. She led the organization through transitioning from individual caseloads to multi-disciplinary teams (integrating Ramsey County Public Health nurses at first). She is also known for pioneering and growing supported employment services; customizing assertive community treatment for transition-age youth; and most recently facilitating “whole health care” through behavioral health home services.

“I appreciate Grace’s leadership and building of this organization, and I see her philosophies and values trickling down to the people employed. She inspires me,” said a Guild staff member. From another employee: “I feel Grace is a true leader and understands people.”

Schmitt has been instrumental in leading innovations and collaborations in mental health services to reflect what individuals served desire, best practices, and community and stakeholder needs. Guild Incorporated has a long list of accomplishments throughout the eastern Twin Cities metropolitan area, thanks to her work. She also has served on a number of advisory task
forces to the Department of Human Services and has been responsive to requests for individuals to testify
before the legislature to help them gain an understanding of what is and isn’t working for people.

Without her passion for and commitment to local mental health services, it’s likely that fewer people with mental illness would’ve had the ability to live in  their own apartments in the community. It’s also quite possible that fewer individuals would have competitive community employment in the community. She’s also had an impact on policy, testifying before elected officials. She was nominated by Kristi Hamilton of Guild, Incorporated.

Highland Friendship Club provides fun

Highland Friendship ClubFounded in 2002, Highland Friendship Club has helped hundreds of young people with disabilities find friendship, support and fun activities. The organization now has more than 200 members and offers a broad range of programs and activities, everything from cooking and craft classes to dances and the ability to act and work on the crew of movies. The program has grown to offer about 1,500 program hours of activities each year. HFC has a full-time executive director and program director, and 16 part-time staff members.

The program involves the participants’ families and caregivers, as well as a cadre of community volunteers. A “big” softball game is the highlight of the summer. Participants also do community service projects, participate in health and wellness programs, receive help with jobs skills and job-seeking, and much more.

HFC is a unique organization and provides a wide range of programs and activities for teenagers and young adults with disabilities. It is considered to be a model for other programs. “Every community could benefit from having an organization like HFC,” said nominator Erik Hare. “Young people with disabilities deserve to enjoy the same types of activities that their peers do, and HFC gives them a chance to do this.”

Hare gave a special mention to Dusty Thune, who is part of HFC’s staff. Thune leads the young people in producing movies. The films, which include red carpet premieres, give kids a chance to act, direct or be on crews. One of the movies was shown on a regional tour this summer. The movies are fun for the public to see, in production and on the silver screen. It’s not unusual to see pirates on the streets and in the parks of St. Paul when the movies are in production.

When asked what relevance and important the club’s work has in the community, Hare said that HFC has not only provided a wide range of fun activities for young people with disabilities, its programs, and its volunteer opportunities help raise awareness that people with disabilities are the same as everyone else. HFC’s work also involves the families and caregivers of people with disabilities, which is important. It helps everyone be involved. The club is very visible in the St. Paul area and gives a positive impression of people with disabilities.

But without the work of two parents, HFC would never have started. Young people with disabilities in the St. Paul area would have to sit at home while their peers got to do the typical things that teenagers do. Most young people take for grant that they can be in a club or play a sport. Many young people with disabilities don’t get the opportunity to do these things. It’s hard for parents to explain to their children why opportunities are not available to all. HFC makes opportunities available to all and lets young people be young people.

HFC Member Kirsten said, “I love Highland Friendship Club. I have been a member for 13 years, and I have friends at HFC. I get to do lots of fun things like Glee Club, Move and Groove, Open Mic, Swimming, and Girl’s Night Out. The staff is very patient and tries to help me participate. Highland Friendship Club is awesome!”



Davis helps Wingspan take flight

Theresa DavisTherese Davis has been executive director of Wingspan Life Resources since January 2016. But her career with the St. Paul-based nonprofit dates back to 1977. She has been an integral part of the organization’s growth and programming expansion in service to adults with disabilities. She has served as chief operations officer, care counselor, program developer and director of residential services, and has capably handled many programs. Her responsibilities have included direction of oversight for 24 homes in the group home program, the in-home program for clients living with family or in their own homes, and the Three Directions Program for adults looking for work, volunteer opportunities or social interaction. Her duties have included responsibility for finance, resource development, board recruitment and new business development at Wingspan.

Davis has championed group activities for adults with disabilities including the All Hands on Deck group for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, the Wingspan Glee Club offered with McPhail Center for Music and the Rainbow Support Group for LGBT adults. A unique Wingspan program she started in 2001 is Tsev Laus Kaj Siab, a pioneering culturallyspecific day care for Hmong adults. The program is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation. Wingspan’s mission is to “help those challenged by age, ability or health to realize their unique gifts, talents and dreams.”

Davis and others helped develop and implement the person-centered support philosophy. She has influenced Wingspan’s culture to promote such supports and has been a guiding light to influence other organizations. “Her passion for the intellectual/developmental disability community runs deep and she has been at the forefront of issues influencing the community,” said nominator Darolyn Gray. “Advocacy is a continuous process and without Therese joining with others to raise awareness to influence positive action, silence and inertia would have resulted in minimal changes and supports throughout the years.”

It is Davis’ one-on-one experience in serving adults with disabilities, combined with her connection to families, case managers, social workers and therapists that makes her one of the community’s most ardent advocates. She works both for clients and for direct support professionals. She is a past winner of the Sullivan Ballou Award, given to those who act from the heart.

One testimonial for that award stated, “Therese combines the unusual qualities for a warrior and a healer. She shows up fully spiritually, intellectually, emotionally and physically. She is able to pay attention to what has heart and meaning to people. This is an exceptional combination of qualities in pone person that makes for outstanding contributions to Wingspan.”

Davis has had a strong influence as a member of ARRM, working with other community-based service providers on ARRM groups including its conference committee and public policy committee. She has also been a field team district captain for the Best Life Alliance. She is a fixture at legislative lobbying days and works frequently with legislators to promote disability community issues. Davis is a strong advocate for optimization of support, nurturing well-being and independence, and expanding caregiver services and family respite care services.

She is also an active volunteer at St. Stephens Lutheran Church in St. Paul, helping for 12 years when the church offers shelter to the homeless.




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