Eight Minnesota day and employment service organizations were honored this spring with the 2023 Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR) Choice Award Winners. Winners have created innovative programs to positively affect the lives of people with disabilities.
This year’s winners include programs focused on art, building life skills and community engagement. “Every year we take the opportunity to highlight exceptional programs offered by MOHR members,” said Julie Johnson, MOHR Board Chair. “We look for programs that are deeply impactful and help individuals with disabilities engage with the community around them.”
“The programs highlighted this year ensure that people living with disabilities are uplifted, celebrated and given the opportunity to use their skills to add value to their communities,” Johnson said.
Aitkin County DAC, Oakridge Homes, and Aitkin Community Education, Aitkin. The Better Together program is a collaboration of local partners focusing on bringing people of all abilities and ages together. It was created in 2021 to encourage more community integration between individuals with disabilities, the school district, and the broader community as well as provide more opportunities for individuals with disabilities. One example is the start of local Special Olympics opportunities.
Functional Industries Inc. and Buffalo Community Center – Buffalo. The Buffalo Community Center has included more than 50 people served by Functional Industries with community activities including art classes, volunteering opportunities, wellness and exercise classes, and pool club. The goal was to create options and opportunities for people with disabilities to further integrate into the community.
MSS, St. Paul. MSS is the first disability service provider in Minnesota to offer formal art employment services for artists with disabilities. The Art Employment Program support artists in their professional development and careers including individual art exploration or development services, as well as an “Explore Employment in the Arts” course. Almost 90 artists are involved.
Mille Lacs County Area DAC, Milaca. Though Mille Lacs County Area DAC has been in the heart of Milaca for almost 50 years, staff recently discovered that not everyone knows of the center. The solution was to create the Hello Neighbor program. On a rotating basis, nine staff members help their clients put together a welcome basket, make a card and sign it. The Hello Neighbor program also welcomes new business to Milaca. Visits have been made to more than 60 neighborhood businesses and government entities.
Opportunity Partners’ Remote Services, Minnetonka. Started in 2020, Opportunity Partners’ Remote Services program helps people connect as a group to learn, explore, and engage in enrichment activities. The program creates space for people to socialize, learn new skills, discuss various topics and collaborate as a group on the different activities each week. The remote sessions consist of group social sessions, social hours and drop-in time. The program began three staff members and has since grown to six staff members serving about 80 people. Staff shortages mean the organization still can’t bring everyone back for in-person programming. However, there are immediate virtual openings for new people to join, whereas there are waiting lists for other programs.
PAI, White Bear Lake. In 2022, White Bear Center for the Arts teaching artist, Sylvia Roman, designed curriculum specific for PAI participants and classes. Connecting the Dots classes were held at all four PAI sites, with as many as 13 participants per class. The classes are part of PAI’s effort to expand its arts program, leading to a first-ever gallery exhibition of participant artwork at the arts center. Participants could show their work and take pride in their creativity and effort.
Rise, Spring Lake Park. Rise Vocation Evaluation Services is a partnership with the state of Minnesota offering paid work or vocational evaluations to eligible jobseekers with disabilities who have limited work experience. The program also helps workers re-enter the workforce. A Rise team member supervises the worker at a job site, ensuring quality work. The program is offered at 40 locations in Anoka and Hennepin counties, with jobs in areas of janitorial, clerical, production, childcare, and food services/hospitality. A typical evaluation lasts about a month, and helps participants explore and find careers.
TSE, Inc., Roseville. Choices For All is a program created by TSE in 2022 to increase community employment, eliminate TSE’s use of its14(c) certificate, and to expand community enrichment activities for the people TSE serves. Although many of the people TSE serves seek community employment, many others choose to utilize day support services instead. TSE has partnered with several organizations including Every Plate, Dept of Indian Works, Kids in Need Foundation, and North St Paul Food Shelf, where TSE persons served as volunteers. All volunteer sites are repeated on a weekly basis in order to build naturally strong relationships with community members and give participants valuable life skills and lessons.