To recognize the important role that organizations play in employing people with disabilities, the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR) honored several companies with its inaugural Outstanding Disability Employer Awards. The awards coincided with National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October and were presented at events held around the state. One award was given in each region.
“We cannot overemphasize the importance of employers in our efforts to provide meaningful services to people with disabilities in Minnesota,” said Mike Burke, president of MOHR.
Here’s a look at the honorees:
General Mills was nominated by Opportunity Partners in Minnetonka. General Mills employs two Opportunity Partners supported employment teams at two locations and offers temporary supported employment for special projects at a third site. General Mills has also hired individuals directly and brought work to Opportunity Partners’ locations. Duties involve mailroom, scanning documents, kitting and repackaging.
“General Mills embraces a diverse work culture and values people of all abilities,” said Stephanie Bredael, manager, strategic office and wellness services. “There is a fabulous team of workers that delivers mail and packages across our main general office in Golden Valley. They take tremendous pride in their work and appreciate the opportunity to work in a corporate environment and meet new people. It is a win-win for us all.”
Mid Continent Cabinetry was nominated by Advance Opportunities of Marshall. The company makes custom, high quality cabinets for homes. More than two dozen individuals with disabilities from Advance Opportunities work at Mid Continent Cabinetry’s Cottonwood plant in a fully integrated setting, performing a variety of jobs, said Advance Opportunities Executive Director Dawn Wambeke. Workers scan barcodes, clip labels, punch holes in doors, assemble product, bale cardboard and clean at the facility.
Mid Continent Human Resources Manager Racquel Rolla said employees from Advance are positive and happy to be working. Their good attitudes are contagious. They have even boosted morale for other workers at the plant. Rolla challenges supervisors to think more about other jobs that could be added to workers’ duties.
Eveleth-based Lundgren Ford Lincoln was nominated by the East Range Developmental Achievement Center (DAC) of Eveleth. For decades the dealership has employed workers from the DAC to help with cleaning, five nights a week. The dealership started in 1929, then known as Hawkinson Lundgren Company. The two principals were Arnold Hawkinson and Axel Lundgren. It became Lundgren Motors in the 1930s, and is now in its fourth generation.
The motor vehicle dealership got its award before an audience that included Lundgren Ford’s Bruce Lundgren, Sen.
David Tomassoni ( DFL – Chisolm), Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL – Virginia), St. Louis County Commissioner Keith Nelson, Eveleth Mayor Robert Vlaisavljevich and Tom Whiteside, field representative for Congressman Rick Nolan. Robin Harkonen, executive director of East Range DAC, presented the award.
PCs for People was nominated by Twin Cities-based Midwest Special Services (MSS). The St. Paul nonprofit strives to put functional computers into the hands of low-income individuals and get them online. Hands-on experience through work training, internship and volunteer opportunities is provided to workers from MSS. PCs for People is a partner in the new MSS Community Hub in St. Paul, employing four people. MSS work crew partnerships and independent employment opportunities are offered, as is training to others interested in exploring a career working with computers.
“We are proud to partner and work with Midwest Special Services,” said Sam Drong, PCs for People’s chief program officer. The nonprofit also recycles electronics and works with other disability service providers. It is on pace to distribute 12,000 to 13,000 computers in 2017.
The City of Benson was nominated by the Swift County DAC in Benson. Workers from the center mow park areas and paint fire hydrants. They have also cleaned city offices and other properties, assembled meter boxes and stenciled safety cones.
City Manager Rob Wolfington said Benson is at a crossroads of transportation, and that it’s important for the city to make a good impression on travelers. “It’s the little things that make a difference,” said Wolfington. Mowed and maintained downtown parks and fresh paint on fire hydrants apply the shine to Benson’s image. Workers from the DAC provide reliability, quality and value.
Swift County DAC Executive Director Alethea Koehler said the high visibility jobs bring much positive feedback from the public, which builds worker morale.
LePier Oil Company of Fosston was nominated by East Polk County DAC in Fosston. Third-generation owners Tami and Larry LePier operate gas stations, convenience stores, a sandwich shop and deli. Six DAC workers do kitchen tasks, clean and interact with customers.
Tami LePier praised the workers and support staff. “They are so excited to come to work and interact so well with our customers,” she said. “Larry’s father started this partnership with them (East Polk County DAC) way back in the 1980s and we’ve kept it going just because of the wonderful people that come and work for us.”
“Lepier Oil Company provides an environment that is comfortable and conducive to learning and expanding on skills and abilities,” said DAC Leader Holly Lenes.
HOM Furniture was nominated by Rise, Inc. of Spring Lake Park. People from Rise work in the Coon Rapids facility performing a wide range of tasks, including collecting and recycling more than 2.5 million pounds of packaging materials annually, running the floor scrubber, and packaging furniture cleaning kits.
“For the past 11 years, Rise’s work team, as well as their trainers and supervisors, have proven to be a valuable addition to our organization in so many different ways,” said Dan Lentz of HOM Furniture.
Rise President Lynn Noren said the nonprofit is fortunate to have HOM as a business partner, because from senior management and throughout the entire company, HOM has supported Rise’s mission and sought out additional work opportunities for Rise workers.
Cub Foods of Baxter was nominated by Productive Alternatives Inc. (PAI) of Brainerd. Cub Foods General Manager Jeff Marchand said the store has hired nearly a dozen individuals through PAI in the last few years. All have been very reliable. “I love working with them. We tease them and they tease us back and have a lot of fun,” he said.
PAI Placement Specialist Heidi Lefebvre said Cub Foods treats each employee placed by PAI with patience and compassion. “They reach out to us if something needs to be addressed, so we can help problem solve together.”
Cub Foods utilizes people with disabilities in all areas and allows individuals room to grow within the store. “They provide opportunities, not judgments,” said Lefebvre.
Malco Products, Annadale, was nominated by Functional Opportunities, Buffalo. Clients from Functional Industries assist with packaging and assembly of hand tool products on the assembly shop floor, said Kirk Langbehn, purchasing, planning and production manager for Malco. The company makes hundreds of different tools for the construction and automotive industries.
Malco Products Director of Operations Deb Nistler said the efforts of Functional Industries and associates, and their quality work have been important to the company. “They have been a joy to work with. It is exciting to see their smiling faces on a daily basis,” she said.
Malco Products has been a supporter of Functional Industries clients for more than 15 years, said Amber Oster, vice president of workforce solutions for Functional Industries.
U.S. Bank was nominated by PAI of White Bear Lake. PAI clients perform clerical work in a highly secure financial records setting, said Suzanne Sancilio, vice president of operations for PAI. “U.S. Bank has been exemplary in their flexibility and willingness to adapt specific job tasks to suit the needs of the individual workers from PAI.” The partnership provided the pilot for PAI’s “Job Opportunity and Employment Starter,” or J.O.E.S. program, a unique opportunity for individuals with autism spectrum disorder.
Pam Lowe of U.S. Bank said the strengths that PAI workers bring to their roles help the U.S Bank teams operate more efficiently. “We embrace individual differences because we know that fostering diversity and inclusion makes us stronger and more innovative.”
Waytek, Inc., Chanhassen, was nominated by MCRI WorkSource, which is based in Chaska, Shakopee and Rosemount. Waytek is a family-owned business that offers high-quality electrical wiring products. Waytek employs numerous MCRI clients to help fill orders and complete numerous other tasks that contribute to the company’s success. “We are proud to develop employment partnerships that provide employers a source of skilled workers in the community,” said Brian Benshoof, CEO of MRCI WorkSource.
“The best reward for the partnership, is the stellar example of inclusion set by Waytek.” “Waytek believes in providing our customers with an exceptional customer experience – a belief that starts with promoting cooperation and togetherness with employees.” Benshoof said. “The manner by which the Waytek organization has embraced MRCI’s mission is very exciting.”
Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch, Stewartville, was nominated by Ability Building Center (ABC), which offers services in southeastern Minnesota. Ironwood Ranch began in 1976, first serving as a camp for youth with physical disabilities. It later expanded to include people with cognitive disabilities. It also serves many veterans.
Ironwood employs people with disabilities at all levels of the organization. The ABC workers handle room cleaning duties at Ironwood Springs’ Miracle Lodge, said Jaimi Stejskal, Ironwood’s director of programs and marketing for Ironwood. “They do a great job of making sure rooms are turned over for guests who are arriving for the week.”
“We are honored to partner with such an outstanding organization. Ironwood Springs is truly a model employer that is making a difference in southeastern Minnesota,” said ABC Executive Director Bruce Remme.