Access Press wishes to honor the four other nominees for the 2017 Charlie Smith Award. Here are their stories.
Bjorgan helps improve lives
Karen Bjorgan works tirelessly to help people adapt to their new lives after having a stroke and other disabilities. The coordinator of the Stroke INSPIRE Program at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, Bjorgan brings empathy and comment, as well as personal experience, to her work.
Nominator Sharon Guffman said that had Bjorgan not had two strokes herself, INSPIRE wouldn’t exist in its current form. Bjorgan has helped people have better lives, and has helped stroke survivors’ families along the journey to recovery and better lives. She has worked constantly to improve and expand Inspire, and makes sure that program participants never feel that they have been forgotten.
Guffman praised Bjorgan for her “courage, conviction and dedication” to get the program started and make it what it is today. Bjorgan helps people realize that they do matter and that their lives can be productive again.
More than 20 years ago Bjorgan had a daughter by Cesarean section, then had two strokes. She found herself with altered reality, including aphasia. She was 32 years old.
She spent 50 days in the hospital. As she recovered Bjorgan went through rehabilitation. One activity during that time was to make a list of all of the things she wished were available to her as a stroke survivor. Two years after her stroke, Bjorgan started a support group. She wanted there to be a forum where other young people who had suffered strokes or brain injuries could connect.
A few years later in 1997 Bjorgan and her speech therapist took the list to the Park Nicollet Foundation. In 1998 Inspire began. Two years later Bjorgan left her commercial banking job to run the program, which serves stroke survivors and those who live with brain injuries and aphasia.
Since then she has worked to provide an array of programs and activities to help stroke survivors. These include support groups, book chats, public speaking, dinner club, art, bowling, golf, photography and more. Inspire participants also work as hospital volunteers and get others engaged and involved. INSPIRE is a huge community service to people who would otherwise be struggling.
“The Coffee Chat is so important,” said Guffman. It is a key way for stroke survivors to connect and provide support for one another. Bjorgan gives Coffee Chat participants advice, including tips she has learned over the years.
Bjorgan has been honored by Gov. Mark Dayton and the State of Minnesota for her commitment to INSPIRE. “Isolation is the enemy in a stroke recovery,” Bjorgan said in an interview. “The key is to find a community where you feel comfortable. They can help you move to the next level of recovery. And they can help you gain purpose. That’s why INSPIRE exists.”
Davis has devoted career to Wingspan
Therese Davis has devoted her entire career to Wingspan and its services for adults with disabilities. She is an innovator and a forward-thinking leader.
Davis’ 40-year career with Wingspan began in 1977. She has been an integral part of the organization’s growth and programming expansion in service to adults with developmental and other disabilities. Wingspan’s mission is “To help those challenged by age ability or health to realize their unique gifts, talents and dreams.” She served as a care counselor, program developer, director of residential services and chief operations officer before becoming executive director in early 2016.
Her responsibilities have included direction and oversight for 24 group homes in the residential program, the in home program for those living with family or independently, the Three Directions Program for adults looking for work, volunteer opportunities or social interaction, and oversight of a number of peer support programs including Rainbow Support Group for LGBT adults, an All Hands on Deck group for those who are deaf and hard of hearing, and Wingspan’s Glee Club which is in partnership with MacPhail Center for Music.
She has also directed the efforts of Tsev Laus Kaj Siab, the first-of-its-kind culturally-specific day center for Hmong adults. Wingspan pioneered it in 2001. Other responsibilities have included human resources, training, finance, resource development, board recruitment, and new business development.
Her commitment extends well beyond a “normal” 40-hour work week, according to nominator Wingspan Residential Program Director Frank Merrill.
Although her degree in human services informs her work, it is her depth of one-on-one experience in serving adults with disabilities, combined with her connection to families, case managers, social workers, physicians and therapists that has made her one of the disability community’s most ardent advocates — both for those being served and for direct support professionals. She has been described as being “both a warrior and a healer.”
Davis was a pioneer with others in the development and implementation of the person-centered support philosophy.
She has influenced the culture of Wingspan and other organizations to promote such supports. Her passion for the intellectual/developmental disability community runs deep and she has been at the forefront of its key issues.
Davis has selflessly and tirelessly devoted her life’s work to serving the disability community. She is compassionate, experienced, and utilizes her insights, expertise and passion to advocate for optimization of support, for nurturing well-being and independence, and is attuned to the need for expanding caregiver services including respite care for families. She has been a center of influence in the community-based services consortium ARRM, putting in many years’ service on its conference committee and public policy committee.
She has also served as a field team district captain for the Best Life Alliance.
Marquart went the extra mile
Vina Marquart is someone who goes the extra mile for her friends, and will step in and help at a time of need. She is compassionate and listens to others. Her nominator credits Marquart for saving her life.
LeAnne Dahl nominated Marquart. They met while attending the same St. Paul church and taking Bible classes together. They have been friends for about 15 years. Marquart eventually became responsible for Dahl’s health care. Dahl lives with disabilities and appreciates her longtime friend’s help.
Dahl had lived in the same assisted living facility before she became very ill in early spring 2017. Marquart has a regular time to call and check on her, and when Dahl didn’t call back Marquart took quick action. She checked on Dahl, and found that her long-time friend was very ill.
Dahl was taken by ambulance to a hospital for treatment, with Marquart following behind. She stayed with Dahl for several hours until her condition stabilized. Dahl almost died while en route to the hospital as she was very sick, and needed someone to stay with her.
Dahl’s illness hung on for three months and assisted living wasn’t meeting her needs. Then came the difficult decision for Dahl to move from her assisted living apartment of many years into a nursing home setting nearby.
Marquart helped her friend make that tough choice. Then she rolled up her sleeves, brought in two of her friends and helped Dahl make the move into nursing home care. That took about a month of cleaning, sorting and downsizing, to get Dahl out of her long-time assisted living unit. Marquart and her friends got that done.
“She saved my life and she stayed with me at the hospital,” said Dahl. “She has helped me in so many ways. I can’t thank her enough.”
Marquart was born and raised in Fairmont. She studied nursing at Augustana University and also studied at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. She has extensive professional experience in public health, work-related injury and emergency preparedness issues. She began her career as a nurse and later worked on the workers’ compensation insurance field for the American Compensation Insurance Company. Marquart also served on the board of the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Insurers’ Association.
She most recently worked for many years for Carver County as a public health educator, focusing on public health and emergency preparedness issues. She worked with communities and community advisory committees throughout the county, providing technical expertise and talks on a range of topics. She also helped with the county’s Medical Reserve Corps and the Ready-Carver emergency preparedness program. Marquart retired in spring 2016.
Marquart is married and lives in Eden Prairie.
Blazing a TRAIL for independence
Transportation Resource to Aid Independent Living, Inc. or TRAIL provides needed transportation services for adults with disabilities in four Twin Cities suburbs. Residents of Bloomington, Eden Prairie, Edina and Richfield utilize TRAIL services to attend recreation and leisure programs offered by the Adaptive Recreation and Learning Exchange (AR&LE). AR&LE is a partnership of the four cities and their school districts.
TRAIL riders live independently or semi-independently. Riders pay just $2 per trip for door-to-door service to and from programs. In 2016 TRAIL provided 1,413 individual rides to 222 AR&LE events. Rides are provided through a partnership with Transit Team, a local Twin Cities transportation company which provides the buses and drivers. Transit Team consistently ensures safety, reliability and respect.
Transportation is a service that is often overlooked and under-served to people with disabilities. TRAIL began in 1988 with a group of concerned parents looking for safe, affordable, reliable transportation for their adult children with developmental disabilities. In 1991 TRAIL was officially incorporated by the state and received non-profit status, providing 13 trips that year. Last year TRAIL celebrated 25 years of service and has grown to more than 200 trips, annually.
TRAIL is sustainable thanks to the dedication of its all-volunteer board of directors, made up of self-advocates, family members, business professionals and individuals who work with or have been influenced by people with developmental disabilities. Appointed rider representatives ensure that riders’ voices are heard.
Fundraising efforts ensure affordability for riders, including the annual Bowling for Buses fundraiser. TRAIL subsidizes 85 percent of every rider’s fare. Fares have not gone up in more than six years and actually decreased this year, thanks to a very successful 25-year anniversary gala and dance.
Transportation makes it possible for adults with disabilities to be more social, recreational and independent, and be more active in the community. In 2016, there were three TRAIL riders who each attended more than 100 AR&LE events. Programs include bowling, golf, softball, cooking classes, water aerobics, dances, art classes and relationship skills and independent living classes.
If not for TRAIL, riders would need to seek out their own transportation, which can be a frustrating process, stressful and a barrier to participation. TRAIL provides riders with the security needed to independently learn, socialize and be part of their community, while attending programs specifically designed to meet needs and enrich lives, mentally, creatively and socially.
The TRAIL-AR&LE partnership is unique, impactful to riders and programs and immensely valued. TRAIL riders know they have a safe ride to and from programs at an affordable price. For more than 26 years, TRAIL has been filling a void and enriching life in its community.
TRAIL was nominated by Jackie Doncavage, recreation supervisor, City of Bloomington.