Five individuals and one organization were recognized for improving the health and lives of all people who need services to live, work and engage in their communities at the 2017 Age and Disabilities Odyssey Conference. The conference was held June 21-22 in Duluth.
“These awards highlight the important work being done by innovative, caring and dedicated individuals and organizations to enrich the lives of people with disabilities and older adults, and inspire us to continue to improve long-term services and supports,” said Human
Services Commissioner Emily Piper.
Steve Larson of Shoreview, who retired July 7 from his position as senior policy director of The Arc Minnesota, received a certificate of appreciation from Gov. Mark Dayton and special Odyssey recognition. Larson was honored for his dedication to improving the quality of life for persons with disabilities and their families hroughout a lifetime of service and advocacy. His 43-year career began as a direct support professional and has included the last 15 years at The Arc Minnesota following public service with the Minnesota Department of Human Services and Olmsted County.
Francis Harris of St. Paul, cofounder, Urban Partnership Community Development Center in St. Paul, was also honored. Harris co-founded the Urban Partnership in 1999. The community-based organization that serves disadvantaged African-Americans in St. Paul has a mission to “enhance the soul of our community through connecting senior citizens to each other and to living assistance services.” While Harris was executive director at the organization, Urban Partnership developed programs to help more than 400 older adults and their caregivers with issues such as overcoming social isolation, working while caregiving and accessing social services and supports. In her retirement, Harris volunteers, helping children improve their reading skills.
A third person honored is Margot Imdieke Cross of St. Paul, an accessibility specialist with the Minnesota State Council on Disability. She has been working for three decades to make the state more accessible to people with disabilities, including ensuring disability parking stalls are large enough to accommodate accessible vans and increasing accessible restrooms, curb cuts, buses and building entrances. She has also provided technical assistance and training to people on a range of significant building projects, including the state capitol renovations, U.S. Bank Stadium and the St. Paul Saints ballpark. Another focus of her work is with Homeland Security on emergency preparedness.
Jodi Kritzeck of Minneapolis, recreational therapist at the Minnesota Veterans Home Adult Day Center, is another honoree. Kritzeck co-developed a program called “Operation: Sight and Sound” with songwriter Charlie Maguire to connect veterans’ photographs (sight) and words through song (sound) in performances the veterans give in their communities. The participating veterans, who range in age from late-60s to mid-90s, often face a variety of age-related challenges such as dementia and Parkinson’s. The program encourages them to express themselves through their art, helping them share their talents and enrich their communities. It also offers assistance. Kritzeck will bring the veterans to the place they would like to write about and photograph.
Phil Norrgard of Cloquet, retired human services director, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, was also recognized. During his 37 years working with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in northeastern Minnesota, Norrgard was instrumental in building a comprehensive health and human services delivery system. The human services division tripled under his leadership, and developed an array of services for people with disabilities and older adults. Norrgard has shared his experiences as a speaker and consultant to the governor’s office and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, as well as serving as a MNsure board member.
White Earth Nation Health Division, long-term care consultation, was given an organization award. The White Earth Nation, Gaa-waabaabiganikaag, Health Division is a leader in tribal services for older adults and people with disabilities. It was the first tribal nation in Minnesota to offer waiver services and personal care assistance to its community, which includes three counties in northwestern Minnesota. White Earth Nation Health Division has focused on building the capacity to provide people with disabilities and older adults with culturally-based care. The tribal Health Division Long-Term Care Consultation group provides a familiar and accessible way for tribal members to get the necessary home and community-based services.
The Odyssey Conference, sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Human Services and the Minnesota Board on Aging, is a two-day conference held every other year. The conference promotes best practices, provides training and assistance for DHS program and services and recognizes individual, organization and program-level excellence.