Olmstead Academy graduates celebrate success

Self-advocates gathered September 14 at the Warren E. Burger Federal Building in St. Paul, to celebrate successes an share challenges from Olmstead Academy’s pilot year. […]

OImstead AcademySelf-advocates gathered September 14 at the Warren E. Burger Federal Building in St. Paul, to celebrate successes an share challenges from Olmstead Academy’s pilot year.

The Olmstead Academy, sponsored by Advocating Change Together (ACT), is a 12-month training and fieldwork program on disability integration projects. The academy began in response to Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan for advancing community integration. A second Olmstead Academy class starts in January 2016.

“The leadership that’s come out of this group has just been incredible. We’ve seen a huge commitment of time, energy, and focus,” said Mary Kay Kennedy, program facilitator and executive director of ACT.

Judge Donovan Frank welcomed the group. “I don’t think I’ve seen equal justice under law come alive as much as when I look around this room today,” he said.

Self-advocate leaders and allies from six Minnesota regions reported project results. Central Region (Cambridge) leaders Steve Peck and Nathan Miller, and ally Maggie Treichel, hosted a two-day seminar to inform people with disabilities about rights and available resources. Ten people attended. Eight made life changes resulting in greater inclusion in areas of transportation, housing and jobs. One participant started a business selling eggs and vegetables at farmers’ markets. The team will follow up offering peer support.

Northeast Region (Duluth) leaders Linda Merkel and Rosemary Hanson, and ally Samantha Thompson worked with a local taxicab company for more spontaneous transportation. Eighteen participants ages 18-65 were given $450 vouchers to use over three months. Participants traveled to shopping, restaurants, emergency appointments and other places without needing to schedule rides days in advance. Though vouchers didn’t work for everyone as anticipated, participants reported an increase in people getting out into the community, fewer negative experiences, more confidence handling money, less fear/anxiety traveling alone, more freedom and new relationships established. In one success story a stroke victim and his wife, who is legally blind, went to their favorite restaurant on their anniversary for the first time in six years. The team will seek funding to expand the project.

Southeast Region (Rochester) leader Charlie Applequist and allies Melissa Evans and Cheryl Gardner provided assistance to seven people with person-centered plans for integrated housing and jobs. Participants received assistance to move forward with action steps. One challenge was helping people understand what Olmstead means and the rights they have as persons with disabilities. The team plans to continue the project and seek dedicated peer mentors and funding. “Being a peer-mentor is important to me. I want to do good and make a difference,” said Applequist.

Northwest Region (East Grand Forks) leaders James Lee and Patty McGlynn along with 89 people with disabilities participated in three community events. One event centered on making a community garden accessible. Boxes were added, with raised beds promised in 2016. Braille plant identification signs were created. The team also hosted a weekly party for other gardeners.

For the Greater Grand Forks Art Fest, the team’s acting troupe was initially rebuffed. But the team persevered and its “East Side Greasers” act was well-received and also included audience participation.

For Cat’s Incredible, a fishing contest sponsored by the fire department and Cabela’s, the team set up a fishing game booth. Four hundred children visited the booth and learned about inclusion. City officials and organizers for all three events asked the team to return next year. “Community inclusion works. In spite of pushback we showed that everybody does belong side by side with others,” said ally Carla Tice.

The Metro Region developed Explore Prepare Act, a training program sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). The program helps people explore integrated job opportunities.

Self-advocates Carol Robinson, Larry Lubbers, Nikki Villavicencio and Ruth Agre served as trainers. Rick Cardenas, Mary Fenske, Nick Wilkie, and Patrick Mitchell were allies. The team discovered that participants needed more time to process changes and overcome internal fears. Workshops will be expanded for next year. DEED has provided additional funds for seven more trainings.

In February the Southwest Region (Mankato) performed a 75-person play, The Other Side. More than 800 people attended. The team also developed panel discussion groups for school children entitled Born That Way, Here to Stay. Both the play and the groups are meant to create awareness about people with disabilities. Carrie Varner and Nate Clark led the projects along with ally
Wilbur Neushwander-Frink and ally/intern Jon Burris. The team also operated a booth at Mankato’s Pride Fest. In 2016 two plays and five panel discussions are planned.”

For more information on the 2016 Olmstead Academy, contact the ACT Office at 651-641-0297 or go to www.selfadvocacy.org