Partners graduates reflect on experiences and knowledge gained

In May the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities (MNCDD) celebrated the graduation for Class 41 of its advocacy training […]

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In May the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities (MNCDD) celebrated the graduation for Class 41 of its advocacy training course, Partners in Policymaking. The program teaches leadership and advocacy skills and the process of developing positive partnerships with elected officials and other policymakers who make decisions about disability supports and services. 

Thirty people were in the 2023-2024 graduating class. This year’s graduating class is a diverse mix from across the state, including parents of children with disabilities and adults with disabilities. 

“This groundbreaking program continues to impact lives in so many positive ways,” said Colleen Wieck, executive director of the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. “Commencement isn’t the end of the educational journey, but rather the beginning of a lifetime of advocacy.” 

Graduates reflected on their experiences. Steven Reinardy of Inver Grove Heights is the current director of safety for Minnesota Diversified Industries (MDI). As a child Reinardy developed macular dystrophy, which brings a loss of one’s central vision. As he grew older, he witnessed first-hand the changes in the ways people with disabilities were treated in society. While there has been progress, Reinardy believes more can be done. By participating in the program, his hope is to become a stronger advocate for himself and others. Reinardy is interested in making a positive change in transportation opportunities for individuals with disabilities. 

“By participating in Partners, I have been armed with the knowledge to be able to make a difference,” he said. “With the knowledge and confidence, I have gained, I am ready to speak to lawmakers about increasing the quality of transportation for those with disabilities.” 

Dennis Hruby of Hutchinson, a retired parent of two children and one grandchild with serious developmental disabilities, felt called to enroll in the course because he feels that support has not greatly changed in decades. Because of his involvement in the course, Hruby and his wife Sandy were able to start a nonprofit to provide parents with resources for children with disabilities. 

“We have channeled our frustrations and are working to make a positive difference,” said Hruby. “Being a part of this training has helped immensely. We are grateful for the learning and understanding offered in this outstanding course.” 

Daonna Depoister and her son Alexander, 20, also took part in Partners. She believes this course will help her better support her son as he becomes a self-advocate. Depoister is hoping her time in the program leads to her and her son better understanding the complex world of disability advocacy. 

Andrew Start, also of Plymouth, is another new graduate. Start, who has Down Syndrome, enrolled in the program to learn about competitive inclusive employment, marriage penalties for disabled persons, and treatment of individuals with Down Syndrome in other countries. 

Start is excited to take the knowledge from the program and become an advocate for those with disabilities. He hopes to become a public speaker and to eventually produce YouTube videos that shed light on the needs of people with Down Syndrome and other disabilities. 

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