People and Places – December 2017

MDI adds two board members MDI, a nonprofit social enterprise with the mission to serve people with and without disabilities […]

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MDI adds two board members

MDI, a nonprofit social enterprise with the mission to serve people with and without disabilities by offering inclusive employment opportunities and services.

MDI has elected two new board members. Rhonda Graves, retired 3M chief diversity officer and head of talent acquisition, and Jonathan Palmer, executive director of Hallie Q. Brown Community Center, Inc. have joined the board.

“Rhonda’s corporate experience supports our inclusion and diversity efforts, and Jonathan brings a wealth of business and community activism experience to the MDI board,” said Peter McDermott, president, and CEO of MDI. “We are pleased both have joined our board. We look forward to their support and counsel in growing our business, and expanding integrated employment opportunities to people with disabilities.”

Graves recently retired from 3M with 35 years of service. For the past year, she served on the MDI Human Resources/Employment Services Committee. Graves has many years in human resources of increasing responsibility and a strong commitment to strengthening diversity and inclusion. Her commitment and passion helped lead 3M as a company striving to build a high performing and diverse global workforce that represents the markets and customers served.

Palmer leads St. Paul’s Hallie Q. Brown, Community Center, Inc., an African-American, nonprofit social service agency open to all. Founded in 1929 as a settlement house, it has evolved from an independent human services provider to a multi-service center hub. Before joining the center, Palmer held various posts including director of the Minneapolis Empowerment Zone, a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Renewal Initiative designation which worked to improve the quality of life for Minneapolis residents.


Direct support worker is honored

Ryan Trihey, a direct support professional with the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), has been honored by the National Association for the Dually Diagnosed. He received the organization’s prestigious Direct Support Professional Award for Excellence in November, during the association’s annual conference in
Charlotte, N.C.

Trihey works with clients in DHS’s Minnesota Life Bridge Program in Hastings, which provides treatment in residential settings for adults who have developmental disabilities along with mental health or chemical dependency diagnoses.

“Ryan’s devotion to our clients and their personal growth is apparent to anyone who sees him in action,” said DHS Commissioner Emily Piper. “He’s a role model and an inspiration to his coworkers, who nominated him for the award.”

The National Association for the Dually Diagnosed is a New York-based training and advocacy group that focuses on bridging the gap between the mental health and development disability service systems. The Award for Excellence is
given each year to a direct support professional whose work has resulted in significant improvement in the quality of life for individuals with developmental disabilities and mental health needs. Organization founder and CEO Robert J. Fletcher said, “Dedication, advocacy, compassion, competence, person-centered approaches, and collaboration. Ryan Trihey demonstrates all of these qualities.”

“I am beyond humbled to receive this award. I hope it draws attention to the work my colleagues at DHS and I do each day,” said Trihey. “Adults with developmental disabilities and mental illness want, need and deserve to participate in community life, not superficially but to the fullest possible extent. I’m honored to be part of this important work.”


Guild Incorporated hires new officer

Tiffany Grandchamp is the chief operations officer for Guild Incorporated. She began her duties in November. Grandchamp comes to Guild with more than 20 years of industry experience in healthcare. She most recently worked at Resource, Inc. as the director of quality and operations, overseeing revenue cycle management, operations, quality, and compliance.

Prior to her time at Resource, Inc., Grandchamp worked for Allina, as a performance improvement advisor and implementation practice consultant in the health catalyst area.

She was the recipient of the Colleen J. Goode Research into Practice Award at the 2017 National Evidence-Based
Practice Conference, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. She is currently completing her MASL/MBA and is
certified in a number of leadership and skills areas.

Guild Incorporated is based in St. Paul and provides services for people with mental illness.


Writer wins national award

St. Louis Park resident Belo Cipriani has won an award for an article he wrote last year for a California publication. Cipriani was honored with the Katherine Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability, one of the only national awards devoted to disability issues coverage. The awards are given by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

Seeing in the Dark, published by the Bay Area Reporter, received an honorable mention and $250 prize. Cipriani is blind and has written extensively about disability issues in the Bay area.

Cipriani currently works at Metro State University as a professional writing tutor, working with all levels of students on improving their writing skills. In addition, he’s the national spokesman for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

A Chicago Tribune investigation into the mistreatment of disabled adults in Illinois group homes won the top honors.


NAMI Minnesota gives out honors for outstanding service

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Minnesota has honored many individuals and businesses that make a positive difference for people with mental illness. The awards were presented during the organization’s annual conference, held November 4 in St. Paul. NAMI Executive Director Sue Abderholden gave an overview of what each winner has done.

Alexandria Police Department was given the Criminal Justice Award, which is presented to someone in the criminal justice field who has demonstrated a strong commitment to the decriminalization of mental illnesses.

“The Alexandria Police Department has been providing crisis intervention team (CIT) training to all of its officers and has developed strong partnerships with community mental health providers. They are active partners in the Region 4 South Adult Mental Health Initiative, looking to address the needs of adults with mental illnesses in their community – not just in the jail,” said Abderholden. “As a founding member of the Douglas County Mental Health Coalition, they have demonstrated their commitment to the decriminalization of mental illnesses.  They have also taken great strides in making it ok to talk about mental illnesses in their community and even among their staff.”

Rep. Jeff Backer (R – Browns Valley) and Sen. Carla Nelson (DFL – Rochester) were given the Legislator of the Year Award. Both have authored many bills, working with NAMI on issues including ACT teams. Backer helped pave the way for certified community behavioral health clinics and last session authored the bill to expand school-linked mental health grants. He worked to expand the eligibility for PCA services. He also worked on workforce issues by authoring a bill that requires private insurance to pay for services provided by clinical trainees.

Nelson was honored for work on loan forgiveness programs for mental health professionals, and championed and authored the bill to ensure that drug formularies can’t change in the middle of a plan year. Abderholden said that very controversial but important bill helped people who didn’t want to be forced to change medications.

Ernst & Young was given the Employer of the Year Award. The award honors an employer who has demonstrated support for hiring and retaining people with mental illnesses; has taken extraordinary measures to educate its employees about mental illnesses, or has created a supportive workplace for families who have a loved one with a mental illness.

The company has started an “r u ok” project focused on mental health, and works with NAMI to provide education and support. A video about the project states that “mental illness is complex but offering your support needn’t be” and it goes on to offer four simple steps: notice, ask, listen, and act. The program connects employees to resources, identifies employee champions, virtual events, e-learning and peer-to-peer connections.

Gail Gislason of St. Paul was honored with the Special Events Volunteer of the Year Award. The award is given to an individual who has given generously of their time, resources and energy to a NAMI special event.

“Gail is part of a wonderful group of women who have dedicated countless hours to NAMI Minnesota’s Gala, which is held every spring to raise funds for NAMI’s mission. With a great smile and laugh, she helps with whatever is needed. She attends planning meetings, helps with obtaining auction items, sets up the day of the event and more. We could not carry out this event without volunteers like Gail,” said Abderholden.

Northwood Children’s Services, Duluth, was given the Provider of the Year Award, in recognition of an organization that provides mental health services that demonstrate excellence, respect and best practices. Northwood provides residential treatment, intensive day treatment, school-based intensive day treatment, diagnostic and assessment center, corporate foster care, therapeutic foster care, Little Learners Enrichment Center, outpatient and children’s therapeutic services and supports.

“All of their services are delivered by passionate, professional and highly trained staff,” said Abderholden. “In addition to providing a supportive work environment Northwood offers their staff funding support for education so that they can become mental health professionals or practitioners. Northwood has consistently been an early adopter of best practices and was one of the first programs to have all of their therapists certified in trauma-informed care. This has led to a very committed staff with low turnover that provides continuity of care for the children they serve.

Will Johnson, an adult-targeted case manager and care coordination lead through the Central Minnesota Mental Health Center in St. Cloud, was given a Professional of the Year Award. The award is given to a professional who provides high-quality services, exemplifies best practices, and demonstrates commitment and leadership to the field.

Johnson’s award nominator wrote: “I highly recommend Will for this honor because he totally understands what it’s like to have a mental illness, for us to have our ups and downs. Will is a man who never backs down when it comes to being an empathic listener when it comes to his natural healing skills, and overall, his case management skills and dedication to his team.

Andy Mannix, a reporter for the Star Tribune, was given the Media Award, which honors an individual or organization instrumental in reporting on the needs of people with mental illnesses or effectively portraying the stories of people with mental illnesses and their families.

In December 2016 the newspaper published a four-part series on solitary confinement in Minnesota prisons. Mannix looked at the impact of solitary confinement on people, and the many people placed in solitary confinement. The articles used data and graphics to help readers understand the extent to which solitary is used in Minnesota prisons. It presented real people and the scars it left on their lives and provided examples of what other states are doing in this area. Thanks to Mannix’s reporting NAMI was able to secure support for a bill that would limit the use of solitary confinement, require reporting of the data and require oversight of its use. The bill passed the House but not the Senate. Abderholden said Mannix’s reporting gives NAMI a strong start on future legislation to strongly limit the use of solitary confinement.

Dan Parnell of Mahtomedi was given a Leadership Award, for his giving generously of time, spirit, resources and skills for NAMI in a leadership capacity. “Dan Parnell has led the NAMI Washington County affiliate for several years and been involved for many more. He leads support groups; he talks to county commissioners and legislators, and to county staff,” said Abderholden. “As an affiliate leader, he is a vocal proponent of building the support people need and providing education. This year he is striving to establish a Parent Resource Group in Washington County as well as opportunities to provide social outlets for individuals living with mental illness.”

Parnell is an exceptionally strong advocate for decriminalizing mental illnesses. He works locally to connect different counties to think critically about criminal justice reform. He has been heavily involved in the Dept. of Corrections’ work to implement crisis intervention team (CIT) training for prison staff. Because of this work, he was the recipient of the 2014 Advocate of the Year Award from CIT International.

Dr. Phuong-Giang Pham was given an Anti-Stigma Award, honoring her for promoting justice, dignity, and respect, and for her work to reduce stigma. She is a dentist at the United Family Medicine Clinic on West 7th Street in St. Paul.

“Now you might be thinking a mental illness anti-sigma award for a dentist? But breaking down stigma is done in small and large ways and she does it one patient at a time. She approaches her patients with great respect and inclusiveness. She is a model for all clinic staff how to treat people and creates a positive atmosphere that permeates the clinic,” said Abderholden.

Too often people with mental illnesses feel misunderstood by health and dental care professionals. Her nominator for the award said, “While there is often a lack of mental health knowledge that negatively influences the outcomes of providing physical care, Dr. Pham demonstrates a clear person-first approach in her practice that results in the best outcomes for individuals receiving her services.”

Don Russell was given a Program Volunteer of the Year Award, for his giving generously of time and expertise. Russell has shown exceptional leadership in one of NAMI’s programs.

“Don Russell facilitates the North Minneapolis NAMI Connection support group for people recovering from mental illnesses. NAMI Connection groups meet weekly, and Don has been leading the group since November 2012. That’s over 250 group meetings – now that’s dedication,” said Abderholden. “He doesn’t want there to be any barriers to people learning about mental illnesses or the mental health system. Most importantly, Don offers people hope – hope for recovery, that not only can you get better, you can turn around and help others.”

NAMI Minnesota is a non-profit organization that works to improve the lives of children and adults with mental illnesses and their families through its programs of education, support and advocacy.


St. Cloud task force honors those who make a key difference

The St. Cloud area’s Disability Awareness Task Force held its annual Celebration of Abilities event at the River’s Edge Convention Center this fall, to highlight achievements of people with disabilities in the community. The task force is a community-wide collaborative between organizations committed to educating the public on issues of disability and breaking down the barriers and stereotypes that affect people with disabilities.

More than 300 people attended the event. They enjoyed hearing from legislators Jim Knoblach and Tama Theis and featured speaker Grace Grell, the reigning Ms. Minnesota. Grell is legally blind and last year took a family trip through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. She was inspired to give back by using her artistic talents and sell her paintings, sketches, and ceramics on Facebook to pay for the wishes of others.

This event brings many people together to celebrate the achievements and contributions that people with disabilities make in the community, said Cara Ruff, executive director of Independent Lifestyles, Inc.

Five individuals and two businesses received Inspiration Awards. Another highlight was to honor the #BetheONE video challenge award winners.

Inspiration Awards were given to Grell, Connie Driver, Diane Boe, Dustin Christensen and Pamela Tritz-Okia. Computer Repair Unlimited owner Blake Thoennes and his staff were honored for initiating internships allowing people with disabilities to assess their interest and abilities in the field of computer Country Inn and Suites East, General Manager Tammy Van Ormer and Front Desk Hostess Pam Skaalerud were saluted for a return to work program which allows job assessments to be completed to assure skills and abilities match the individual to the job. This is done while providing a welcoming, helpful and supportive environment to individuals with disabilities just starting or returning to work.

The #BetheONE video awards were presented. Contestants created two-minute videos that were uploaded to YouTube in order to generate the highest number of views to win the award. The videos highlighted inclusivity, respect for people with disabilities, and bringing an end to bullying. The two first-place winners are Barb Loesch, Loesch Supported Living Services, Inc. and Sarah Starling, Wacosa. Each received a $375 prize for 1,000 online views. Second place winner, Mary Bernardy, produced a video that garnered 928 views. The sixth grader won a $150 prize.

One highlight this year was the introduction of the founding members of the Stacey O’Connell Memorial Fund. O’Connell was an artist, and advocate for people with disabilities. She was employed for 15 years at Independent Lifestyles. Her Fund was developed to support people with disabilities in their efforts to achieve their own artistic dreams.

Founding members include her family members, the Ed and Teresa O’Connell family and the Barb and John Kiffmeyer family. Other founders are Melvin Rohe of St. Cloud, Capital One (supporters of artists with disabilities), and the board of directors of Independent Lifestyles.

For further information on the Stacey O’Connell Memorial Fund, call 320-281-2031.

  • "Stay safe, Minnesota. Take steps to protect yourself & others from the COVID-19 virus."
  • "Stay safe, Minnesota. Take steps to protect yourself, & others from the COVID-19 virus."

Mental Wellness