At mid-year, Partners in Policymaking class reflects on work

Minnesota’s Partners in Policymaking program creates a supportive and educational environment to help individuals change habits, expectations and attitudes about themselves and their loved ones with developmental disabilities. The free program equips people with leadership skills to take back to their communities, through workshops, group interactions and meetings with leaders. 

Individuals in the 2021-2022 class have unique stories of their learning experiences in advocacy in the education, social service and medical systems. Pictures of all class members and a longer story appear on the Access Press website.  

Jane Anderson, Lakeville, has a teenage son with several disabilities. She values waiver programs that have allowed her son to be happy, healthy and connected to the community. 

Roby  Block, Good Thunder, has a brain injury that can bring on headaches, balance and memory issues. She uses a seizure response dog,  conducts a brain injury support group and believes that staying positive is the best healing of all. 

Innocent Chitulangoma, Lake Elmo, has a child with cerebral palsy. Chitulangoma seeks information about quality services for his son, but found many don’t meet his standards. He wants to join with other advocates to improve how individuals with disabilities live, work and learn. 

Blaine resident Theresa Edelman, her husband  and their four children have dwarfism. Some of the children have other disabilities, keeping the family busy with appointments and therapies. 

Tara Ellis, St. Paul, has anxiety, long-term depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Her child has fetal alcohol syndrome and other disabilities. Finding caregivers is difficult. Ellis wants a better understanding of waiver services, and improved advocacy skills for herself and her family.  

Suniket Fulzele, Plymouth, has a young daughter with cerebral palsy. She requires hands-on attention for daily living activities. Caregivers are hard to find. Often overwhelmed by confusing and incomplete information, he is hoping the class will guide him and help him be an advocate for others. 

James Heinecke, Appleton, has a son with autism spectrum and other disabilities. The family has struggled to find information on available services. Heinecke wants information on inclusivity and normalizing education experience and acceptance at school and social settings, as well as more details on first responder training.  

Arbdella Hudson, St. Paul, has had brain injuries and concussions. She wants to learn more about her injuries, and educate and help others.  

Cassie Kallis, Plymouth, has three children with fragile X syndrome. She and her husband had to thoroughly research and strongly advocate for services. Kallis wants to learn more about services, public policy, and making schools more inclusive, with the goal of  being a full-time advocate. 

Sareen Dunleavy Keenan, Minneapolis, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety, and represents a “sandwich generation” of care. She is raising four children with disabilities. Keenan lives with and supports her mother and her sister, both of whom have physical disabilities. Educational arrangements for her children are complex as safety, transportation and inclusivity need to be considered. Dunleavy Keenan hopes to learn more about inclusive employment and waivered services, and become more effective in caring for her family. 

Nicole Laudont, Maple Grove, has a young son with autism. She is finding many barriers to school inclusion, and a lack of community resources. She is seeking Hennepin County waiver supports and finds that social services provide little help. 

Yang Liang, Woodbury, has a son with autism who needs constant supervision for all activities. Liang is interested in school inclusion and future employment for her son, and is concerned about his future. She wants to learn effective advocacy skills. 

Maple Grove resident Joel Liestman has a 10-year-old son with William’s syndrome and pother disabilities. Liestman describes his son as “incredibly kind and curious about the world … his natural empathy is admirable.” Liestman is concerned about waiver issues, school and social inclusion, and planning for his child’s future. 

Nicole Lucas, Albertville, is guardian for her twin sister who is deaf and lives with multiple disabilities. Lucas advocates for respectful attitudes and interactions with those with disabilities. From her work experience in special education, Lucas seeks changes in state and national laws that would have a positive impact on how students are treated. 

Darlane Miller, who lives in rural Minnesota, has two daughters with fetal alcohol syndrome disorder and other disabilities. Her daughters benefit from alternative services and equine therapy. Miller is interested in helping others understand invisible disabilities as well as the challenge of educational and employment options for people in rural Minnesota. 

Christopher Nelson, Lakeville, has a daughter with epilepsy, autism and other disabilities. He considers parenting the biggest joy and challenge, multiplied when the child has special needs. He describes his daughter as bright, energetic and loving “but we still have a long way to go and a hard road to get there.” He is interested in helping other parents navigate school special education programs and autism services. 

Ruby Parker, Maplewood, lives with anxiety and depression. Her goal is that individuals with disabilities are treated with respect and communicated with on an adult level, not as children. She is employed in two separate training facilities and is proud of overcoming her addiction to drugs. Parker is interested in understanding local politics and how she can have a bigger voice in the community.  

Yesmean Ragheb, Plymouth, is raising a child with Down syndrome, who needs costly and complex therapies. Ragheb is a family connector for the Down Syndrome Association of Minnesota, helping families navigate resources. 

Usha Ramakrishnan, Woodbury, has a son with multiple disabilities. She is concerned about accommodations for her son and is interested in educating herself to be able to give him the best possible care. 

Dollie Richmond, St. Paul, is blind in one eye. She is interested in educational opportunities and transportation services for those with disabilities. She wants to become a public speaker, to help improve the quality of life for others. 

Kayle Schmidt, Otsego, has a son with severe anxiety and autism who requires continual care, and a daughter with disabilities. Schmidt wants more information about waiver services and school inclusion, and wants to help other families facing similar challenges. 

Jaxson Seguin, Proctor, has Asperger’s syndrome. He has struggled with others judging him and not being friendly. A good case manager, the courage to put himself in social situations and getting involved at school have made a difference. A recent high school graduate, he would like to be involved in politics. 

Minneapolis resident Danielle Smith is raising a child with autism. Her child benefits from positive supports at school, and she describes him as a  “kindhearted gentleman.” She grew up with family members with autism, and wants to connect with other parents and learn from their experience. 

Amanda Llamas Tyrell, Burnsville, lives with autism and an anxiety disorder, as does one of her five children. Her son is the reason she wanted to participate in this class. She hopes to find her voice to become a stronger advocate and set an example for her son to become a strong self-advocate as he moves into high school and adulthood.  

Provider organization achieves independence 

George Klauser

As of January 1, St. Paul-based Altair Accountable Care Organization (ACO) is an independent 501(c)(3) organization. 

Altair ACO began in 2013 with six home and community-based providers who joined together to share best practices, resources and information to provide better outcomes at less cost for individuals with disabilities. George Klauser was executive director and Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota served as fiscal agent. 

The collaborative has grown to 14 providers who support more than 20,000 Minnesota individuals with disabilities who have waivered services.  

“Our vision early on was to create integrated health and social service models that would deliver higher quality outcomes for people with disabilities at less cost. Altair has grown and thrived to make this vision a reality,” said Klauser. He is chief executive officer of the new organization. 

The ACO has developed a variety of services to improve outcomes, including a community care program that matches a care coordinator with staff in 700 supported community homes who provide direct care to people with disabilities. Together, they help identify and implement the best care strategies and interventions for the unique circumstances of each individual. 

A key tool for Altair is the LifePlan that provides a person-centered blueprint designed around the hopes and dreams of individuals. Each plan considers housing options, who caregivers will be, school and employment goals, care interventions that can improve personal health, and community involvement. 

In addition to Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, providers include Hammer, Fraser, Lifeworks, Living Well, REM Minnesota, Dungarvin, Volunteers of America Minnesota, Mains’l, Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, Geritom Medical, HealthStar Home Health, Accord and Residential Services Inc. 

Altair funding was provided by member providers and public and private grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Minnesota Department of Human Services, Minnesota Department of Health, the Schulze Foundation, the George Family Foundation and Bigelow Foundation. 

State champions are crowned 

Lakeville/Burnsville/Farmington Blazing Cats and Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka Robins are the 2021 Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) adaptive soccer champions. The tournaments, held at Stillwater High School, were the first held in two years. The 2020 tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Blazing Cats defeated Dakota United 6-3 for the CI Division crown, which is for athletes with cognitive disabilities. Sophomore Caden Roseth got the Blazing Cats on the board first with a goal assisted by teammate Miller Hertaus. They would not look back from there, holding onto a lead for the remainder of the game. 

In the third place game, the Park Center Pirates defeated Chaska/Chanhassen/Shakopee/Prior Lake in a 14-5 shootout. The host Stillwater Area Ponies topped South Suburban 14-6 for the consolidation crown. Other teams in the CI tournament were St. Cloud and South Washington County. 

in the PI Division for athletes with physical disabilities, perennial power Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka won its first division adapted soccer state tournament championship in seven years. The Robins topped Dakota United 7-5. 

South Washington County was defending champion. 

The game was close until Jose Leon Estrada got the momentum with some of his four goals. Fiona Sitzmann sparked a second-half rally for the Hawks but it wasn’t enough.  

Dakota United was the 2019 defending champion.  

Anoka-Hennepin won third place, 9-0 over Rochester. Other teams in the tournaments were Minneapolis South and St. Paul Humboldt. 

All-tournament team members for the Ci Division are Gabe Imafidon. South Suburban; Mason Mora-Clark, Stillwater; Luis Rudolph and Drew Hennen, Chaska/Chanhassen/Shakopee; John Klick and Gaetano Sanders, Park Center; Kyle Johnson, Thomas Christopherson and Mark Manwarren, Dakota United; and Caleb Garvin, Miller Hertaus and Caden Roseth, Lakeville/Burnsville/Farmington. 

PI Division All-Tournament team members are Charlie Burnes, Minneapolis South; Joe Hansen and Stuart Betterson, Rochester; Garman Neal and Austin Swanson, Anoka-Hennepin; Fiona Sitzmann, Alex Jorgenson and Sam Getten, Dakota United; and Edgar Kinanya, Ava Hetteen and Mark Cleveland, Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound-Westonka. 

  • Work with your care provider to stay healthy. Protect yourself. Vaccines are your best protection against being sick.
  • Wash your hands! Hands that look can still have icky germs!

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