People and Places – July 2013

Nora Boyle, center, is shown with her children Debi and Owen and her husband Jesse. Shakopee woman is ‘Best Mom […]

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Nora Boyle, center, is shown with her children Debi and Owen and her husband Jesse.

Shakopee woman is ‘Best Mom on Wheels’

A Shakopee woman is the 2013 winner of the “Best Mom on Wheels” contest sponsored by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. Many of Nora Boyle’s friends and family members say she is the “the best person on wheels.”

Boyle was humbled by her win, after reading all of the entries. “Every mom tries to be their best, so this means a lot,” she said. “I’m really excited, but I wish there was a way for all these moms to win.”

This was Boyle’s second nomination in two years. Until the 10 finalists were announced, she was unaware that her mother, Susan Hoffman, had nominated her.

“I had friends sharing it and friends of friends,” explains Boyle, of all the votes. “I work at a school as a special education paraprofessional and my story was on the news. Kids were saying ‘I saw you on TV! I voted for you!’”

The votes meant more than just being crowned the Best Mom on Wheels and winning a $500 gift card from Tilt-A-Rack. “One second grader saw me in passing and said, ‘You’re not just the Best Mom on Wheels, you’re the best person on wheels,’” said Boyle.

Boyle and her children, Debi age 12, and Owen age 10, don’t think of her any differently. “We do lots of stuff anyone else does,” she said. “We go to the zoo, museums, take day trips, and do arts and crafts. The kids are very helpful. Sometimes it’s easier having them with me. They help put my wheelchair in the SUV.”

Boyle’s children have never known their mom to be a mom that walks. At age 16, she was injured in a motor vehicle accident.

“Like my son said on TV,” said Boyle, “My mom is just like any other mom. She is just a tiny bit different.”

Her parents join her children and husband Jesse as Boyle’s biggest supporters. But she has many friends in her home area, in part because of her extensive community involvement. Boyle holds full-time job and is a Girl Scout leader. She is kept busy with her children’s activities and is involved in many projects. She enjoys scrapbooking, cooking and travel. She enjoys challenging herself and has tried activities including bungee jumping and skydiving.




Partners in Policy Making training helps advocates

Mary Beth May was awarded her Partners in Policymaking certificate by program faculty member Dan Reed. Photos courtesy of Partners in Policymaking

While many new graduates are starting careers or higher education, Partners in Policy Making’s latest graduating class is off to a bright future of advocacy. The eight-month leadership training program for adults with disabilities and parents of young children with developmental disabilities recently graduated its latest class. The deadline to apply for the 2013-2014 session is July 15.

Now offered in almost every state and many foreign countries, Partners in Policymaking was created by the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities 26 years ago. Nearly 850 Minnesotans have completed the program and more than 23,000 have participated worldwide.

“Many graduates credit this program for helping them gain self-confidence and a greater understanding of disability law and policies, enabling them to be better advocates for their needs. Many have stepped up to become leaders in their own communities and take on greater roles in speaking for people with disabilities,” said Colleen Wieck, executive director of the Governor’s Council.

Adults with disabilities and parents of young children with developmental disabilities are urged to apply. The program is paid for through a federal grant and is free to participants. Meals and mileage are covered. Child care, respite allowances and overnight accommodations are provided for those who have to travel some distance to participate.

Presenters include nationally recognized leaders as well as local experts. The history of the disability and self-advocacy movements, inclusive education, supported living, and influencing county, state and federal legislative processes are among topics covered. The two-day meetings are on weekends, making it easier for people to participate. Participants are required to attend all eight sessions and complete homework assignments.

Sessions are at the Minneapolis Airport Marriott, Bloomington. The 2013-2014 sessions begin Sept. 27-28.

The class is limited to 40 participants. The class is selected by a panel of program graduates and council representatives.

Plymouth resident Ashley Bailey has cerebral palsy. She completed the 2012-2013 program and calls it invaluable. “I learned about the power of speaking up and giving your ideas to those who are elected,” said Bailey. She is concerned about the policy for the personal care attendant (PCA) waiver with rigorous guidelines that do not consider individual circumstances. Bailey highly recommends the program to others. “It is so important to learn that you have a voice.”

Fellow spring graduate Mary Beth May is a Coon Rapids resident. Her disability resulted from brain surgery. May could have been one of the instructors. She gained experience 15 years earlier in giving testimony to legislative committees that lead to changing eligibility guidelines to obtain community services for brain injured clients. May developed “a new appreciation for what others have to deal with. It is important to speak out for what you believe is right and what you think you deserve,” she added.

Maple Grove resident and parent of a daughter with autism, Jennifer Reiter, found the program valuable to “learn how to communicate with my daughter and to not think of her as ‘less’.” Discussions on the difference between “existing and thriving” environments motivated her find more ways to include her daughter in activities. “It is empowering for parents,” said Reiter. “Meeting other parents helps you feel that you are not alone and you begin to get a new footing.”

Markeeta Keys is a Brooklyn Center resident and parent of children with disabilities. She highly recommends the program to other parents. “You need this experience to talk about equal access, rights and benefits for all.”

Cedar resident Barb Tooze has a son on the autism spectrum and has a disability herself. “It was a true blessing,” said Tooze. She shared her personal eight-year struggle with the local school system to get education for her son who had increasing daily anxieties about going to school. When a qualified tutor she found to help with the morning transitions was denied by the local school, she found a school specializing in autism that is meeting his needs and helping him thrive. That school is more than 50 miles away.

Aware of her own disability resulting from fibromyalgia and Lupus, Tooze wanted others to learn from her advocacy experience. “I cherish every day I have with him and I want the best for his future, with and without me.” She encourages others to apply for the class. “You get to meet others who are in the same situation you face and you find support in many ways. You learn what this society is all about and what you need to do to bring about change and advocate for people with disabilities.”

“This program is based on the belief that systems change is best brought about through the efforts of those most affected by them, and we seek to arm them with the tools needed to be successful in the public policy arena,” said Wieck.

For further information or to receive an application form, go to the web page, or contact Carol Schoeneck at Government Training Services, 1-800-0569-6878, ext. 205, or at 651-222-7409, ext. 205. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]



St. Paul student wins award

Louie McGee, a seventh grader at Highland Catholic School in St. Paul, is one of the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards winners. Just 10 young people from around the nation won the award, out of more than 28,000 applicants.

McGee, 12, has significant vision loss. He was honored for his fundraising work as one of America’s top 10 youth volunteers of 2013. For six years he has led Team Louie for the Twin Cities Vision Walk. The team has raised $40,000 for the Foundation Fighting Blindness. He is the walk’s youth chairman.

Last year McGee organized the Dining in the Dark fundraiser at his school. About 300 students wore masks while eating dinner, and learned about living with vision loss.

McGee is using half of his $10,000 award to support the Foundation Fighting Blindness. He was honored in a ceremony at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington. D.C. His school was presented with a crystal trophy in June to recognize his work.

In addition to the trophy for his school, McGee received a personal award of $5,000, an engraved gold medallion and a $5,000 grant from the Prudential Foundation for a charitable organization of his choice. He also received a silver medallion and $1,000 personal award after being named one of Minnesota’s top two youth volunteers of 2013 in February.

McGee was diagnosed with Stargardt disease at age 5. The condition causes loss of central vision. He is active on his school track and swim teams, and is a good student.



Preps wrap up spring sports

The Minnesota State High School League’s spring sports wrapped up with the state track and field meet in June. Adapted softball and bowling tournaments are held in the spring, for physically impaired (PI) and cognitively impaired (CI) divisions. Wheelchair athletes can compete at the state track and field meet.

In adapted bowling, Simley won the PI title and Lake City won the CI title.

St. Paul City Conference schools took three of four singles titles. St. Paul Johnson swept the singles championships in the CI division. Senior Dwight Johnson won the boys’ title with a 508. Junior

Veronica Hodges earned the girls’ crown with a 473. St. Paul Humboldt senior Tony Campanaro posted a 503 to win the boys’ PI title. Simley senior Abby Cochran had a score of 518 to win the girls’ PI title.Her total helped the Spartans win the team championship as well. Minneapolis North senior Ronnie Kennedy and sophomore Dushon Spicer won the doubles title in the CI division with a 869. Austin sophomore Kaylee McDermott and freshman Rachel Cook took first place in doubles in the PI division with a 901.

In adapted softball, Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka defeated Dakota United, 10-5, for the Robins’ record fifth consecutive PI state title. Both teams came into the title game undefeated.

In the CI division, the Blazing Cats of Burnsville, Farmington, Lakeville and New Prague high schools, defeated North Suburban 12-5. It was the Cats’ first-ever state crown.

At the state track and field meet, one wheelchair athlete won a title. Blake Collier of St. James Area High School won the Class A boys’ shot put.




Those who improve lives are honored

Eight Minnesota individuals and organizations were recognized for their work in improving and enriching the lives of seniors and people with disabilities at the 2013 Age and Disabilities Odyssey Conference in Duluth in June. The annual conference is sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Minnesota Board on Aging.

The 2013 winners were chosen from the largest-ever group of nominees. “The 2013 Odyssey award winners are excellent examples of individuals and organizations coming together to better serve aging Minnesotans, people with disabilities and their caregivers,” said Minnesota DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. “It is wonderful to see the difference these people and organizations are making in their communities.”

“We can all learn from and be inspired by the exemplary work of these award winners,” said Don Samuelson, chair of the Minnesota Board on Aging. Three awards were given in the service category, for exemplary practices, services and/or advocacy for older Minnesotans, people with disabilities and their communities. Sarah Mruz, direct support professional for Mains’l Services, Inc., Brooklyn Park, provides outstanding service to clients. Mruz “maintains the utmost respect for the dignity and rights of the consumers, all while addressing their needs,” according to her nomination. She also is praised for allowing her clients to make independent decisions, no matter the outcome, and for her problem-solving skills.

VINE Faith in Action, Mankato, has the ability to identify and meet needs in its community. VINE’s mission is to “promote quality of life and a culture of caring,” Called “a pillar in its community for elders and people with disabilities,” VINE provides services including rides to medical appointments, housekeeping for people post-hospitalization and peer mentoring.

Dr. Terrance Capistrant was recognized for his work raising funds to establish the Capistrant Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders at Bethesda Hospital, St. Paul. After a long career as a neurologist, Capistrant currently volunteers in an advisory role and as a patient educator at the center.

Individuals are given community awards for improving policies, services or quality of life practices for elders, people with disabilities and their communities. Katy Boone, planning and promotion supervisor at

Carver County Public Health Department, works to improve services for baby boomers. Through her work with city officials and interviews with Carver County residents, Boone identified intersections between baby boomers’ needs and the city’s goals to develop a comprehensive set of programs and policies in order to improve services. Examples include training for local officials regarding seniors’ housing and the development of a comprehensive plan for Carver County.

Barbara Fonkert, planning coordinator for Homeland Security Emergency Management at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, received the award for her key role in creating the “Functional Needs Planning Toolkit,” which identifies a wide variety of resources to aide emergency planners to meet the needs of people with disabilities. The toolkit also encourages emergency planners to involve people with various needs in their planning.

The innovation category recognizes an organization or individual that has championed innovations in direct services, coordination of services, and community-based partnerships, and increased the resilience, interdependence and quality of life for elders, people with disabilities and their communities. Northwoods Caregivers, which serves seniors and people with disabilities in the Bemidji area, is one winner. The nonprofit partnered with Bemidji State University students.

They customized and created a database that automates time reporting, data entry and billing. Northwoods Caregivers has reduced errors, saved time for office staff and homemakers, and made more time for outreach to potential clients and referring partners.

Debra Schipper is founder of West Metro Learning Connections. She is its chief executive officer, director and lead autism spectrum disorder specialist at West Metro Learning Connections, Inc. It addresses the specific needs of high-functioning young people with autism for personalized social, communication, and behavior skill development. In the past decade 1,000 children have participated in the program and are now leading happier and more social lives.

One organization was given the policy award, for demonstrating public policy leadership resulting in improved quality of life for elders, people with disabilities and their communities. ACT on Alzheimer’s, a statewide public-private community collaboration, was honored for efforts to advance awareness and dispel myths about the disease. The collaboration provides support to communities through tools and resources that make them more dementia-friendly for people with the disease and their caregivers. More than 50 organizations and 150 individuals participate in ACT on Alzheimer’s, putting Minnesota at the forefront nationally in preparing for Alzheimer’s.




Student’s art takes him to Carnegie Hall

An eighth-grader at Valley View in Edina is now a successful and award-winning artist. Harrison Heinks won a gold medal in this year’s National Scholastic Art and Writing competition for his sculpture of shoes. Only 1 percent of the more than 200,000 entries received the award.

The piece represents his feelings of loss and loneliness during a family move.

Heinks was diagnosed with autism at age 2. His family worried at one point that he would never speak. A few years ago, his family moved to Edina for better educational and community resources. While the move was done for his own good, Heinks said the move was a difficult experience for him.

The award is one of the most prestigious awards for creative teens. Previous winners include Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Stephen King and Lena Dunham. Heinks created his sculpture of a pair of shoes in about 20 minutes. He said it helps that his mother, Kari, who is an art teacher in the St. Michael-Albertville school district, has plenty of clay on hand.

Art is more than a hobby for Heinks. It is an outlet and a way to share his feelings. Art serves as a way for him to deal with stress and the frustration he faces at times. Heinks was given his medal this spring in a ceremony at New York City’s Carnegie Hall.




Radio Talking Book hosts conference

The Minnesota Radio Talking Book was host to the annual conference for the International Association of Audio Information Services in June. This organization, under several different names, has existed since the early 1970s. It is inspired by the existence of the Radio Talking Book, which was the world’s first reading service for the blind.

The conference moves to a different host city each year. The return to Minnesota had the “Remembering the Past, Looking Forward to the Future” as its theme. One of the presenters at the conference was Minnesota’s engineer emeritus, Robert Watson, who made the Radio Talking Book possible in 1969.





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