Hearts & Hammers lends a hand
Hearts & Hammers – Twin Cities, Inc. working directly with the City of Saint Paul, Summit / University Planning Council and the Greater Frogtown Community Development Corporation hosted the Hearts & Hammers Spring Program Day May 15. More than 350 volunteers from local businesses, professional organizations and church groups participated in this one-day home-restoration program in two geographic areas of the city. They helped many disabled and elderly home owners.
Volunteers provided exterior painting, landscaping and moderate home improvements at no cost to deserving home owners to help maintain the safety, integrity and weatherproofing of their homes. The families whose homes will be worked on this day were selected by Hearts & Hammers because they own and occupy a home located within a designated area, are elderly or physically disabled and/or are financially unable to maintain their home independently. Most of the restoration on the homes was complete during the one-day event
“The impact that we can make locally to the owner’s residence; and the impact that we make personally on our volunteers makes the day an amazing experience for our community at large” said Mike Hutson, executive directive of Hearts & Hammers. “We are changing the lives of so many people, one house at a time.”
Inspired by the Harlem Children’s Zone, St. Paul’s Community Investment Campus is an effort to improve student achievement with a holistic focus on education, neighborhood enhancement and the building of stronger communities. Hearts & Hammers plays an integral role in this movement by rebuilding and maintaining the homes of these very communities. Hearts and Hammers offers two programming days every year drawing more than 1200 volunteers annually. More information on the Hearts & Hammers and their Spring Program Days can be found at www.heartsandhammers.org or contact Mike Hutson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Business, faith, government partnership yields new homes
For 10 years, Sally was a frequent guest at the Salvation Army’s shelter on Currie Avenue. Like most of the hundreds of guests staying at the shelter each evening, Sally lives with a disability of mental illness. Now, she is one of the first long-time guests of the Currie Avenue shelters to move to her own apartment, thanks to a new initiative, the Currie Avenue Partnership, that was conceived in December and quickly garnered support from the faith, business and local community.
The idea came after Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman and the City-County Coordinator to End Homelessness Cathy ten Broeke visited the Salvation Army shelter one evening in December after noticing an uptick in shelter usage as the recession hit. “We were mobbed,” Dorfman said. “People heard someone from government was there, and they came to ask questions. Can you help me get a job? Can you help me get housing?”
“What we quickly realized,” ten Broeke added, “was a large percent of the guests were disabled, most with mental illness or chemical dependency.” Being disabled meant that most of the guests qualified for a state program called Group Residential Housing, which helps low-income clients locate housing and get needed supports to maintain it. The problem with GRH, however, is clients need a case manager – someone to hold their hand, help them find the housing, and provide supports so they can be successful in the new environment.
Excited about the idea, ten Broeke approached a long-time supporter of Heading Home Hennepin, the plan to end homelessness in Hennepin: the Rev. Jim Gertmenian of the Plymouth Congregational Church. “The project was clear in its goal and obviously measurable, it was perfect. It taps into the basic values that still exist in this state: we care about the most vulnerable,” Gertmenian said. He thought they needed to go see the Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen of the Westminster Presbyterian Church.
Hart-Andersen’s response? “This is really compelling. I recommended that we have a talk with Sam Grabarski, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council.”
“When Jim and Tim invited me over for coffee and told me this idea, it felt like divine providence,” Grabarski said. “I was intrigued and I thought this idea dovetailed well with our mission. The Downtown Council of Minneapolis strives to make the downtown as livable as possible for everyone. We’re against bad behavior and we’re for the milk of human kindness. We’re also aware that some of our downtown workers are homeless.”
No sooner had ten Broeke completed her pitch to the Business Council, when a representative from Ameriprise stood up and donated $20,000. The excitement was contagious. In less than four months, the $350,000 was raised.
It was also the most cost-effective solution. A recent Hennepin study shows that the county saves about $13,000 per person per year who is housed versus using shelter services and other expensive public services.
Starry Night Prom reaches milestone
DeLaSalle High School for the past 10 years has sponsored “Starry Night Prom,” which draws several hundred people of all ages with disabilities, many of whom never had attended a prom before. Couples and single attendees dressed to the ”T” and danced the night away May 8 to the live music inside the downtown Minneapolis school’s star-themed decorated gymnasium.
It is no different than other school proms, including the “Grand March,” said Lasallian Ministry Associate C.J. Hallman. “Each participant of the prom gets to go under an archway, where they get their pictures taken. People can applaud them, see them dressed up and give them a moment in the spotlight. Some even go through two or three times, and we allow them to go until it’s over.” The school’s Lasallian Ministry Department organized the annual event. Hosting it was a result of DeLaSalle students exploring ways to perform community service, said school Vice President Peg Hodapp. “We thought disability was something we hadn’t examined yet,” she said. “We threw the first one [in 2000] with about 70 guests. Over the years it has grown — the last two years, there have been over a thousand people here.” An estimated 1,000-plus people, including caregivers and parents, attended the May 8 event.
“We welcome people from grade school on up to 75 years old,” said Hodapp. “We once had a man here who was 75 and lived in an institution most of his life. He was so thrilled.”
Kiebler Noel says this year was his fifth time attending the prom. The 24-year-old from Crystal said he really enjoys people watching. “People are dressed up looking sharp, great and pretty,” he notes.
“I’m glad that it is every year for people to come and enjoy themselves,” said Thelma Barb, a worker at Seeks Home, a group home located in Osseo.
First-time student volunteers each expressed their pleasure working the prom. “I’m happy to be here to make this a real big day for them,” said junior Karrie Puckett. “I like seeing their smiling faces and [the girls] in their pretty dresses.” [Source: Minneapolis Spokesman-Recorder]
Pairing up at Dakota Communities
The relay race at the Ways to Wellness fitness center in Woodbury wasn’t going Melody’s way. She could see her team’s row of hand weights wasn’t shrinking as quickly as the opposing team’s, so she took drastic action. Hoping nobody would notice—though everyone did—she grabbed two weights at once, slyly jogged across the room and dumped them in her team’s bucket. “Melody!” fitness trainer Rachel Larson exclaimed. Nobody took the infraction too seriously—not when the main goal is to increase fun and exercise for Melody, 51, and other Dakota Communities clients like her with developmental disabilities. The moment mostly underscored the playful competitiveness that has helped make the fitness program a success.
Now in its second year, Dakota’s “Be Connected, Be Well” initiative pairs disabled clients with staff caregivers who join them in weekly fitness sessions. The point of pairing clients and staff is to get them to motivate and inspire each other —and maybe compete once in a while, too.
“This is the first program we’ve implemented where (residents and caregivers) are doing it side by side,” said Toni O’Brien, director of community life for Dakota Communities, which operates 32 residential facilities in the metro area. “So it’s with them, not to them.”
In the first year, 22 participants lost an average of 13 pounds each, reduced their body mass index and improved their metabolism. The big surprise to leaders of the program was that the disabled clients lost more weight on average in the first year than the Dakota staff members.
Improved fitness is a huge benefit for Melody, who has been in institutional care for most of her life because of Down syndrome and mental disability. Her last name isn’t included in this report because she is a ward of the state. Obesity and poor health can only compound problems for the developmentally disabled, leaving them prone to more illnesses and to expensive hospital care and medications.
“Oftentimes, we put them in a box, but they have so much potential. It’s a matter of seeing it,” said Tina Stofferahn, a coordinator of one of Dakota’s homes who is paired with Melody in the fitness program. “I never knew Melody could do sit-ups, and I never asked her to do sit-ups. But she can do more than I can.”
The program was designed for the staff, too, given that Dakota, like most businesses, is seeing its health insurance costs rise and has an interest in improving the health of its work force. The workers and residents travel together weekly to Ways to Wellness, a HealthEast fitness center adjacent to the Woodwinds hospital. [Source: Pioneer Press]