People and Places – June 2015

  Advocacy skills gained through program Anyone who has ever wanted to be a better advocate for a family member […]

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Advocacy skills gained through program

Anyone who has ever wanted to be a better advocate for a family member or learn more effective self-advocacy skills, can sign up for the 2015-2016 Partners in Policymaking Program. The nine-month leadership training program for people with disabilities and parents of children with developmental disabilities is accepting applications until July 10. Now offered in almost every state and many foreign countries, Partners in Policymaking was created by the Minnesota Governor’s Council on DevelopmentPartners in Policymaking4al Disabilities in 1987.

“Graduates report that they gained a greater understanding of disability law and policies and increased their self confidence in advocating for their needs,” said Colleen Wieck, executive director of the council. “Many have become leaders in their own communities as they speak up for people with disabilities.”

The 2014-2015 graduates of Partners in Policymaking urge others to consider enrolling in the program. “Being so new to the world of disabilities, it was invaluable to meet the other parents and self-advocates,” said Minnetonka resident Sarah Carlson-Wallrath. She has a preschooler with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

“The program allowed me to learn alongside adults with disabilities. I learned that there is more than one path to success and I have a vision now that my son can be a capable, contributing, independent and happy adult with the right supports in place,” Carlson-Wallrath said.

Apple Valley resident Tom Kuhl has cerebral palsy and several learning disabilities. Kuhl liked that the program design emphasizes the importance of bonding with class members.

“It changes you for the better. It improved my mood in ways that medication could not,” said Kuhl. He recommends this program to others with disabilities to “anyone who is feeling overwhelmed with getting the services they need.”

Kuhl also learned the importance of contacting the right people in the chain of command to get help in solving problems. The group also met with legislators and testified at a legislative hearing.Partners in Policymaking3

“The program has confirmed a lot of what I already knew,” said Maple Grove resident Jennifer Ebeling, who has two sons with ASD. “I have gotten a lot of validation.” Ebeling recommends the program to help parents to be better advocates for their children as they transition out of high school and into a work setting. She successfully guided her oldest son to a job at Lunds and Byerly’s.

Partners introduced me to a group of people who have had similar experiences,” said Heather Stillwell of Two Harbors. Her son Dane was born prematurely with cerebral and neuro-sensory hearing loss. He was later identified with ASD. “I wish I had done this when Dane was younger since there is so much to learn about the laws and community services.” She recommends this program to other parents to create partnerships in caring for children and to raise expectations for a child’s future.

The connecPartners in Policymaking2tion with other parents was a plus for St. Cloud area resident Kelly Korpela. She has two sons with ASD. “Partners has been such an eye-opener,” said Korpela. The classmates realize what I am going through since they are going through the same thing. A whole weight is lifted off my shoulders when I come.”

Jordan resident Jean Kes has a son with a genetic disorder. “Partners has given me so much information,” said Kes. “The history was amazing and I learned how the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) process works.” She recommends this program to other parents to learn “to be a stronger voice for their children and know they can make a difference if they speak up.”

Limited to 40 participants, all of whom must be Minnesota residents, class members are selected by a panel of Partners graduates and council representatives. The first session for the 2015-2016 program year is scheduled for the weekend of September 25-26. Presenters include local experts and nationally recognized leaders in school inclusion, community organizing, governmental processes, and disability issues.

Partners in PolicymakingA federal grant covers the program, so it is free to participants. Child care, respite allowance, mileage, meals and overnight accommodations are also covered. Participants must attend all meetings and complete homework assignments between sessions.

“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
these individuals with the tools needed to be successful in the public policy arena,” said Wieck.

For further information or to receive an application form, interested individuals can go to Or contact Dolly Parker of GTS Educational Events at
[email protected]



Arc Changemakers honored for making a difference

Six individuals and families who have made a difference for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities were given Changemaker Awards by The Arc Greater Twin Cities. The awards were presented at The Arc’s Volunteer Celebration and Annual Meeting May 1 at the Hilton Minneapolis/Bloomington.

Kim Keprios, CEO of The Arc Greater Twin Cities, thanked the award winners for their efforts on behalf of others, noting the variety of activities the honorees are involved in.

The Changing Attitudes award recognizes those who positively change public perceptions of people with disabilities.  Recipients are Marian Ahmed, Savage and Erich Hoffmann, Rosemount.

Marion AhmedAhmed is changing attitudes in the Somali community, where intellectual and developmental disabilities are often stigmatized. Ahmed, the mother of two young sons with autism, had the courage to have her sons diagnosed at an early age and get therapies that are helping them overcome their challenges. Sharing her story will encourage other Somali families to get help for their
own children.

Erich Hoffman, front, and his parentsHoffmann, 19, has been making a positive impact on people’s attitudes about disability throughout his life. His mother, Gail, is a past president of The Arc. His many activities include speaking at the Tapemark Charity Pro-Am Golf Tournament, helping keep the tournament’s cause at the forefront. He has participated in many of The Arc’s public policy activities, includinga legislative home visit that he co-hosted with his parents in 2014. He also interned at The Arc Greater Twin Cities and Arc’s Value Village in summer 2014.

The Changing Policies award recognizes persons whose efforts have resulted in systems and policy changes that benefit individuals with disabilities and their families. Recipients are Jeff and Nancy Beyer, Coon Rapids and John Hetterick, Plymouth.

Nancy and Jeff BeyerThe Beyers have six children, including two adopted adult children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). They have been very active in educating policymakers about issues families face when a member has FASD and advocating for legislation proposed by The Arc and the FASD advocacy group MOFAS, especially legislation aimed at preventing FASD. They hosted two legislative home visits for The Arc Greater Twin Cities and work to provide online connections for families.

Hetterick is a board member and long-time volunteer with The Arc Greater Twin Cities who is a passionate advocate in the public policy arena. He was a key player in the passage of the ABLE Act, one of the most significant pieces of disability legislation of 2014. While serving as a Joseph P. Kennedy Fellow in Washington, D.C., in 2004, Hetterick drafted a concept paper on cloning the 529 education investment account for families of people with disabilities, who often struggle with extraordinary expenses. The concept gained momentum when he met the chairperson for the President’s Council on People with Intellectual Disabilities. The Changing Lives award recognizes long-term or intensive efforts that positively affect the lives of people with disabilities. Recipients are Kyla Sisson, Min-neapolis and Joe Thomas and Alana Lucio Thomas, West St. Paul.

Sisson became an intern at The Arc Greater Twin Cities in 2014. She was instrumental in supporting and enhancing The Arc’s Abuse Prevention Initiative and helped revamp the agency’s Guy Talk/Girl Talk sessions about healthy relationships for teens and adults with disabilities. She helped self-advocates develop their leadership abilities by involving them in presentations and developed the cJoe and Alana Lucio Thomas and daughterhildren’s curriculum for a new program focused on friendships, bullying and safety in the community.

Joe Thomas and Alana Lucio Thomas have a daughter with developmental disabilities and significant medical needs caused by chromosomal abnormalities, and they have taken extraordinary steps to support other families who have children with similar diagnosis as their daughter. They organized a fundraiser for an annual event at the Genetics Clinic of Children’s Hospital where families can ask questions, learn about services and research and connect with others for personal support.





Mary T. Inc. wins ethics award

Mary T. Inc. was one of three Minnesota companies honored May 13 on Business Ethics Awareness Day in Minnesota. The Coon Rapids company was selected as the recipient for the large company category (500-plus employees) ethics award.

Mary T. Inc. is family owned and founded on a tradition of care. Its staff has been providing service to senior communities and persons with disabilities since 1976, and continues to offer this personal care through home health and hospice care, rental and senior housing, supported and independent living services, supported apartments and personal and home services.

Mary TDr. Mary Tjosvold, CEO and Founder of Mary T. Inc., accepted the award. “Ethics is really about how you treat people. When you look at the Mary T. Inc. organization, it is how we treat people every single day. It’s about the values, about the mission, about the culture that we have. I believe it is important that all of us set a culture of collaboration and cooperation enabling our employees to act in an ethical way. For me personally, it’s what my 96-year-old mother might say about it,” she said.

Each award recipient received a crystal award along with a congratulatory letter from Gov. Mark Dayton. Dayton declared Wednesday, May 13, 2015 Business Ethics Awareness Day in the state of Minnesota.

The ethics award program, was founded by the Society of Financial Service Professionals – Twin Cities Chapter and the Center for Ethical Business Cultures at the University of St. Thomas, Opus College of Business. Joining these two organizations as a sponsor is the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA) – Minnesota.



ARRM holds annual conference

ARRM’s 2015 Annual Conference: Shifting Gears provided the tools, knowledge, and personal connections for persons to overcome the daily grind and stay nimble during this time of change. More than 1,100 individuals attended the May 13-14 conference at the DoubleTree Hotel in Bloomington. Attendees included disability provider leaders and staff, direct support professionals, nurses, government employees, local business leaders and individuals from related industries.

Those who attended were able to attendARRM a number of useful break-out sessions, speeches and an awards event. Opening keynote speaker Laura Goodrich spoke about how people unconsciously focus on negative thoughts because of fear and past experiences, but can rewire their brains by focusing on positive outcomes. “We get more of whatever we focus on,” she said. “Change requires action, and getting to know your own natural reaction to change.

At the 2015 ARRM Cares Awards a packed ballroom of attendees honored 111 outstanding direct support professional nominees and six award winners. Winners are Lisa Buckentin-Dungarvin Minnesota, Amy Heigel-Opportunity Partners, Jessica Klimesh- REM South Central Services, Tarren Davis-Volunteers of America Minnesota, Steve Pistukla-MBW Company and David Gaarder-Opportunity Partners.




  • Work with your care provider to stay healthy. Protect yourself. Vaccines are your best protection against being sick.
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