People and Places — June 2021

Ribbon-cutting for group home destroyed by fire Opportunity Partners this spring celebrated the completion of the new Doug’s Place group […]

Ribbon-cutting event at new home

Ribbon-cutting for group home destroyed by fire

Opportunity Partners this spring celebrated the completion of the new Doug’s Place group home in New Hope. It replaced the organization’s residence destroyed by fire in 2019.

Opportunity Partners works with 1,500 adults with disabilities each year.

The residence, home to three adults with disabilities, was destroyed by fire in June 2019. No one was seriously injured in the fire, although an Opportunity Partners employee heroically helped a resident to leave the house safely.

Losing the group home was a challenge, but Denali Custom Homes Founder/President David Bieker was particularly interested in helping with the rebuild. He has an adult son with disabilities and sees the difficulties people can face in finding suitable housing to age in place. In addition to the contributions from Denali and its subcontractors, many friends of Opportunity Partners donated more than $49,000 to the organization after the fire.

The spacious four-bedroom, more accessible residence will be home to four women with disabilities. The new residents are excited to have a new washer and dryer, wall-mounted TVs, and large pantry in a modern, white kitchen.

Doug’s Place is named for OP’s long-time residential staff member Doug Annett, who worked for the nonprofit for 23 years. Annett was instrumental in expanding the organization’s residential options for people with disabilities to include group homes, supported apartment programs and community living services.

Tech for Healthy Aging unveiled

Tech for Healthy Aging is a statewide program that is helping older Minnesotans with disabilities utilize assistive technology to improve their safety, independence and quality of life.  Its goals re improving public understanding of technology’s potential for older adults, and promoting safe aging in place. 

Tech for Healthy Aging is innovative as a collaboration of two organizations, the Lighthouse Center for Vital Living in Duluth and Twin Cities-based LiveLife Therapy Solutions, Inc. The project also takes an unusually multi-disciplinarian approach to assistive technology. The two organizations employee occupational therapists, assistive technology professionals, physical therapists, speech therapists, professionals in the blindness field, and technology systems experts.

The program is funded in part by a Minnesota Department of Human Services Live Well at Home grant. Services provided under this program are generally available to people who are over the age of 65; have a disability or chronic health condition and want to continue to live independently.

Examples of qualifying conditions might include but are not limited to vision or hearing loss; memory loss; communication challenges; depression or other mental health challenges; balance issues; mobility limitations; or chronic conditions like diabetes or Parkinson’s.

Services offered under the program include consultant and assessment, training  and connections to community resources.

Assessments and training are done in a person’s home or via telehealth.  Services are person-centered – guided by each person’s own needs and goals. They are built on a team approach involving family members, caregivers, and professionals from multiple areas of expertise. 

Examples of the types of technologies often recommend are Smart Home technologies like Alexa or Google Home; adaptive telephones; Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices (AAC); medication management systems; computers; tablets; cell phones; mobility devices like walkers or wheelchairs; and low-tech solutions like lighting, markings or grab bars.

Tech for Healthy Aging services are paid for via multiple funding sources, including the Live Well at Home grant, medical insurance, waivers and other sources, depending on individual circumstances. There is also limited funding available to cover some types of equipment.  Some voluntary cost-sharing may be asked.  For more information about the program, go to

MCIL marks 40 years with new logo

MCIL logo

Metropolitan Center for Independent Living (MCIL), now in its 40th year of assistance to people with disabilities in the seven county Twin Cities metropolitan area, has unveiled a new look. The disability service nonprofit has redesigned its logo and debuted a new , Web Content Accessibly Guideline (WCAG 2.1) accessible website. the new logo and improved website give MCIL a step into its future.

MCIL’s mission statement is “Removing Barriers/Promoting Choices.” For MCIL, assisting people in removing barriers and promoting choices, starts with a focus on the individual’s decision-making they have for their life and to fully realize their hopes and dreams.

The new look of MCIL is built upon its mission statement, and its core values: mindful, responsive and advocacy, stewardship, transparency and trustworthy, collaboration, partnership and systems advocacy and, self-empowerment and self-determination.

“We believe it is important we nurture awareness and action that ultimately realizes our vision,” MCIL said in announcing the website and new logo. “We believe in a world of opportunities, choices, and the freedom to live those choices. We recognize that aspiration, hopes and dreams are universal and for MCIL we believe in the power of independent living.”

Working with Kathleen Westerhaus, principal consultant at K. Westerhaus Consulting, LLC, MCIL conducted market research over a two-year period in gaining important input from its constituents and internal and external stakeholders. For example, MCIL learned that that’ its PCAs appreciate the timely responsiveness of MCIL employees in meeting their needs in support of PCA Consumers in the Home-Based Services PCA Choice Program.

See the new website at

Medica Foundation provides grants

The Medica Foundation recently approved $100,000 in COVID-19 crisis relief grants to support efforts in Minnesota to achieve target vaccination rates that will end the pandemic. The funding will assist five organizations, noted in the chart below, that provide support to underserved members of the community.

The Arc Minnesota is one group funded. The nonprofit will work to improve access to the COVID-19 vaccine for people with disabilities through advocacy and community coordination.

“The Medica Foundation is committed to addressing health care inequities and we are pleased to assist these organizations in their efforts to reach underserved populations,” said JoAnn Birkholz, Medica Foundation Executive Director. “By working together, we can increase opportunities for people to live their healthiest lives possible and ensure the entire community participates in putting the pandemic behind us.”

Walz, Flanagan announce appointment

Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan have announced appointments of several people to state boards, commissions and committees that serve people with disabilities.

Lisa Harvey, Spring Valley, replaces Patricia Jensen on the Ombudsman Committee for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities. The committee  advises and assists the ombudsman in developing policies, plans and programs to benefit persons with mental illness, developmental disabilities, chemical dependence, and emotional disturbance.

Several appointments were announced to the Statewide Independent Living Council. the council Harvey was also appointed to the Statewide Independent Living Council, replacing Nichole Meyer. Haley Kimmet Minneapolis, replacing Joshua Berg. Robyn Block of Good Thunder replaces Nancy Yaklich. Joani Werner of Vadnais Heights replaces Tammie Carlson.

Edward Lecher of St. Paul replaces Annette Toews as the State Services for the Blind member. Larry Lura of Minneapolis was reappointed.

The Statewide Independent Living Council monitors, reviews, and evaluates the State Plan for Independent Living. The council also coordinates with other entities to provide long-term community-based services and supports and works collaboratively with the Centers for Independent Living to create, monitor, review and evaluate the state plan. MNSILC coordinates activities with other entities in the state that provide services similar or complementary to independent living services.

Abdi Matan  of St. Peter replaces Kate Onyeneho on the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities, as the private nonprofit representative. Christine McVey of St. Paul replaces Jacqueline Rightler as the Department of Employment and Economic Development Representative
The Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities works to ensure that people with developmental disabilities and their families receive the necessary supports and services to achieve increased independence, productivity, self-determination, integration, and inclusion in their community.

Chandra Petersen of Kasota was appointed to the Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing, as Southeast Advisory Committee representative. Petersen replaces Lloyd Ballinger. Kathryn Rose of Fergus Falls was appointed as the commission’s Northwest Advisory Committee representative

The Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing serves as the principal agency of the State to advocate on behalf of the deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing Minnesotans by working to ensure those persons have equal access to the services, programs and opportunities available to others.

Clark, Thor are among 2021 Bush Fellows

Two Minnesotans with disabilities, John Lee Clark and Mai Thor, are among the 2021 Bush Foundation fellows.

John Lee Clark
John Lee Clark

John Lee Clark. St. Paul,  is — quite literally — building a new world. A member of the deafblind community, he is helping lead a movement to build touch, contact and direct connections to make it possible for people like him to live on their own terms, not according to dominant norms in sighted and hearing society.

Clark and his community are reengineering how classrooms are arranged for meaningful learning, how homes are designed and how meetings are run. They have found new ways to communicate, navigate, socialize and even speak. Now he wants to take this movement to a new level, bringing its principles and practices to all aspects of the lives of those in the deafblind community, from higher education to the arts. To lead this groundbreaking work, Clark will study with creative thinkers and artists, connect with fellow educators and artist mentors, and pursue training to lead change through collaboration.

Mai Thor
Mai Thor

Mai Thor, Oak Park Heights, seeks to embed disability justice in the work of larger justice and equity movements. As a person living with a disability and as a leader who has helped design more accessible and inclusive systems for people with disabilities, she sees that social justice movements often leave disability out of their efforts.

She wants to transform these movements to be completely accessible and inclusive so that every march, rally or community meeting is informed by a disability perspective. To grow her capacity to lead, she will study ableism and disability culture, history and law. She will also convene a network of social justice and disability justice leaders to build understanding and greater solidarity.

Thor has worked for various disability organizations and recently has been involved with the push to vaccinate people with disabilities against COVID-19. She is also a former Access Press contributing writer.

Other 2021 fellows also will be doing disability-focused work. Kahin Adam, St. Cloud, will focus on decreasing barriers to culturally relevant health care and mental health services for immigrants and refugees. He learned first-hand as a refugee from Somalia how difficult it can be to navigate health systems and how lack of access to health care leads to chronic disease and mental illness. Today, he serves as an educator, community organizer, and the only psychotherapist in St. Cloud specializing in the treatment of patients who have experienced trauma.

Sandra Gabriela Filardo, Eden Prairie, is an assistant Hennepin County attorney and an advocate for changing the way the judicial system handles non-violent crimes. She believes the current system creates a revolving door for many who commit crimes because of poverty, addiction and mental health issues. She wants to prevent these non-violent crimes from becoming a gateway to a lifetime in the criminal justice system.

The Bush Fellowship provides fellows with up to $100,000 over 12 to 24 months to pursue education and learning experiences that help them develop the skills and relationships to foster large-scale change in their communities and region. The fellowship is distinctive in its flexibility, allowing fellows to define what they need to become more effective and equitable leaders. Fellows can use the funding to pursue such things as education, leadership training, networking and mentorship.

“The 2021 Fellows are addressing a wide variety of issues in communities around the region,” said Bush Foundation Vice President of Grantmaking Anita Patel. “Each is seeking to be a stronger leader and greater force for justice and equity.”

“We believe in investing in people who can address challenges today and who are driven to grow their ability to have even greater impact in the future,” Patel said. “We see past Bush Fellows at the forefront of solving our region’s most critical issues, and we are excited to see the impact these new 2021 Fellows will have in the coming years.”

Fellows are selected by a diverse group of community leaders from across the region. This year, 538 people applied.

“These 24 Fellows are committed to strengthening their capacity to lead large-scale, equitable change,” said Patel. “In this time when our region faces reckoning around racial justice sparked by the murder of George Floyd, inequities exposed by COVID-19 and challenges to Native sovereignty, we need leaders who can imagine new systems and transform existing ones. We find inspiration in the vision these Fellows offer our region as they work inside and outside of systems to foster new and just approaches.”

More than 2,400 people have received support from the fellowship. The Bush Fellowship counts among its alumni playwright August Wilson; the Sioux Chef founder and CEO chef Sean Sherman; former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson; author and storyteller Kevin Kling; founder of the Healing Justice Foundation Dr. Joi Lewis; epidemiologist and infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm; South Dakota poet laureate Lee Ann Roripaugh; Minneapolis City Council member Andrea Jenkins; Humanize My Hoodie Movement co-founder Jason Sole; and former special assistant to President Obama for Native American affairs Jodi Archambault.

The Bush Foundation will accept applications for the 2022 Bush Fellowship beginning August 10. The Bush Fellowship is open to anyone age 24 years and older who wants to build their ability to make change happen. Applicants must live in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota or one of the 23 Native nations that shares the same geography.

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