People and Places - March 2018

Access improvement grants given

Four Twin Cities arts organizations were awarded Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Access Improvement Grants by VSA Minnesota. The nonprofits will use grants totaling $40,744 to make arts programs more accessible to people with disabilities. Since 2010, 130 projects by 67 different organizations have been funded, totaling $1,508,744.

VSA Minnesota has administered the ADA Access Improvement Grant program since 2010 for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council.

Artability, St. Paul, received $7,500. The Artability program encourages mental health through visual and written artistic expression, providing workshops free of charge to clients of People Incorporated and members of the public with mental illness. The program features the annual Artability Show & Sale, where artists with mental illness exhibit and sell visual pieces and an anthology of written works.

Minnesota Fringe Festival, Minneapolis, will use $15,000 for various program enhancement. The annual festival will continue to provide ASL and audio-description services for dozens of performances in the Twin Cities. It will introduce a new Family Fringe, establishing a benchmark of 100 percent of shows serviced with interpretive services. Other additions include investigating new initiatives to improve access including transit assistance for patrons with visual impairments, and offering relaxed performance opportunities to accommodate individuals on the autism spectrum.

Minnesota Museum of American Art, St. Paul, received $15,000. The museum is embarking on an extensive expansion of its facility, opening phases in 2018 and 2019. The funds will help make the museum accessible, and build staff knowledge and capacity to continue to make improvements.

Mixed Precipitation, St. Paul, will use $3,244 to improve accessibility and build relationships with the deaf community through outreach by a deaf ASL coordinator, evaluation by a reinvigorated access advisory panel, and services by a team of deaf and hearing interpreters.

Applications were read, discussed and scored by a panel of persons active in arts and disability communities. VSA Minnesota’s board approved the panel’s recommendations. The next grant ap- plication deadline is May 1.

 

 

MDI opens Hibbing facilities

MDI, a Minnesota-based nonprofit social enterprise with a mission to serve people with disabilities by offering inclusive employment opportunities and services, announced it has officially opened its new facility in Hibbing.

“MDI built this facility to provide better working conditions for employees, to strengthen overall efficiency of operations, provide room for business growth, and create more jobs in the Hibbing community,” said Peter McDermott, president and CEO. “We’re excited to welcome our current Hibbing employees into this new setting and look forward to business growth.”

Located outside downtown Hibbing near the Range Regional Airport, MDI’s new 36,000 square foot structure includes office space, a lunchroom, locker rooms, and a modern and bright production floor. It replaces the former 100-year-old Hibbing facility, which was originally a Greyhound bus terminal.

“I want to thank all our employees whose production of more than 100 million totes and trays for the United States Postal Service over the past 25 years contributed to MDI’s ability to build this new facility,” said McDermott. “In addition, we couldn’t have done it without the support of local elected officials and donors including individuals as well as the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation, Blandin Foundation, St. Louis County, Cleveland Cliffs, and FabCon.”

The completion of MDI’s new building marks the culmination of its multi-year effort to modernize equipment and facilities and prepare the organization for new diversification and growth. This process has included moving into and renovating a new space in the Twin Cities in 2014, purchasing and renovating a new building in Cohasset in 2016, installing new equipment in Grand Rapids in 2017, and opening the new space in Hibbing.

“At the end of the day, this new building will vastly improve working conditions for the Hibbing employees while providing opportunities for MDI to grow,” said Phil Bakken, who is a long-term MDI board member and was instrumental in creating support for the Hibbing project. “While still largely dependent on the United States Postal Services for revenue, we are now expanding into other manufactured venues that will diversify sales.”

In addition to sales diversification, MDI is also working to expand the support services provided to people with disabilities. In 2017, MDI launched an innovative training program, Work Skills 101, which provides professional development opportunities for people with and without disabilities and prepares them for job growth and advancement.

The new Hibbing building will improve the training by providing a modern and inviting environment in which individuals with and without disabilities can learn side by side.

Finally, with its new facilities and equipment in place, MDI is perfectly positioned to strengthen its model as an inclusive work environment and to demonstrate to all employers that people with disabilities are dependable, committed, and skilled workers.

 

 

Angela Amado Retiring from ICI

Angela Amado, who has promoted person-centered approaches and social inclusion for more than 30 years, will retire from the University of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration (ICI) at the end of March. She has worked for the Institute since 1995, and was honored earlier this month after the screening of Valuing Lives: Wolf Wolfensberger and the Principle of Normalization at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

“It has been a privilege and joy to work at ICI with the freedom, flexibility and shared commitment to expand my two strongest passions – person-centered approaches and social inclusion,” said Amado. “My ICI projects have resulted in hundreds of community members befriending, including, and coming to love individuals with disabilities.”

Her projects include work on the issues of person-centered planning, consumer-controlled housing, self-advocacy, service quality, employment for people with disabilities, faith and friendships. Through the ICI Institute’s Research and Training Center on Community Living she worked on projects such as Quality Mall and Self-Advocacy Online to leverage what was then a powerful new tool – the Internet – to support people with disabilities. She also helped plan national and international conferences.

 

 

New Deaf, Hard of Hearing Services director named

Daniel Millikin has been named director of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division. The appointment is effective April 4.

“In our search for a new director, Dan stood out for his experience in supervisory and strategic leadership positions as well as his extensive background in programs for people who are deaf, deaf-blind and hard of hearing and his skill in cultivating relationships with stakeholders,” said Claire Wilson, assistant commissioner of the DHS administrations of Continuing Care for Older Adults and Community Supports, which includes Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services.

Millikin brings 16 years’ professional experience and leadership in providing services to people who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind and those who also have secondary disabilities. Most recently he worked for Convo Communications, a Denver-based video relay service company. Before that he was director of the Office for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. He directed and supervised statewide referral services, program development and service delivery. He developed and maintained collaborative relationships with a wide range of organizations focused on services for older adults and people with disabilities as well as those who are deaf and hard of hearing and who have mental health and substance abuse issues.

Earlier in Millikin’s career he was director of the Student Life Team at the National Institute for the Deaf, part of the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y. he also taught at the New Mexico School for the Deaf; and was an attorney in government offices in Washington, D.C., and Madison, Wis. He holds degrees in law and psychology.

 

 

Eggroll Queen has a new place

Mai Vang, known by many Twin Cities food truck fans as the Eggroll Queen, is getting a new palace. Vang has been a fixture in the St. Paul food truck community in recent years. She sells her wares at farmers’ markets and helps raise money for charities.

In an interview, Vang said her goal in volunteering is to “create miracles for families,” adding “People can be wonderful if you give them the chance.”

Vang has faced many challenges. She was born in Laos and spent eight years in a refugee camp with her family before coming to St. Paul. She suddenly lost her hearing in 2013. She regained some auditory abilities within a few months, then began cycle of regaining and then losing all hearing abilities. She has pursued natural alternatives as well as a cochlear implant.

She channeled her energy into helping others with her cooking skills and an impressive array of volunteer activities, all while raising
a family and running a software business full-time. In interviews she has described how making eggrolls has given her a sense of purpose and usefulness, while coping with disability. To thank those who helped her food business get its start, Vang has committed to making food for four fundraisers each year.

In January it was Vang who needed help. While preparing food at a benefit, her trailer caught on fire and was a total loss. A GoFundMe campaign started by fellow food truck owner-operators Will and Amy Cave of Grill Works raised more than $7,900 in less than a month. Publicity in the weekly newspaper City Pages and support from prominent chefs including celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern helped the campaign soar well past its $7,200 goal.

Vang has already found a used truck, which she will make improvements to. Her hope is to pass an upcoming Minnesota Department of Health inspection and be on the road by mid-April.